Motivation Mclelland Theory for Employers

McLelland’s theories of motivation, and what they mean.

In his 1961 book “The Achieving Society”, psychologist David McClelland outlined his Human Motivation Theory which states that all human beings possess three fundamental motivators: achievement, affiliation and power. He further argued that individuals have one dominant motivator which has a significant bearing on their role in the workplace.

These motivators, as McLelland states, are a result of life experience and the culture environment. In other words, these motivators are learned and not a matter of birth.

The three motivation drivers


Achievement-driven individuals value recognition and the progressive accomplishment of goals. They generally avoid high-risk and low-risk challenges. The former because success may be attributed to luck over effort; the latter because the accomplishment would be perceived as insignificant. Instead, achievement-driven individuals aim for challenging but achievable goals.

If you have one of these go-getters on your team, structure projects around a progression of deliverables and ensure that recognition is given whenever an objective is met.


Those who are motivated by affiliation have a need to feel like they belong to a larger purpose. It is important that they feel liked and wanted, and for this reason they are less likely to speak up for fear of being singled out. They tend to work well in collaborative efforts as opposed to individual-based work.

Affiliation-driven individuals will excel when they feel that they are playing an important role in the team dynamics. Many of them will be the glue that keeps the team cohesive, so consider allowing them to plan group activities outside of work.


McLelland states that there are two types of power motivation: Personal and Institutional. Personal power motivation is a need to dominate over the will of others. In comparison, institutional power motivation is the desire to influence a group towards achieving the company’s goals. For obvious reasons, institutional power is preferred within the workplace.

If you have a power-driven individual on your team, allow them to take the reins in certain components of the project. Knowing that they are being trusted to lead will give them the confidence to deliver.

Considerations for Management

When organizing a team, managers should assign roles which complement individual differences in motivation. Power-driven individuals typically excel in a leadership position, while affiliation-driven individuals will prefer to take a backseat in a supportive role.

For more information on McLelland’s framework, check out the links below.

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