McClelland’s Theory, Performance Management


David McClelland (1917-98), an American psychologist, spent many years pioneering workplace motivational thinking, developing, in particular, achievement-based motivational theory and models. His ideas, which relate closely to Hertzberg’s theory of motivation are outlined in his 1961 book, The Achieving Society, in which he identified 3 types of motivational needs. Specifically, he believed that people were motivated to perform in the workplace by the following 3 needs:

  • The need for achievement
  • The need for authority and power
  • The need for affiliation

These needs are found to varying degrees in the workplace. The blend of motivational needs characterises an individual’s style and behaviour, both in terms of being motivated themselves and as a leader in the management and motivation of others.

The main focus of this article will be “The need for Achievement”

  1. What is Achievement Motivation

A person who is “achievement motivated” seeks achievement. This is recognised in the form of attainment either by completion of stretching goals and targets or by job advancement that is promotion. McClelland observed that achievement-motivated people possess a strong need for feedback and a need for accomplishment.

  1. Characteristics of Achievement Motivated

In his book “Human Motivation,” Harvard University professor David McClellend notes that employees with achievement need to set realistic “stretch” goals for their work. They are not risk-takers, preferring to work on a project with a 50/50 chance of success that requires their skills to complete rather than leave the outcome to chance. Although recognition and financial rewards are welcome, achievement-oriented workers are more motivated by their accomplishments. They want concrete feedback about their work. They tend to seek information and participate in workgroups because these activities help them achieve their goals.

  1. Suggestion for ‘achievement-motivated’ Employee
  • Achievement is more important than material or financial reward
  • Achievement gives greater personal satisfaction than praise or recognition
  • Financial reward is a measure of success not an end in itself
  • Neither security nor status is a prime motivator
  • Honest feedback is essential
  • Constantly seek improvements
  • Risk-taking is natural and something that can be managed
  • Seek goals-oriented jobs and responsibilities that naturally satisfy their needs
  • Set goals which they can influence with their effort and ability

Some employees come to a business with a high need for achievement. These are the people who get the work done. They regularly produce results. However, because of their high achievement need they may not have strong interpersonal skills. They are effective as subject matter specialists or technical trouble-shooters working on complex projects or problems. When achievement needs are combined with affiliation needs, the need to get along well with others. The employee may become an effective manager or team leader and can help co-workers develop their need for achievement.

As an HR consulting organization, we at Alchemy Resources pay huge importance and have implemented these practices in our own workplace. We have developed a profiling tool to help you identify the motivators of your team members. At ARSB, we have designed our training intervention strategies using the given methods and have executed our training programme using Learning Management System (LMS) through both synchronous and asynchronous.

Contact us at to find out more information of our profiling tool and how we may work together to conduct a training programme to improve performances and achieve your company’s goals.