Douglas McClelland proposed a motivation theory based on three types of needs: need for achievement, need for affiliation and need for power. Achievement need is the drive to achieve high performance; power need refers to the urge to take charge and make a difference; and affiliation need is the need for social interaction and friendships. All individuals have a combination of these needs. Small companies rely on motivated employees to deliver exemplary customer service. Mastering the basic premises of McClelland's theory helps small business managers better comprehend employee motivation.
McClelland contends that an individual's specific needs are acquired over time through life experiences. As a result, the level and motivational power of the three needs differ among individuals. Moreover, McClelland’s theory does not prescribe transition between needs with growth.
The characteristics of people with high achievement need are particularly interesting for managers. Individuals with high achievement need seek personal responsibility for problem solving and take initiatives. They do not wander aimlessly and set realistic and challenging goals that are achievable. Moreover, because their goals are important to them, they prefer rapid feedback on their performance.
High power need is not synonymous with power mongery. People with high power needs understand how to use power to enable people toward organizational goals. Making changes, motivating people and getting things done require positive use of power. People with high power needs strive to be in charge and influence others. They enjoy competition and prestigious positions.
People with high affiliation need seek closeness and interaction with others. They enjoy being accepted by others and prefer cooperation to competition. They value trust and mutual understanding in relationships.
McClelland's theory has important implications for matching roles with individual needs. Individuals with high achievement need are more suited to roles with explicit goals and immediate feedback such as sales. High affiliation need goes better with positions that require frequent interpersonal interaction, such as social work or teaching and coaching. Power need improves effectiveness in managerial and leadership positions. The dynamism of the match between roles and needs is also important. For example, promotion of a sales person to sales management brings along coaching and communication roles, which calls for interpersonal skills.