Acquired Needs Theory: Need for Achievement, Power & Affiliation

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  • 0:04 Acquired Needs Theory
  • 0:53 Need for Achievement
  • 2:30 Need for Power
  • 3:57 Need for Affiliation
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sherri Hartzell

Sherri has taught college business and communication courses. She also holds three degrees including communications, business, educational leadership/technology.

Do you act out of a need for achievement, power or affiliation? This lesson describes the acquired needs theory and how one of the three types of needs affect us more than the others.

Acquired Needs Theory

David McClelland developed the acquired needs theory.
David McClelland

David McClelland proposed that one's needs are acquired over time as a result of their experiences - a notion that soon turned into what is now known as the acquired needs theory. As McClelland studied the needs of various individuals, he was able to classify them as either being achievement-, power- or affiliation-based. That is, every person holds an aspiration for achievement, power or affiliation. Interestingly, each person has a tendency to be motivated by one of these needs more so than by the other two. Consequently, a person's behavior and performance at work are strongly influenced by the most meaningful of the three needs.

Need for Achievement

The need for achievement is greatest for those individuals who have a strong desire to excel. Achievers seek neither power nor approval; rather, their only focus is on success. Achievers prefer work that has a moderate chance for success (about 50/50) and tend to avoid situations that are low-risk and those that are high-risk. Low-risk situations are avoided because of the presumed ease of accomplishment related to low-risk activities and the belief that things which come easy are not a true measure of success. High-risk situations are avoided by achievers because of the fear that success might be more related to luck than actual effort. Achievers need to be able to see the correlation between the level of effort they exert and the success that results.

The achiever prefers to work alone or with other achievers. Managers of achievers should work to provide them with challenging projects filled with attainable goals. For example, because Maria has a high need for achievement, her manager Sam might ask her to work independently on projects that allow for her to use her knowledge and skills in a way that challenges her, but at the same time provide her with a clear path for how she can successfully accomplish her task. Additionally, achievers appreciate managers who provide frequent recognition of how well they are doing so that they can monitor their progress, making feedback extremely important to achievers.

Need for Power

The achiever prefers to work alone or with other achievers.

Those with a high need for power seek agreement and compliance; approval and recognition are not of their concern. Managers of power seekers should provide them with an opportunity to manage others. However, they must pay special attention to the type of power seeker they are. Power seekers who are after personal power have a strong desire to control others or cause them to behave in a way that is consistent with the power seeker's wishes. For example, Shawn has a high need for personal power and often manipulates his employees to do his work for him. He later takes credit for it.

On the other hand, those power seekers who need institutional or social power work to use their power to help mobilize efforts aimed at organizational goals. For example, Marco has a high need for institutional power and is regarded as a person who is capable of bringing necessary changes to the organization due to his charisma and ability to assemble and motivate employees to work towards some organizational goal in a matter of minutes. As you might have guessed, because Marco is a manager with a high need of institutional power, he is far more effective as a manager than Shawn, who has a high need for personal power.

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