Achievement Theory of Motivation

Achievement Motivation Theory is one of the famous works of American psychologist David Clarence McClelland. This theory is also widely recognized as Need Achievement Theory, Need Theory and Three Needs Theory. McClelland being influenced by Henry Murray’s initiatives developed this theory in the early 60s.

Achievement Theory of Motivation is all about how needs of an individual change over a period of time with changes in his experience. The theory also explains what effects an individual’s need for achievement, power and affiliation have on their behavior. McClelland has stated that every individual’s motivation is driven by the need of these factors, irrespective of age, gender, race or culture one belongs to.

Components of Achievement Theory of Motivation


Dominating factor (components) of motivation

Characteristic of the person



  • Are high performers
  • Believe in excellence
  • Have strong mind setting to accomplish the given task
  • Calculates risk of the task beforehand
  • Demands regular feedback from the superiors.
  • Prefers working alone to group works
  • Appreciates accomplishment rather than rewards (tangible or intangible)



  • Have desire to control and influence others
  • Are argumentative, competitive and assertive in nature
  • Enjoys status and recognition
  • Are likely to feel frustration under uncontrollable situations



  • Desires to feel belongingness and relatedness
  • Seeks love, affection and recognition
  • Are likely to agree on whatever his coworkers have to say
  • Fears rejection
  • Prefers collaboration to competition
  • Tends to avoid high risk and uncertainty
  • Prefers group works to working alone

Explanation of the Components

Different people are motivated by different factors. These factors depend upon the nature or type of person he/she is. Based on the fact, achievement theory of motivation was developed by considering three major factors. They are

Need for achievement


There are people who are motivated by achievement or accomplishment in the workplace. Such people are high performers and always look forward to excel in their concerned field.

People, whose motivation is driven by achievement, prefer working on projects whose results are based entirely on efforts and nothing else. Besides, they prefer moderately difficult or challenging tasks and tend to avoid high risk as well as low risk situations. It is because, high risk situations may result in underachievement while low risk situations are not convincing enough. 

Talking about rewards, either tangible or intangible, it has negligible influence on people who are directed by need for achievement. However, they demand continued feedback from the superiors/supervisors as it helps them in comparing their expected achievement with actual achievement.

Need for Power


According to McClelland, need for power is the desire in people to be able to control one’s as well as other people’s actions. Such people’s motivation is neither driven by recognition nor by rewards, but only by agreement and compliance from others.

Reportedly, people of this personality are found to be more argumentative, competitive, influencing and assertive than those who value achievement and affiliation more. They are also known for their attitude (positive) towards discipline.

However, people in this category are more likely to experience frustration in cases when situations are out of control as they feel powerless.

Need for affiliation


Affiliation is positive, sometimes intimate, personal relationship.

In other words, affiliation can be defined as the positive response an individual receives in return of their attempt to maintain an affective relationship with people who are present around him most of the time.

People who values affiliation above achievement and power always look forward to maintain warm interpersonal relationships with people they have recurring contact with. Having good bond with others creates a feeling of belongingness and relatedness which automatically results in supportive and collaborative response from them.

However, these people are more likely to avoid highly competitive, uncertain and risky situations because they desire to receive love and acceptance, and fear rejection. Thus, they also adhere to workplace ethics and norms.

Implications of Achievement Theory of Motivation

Workforce is composed of employees with different nature. The employers must identify or recognize these natures so that they could properly motivate employees and extract the best from them. While different employees have different nature, employees can maintain high level of motivation in them in following ways.

Employees, whose motivation is driven by achievement, must be handed over challenging tasks with achievable goals. While less challenging or low risk tasks are perceived as tasks not worth spending time and effort, tasks with unreachable goals demotivates these type of employees. Sports players are good example of people of this type.
Some employees’ motivation is highly influenced by power. Employees of this nature have strong desire to acquire power or authority to manage self and others that they become committed to their duty even when other motivational factor like payment is comparatively low. Example of such people is those who join police.
Employees, whose motivation is driven by affiliation, demand cooperative working environment. As these employees prefer working in groups to working alone, they may be resistive to transfer due to their preference to stay close to their friends and family. Their resistance can be observed even in cases when transfer is beneficial for personal development. Employees with such quality can perform well when they are given tasks based on social interactions, for example customer service, front desk clerk, etc.