What Is McClelland’s Motivation Theory? Applications & Limitations

Have you ever heard of the American psychologist David C. McClelland? Then, you must also have heard about his Achievement Theory/Human Motivation Theory. But, do you know anything in detail about this theory? Let us impart detailed knowledge regarding McClelland’s Motivation Theory & also about its application in real life.

What Is McClelland’s Motivation Theory?

McClelland’s motivation theory for humans is a theory that helps one identify the motivating drivers of various people. The head or manager of a company can motivate his team members by recognizing their motivating drivers by following McClelland’s motivation theory.

They can know about their motivating drivers by carefully noticing their members’ responses to any applause and feedback. And after knowing how the team members get motivated, he can assign them suitable responsibilities & can continuously motivate them for the same in the manner they get motivated.

In the earlier part of the 1940s, Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of needs. This theory of needs identifies any human being’s basic needs in order of his importance, safety needs, self-actualization, self-esteem, physiological needs, & the necessities for his belonging.

Later, this work of Abraham Maslow influenced David McClelland & he wrote a book, “The Achieving Society,” in 1961. McClelland here specified about three motivators that, according to him, all human beings have. And the three motivators are:

  • Need for achievement
  • Need for power
  • Need for affiliation

The dominant motivator decides which characteristics they will have. McClelland’s theory states that the above three motivators are learned. Sometimes, McClelland’s Motivation Theory is called the “Learner Needs Theory.”

Need For Achievement:

When the dominating motivator for a person is his achievement, the person will feel a great need to set and challenge goals. Also, he will be ready to take calculated risks for accomplishing such goals. Besides, he will like to earn regular feedback on his growth &attainments. As the team leader, you can motivate a team member whose motivating driver is an achievement by giving him challenging but possible types of tasks.

Besides, keep the member engaged by giving them some complex problems to solve. This type of person loves to solve problems & win the game. These kinds of individuals are so determined that you will like how they solve the toughest of issues effectively. And, for solving the problem, these individuals may work alone or with any other high achiever. While providing feedback, giving a fair & harmonious appraisal will help this type of person improve his mistakes.

Need For Power:

When the dominating motivator for a person is power, the person will feel a great need to control or influence other people. Also, he likes to gain victories & win arguments. Besides, you will find that this type of person enjoys both competitions & winning that competition. Apart from these things, he will also have a strong desire for gaining status & recognition.

As the team leader, you can motivate a team member whose motivating driver is power by giving him charge of something. His trait of enjoying any competition will help him deal with any goal-oriented projects. You may also give him the negotiation part & no doubt, he will excel in it. During feedback, directly speak up with him & keep him motivated by assisting him in pursuing his career goals.

Need For Affiliation:

When the dominating motivator for a person is affiliation, the person will feel a great need to belong to a group. Also, he will be happy if the group members like him. Besides, he would like to follow & accompany the activities of the other group members. Again, he will always favour collaboration more than competition. He will not want to take any high risks or actions that lead to uncertainty.

As the team leader, you can motivate a team member whose motivating driver is affiliation by putting him in a group. Don’t give him any task that has any uncertainty or risk. Give the risky tasks to other people. While providing feedback to him, be personal. Give him balanced feedback but start with some words on his excellent working relationship. Say that you trust him. He will then listen to you with a more open heart. Also, praise him privately & not before others.

How To Make Use Of This Theory In Real Life?

To use this theory in real life, first, examine your team & identify the dominant motivating drivers for each person. Determine their motivating drivers based on their personality & past activities.

Suppose a person in the team always grabs charge of the entire group while the boss is assigning any project & speaks up his thoughts in any meetings for persuading people & delegating responsibilities to other people for meeting the group’s goals. Also, he shows his liking for being a controller of the ultimate deliverables. You can infer from these characteristics of this person that his dominant motivating driver is power.

On the other hand, suppose another team member of your team stays silent during meetings & always agrees with what the other group members say. He is uncomfortable taking charge of any high-risk or high-rewarding project. You can infer from these characteristics of this person that his dominant motivating driver is affiliation.

As soon as you identify the motivating drivers of team members, you can efficiently structure your supervision style & assign suitable projects to suitable persons. This will make each of the workers engaged, satisfied, motivated & dedicated to their work.

McClelland’s Motivation Theory’s – Limitations

  • The theory doesn’t fully describe the motivation process & the way it’s happening.
  • Since the individuals who need achievement expect consistent results from the other individuals, their effectively managing human skills or patience may fall short.
  • The defensive technique used to develop achievement motive is objectionable.
  • The evidence of research that supports McClelland’s motivation theory is something dubious & fragmentary.

Wrapping Up:

So, if you want to be a successful team leader & want to lead your team towards accomplishment, follow the achievement theory of McClelland & you will soon be able to analyze the motivating drivers in your team members. Motivate them based on their weaknesses or their driving factors & the bullet will hit the target. Within a few days, you will see them focusing on their project & giving high performances to the company.

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