Mcclelland’s theory of needs


You have one bean bag and there are five targets set up in front of you. Each one is progressively farther away and, hence difficult to hit. Target A is a clinch. It sits almost within arm’s reach of you. If you hit it, you get Rs.500. Target B is a bit farther out, but about 80% of the people who try can hit it. It pays Rs.1000. Target C pays Rs.2000, and about half the people who try can hit it. Very few people can hit Target D, but the payoff is Rs.4000 if you do. Finally, Target E pays Rs.8000,but it’s almost impossible to achieve. Which target would you try for? If you select C, you’re likely to be a high achiever. Why? Read on.

McClelland’s theory of needs was developed by David McClelland and his associates. The theory focuses on three needs: achievement, power, and affiliation. They are defined as follows;

* Need for achievement (nAch): The drive to excel, to achieve in relation to a set of standards, to strive to succeed.

* Need for power: The need to make others behave in a way that they would not have behaved otherwise.

* Need for affiliation: The desire for friendly and close interpersonal relationships.

Some people have a compelling drive to succeed. They’re striving for personal achievement rather than the rewards of success per se. They have a desire to do something better or more efficiently than it has been done before. This drive is the achievement need. From research on the achievement need, McClelland found that high achievers differentiate themselves from others by their desire to do things better. They seek situations in which they can attain personal responsibility for finding solutions to problems in which they can receive rapid feedback on their performance so they can determine easily whether they are improving or not, and in which they can set moderately challenging goals. High achievers are not gamblers; they dislike succeeding by chance. They prefer the challenge of working at a problem and accepting the personal responsibility for success or failure rather than leaving the outcome to chance or the actions of others. Importantly, they avoid what they perceive to be very easy or very difficult tasks. They prefer tasks of intermediate difficulty.

High achievers perform best when they perceive their probability of success as being 0.5, that is, when they estimate that they have a 50-50 chance of success. They dislike gambling with high odds because they get no achievement satisfaction from happenstance success. Similarly, they dislike low odds as they have high probability of success. Because there is no challenge to their skills in the case of low odds. They like to set goals that require stretching themselves a little.

The need for power (nPow) is the desire to have impact, to be influential, and to control others. Individuals high in nPow enjoy being “in charge� strive for influence over others , prefer to be placed into competitive and status-oriented situations, and tend to be more concerned with prestige and gaining influence over others than with effective performance.

The third need isolated by McClelland is affiliation (nAff). This need has received the least attention from researchers. Individuals with a high affiliation motive strive for friendship, prefer cooperative situations rather than competitive ones, and desire relationships that involve a high degree of mutual understanding

Relying on an extensive amount of research, some reasonably well-supported predictions can be made based on the relationship between the achievement need and job performance. Although less research has been done on power and affiliation needs, there are consistent findings here, too.

Individuals with a high need to achieve prefer job situations with personal responsibility, feedback, and an intermediate degree of risk. When these characteristics are prevalent, high achievers will be strongly motivated. The evidence consistently demonstrates, for instance, that high achievers are successful in entrepreneurial activities such as running their own business and managing a self-contained unit within a large organization.

Second, a high need to achieve does not necessarily lead to being a good manger, especially in large organizations. People with a high achievement need are interested in how well they do personally and not in influencing others to do well. High nAch salespeople do not necessarily make good sales managers. Good General Managers in a large organization does not typically have a high need to achieve.

Third, the needs for affiliation and power tend to be closely related to managerial success. The best managers are high in their needs for power and low in their needs for affiliation. In fact, a high power motive may be a requirement for managerial effectiveness. Of course, what the cause is and what the effect is are arguable. It has been suggested that a high power need may occur simply as a function of one’s level in a hierarchical organization. The latter argument proposes that the higher level an individual rises to in the organization, the greater is the incumbent’s power motive. As a result, powerful positions would be the stimulus to a high power motive.

Finally, employees have been successfully trained to stimulate their achievement need. Trainers have been effective in teaching individuals to think in terms of accomplishments, winning and success, and then helping them to learn how to act in a high achievement way by preferring situations in which they have personal responsibility, feedback, and moderate risks. So if the job calls for a high achiever, management can select a person with a high nAch or develop its own candidate through achievement training.

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