January 19, 2018


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Acquired Needs Theory of Motivation – Leaders that are good Change Agents

What Is Acquired Needs Theory of Motivation? Acquired needs theory of motivation - Leaders that are good change agents

By Stephen Warrilow

Today Stephen provides us with an interesting perspective on how aquired needs theory of motivation shows which leaders make good change agents in a change management initiative.

Acquired Needs Theory describes three types of motivational needs: Achievement, Authority and Affiliation.

These were first identified and described and by David McClelland in “The Achieving Society” [1961]. David McClelland was a pioneer in the field of workplace motivational thinking, and was a proponent of competency-based assessments in favour of IQ and personality based tests.

In summary, the acquired needs theory states that needs are formulated over time by our experiences. We will tend to have one of these needs that affects us more powerfully than others and thus affects our behaviours, and they fall into three general categories of needs:

(1) Achievement

Achievers seek to excel and appreciate frequent recognition of how well they are doing. They will avoid low risk activities that have no chance of gain. They also will avoid high risks where there is a significant chance of failure.

(2) Affiliation

Affiliation seekers look for harmonious relationships with other people. They will thus tend to conform and shy away from standing out. The seek approval rather than recognition.

(3) Power

Power seekers want power either to control other people (for their own goals) or to achieve higher goals (for the greater good). They seek neither recognition nor approval from others -only agreement and compliance.

Acquired needs theory focuses on those with an achievement motivation, and David Mclelland stated as a result of his experiments and research that:

(1) Most people do not possess a strong achievement-based motivation

(2) Those people who do, display a consistent behaviour in setting goals.

Acquired needs theory indicates the following characteristics and attitudes of achievement-motivated people:

  • Achievement of objectives matters more than material or financial reward
  • Greater personal satisfaction is felt by achieving the goal than from receiving praise or recognition
  • Money is regarded as a measure of success, but not the end in itself
  • Neither status nor security are prime motivations
  • Accurate quantitative feedback is essential, because it enables measurement of success
  • Achievement-motivated people constantly looking for ways of doing things better
  • Achievement-motivated people will gravitate towards jobs and responsibilities that challenge them and satisfy their needs – for example sales and business leadership and management
  • Achievement-motivated people have the capacity to set high personal goals that they believe to be attainable

Applying Acquired Needs Theory to Change Management

Acquired needs theory indicates that people with a strong need for achievement, make the best leaders – provided they develop the people skills necessary to get the best results from their people.

So find the people who are achievement oriented and who have the necessary people skills and encourage them into a small team to help lead and manage your change initiative.

Not to miss any of these Change Management and how it relates to Project Management articles, please subscribe to Virtual Project Consulting’s RSS feed.

If you want to work with Stephen Warrilow, take advantage of his 7 FREE “How to Do It” downloads that will take you through all of the key stages of “How to manage change” – and show you how to manage change successfully.  Change Management Expert

About the author:

Stephen Warrilow, based in Bristol, England, works with companies across the UK providing specialist support to directors delivery significant change initiatives. Stephen has 25 years cross sector experience with 100+ companies in mid range corporate, larger SME and corporate environments.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Aislinn O'Connor says:

    Thanks for the interesting article. Have a look at my article about success needs motivation.