David McClelland’s Three Needs Theory
One of the problems in managing people is that they all have different personalities and motivators. On that basis, good management is knowing and understanding what it is that motivates people, how they might react to the way you allocate tasks or how you plan and give feedback. Here, creative sector coach and trainer Alec McPhedran of Skills Channel TV gives an overview of one motivational approach, the three needs theory.
David McClelland's Three Needs Theory (and in some cases, known as the Motivational Needs Theory or the Learning Needs Theory) is a psychological theory that focuses on three fundamental needs or motives that drive human behaviour. This theory was developed by psychologist David McClelland in the mid-20th century and is also referred to as the Achievement Motivation Theory or Three Needs Theory. The three needs proposed by McClelland are:
Need for Achievement (nAch)
This is the need to excel, accomplish challenging tasks, and attain success through personal efforts. Individuals with a high need for achievement seek out tasks that provide them with opportunities to demonstrate their skills and competence. They are often goal-oriented, enjoy taking calculated risks, and are motivated by a sense of accomplishment. They prefer tasks that offer moderate challenges, as tasks that are too easy might not satisfy their need for achievement, while tasks that are too difficult might lead to a fear of failure.
Need for Affiliation (nAffl)
This is the need for forming and maintaining positive interpersonal relationships. People with a high need for affiliation seek social interactions, value harmonious relationships, and prefer cooperation over competition. They are often concerned about being liked and accepted by others and tend to avoid conflicts or situations that might jeopardize relationships.
Need for Power (nPow)
This is the need to influence, control, and have an impact on others. Individuals with a high need for power are motivated to lead, direct, and manage situations. There are two types of need for power: personal power and institutional power. Those with a preference for personal power seek to control others directly, while those with a preference for institutional power seek to influence through the use of authority and organizational structures.
McClelland's theory suggests that these needs are not mutually exclusive; individuals possess a combination of them to varying degrees. The relative strength of these needs can influence an individual's behaviour, choices, and career paths. McClelland's research also suggested that these needs could be developed and influenced through life experiences, upbringing, and social environment.
The Three Needs Theory has been widely adapted in various fields including organisational behaviour, management, and human resources, to understand employee motivation, leadership styles, and job satisfaction. It provides insights into how people are driven by different motivators and how these motivators can influence their behaviour in different contexts.
McClelland’s Three Needs Theory therefore suggests that an individual’s level of effectiveness and motivation is significantly influenced by these three basic needs.
Alec McPhedran Chtd Fellow CIPD, Chtd Mngr CMI, MAC, MCMI is the managing director of Skills Channel TV, a learning and development company for talented creative people. He specialises in one to one coaching, facilitated learning, media training and team development. For further information, contact 0121 366 87 99 or visit www.skillschannel.tv.
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A trainer, coach and facilitator helping people acheive.