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What is achievement motivation theory?
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Achievement motivation theory suggests that motivation for human behavior stems from the underlying assumption that we have a natural or instinctive need to attain high levels of success in our various pursuits.

The achievement motivation theory was proposed by David Clarence McClelland in 1941while he was working towards achieving his doctorate.  Dr. McClelland is known as one of the pioneers of the motivational thinking designed for the environment of the workplace.  He is also one of the first to encourage the use of competency-based assessments for employers, which he felt were much more effective than the standard personality-based and IQ tests.  Actually observing and testing the ability of the employee to do his or her current job, McClelland theorized, was a better way to determine immediate job skills.

His theory is broken into three main points or groups of motivational needs.  These three groups are the “n-ach, the “n-pow,” and the “n-afill” needs.

The first of these three needs, the “n-ach,” is the individuals need for achievement.  An employee who is motivated by an “n-ach” need is driven mostly by a desire to succeed and gain recognition in the workplace.  Encompassed in this point is the employees desire to move up in rank within the company.  Feeling a sense of accomplishment is the main motivating factor for this type of need.  Achievement driven people are likely to value being the best at his job over anything else in the working environment.  An achievement driven employee might still work extremely hard to be the best at his job, even if the job is low paying as long as he will receive recognition and praise for his successes.

The second of the three main need groups is the motivation to gain authority or the “n-pow” motivation.  Individuals motivated by the “n-pow” need are motivated by the desire to be seen as superior or as an authority figure.  This type of person will seek to make an impact in their workplace by directing and taking control when possible. Those who are driven by the “n-pow” need feel that they are an influential member of their company.  They will put forth great efforts to increase their level of importance or personal status within the company. Even though they may not have the official job title, “n-pows” often see themselves as the leaders of their coworkers.

The final need group in McClelland’s theory is the affiliation motivated individuals or the “n-afill” group.  This type of person has an innate need to be a part of a cohesive group.  It is crucial for people motivated by the need for affiliation to feel like they are contributing the betterment of the team as a whole.  An individual with an “n-afills” need places high value on interpersonal relationships with co-workers.  The “n-afills” are driven by the need to be held in a high regard on a personal level by the members of the group.  In most situations “n-afills” do not make very good managers or team leaders due to their need to be liked.  If a manager is too interested in being well-liked by his staff, his ability to make decision that are in the best interest of the company might fall to the wayside.

Almost no one is motivated by just one of these needs, and many individuals share traits from two or even three of the aforementioned groups.  McClelland discovered that the best workers were well rounded in all three needs. Someone who is too wrapped up in one need might not have the flexibility to work successfully in many work environments. Knowing how these different needs can motivate employees can assist managers in increasing their employee motivation.

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