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McClelland’s Theory of Needs or Three Needs theory

McClelland Theory of needs

McClelland’s Theory of Needs was proposed by Psychologist David McClelland. This theory is also called

  • Three Needs theory or
  • Acquiring Needs Theory or
  • Achievement Motivation Theory.

According to McClelland, of all the human needs, there are three needs, which are the most important for every human being. They are

1) Need for Achievement

2) Need for Affiliation

3) Need for Power

McClelland’s Theory of Needs can be considered as an extension to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Per David McClelland, Almost all humans, regardless of age, sex, race, culture, or wealth, possess at least one of the above three needs and are driven by it. These motivation needs are driven from real-life experiences and the views of their ethos.

McClelland’s Theory and Project Management

According to  McClelland’s theory, an individual’s needs for Achievement, Affiliation, and Power influences his/her behavior significantly. So, as Project Management Professional (PMP) or in general as a Project manager or a people manager, it is only prudent to understand these needs of the individual team members in order to manage them effectively.



Mcclelland Theory

Need for Achievement

It is the urge to excel in or achieve something in what you do. If you are an actor, its the need/urge to become one of the most famous actors, if you are a programmer, its the need/urge to make a popular application, if you are a painter, its the urge to do a famous painting.

People with achievement need like recognition. They always work to excel in what they do, and they avoid low risk, low rewarding situations. They also avoid very difficult and high-risk situations. They avoid low-risk situations due to the lack of real challenge, they avoid high-risk situations because they understand and perceive that achieving something in such situations heavily depends on luck and less of individual efforts. They find both these situations less recognizable, and less rewarding to their efforts.

These people find innovative ways to achieve their goals, and consider their achieving their goals a better reward than any monetary rewards. They always tend to set relatively difficult goals and strive to achieve them. They always appreciate and value suggestions and honest feedback. They usually tend to work alone.

Need for Affiliation

This is the urge of a person to have interpersonal and social relationships with other people or groups of people.

People with this need seek approval rather than recognition. They have the urge to be liked by others. They like spending their time socializing and maintaining relationships and possess a strong desire to be loved and accepted.

They prefer working in groups by creating friendly and lasting relationships. Collaboration is their preferred style of working to competition, and they usually avoid high risk and uncertainty. 

Need for Power

It is the desire to have control and authority over another person(s), and influence other’s behavior and/or decisions in accordance with your own needs or desires.

People with this need have a desire to control, organize and influence others. Competition motivates them. They enjoy prestige, status, and recognition. These people are socially oriented. They are self-disciplined and expect the same form their peers and teams. They don’t mind playing a zero-sum game, where collaboration is not an option.


Below are the other popular theories on motivation

McGregor’s Theory of X and Y

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation or Two Factor Theory of Motivation

All  Motivation Theories.

Other References

Three Needs Theory – Wikipedia

Motivation – how to increase project team performance


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