McClelland’s Acquired needs are based on the idea that individuals have specific needs that motivates them, these being one or a mixture of achievement, power and affiliation. Proposed in the 1960’s, the theory is applicable to everyone regardless of demographic characteristics. He states that an individual’s needs are based on the experiences the individual has had throughout their life, and, because these needs influence the actions of the individual they can be useful to managers to understand what motivates each member of a team.
Those with a need to achieve will gravitate towards tasks that are neither easy or difficult but are of medium difficulty and risk – by hard work alone they believe they will achieve the task. The need for power can be sub-divided as either personal or institutional. The former can mean people have an unwanted control over others, whilst the latter is often desirable in a corporate setting as these people will organise a team to realise their full potential for the benefit of the company. People with a need for affiliation want to get on with everyone and be liked, they are team players but may be subjected to ‘groupthink’ because of their need to avoid conflict with the team.Considering a team of engineers with varying levels of experience they will all have different motivators. A young graduate is most likely to have needs of affiliation (due to their relative newness in the position and desire to fit in first) and achievement (to try and accomplish new tasks given to them to prove themselves capable).
Their manager should therefore ensure opportunities exist to allow the graduate to build a rapport with other staff and set a task at a reasonably easy level to allow them to feel a sense of accomplishment on their first tasks, making them more motivated for the next task. The more senior level engineer is more likely to feel a need for power after many years’ service at their employment. If the company has nurtured and developed the employee’s skills, then he is more likely to want to serve in the interests of the company in return – this would make him a suitable candidate for promotion to management. However, if the person’s need for power stems from a personal desire to have control over others then they could abuse this level of power to take advantage over others, possibly by bullying colleagues by either shifting their own workload to others or belittling them making themselves feel superior. A manager who can deduce the different motivating needs of the team should be able to use this information to put people in the appropriate job roles. This way they have the best opportunity to manage any possible tensions between members. This theory does not give thought to the personal lives of workers and so any aspect of their personal lives is not considered here.