3.1 - Outline a recognised theory of motivation

The Three (3) Needs Theory

David McClelland identified 3 types of motivational need. 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; and

  • The need for affiliation.


These needs are found to varying degrees in all of us. 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 3 Needs:

  • Achievement-Motivated. 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.

  • Authority-Motivated. A person who is 'authority-motivated' needs to perceive themselves as influential in their role and organisation. They possess a strong need to lead, they like to see their ideas implemented, and need to be rewarded by increasing personal status and prestige.

  • Affiliation-Motivated. A person who is 'affiliation-motivated' needs friendly relationships, is motivated by their interaction with others, and enjoys working in teams. They need to be liked and accepted by others.


McClelland said that, while most people possess and exhibit a combination of all 3 characteristics, some people exhibit a strong bias to a particular motivational need. He observed that the motivational ‘needs mix' affects both their behaviour in the workplace and their leadership/management style.

For example, he suggests that a strong preference for 'affiliation motivation' can undermine a manager's objectivity, in that their need to be liked can adversely affect their decision-making capability. People possessing a strong preference for 'authority motivation' will be attracted to the leadership role, leading by example – working hard for the organisation – but they may not possess the necessary interpersonal skills to get the best out of their teams.

McClelland’s view was that people with strong 'achievement motivation' make the best leaders. He highlighted (and proved through research) that people who were motivated by achievement were particularly adept at setting and achieving realistic goals. He firmly believed that achievement-motivated people are most capable of getting results both on their own and as a leader and/or manager.

McClelland suggested that for ‘achievement-motivated’ people:


  • 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; and,

  • Set goals which they can influence with their effort and ability.

When we think of successful business people and entrepreneurs – the Richard Branson’s of this world – we can identify with these characteristics and recognise that much of their success comes from a determined results-driven approach. Interestingly, McClelland also observed that people with strong ‘achievement motivation’ might be inclined to demand too much of their staff, believing others to be similarly results-driven and achievement-focused. 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation 

Intrinsic motivation comes from within a person. An employee might have an internal feeling of motivation driven by, personality, or explained by a natural enjoyment of the work. They actually like what they do.


Extrinsic motivation refers to motivation resulting from any number of external things we might do in an attempt to stimulate motivation in others. There is a lot of focus on forms of extrinsic motivation. New ways to entice people to do more and better work. This isn't bad in and of itself, but it is not the most productive view of motivation.

Tips -

Try to explain how it works rather than just describe it.

Examples from your own company might help to explain the theory.

The puzzle of motivation | Dan Pink