Achievement Motivation Theory – Definition

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Achievement Motivation Theory

This is a theory relating the personal characteristics and background of a person to a need for achievement and the competitive drive that is associated with it to meet certain standards for excellence. This theory explains the relationships that arise between a person’s characteristics and their need to achieve.

A Little More on Achievement Motivation Theory

A psychologist called McClelland came up with the concept of the motivation to achieve. He came up with a theory of three needs that people socially acquire. These three needs are:

  • Achievement: This what leads people to set goals for themselves to achieve. It is the drive to succeed. People with this drive don’t affiliate much with other people; instead, they have a great need for developing activities. They accept new responsibilities, and they continuously need feedback on their performance since they bet on a job well done.
  • Power: This is the need to control or influence the behavior of others. What drives people with these need is recognition from others. They want to be considered important and acquire prestige and status. They have a political mentality.
  • Affiliation: This is the need to have close interpersonal relationships with others or to belong to a group. People with these need love to work with others and be habitually popular.

McClelland stated that the satisfaction of these three needs is the basis of the motivation of people. These three needs are thought to exist in the same individual, but one usually is predominant. For example, those people who have achieved as this dominant need typically exhibit the following characteristics:

  • They don’t choose simple projects because they don’t give them the expected satisfaction. They also don’t select the complicated ones because there is a risk of leaving unfinished work and so they opt for the intermediate projects.
  • They normally work alone or with people with high-performance skills that aid them in achieving their goals.
  • They want to gain the recognition of others.
  • They are constantly developing themselves by expanding their areas of performance and their skills and competencies.
  • They are demanding, but they are also great leaders because of their focus on goals.

The motivation to achieve arises when the basic needs are taken care of, and one guides their behavior to self-improvement and growth. It is associated with tasks that with high demand and requiring perseverance. The motivation to achieve has two components which are; the desire to achieve something and the willingness not to fail.

The motivation to achieve is above all other motivations. It involves the achievement of all the proposed objectives and goals. It is the desire for one to develop to the maximum extent.

People who have a high motivation to achieve have the following characteristics:

  •         They are constantly improving
  •         They set realistic goals
  •         They don’t choose easy tasks
  •         They take on new responsibilities for solving problems.
  •         They strive for personal achievement
  •         They seek development in all areas.

The importance of this motivation is illustrated in various studies. It is proved that there is a direct relationship between motivation to achievement and success ta labor personal and educational levels.

In an article labeled ‘the neuroscience of motivation,’ the neuroscientists conclude that the motivation of people is regulated by the dopamine which is segregated in the brain so managers can apply the findings in this field and improve the involvement of professionals. Some neuroscientific techniques used to reinforce motivation include:

Knowing what motivates employees. Since not all people respond in the same degree, a leader must understand the external and internal factors that activate each worker and then generate a personalized system of rewards.

Developing an equitable system of rewards. When a leader acts with transparency and follows established parameters of awarding the rewards, the achievement motivation of the employees is improved because of the fair distribution. If they believe it is unfair, it will activate an aversive response thereby generating jealousy, envy and other vices among the workforce.

Making the expectations clear. A leader is supposed to make the employee’s aspirations a reality through constant and honest communication. If a worker believes he will get a reward after reaching a goal and this is not the case, his motivation will decrease.

References for Achievement Motivation Theory

Academic Research on Achievement Motivation Theory

  • An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion, Weiner, B. (1985). Psychological Review, 92(4), 548. This paper proposes a theory of motivation and emotion in which the causal ascriptions play a significant role. There is evidence that in achievement-related context, there exists some few dominant causal perceptions and the perceived causes of success and failure share three common properties with intentionality and globality as other possible causal structures.
  • Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation, Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 68-81. The primary objective of this study is discussing the expectancy-value theory of motivation while focusing on an expectancy-value model that was developed and researched by Eccles, Wingfield, and their colleagues.
  • Conceptions of ability and achievement motivation: A theory and its implications for education, Nicholls, J. G. (2017). Learning and motivation in the classroom (pp. 211-238). Routledge. This paper gives an informal outline of an integrative theory of achievement motivation whose purpose distinguishes it from other forms of behavior. Its goal is the development of competence instead of incompetence.
  • Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation: A developmental perspective, Wigfield, A. (1994). Educational psychology review, 6(1), 49-78. Eccles et al.’s (1983) expectancy-value model of achievement performance and choice is considered in this paper from a developmental perspective through the examination of how the model can incorporate the recent research on the development of young children’s competence beliefs, subjective task values, achievement goals, and success expectancies.
  • Achievement motivation: Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance, Nicholls, J. G. (1984). Psychological Review, 91(3), 328. This paper defines achievement behavior as behavior that is directed at demonstrating high but not low ability. It further explains that for one to demonstrate high ability, he/she must achieve more with equal effort to others or use less effort than others for equivalent performance.
  • Can achievement motivation theory succeed with only one conception of success? Nicholls, J. G., Patashnick, M., Cheung, P. C., Thorkildsen, T. A., & Lauer, J. M. (1989). Achievement goals and beliefs / perceived ability and motivational orientation. With only one conception of success, this study investigates whether the achievement motivation theory can succeed.
  • Attribution theory, achievement motivation, and the educational process, Weiner, B. (1972). Attribution theory, achievement motivation, and the educational process. Review of educational research, 42(2), 203-215. This article applies attribution theory to the study of the education process in specifically in examining the influence that causal beliefs have on teacher and pupil behaviors.
  • Motivation theory and industrial and organizational psychology, Kanfer, R. (1990). Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology, 1(2), 75-130. This paper conducts a review of the modern developments in motivational psychology as they impact individual behaviors in organizational settings.
  • Culture and achievement motivation, Maehr, M. L. (1974). American Psychologist, 29(12), 887. In this article, three strategies are analyzed for determining when and under what conditions the persistence, choice, and variation in performance usually occur in the study of motivation.
  • What should we do about motivation theory? Six recommendations for the twenty-first century, Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2004). Academy of management review, 29(3), 388-403. This study presents six recommendations for building the theories of work motivation that are better, more complete and more useful than existing ones.
  • Interpersonal relationships, motivation, engagement, and achievement: Yields for theory, current issues, and educational practice, Martin, A. J., & Dowson, M. (2009). Review of educational research, 79(1), 327-365. In this paper, by reviewing the role of interpersonal relationships in students’ engagement, achievement and academic motivation it argues that it is possible to conceptualize in relational terms, achievement motivation theory, current issues, and educational practice.

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