McClelland's Acquired Needs Theory - Explained
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What is Acquired Needs Theory?
Acquired needs theory, also known as McClelland's Needs Theory, Three-Needs theory, or Learned Needs theory, is a theory that is based on the notion that people's needs are acquired as they live their lives or through experiences of life. The needs are derived from the reaction to the stimuli in the external environment.
Back to: Management & Organizational Behavior
A Little More on What is McClelland's Acquired Needs Theory
Acquired 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,
- affiliation, and
These needs are tested using the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) that uses images.
The respondents view 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.
Even More on What is McClellands Needs Theory?
McClelland identified three basic motivating needs:
What is the need for 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 ones personal gain at the expense of others or the organization.
The people who have a high need for power have a desire to influence and control situations and people.
People who become excellent managers have a high need for organizational power. 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.
What is the need for 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.
Those individuals who have a high sense of association do communicate effectively with others. They usually favor tasks that foster the development and the maintenance of a relationship.
What is the need for 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.
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.
Academic Research on the Acquired Needs Theory
- McClelland's trichotomy of needs theory and the job satisfaction and work performance of CPA firm professionals, Harrell, A. M., & Stahl, M. J. (1984). Accounting, Organizations and Society, 9(3-4), 241-252. This paper examines the ability of McClelland's theory of three needs in providing a sufficient explanation of the job satisfaction and work performance of CPA firm professionals by using 89 respondents from the office of a large CPA firm.
- The relationship between McClelland's theory of needs, feeling individually accountable, and informal accountability for others,Royle, M., & Hall, A. (2012). This study presents research carried out to examine how the dimensions of McClelland's Theory of needs relate to felt accountability and informal accountability for others (IAFO).
- A gender-sensitive study of McClelland's needs, stress, and turnover intent with work-family conflict,Lilly, J. D., Duffy, J. A., & Virick, M. (2006). Women in Management Review, 21(8), 662-680. This paper presents a study carried out on 383 individuals representing 15 different industries to examine the gender differences in the relationship between McClelland's needs, stress, and turnover intentions with work-family conflict.
- Motivation Theories of Maslow, Herzberg, McGregor & McClelland. A Literature Review of Selected Theories Dealing with Job Satisfaction and Motivation,Pardee, R. L. (1990). In this paper, motivation is the most substantial influence because it overlaps into the other two components. This paper reviews the classical literature on motivation using the perspective of four major theory areas.
- Path-goal theory of leadership: Lessons, legacy, and a reformulated theory,House, R. J. (1996). The Leadership Quarterly, 7(3), 323-352. This is a presentation of the development and history review of the path-goal theory of leader effectiveness by briefly explaining its origin and then summarizing it. The methodologies used to test the theory are also presented together with the lessons learned.
- Managing high-achieving information systems professionals, Smits, S. J., McLean, E. R., & Tanner, J. R. (1993). Journal of Management Information Systems, 9(4), 103-120. This study describes the characteristics of job preferences, and self-described personal attributes and work traits of people pursuing information system careers with three demonstrated academic achievement levels.
- A review of employee motivation theories and their implications for employee retention within organizations, Ramlall, S. (2004). Journal of American Academy of Business, 5(1/2), 52-63. This paper reviews the various employee motivation theories and how they affect whether the employees get retained in an organization or not.
- A behaviorally-based measure of manifest needs in work settings,Steers, R. M., & Braunstein, D. N. (1976). Journal of Vocational Behavior, 9(2), 251-266. This study presents an investigation of a trial to develop and validate a research instrument called Manifest Needs Questionnaire that can measure the needs of achievement, affiliation, autonomy and dominance using scales that are behaviorally based.
- Toward a multidimensional model of entrepreneurship: The case of achievement motivation and the entrepreneur,Johnson, B. R. (1990). Entrepreneurship Theory and practice, 14(3), 39-54. In this paper, the results of various studies that attempt to link entrepreneurship and the motivation to achieve are reviewed, and a relatively consistent relationship that exists between these two is found despite variations in the different studies.
- Work motivation and organizational behavior,Lazaroiu, G. (2015). Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, 7(2), 66. This study applies recent conceptual and methodological approaches to advance to the next level of research on various motivation theories.