McClelland on motivation

High performance is fascinating to me. A few hours ago, I was reminded of an explanation of high performance related to the fulfillment of needs, a model with great scientific validity, and one that I believe we should each consider or at least be aware of; McClelland’s theory of needs. He argues that there are three categories of needs that we each strive towards: Achievement, Affiliation and Power.

Achievement: The motivation to excel. High achievement oriented individuals will tend neither towards high risk nor low risk activities, since high risk activities have their results based on chance, while low risk activities do not provide the opportunity to shine.

Affiliation: The motivation to connect. High affiliation oriented individuals tend towards participating in activities that entail contact with others, striving for harmonious relationship and acceptance. These people will tend to conform with their groups.

Power: The need to disconnect. High power oriented individuals either want to control others or to organise the efforts of others for the benefit of the organisation. As intuition would suggest, managers tend to be more effective if they are motivated to organise than if they are motivated to control.

We can shape our motivations over time; each of us is motivated by the sum of the factors for a situation. When we are dealing with people, we are well served by using mechanisms that work through the most important motivational factors for our team.

When I started high school, I was motivated strongly by achievement. By the time I finished high school, I was more motivated by affiliation than when I began. Today, I greatly appreciate the opportunity for me to make a difference. The challenge is to align our motivations behind our objectives…