Acquired needs theory

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Acquired needs theory
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Acquired need theory - otherwise known as Three Need Theory, presented by American psychologist David McClelland, is a pattern which tries to show how the need for power, achievement, and affiliation impact activity of people from higher levels in organizations such as managerial. The inspiration for the theory was the list of motives and needs created by Henry Murray. This theory was created in the 1960s, almost twenty years after Abraham Maslow created a needs hierarchy. The author of the theory stated that human needs are shaped as time passes. David McClelland grouped managers into three categories:

  • a senior manager will have a powerful need for power,
  • middle level, and front line manager need for achievement,
  • people with a need for affiliation prefer to be part of a group responsible for some kind of task (D. McClelland, D. Bumham 1997).

Need for power

Manifests, among other things, in the need to influence other people, change situations, happenings, and employees. The need for power concerns interpersonal relations because it includes situations between for example senior manager and front line manager. Managers belonging to this category are called institutional managers. Power motivation is on a high level for them, but affiliation is low. This managers care about organization power and use it to help their workers to be more effective and productive. According to McClelland, top managers have a very high need for power. More precisely this power is based on relationships between employees and stimulate them to be better at their work. These managers focus not only on their goals but primarily on the goals of the organization. They want to be useful for companies. This description concerns the positive idea of the need for power which is opposite to imperial power. McClelland clearly distinguishes socialized power form individualized power. The first can have a positive impact on organizations and employees, and the second can ruin it. Moreover, managers and people generally in this category like work in places where discipline is at a high level. They are also practical, frank, open and enjoy participating in the conversations (D. L. Nelson, J. C. Quick 2013, p. 159).

Need for achievement

People with a high need for achievement are satisfied with their jobs and are more productive and effective when they face challenges. Managers in this category avoid high and low-risk situations. In the first case, it is not so important to them because it seems too simple. In the second case, the goals achieved with high risk from their perspective seem to be lucky and not personal success achieved. These managers concentrate on personal development. Systematic feedback is very important to them because in this way they can observe their achievements. This person is motivated by the challenges he achieves in the organization and the possibility of promotion to higher positions. Such managers have a positive impact on organizations because together with the need for achievement they increase the company's income. Managers with a strong need for achievement take moderate risks and they are fully involved in their work when the goal has been set (R. Rybnicek, S. Bergner, A. Gutschelhofer 2017, p. 445-447).

Need for affiliation

People with a high need for affiliation prefer cooperation rather than competition and they find themselves uncomfortable in uncertain situations and requiring risky decisions. They want a positive and natural relationship with other employees and want to be noticed and appreciated by others. These people like to be a part of the group and do not propose changes because they are afraid of rejection. Typically there are a small number of affiliative managers but sometimes such managers occur and they want to ensure good conditions for everyone what often causes underestimating achievements and not focusing on the goals of the organization. They feel good at work that requires contact with the client and interaction with colleagues (D. McClelland, D. Bumham 1997).


Author: Bartłomiej Pająk