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McClelland Theory – Characteristics, Concept and Applications

Definition of McClelland’s theory

McClelland’s theory of human motivation is related to the discovery that entrepreneurs can make of what drives their team members. Because, managing a group of people with different personalities is never easy.

But if you are managing or leading a team, it is essential to know what motivates the people you are managing and how they respond to feedback and praise, as well as what tasks fit well with them.

Know all information about of motivation

What is McClelland’s Theory of Motivation?

David McClelland’s Theory of Human Motivation gives you a way to identify people’s motivational factors. This can help you effectively give praise and feedback, assign them appropriate tasks and keep them motivated.

Using McClelland’s theory helps to structure the feedback for the person. Knowing that the team member’s main motivating driver is membership, which means that he or she never wants to stand out in a crowd. Therefore, feedback can be much more effective and appreciated if praise or suggestions are made in private.

In this article, McClelland’s Theory of Human Motivation is explored, and ideas are presented on how it can be used to manage and lead the team more effectively.

This theory emerged in the early 1940s, when Abraham Maslow created his theory of needs. It identified the basic needs that human beings have, in order of importance: physiological needs, security needs, and the needs of belonging, self-esteem and “self-realization”.

Later, David McClelland drew on this work in his 1961 book, “The Achievement Society,” to identify three motivators that he believed we all have: the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power.

In this sense, according to McClelland, people will have different characteristics depending on their dominant motivator. According to McClelland, these motivators are learned by what this theory is sometimes called the Learned Needs Theory. For McClelland, regardless of gender, culture, or age, we all have three motivators, and one of them will be our dominant motivator. This dominant motivator depends largely on our culture and life experiences.

Importance of Theory

McClelland’s model takes Maslow’s pyramid to place in it the potentialities and abilities of the human being. By looking at a person’s visible behaviour, their knowledge, skills and the deeper unexpressed and unconscious underlying layers.

Usually, the knowledge, skills and behavior of a person the scientist places them at the top of the pyramid, however, the central element, is what they do and demonstrate.  Similarly, below the line, in the middle of the pyramid, is thinking and wanting, which focuses on abstract terms such as norms, values and beliefs, self-esteem, characteristics, personality and motives. These four invisible layers could reinforce each other as motives. However, they can also block the visible behaviour of the person in question.

Consequently, any aspect above the line is powerful and tangible in which the focus is not on the “what” but on the “how”.  This is why these aspects are important in a company, because in an organisation this can be translated into organisational vision and strategy, content, structure, finances and especially the outcome of work, working arrangements, training and feedback. This allows for the creation of a guide for employees.

In the middle of the pyramid are located aspects are much more abstract and are fed by the underground stream. It is about the ever-present feeling without it being tangible. The relationships between people (interaction), their feelings, their expressiveness, the sense of purpose, all this can be found in this middle part of the pyramid of what people think and feel.

Also the organisational culture is created under the line at the base of the pyramid of qualities and factors of handling situations. These events below the line affect the events above. This is why both levels must be taken into account in change processes.

How is McClelland’s theory used?

This theory by David McClelland provides a view of someone’s (learned) needs and relates it to what this person does (above the level) and what they think and want (below the level). Therefore, in an organization it is interesting to know what motivates the employees of a team.

McClelland’s theory can be applied to manage corporate teams, identifying and classifying each team member

between the three needs. Knowing your attributes can certainly help manage expectations and lead the team smoothly.

Definition of McClelland's theory

Identify the motivation needs of the team

Examine the team to determine the three needs that are considered a motivator for each person. Personality traits and past actions can help in this process.

For example, it reflects the power that always takes over the team when a project is assigned, the power that speaks in meetings to encourage people, and delegates responsibilities to facilitate the achievement of the group’s goals. Someone who likes to control the final results.

Another team member who does not speak up during meetings, and who is happy to agree with the team’s thoughts, is good at handling conflict and may seem uncomfortable while someone talks about undertaking high-risk, high-reward tasks. In this case, it is likely that this team member will be driven by the membership.

Seek to approach the team according to the type of need

Based on the motivation needs of the team members, alter your leadership style to assign projects according to the type of need of each team member. Challenging projects would definitely be part of the portfolio of someone who enjoys power, while relatively simple projects go to someone derived from membership.

This information is crucial to influence while setting the relevant goals for the individual, monitoring, providing feedback, recommending the learning plan, among other advantages. If a certain type of need does not fit the individual’s position, they can be made aware of it so that they can work in the right direction and make the best decisions.