Acquired Needs Theory – Definition

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Acquired Needs Theory Definition

Acquired needs theory is a theory that is based on the notion that people’s needs are acquired as they live their lives. It states that the needs are acquired through experiences of life. The needs are derived from the reaction to the stimuli in the external environment.

A Little More on What is the Acquired Needs Theory

McClelland’s Needs Theory, also known as Three-Needs theory or Learned Needs theory, was proposed by a psychologist David McClelland. He proposed that an individual’s needs are a result of experience acquired through life. Leaders can motivate subordinates by understanding the individual needs and finding ways to foster acquiring those needs.

According to McClellan, there are only three needs, achievement, affiliation, and power. These needs are tested using the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) that uses images. The respondents contemplate on the pictures and then create stories about them. These responses are evaluated and analyzed then the ratings attributed to each of the three needs are identified.

Managers are supposed to be aware of the attributes given to each of the three needs. They provide the basis for their use and effectiveness in a firm. Suppose a manager has high achievement needs. This does not mean that the manager will attempt to develop this same feeling in his subordinates; he may probably concentrate on his own need.

Even More on What is McClelland’s Needs Theory?

McClelland identified three basic motivating needs:

  • Power – Power concerns the ability to influence others. Individuals with high power need are motivated to acquire a position through which they can influence and control others. Characteristics of power-need individuals include assertiveness, outspokenness, demanding, practical (rather than sentimental), and involved. The need for power can be effective in management positions if it is used to create better conditions or a more positive work environment. However, it can come at the expense of fostering necessary relationships or if it is used for one’s personal gain at the expense of others or the organization.
  • Affiliation – This is the need for connection with others and is accepted (liked by others). It seeks to be emotionally attached and to avoid the pain of rejection. Characteristics of power-need individuals also include a need for intimacy and the desire to console others during difficult times. In management, this type of need can be a disadvantage. The manager tends to focus more on how they are perceived by others than on task accomplishment or performance. Disciplining workers can be difficult.
  • Achievement – This is the need for personal achievement and is intrinsically motivated by task completion. Characteristics of achievement-based individuals include tendencies to take moderate-risk (not high-risk) decisions, prefer explicit goals, and seek immediate feedback on work. These individuals are highly dedicated to job task completion and meeting deadlines rather than focusing on material rewards. That is, task completion is more fulfilling than receiving monetary rewards. These individuals may find it difficult to manage others and to delegate tasks to others. They tend to be micromanagers, expect work to be completed exactly as directed, and expect others to be as motivated as they are.

People who have high achievement needs are known as moderate risk takers since they need challenges to get the feeling of accomplishment. They do not attempt high-risk problems because of the high risk of failure. People like these are usually useful in situations that demand creativity and innovation.

Those individuals who have a high sense of association do communicate effectively with others. They usually favor tasks that the development and the maintenance of a relationship. The people who have a high need for power have a developed desire for influencing and controlling situations and people.

People who become excellent managers have a high need for organizational power, and this enables them to prioritize the needs of the organization. They need to control and organize the work of other people, resources and processes. One of the management principles is that the requirement for an association is constant in an organization in which individual power gives the ability to control the organization parts to the upper and middle management.

Some of the necessary elements for the application of McClelland’s theory include:

  •  Achievement need requires moderately challenging jobs. These are not very difficult jobs that have a low probability of success.
  •  For one to achieve professional progression, he needs to engage in situations that have a certain degree of difficulty for him to learn through solving problems.
  • People who have motivation for achievement are individually capable. When a team has motivated members, it also becomes highly active.
  • People who have a high need for affiliation work well when in group situations
  • Those who have a high need for power tend to have control over others. This need is essential in cases such as negotiations and objective oriented projects.

Having a high need for achievement does not mean that one is a good manager since one may be more interested in their achievements than in directing. Therefore a manager does not need a high need for achievement or membership.

Academic Research on the Acquired Needs Theory


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