Competitive Exams: McClelland's needs theory

David C. McClelland has contributed to the theories of motivation by highlighting the importance of three basic needs to understand motivation. They are achievement needs, affiliation needs, and power needs. McClelland's initial work centered on the need for achievement.

Need for achievement

Achievement-motivated people thrive on pursuing and attaining goals. People with a high need for achievement have an intense desire for success. They typically seek competitive situations in which they can achieve results through their own efforts and which allow them to obtain immediate feedback on how they are doing. They take a realistic approach to risk. People with high need for achievement are characterized by restlessness and willingness to work long hours. Individuals with high need for achievement can be a valuable source of creativity and innovative ideas in organizations. Supervisors who want to motivate achievement-oriented employees need to set challenging, but reachable goals and provide immediate feedback about their performance.

Need for affiliation

Need for affiliation refers to the desire to maintain warm, friendly relationships with others. Affiliation-motivated people are usually friendly and like to socialize with others. They suffer pain when they are rejected. They usually exhibit the following characteristics:

  • They strive to maintain pleasant social relationships.
  • They enjoy a sense of intimacy and understanding.
  • They are ready to console and help others in trouble.
  • They love to engage in friendly interaction with others.

To motivate individuals with a high need for affiliation, managers should provide them with a congenial and supportive work environment in which they can meet both corporate goals and their high affiliation needs by working with others. In situations that require a high level of cooperation with and support of others, including clients and customers, individuals with a high need for affiliation prove to be assets for an organization.

Need for power

The need for power refers to the desire to be influential and to have an impact on a group. Power-motivated individuals see almost every situation as an opportunity to seize control or dominate others. They are willing to assert themselves when a decision needs to be made. The power motive has significant implications for organizational leadership and for the informal political aspects of organizations.

The need for power is manifested in two forms: Personal and institutional. People with high need for personal power try to dominate others by demonstrating their ability to wield power. They often run into difficulties as managers because they attempt to use the efforts of others for their own benefits. In contrast, individuals with a high need for institutional power focus on working along with others to solve problems and achieve organizational goals. McClelland's work suggests that individuals with a high need for institutional power become the best managers, because they are able to coordinate the efforts of others to achieve long-term organizational goals.

Vroom's expectancy theory

The expectancy theory of motivation was originally proposed by Victor H. Vroom. He contends that before putting in the effort to perform at a given level, individuals consider the following three issues:

  • What is the probability that the performance will be up to the required level?
  • What is the probability that the performance will lead to the desired outcomes?
  • What is the value assigned by the individual to the potential outcomes?


Valence is the motivational component that refers to the preference of an individual for a particular outcome. In simple words, it signifies ‘how much reward one wants.’ The valence component helps an individual assess the anticipated value of various outcomes. If the possible reward or outcome of the work is of interest to the individual performing it, the valence component will be high.


Expectancy is the probability that certain efforts will lead to the required performance. In other words, expectancy is the probability (ranging from 0 to 1) that a particular action or effort will lead to a particular outcome. For an individual to exert efforts towards a goal, he must see a non-zero probability of effort leading to that goal. In other words, all individuals will be motivated to reach their goal only when they see some connection between their effort and performance.


This refers to the probability that successful performance will lead to certain outcomes. The major outcomes we consider are the potential rewards such as incentives or bonuses, or a good feeling of accomplishment.

Motivational techniques


Managers have found that job performance and satisfaction can be improved by properly administered rewards. Rewards may be defined as material or psychological payoffs for the accomplishment of tasks. Rewards can be broadly categorized into extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards are pay-offs granted by others. They include money, perks and amenities, promotion, recognition, status symbols, and praise. Intrinsic (job content) rewards are self-granted and internally experienced pay-offs. Individuals prefer intrinsic rewards such as satisfaction from performing challenging and interesting jobs. The motivation theories discussed in this chapter throw light on the role of the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards in improving productivity, and offer constructive suggestions about how to use these rewards in organization settings.


Motivation theories encourage the use of the participation techniques. The right kind of participation ensures an increase in the motivation and knowledge levels which contribute to the success of an enterprise. Participation allows an individual to satisfy his or her need for esteem (from self and from others). It gratifies the need for affiliation and acceptance. Above all, it gives people a sense of accomplishment and a chance for advancement. MBO (discussed in Chapter 5) is the most popular and modern method of motivating employees at all levels for better performance, since it ensures participation and freedom in setting goals and achieving them.

Quality of Work Life (QWL)

One of the most interesting approaches to motivation is the quality of work life (QWL) program. QWL is not only a very broad approach to job enrichment but also an interdisciplinary field of inquiry and action. It is a combination of several fields which include industrial and organization psychology and sociology, industrial engineering, organization theory and development, motivation and leadership theory, and industrial relations. Managers see this concept as a promising means of dealing with productivity problems and workers'grievances.

Job Enrichment

A modern and more permanent approach to motivation is job enrichment. Here, the attempt is to build a higher sense of challenge and achievement in jobs. A job may be enriched in the following ways:

  1. Allowing workers to make independent decisions on issues like work methods, sequence and pace or the acceptance or rejection of materials

  2. Encouraging involvement and participation of employees and interaction between workers

  3. Making workers feel personally responsible for their tasks

  4. Ensuring that workers get to know how their tasks contribute to the finished product and the welfare of the enterprise

  5. Giving people feedback on their job performance

  6. Involving workers when bringing about changes in the physical aspects of their work environment, such as the layout of office or plant, temperature, lighting and cleanliness.