McClelland’s Theory, Performance Management



Psychologist David McClelland has introduced 3 acquired needs in his theory on motivations for human behaviour which proposes that individuals have three basic drives: affiliation, power and achievement. In this article, our focus would be on the need for power. We would describe this need for power in three sections:-

  • What is power in the workplace?
  • Who gives you your power
  • Types of power


Power is defined as the ability of an individual to exert his or her will over another. Simply put, it is the ability of to influence others. In the workplace, it is commonly assumed that power is driven by a company’s organizational chart whereby the higher up positions have more power than the lower down positions.


Every individual in the workplace (i.e. an employee, management or otherwise) do display and exert a form of power. The choice and manner employee’s exercise power in the workplace is guided by their personality and their position within the company. Power in the workplace can be derived from the organization itself through assigned roles, responsibilities and access to resources. Other forms of power can be derived from an individual’s personality, experiences, and education.


  1. Power Derived From the Organization
  • Legitimate Power

Legitimate power also known as titular power, refers to the official title a person may hold in an organization. Within the organizational structure, those with a higher title hold more standing over those with a less significant one or no title at all. For an example, directors and managers have an established set of rights to request a certain behaviours from others. A manager might represent the organization in assigning projects, delegating tasks, implementing policies and many more. This is a form of legitimate power that most employees are familiar with and responds positively to it.

However, employees have an equal right. They are granted legitimate power by laws to which their employers are accountable. For an example, employees have the right to refuse to take on unsafe work or tolerate any forms of harassment. Both employees and employers have their set of powers and needs to have full awareness of it to create a safe and supportive environment in the workplace.


When upper management decides on an employee’s salary or bonus they are exercising their reward power. Their legitimate power provides them full control and authority to access to the resources used to reward the employees.

In the present time, forward-thinking organizations do reward their workers with an opportunity to utilize their power (e.g. providing feedback – 360-degree review). In this kind of review, managers receive feedback from both those they report to and those who report to them (Rothenburger, 2020).


When an individual in the upper management uses threats or punishments to manipulate behaviour in the workplace, he or she is using coercive power. This form of power allows an individual to punish others such as to fire or provide a warning letter for underperformance and if expectations are not fulfilled.


Expert power is derived from an individual’s possession of a set of knowledge or skill set that sets them apart from another. An expert power is innate and comes from within the individual’s brain. Hence, it is neither granted nor controlled by the business. It is important for an organization to know methods to leverage on expert power.

Expert power is crucial for employees as it enables them to set and reach their goals. They can achieve this by continuing education and attending trainings to enhance their contribution while increasing their value and power.


An employee possesses referent power when people enjoy being around them, having the desire to be like them, or having attention of others drawn to them. Referent power is often related to the concept of charisma and this acts as a key component to an effective leadership and ability to influence others. Individuals with referent power are often identified with like and respect. Example of leaders that are reckoned to have referent power are Barack Obama and Pierre Trudeau.

As described, there are varying forms of power and it is crucial to be aware that power exists in everyone. It is equally possible for an individual to have different kinds of power with different groups or situation. For an example, expert power when one is around their managers and referent power while they’re around their colleagues.

Take a moment and think about how you try to influence action from others to identify your power. You could use the descriptions above on varying types of power as a pseudo self-assessment. Rate yourself from a scale of 1-5 for each types of power, with 1 being not at all characteristic of yourself and 5 being quite characteristic. Be honest with yourself and you might find results that could be helpful for you in your workplace!

As a 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.


  1. Rothenburger, S. (2020). Beyond the Org Chart: Social Networks & Other Paths to Power at Work. Mentor Works. Retrieved from