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McClelland's Needs Theory and Management

  In McClelland's Needs Theory, it is discussed that there are three major types of personal needs that attribute to motivation.  The need for power (nPOW), need for achievement (nACH), and the need for affiliation (nAFF).   McClelland explains each need thoroughly in his article, "Power is the Greatest Motivator".(McClelland, 1976). These needs can be portrayed into different managerial positions in a business. In the case below we will describe how each of these individuals fit or failed in their jobs, what aspects about their jobs motivate them based on their needs and suggestive changes to character to better fit their job.  Mclelland believed that needs can be learned.  WIth his idea and with proper training these employees may become better managers and be able to motiviate their employees as well.   

     The National Trucker's Palace is a very large and busy 24-hour truck stop for all types of drivers, mostly big-rig truckers. Inside the palace sits a large, well-known restaurant that services the locals and the truckers coming in for a break all hours of the day. To keep the restaurant running smoothly, the Palace employs many different rank managers to cover the different aspects that keep the restaurant afoot. There are three specific management positions General Manager, Assistant Manager, and Cover Managers

.   The general manager "Jack" oversees the entire restaurant, handling the largest issues and delegating to the lower rank managers. Jack only works normal business hours and he earns salary.

There are two assistant managers, Ralph and Kim. These two are sometimes assigned to work the overnight shifts. Like Jack, they also earn salary.  They take authority over the restaurant's other workers as well and do most much of the work given to them from Jack.  Kim and Ralph deal with customer and employee issues, paperwork,  inventory, scheduling,  payroll, and keeping the employees motivated.

There are three cover managers; Sue, Kevin, and Molly.  The cover managers are the lowest rank managers.  At any point in their shift, they may have to cook, greet/seat the guests, serve the guests, and work the counter taking orders and preparing take-out meals.  As their title is "Cover" manager, they are made available to cover the assistant managers and their duties, in case of  an absence.  Seeing as they carry this title and the general duties of the different ordinary employees, they are the hardest working members of the staff.  They take on responsibilities from all levels and do not receive a salary, only hourly wages, and can be scheduled to work and shift that the General Manager sees fit. 

  Personal Characteristics

The General Manager "Jack", has the highest authority in the management system at the restaurant.  He takes on the more serious tasks and tries to conduct his decisions based on the good of the restaurant. He ventures out to the kitchen to see how everything is running and he tends to get involved with the workers so that he can encourage a strong team based environment for the restaurant.  The restaurant success is high and the turnover rate for employees is low, but Jack doesn't assume full responsibility for these successes on his own.  He believes in the workplace as a whole and sees that everyone gets their recognition.  

Kim and Ralph the assistant managers work together to achieve the tasks that Jack has given them.  These tasks are of higher importance because of the level of scheduling and coordinating involved and they work together to find solutions to any problems within the employees of the restaurant and with customers. They both feel satisfied when they have resolved issues and reached their goals and hope to advance higher up the ladder one day or be able use this experience as a stepping stone for achievement to greater things or further success.

---Though Kim and Ralph seem happy there are a couple things that cause them problems.  Kim seems to want to take authority over Ralph and tries repeatedly to take control over situations and want to solve problems on her own, she is the first to contact Jack (general manager) when something special has happened while she was working her shift because of her need of quick feedback and praise.  Kim also has a problem with her employees as well, she tends to tell them what to do without the allowance for feedback.  She acts as though the job is done better if she has them do it her way.  She doesn't tolerate mistakes too well and is quick to punish those that make them.

The regular employees have a better relationship with Ralph but that is because he listens to their work related concerns.  He has no problem telling people what has to be done, but he doesn't dictate them on how to do it.  He is more interested in whether or not  it is done and the customers are happy and the rest of the employees have a healthy working environment.  He tries to work as a team with Kim for the better of the company but doesn't have the authority to make changes to her strategies.

The three cover managers Sue, Kevin and Molly are just happy that they can be considered managers, even if it is part time and for their own reasons.  They are almost like regular employees but are considered managers because they are called upon to relief the assistant managers duties when things are busy or in an assistant manager's absence, they also have been through multiple training courses and are certified in their positions.  They like this title either because of the possibility of advancing or simply because they feel a part of management and it meets their sense of belongingness. They also received some sense of a raise in their hourly pay rate for when they are on the clock as cover managers. 

  Kevin likes to stay busy and he really works hard on the floor and in the kitchen as long as he is not working alone.  He likes to try to get as much accomplished as possible as long as it is done the way that he wants to do it. He has great strategies that keep everything running smoothly and doesn't over work the employees. He is willing to give time to other workers when he is needed.   Kevin isn't very social but he is great with communication.  He sees problems right in front of him and brings them up to the entire staff and looks for ideas on how to fix them.   He believes that the better he does for the company the better chances he will have to move up the ladder.  He is more interested in influencing the rest of the staff in getting involved with the company goals and prefers the restaurant's success being rewarded as a team than reaping the rewards himself.

Sue has the same duties as Kevin, though she prefers to stay close to the office when she is covering other managers until she is needed on the floor or in the kitchen. She doesn't put in a lot of effort to work with other employees but is the first to take credit for a job well done.  She feels like this is rewarding to her because she believes that she gives good orders that help a job get done more efficiently than the other managers do.  Sue really wants to be an assistant manager and feels she is good enough to be the general manager one day.  She cannot wait until it is her turn to sit in the big office and just watch everyone else carry out her plan. She loves to get praise from Jack as well when she does something productive and logically.  She works constantly on developing a reputation as being successful in management by stating the changes she made that had her employees working harder. She doesn't carry a very good reputation with her co workers and doesn't seem to mind because her and Kim (the assistant manager) get along great and she gets encouragement from her. 

-----On rare occasion when  Kevin and Sue work together there are problems between them because Sue wants to tell Kevin how to do his job and she doesn't like the other employees Listening to Kevin when he is overseeing their production because he allows the employees to make their own mistakes in order to learn from them.  This conflicts with Sue because she doesn't see that as productive, though when Kevin is in charge of a shift, the employees seem much more satisfied with their job, are happier to be at work, and are more eager to do a better job than when they are under Sue's supervision.  

Molly is just happy go lucky.  She works almost as hard as Kevin does, but does not have the same drive to complete a specific task quickly and efficiently as he does.  She loves being called a manager because it makes her feel important and needed.  She works well with all the other employees and managers and is content where she is at for now.  Molly is quick to give time off to those that ask for it.  But she doesn't exactly know how to handle many situations that arise, so she lets the employees figure it out for themselves and then praises them for their efforts.  She is well liked almost as much as Kevin, but doesn't offer as much security for the employee as he does when Molly allows them to carrying out tasks that should be done by those with authority.

Successful management and room for improvements

One thing to remember is that just because the person doesn't fit the position becuase of their specific need, whether it be achievements, affiliation, or power, McClelland believes that the special characteristics needed to be successful or to improve in a different area can be learned. The important thing to keep in mind are the other benefits that the person has or can bring to the team. Through proper training a person with a need for achievement can perform very well in a position that high power is a must. There are also times that those that are not attracted to the power may be better suited for a different position rather than training in something that they will not be happy with because of their personal characteristics or needs, such as those that possess a need for affiliation.(McClelland, 1976) 

-Jack is very good at his job as general manager.  He is high in the "Need for Power".  He doesn't dictate or use authoritarian discipline and is great at motivation to the employees.  He sees the structure of the his work focused around a Team.  With this unselfish vision of his purpose he is able to run a good restaurant full of high performance members. Jack has a need for power, he likes to be the leader.  His power need is motivated by his need to influence others.  Mclelland says, "Remember that as we use the term, "power motivation" refers not to dictatorial behavior but to a desire to have an impact, to be strong and influential." (Mclelland and Burnham, 1976)

As the General Manager Jack is also personally responsible for the behavior of his subordinates.  He has two motivated assistant managers who do a good job accomplishing the tasks that are passed down to them.  If Jack studied McClelland's Need theory he would see that he has a couple of issues with his management team that could be fixed or re-aligned with some direct feedback and different management techniques.

Considering the fact that Jack only works bankers hours, his biggest concern should be his second in command because the restaurant is in their hands when he isn't there.  Kim is his biggest concern, because of her high need for achievement.  For Kim to be successful, Jack must either change the way that he manages Kim and adjust his motivational techniques to fulfill her need for achievement or try to redirect her motivation in a way that is more beneficial for the company. 

-Kim....Kim displays a strong Need for achievement.  This need is not ideal for a manager because people with this need tend to seek short-term feedback, are bad at delegating tasks because they feel that they are best suited for the task, and have problems influencing others.  People with a strong need for achievement typically do not find satisfaction in management positions because the job duties do not play to their strengths.  Kim is known for seeking out recognition and short-term feedback, she has problems relating to her staff, and also struggles to create a team atmosphere.  In order for Kim to find the success that she desires and the success that her company deserves and requires she either needs to change her approach or perhaps look at taking another position that plays more to her strengths, such as an inside or outside sales position.  

A person may think that you need a strong need for achievement in order to be a successful manager, but research shows that people who have a need to be more efficient and to do something better than the next person, do not always make the best managers.  When a person focuses solely on personal achievement and personal improvement they may miss the bigger picture, or lead people away from the companies goals.  People with a high need for achievement also seek short term feedback, and this also can be a negative for management, because a lot of the time running a company calls for a team effort to complete tasks, this limits individual praise because tasks are spread throughout the organization.

-Ralph...  Ralph and Kim both are anticipating taking the next step in their career.  McClelland's Need Theory suggests that the most successful managers are the ones that fall into the institutional category and are interested in power above all else.  People in this group "are the most effective, and their direct reports have a greater sense of responsibility, see organizational goals more clearly, and exhibit more team spirit (McClelland, Pg.1).  Ralph exhibits some of the qualities that would suggest that he falls into this category.  In order to get the most out of his career and for a better chance of being successful once he earns a promotion, he will be better served if he can improve his need for power.  

For Ralph, he is known as someone who has influence over his co-workers and he does a good job a delegating tasks, but his ability to direct and teach these tasks are limited.  In the article Power is the great motivator a good manager is described as "a good manager is one who, among other things, helps subordinates feel strong and responsible, rewards them properly for good performance, and sees that things are organized so that subordinates feel they know what they should be doing. Above all, managers should foster among subordinates a strong sense of team spirit, of pride in working as part of a team. If a manager creates and encourages this spirit, his or her subordinates certainly should perform better. (McClelland, pg.3)".  Ralph display's a lot of the qualities described here, he needs to improve his ability to teach and develop his employee's and then he will be on his way to becoming a successful General Manager when the opportunity is presented to him.

-Sue...   Sue is high in need for power (nPow) and Acheivement (nAch), she has a very dictatorial overview of her job and the restaurant, she is eager to be in charge and does not have the care for her employees as some of the other managers do, therefore she is low in need for affiliation (nAff) among her employees and other cover managers. The only opinion (positive opinions, none the less) she really seeks are from the General Manager, so that she can snake her way up the management and possibly one day corporate ladder. Sue may have good numberes when she runs a shift, but at what cost? Her employees have a strong distaste for her. They are not eager to help her with new ideas and projects for the restaurant (not that she would do more than create the idea and watch everyone else work), nor are they happy to be under her supervision.

     It seems to be pretty clear where Sue has room for improvement. If she were to have higher (nAff) with all of her employees, she could potentially increase sales, numbers, etc. She would have a more positive work environment and the employees she is overseeing would be more positively motivated to do well at work. Also, as much as she has a need for achievement, (nAch), she does not have the drive to actually dive in and complete a task herself. If she could gain the motivation necessary to want to complete tasks herself and take in the rewards she could potentially be promoted more quickly and with more support from her employees. If she does not improve upon herself, there could be negative effects. Such as, losing employees, and upper management could eventually revoke her of her title if enough problems arise while she is in charge.

-Kevin... Kevin definitely is intrinsically motivated, as well as extrinsically motivated. He works hard and enjoys seeing the fruits of his labor. That, in itself, is one of the biggest rewards in Kevin’s opinion.  He enjoys carrying the title of cover manager, and would love to be rewarded with a promotion of some kind in the future, be it assistant manager and or a pay raise.  It is clear that Kevin is highly motivated with a need for Affiliation (nAff) and also has a high sense of achievement (nAch).  In many ways, Kevin is like a prodigee of the General Manager Jack. He is open to feedback from everyone he works with and likes to create/finish projects 

Kevin does not seem to really have any downfalls with his motivation. The only issue Kevin has, is that he needs to gain the confidence to stand up to Sue and remind her that she needs to work for her title, and needs to not be so power hungry. If he can gain Sue's attention and respect Kevin can go far with his skills and motivation.  

-Molly...Molly is the least experienced manager on the team. She is driven by the need of affiliation. She has the need to just be part of the group and get along with everyone. She does work hard which shows that she has some need of achievement but the lack of need of power will hold her back and keep her from taking charge to become a great manager. 

Molly’s down fall as a manager is her lack of need of power. She lets her team run the show and that will be bad long term. Her team will quickly lose respect for her because she is not giving them the safety they need. To strengthen Molly’s management talents you could play on increasing her need of achievement. If someone could encourage her and show her how to handle the hard times it would give her new achievements to strive for. Also by bring her more into the management group it would give her need of affiliation a boost that would make her want to stay with them and not hang out so much with the other team members giving her a chance to grow.


Burnham, David H, McClelland, David (01/31/2003). "Power is the great motivator. 1976". Harvard business review (0017-8012), 81 (1), p. 117.