Human Motivation Theory By David McClelland

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In any organization it should be considered vital to identify the underlying motivational forces of team members. Pinpointing motivators can help better understand the individual worker and to manage and motivate them in the best possible way in teams. David McClelland proposed his Human Motivation Theory that identifies achievement, power and affiliation as the three dominant motivators and the accommodating characteristics that follow with each. It should be noted that all three motivators are present at all times, while one becomes dominant through life experiences and cultural influences. Compared to other similar theories, such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this theory accounts for situational factors and could arguably be considered more useful in an organizational context. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs should, however, not be dismissed due to its generality and has similarities with the Human Motivation Theory. In the following paragraphs, the motivators will be introduced and discussed and analyzed in regards to how to utilize this theory in organizations in an inter-cultural context.

nACH (Need for achievement)

Individuals with the dominant motivator of achievement are motivated to by setting out and accomplish challenging goals, he or she will often take calculated risk in order to accomplish these goals and are motivated by receiving continuous feedback on progress and achievements. These individuals often take solace in working alone and should be placed accordingly in the team effort to not only improve the motivation of the In any organization it should be considered vital to identify the underlying motivational forces of team members. Pinpointing motivators can help better understand the individual worker and to manage and motivate them in the best possible way in teams. David McClelland proposed his Human Motivation Theory that identifies achievement, power and affiliation as the three dominant motivators and the accommodating characteristics that follow with each. It should be noted that all three motivators are present at all times, while one becomes dominant through life experiences and cultural influences. Compared to other similar theories, such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this theory accounts for situational factors and could arguably be considered more useful in an organizational context. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs should, however, not be dismissed due to its generality and has similarities with the Human Motivation Theory. In the following paragraphs, the motivators will be introduced and discussed and analyzed in regards to how to utilize this theory in organizations in an inter-cultural context.

nPOW (Need for power)

Individuals with the dominant motivator of power are motivated by competition and by winning and he or she will often be argumentative and vocal in order to gain control and influence during discussions and decision making. These individuals are driven by recognition and enjoy the status that winning brings with it. This need is comparable to the esteem need originally proposed by Maslow.

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nAFF (Need for affiliation)

Individuals with the dominant motivator of affiliation are motivated by social aspects and will often follow the majority of the group in decision making to maintain status quo and to maintain certainty. He or she will as such also prefer collaboration over competition and will thrive best in working in teams rather than alone. This need is comparable to the social need originally proposed by Maslow. The Human Motivation Theory is used as a framework to identify the motivating drivers in people and can be used as a tool to better give praise and feedback in tune with these drivers. This offers insight into how to delegate and assign tasks to the best suited candidate and to optimize the effort of individuals.

As nACHs enjoy challenging work and thrive to achieve the goals set forth, they can be assigned to stressful tasks as long as the individual receives continuous feedback to fuel the motivation driver and to ensure that the achievement of completing the task correspond with a fitting compensation. These individuals are very self-aware and self-critical, so feedback given should be fair and appraisal should be given in accordance with the achievement and the success thereof. They seek to continuously improve and want to know where they can do so. POWs thrive best when they are in a position where they can make decisions and are often suitable for leadership roles or negotiators as they are motivated by influencing others and are goal-oriented tasks. Feedback should be given directly while future prospects should be introduced continuously to ensure motivation.

The best approach to identify the dominant motivator is to look at the past actions and the characteristics of the individual and analyze from this body of knowledge. Asking an individual about their dominant motivators will not necessarily yield anything useful, as they might see themselves differently than how they act or want to be motivated in a different way than they actually are. Robbins et al (2009) also point out that these needs are subconscious and thus very difficult to measure. It is important to note that an assessment of any past actions and defining characteristics analyzed to determine the need of an individual is also bound to be culturally influenced. In the following paragraphs the cultural influences on the needs will be discussed more in-depth.

In a multicultural work place it is arguably important to understand the cultural differences of individuals and to apply this cultural understanding to motivate individuals correctly. Geert Hofstede introduced his cultural dimensions theory as a framework for cross-cultural communication after conducting a world-wide survey of IBM employees in a 6 year time-period. The framework consists of six dimensions, although it originally consisted of four dimensions which are still universally regarded as the foundation for modern cross-cultural research and which will be the focus of the this discussion: masculine/feminine, low/high hierarchy, low/high power, individual/collectivistic.

To diagnose the correct dominant need as per McClelland’s human motivation theory, we propose that the cultural aspects needs to be separated in some degree as some cultures inherently value specific values or power structures which can be argued to be a collectivistic expression of that culture and not necessarily an individual one. Individuals with a cultural background akin to the Sinic or Indian culture will evidently be more group-oriented by default than those with a Western cultural background – but does this equate to a need for affiliation and that they would fit better in a team than on their own? We propose that characteristics and past behaviors are to be examined more in-depth to strip away any status quo preferences that stem from cultural backgrounds. The same goes with cultures that encourage masculine values such as competition over feminine values such as fairness. Individuals with a cultural background that favors masculine values would evidently also often be seen as having a need for power as their dominant motivator – but does this quote to taking charge and standing out of the crowd and feeling motivated by being in a position of apower?

  • Need to explain the 4 dimensions and add the original reference
  • Need to input example with power structure and hierarchy
  • Need to propose a possible framework, future analysis, possible converging theories, a check list, questionnaire?
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