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Human Motivation Theory

David McClelland

Let's continue our discussion of McClelland's Human Motivation Theory. On the previous page we discussed the Need For Achievement and the Need For Power.

Click to read from the start of this article (McClelland's Human Motivation/Three Need Theory)

Now we will look at the third need in McClelland's Human Motivation theory

The Need For Achievement (N-Ach)


A need for achievement focuses on the need to achieve, excel and succeed. A person with this type of need, will set goals that are challenging but realistic. The goals have to be challenging so that the person can feel a sense of achievement. However the goals also have to be realistic as the person believes that when a goal is unrealistic, its achievement is dependant on chance rather than personal skill or contribution. This type of person prefers to work alone or with other high achievers. They do not need praise or recognition, achievement of the task is their reward.

McClelland's Three Need Theory Compared with Herzberg's Hygiene Theory

According to Herzberg’s Hygiene Theory intrinsic factors are related to job satisfaction, whilst extrinsic factors created job dissatisfaction. In other words when people felt satisfied and happy at work the conditions present were directly affecting their inner feelings and self esteem. Yet dissatisfaction was created by the job environment people worked in and the interactions within that environment. Click on the following link for a detailed list of each of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors. (Herzberg)

Herzberg's Hygiene Theory can be related to McClelland's Three Need Theory;

McClelland's Three Need Theory Compared with McGregor's XY Theory

It is believed that

N-Ach achievement-motivated people are more likely to apply Theory X (authoritarian management style).This is because achieving the task is their main focus. Whilst

N-Affil managers are likely to apply Theory Y as people’s opinion of them is important to them.

N-Pow managers are believed to apply Theory X because they have a need for power; either to feel personal power or to progress organisational objectives.


McClelland asserts that humans are motivated by a need for achievement, a need for affiliation and a need for power. However the extent to which a person is motivated by one of these needs will depend on their personality, cultural background and life experiences. We have also examined how these 3 needs could be extracted from things influencing people in McGregor's XY theory and Herzberg's Hygiene theory; we'll leave you to decide how far the comparisons can be taken.

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