Do you sometimes feel that that you are working toward one thing at work and others seem to be motivated by something else? Maybe you think the most important thing about a workplace is developing positive relationships with others, but everyone else seems to be focused on getting ahead. Or maybe you are frustrated with colleagues who aren’t as goal-orientated as you are. If you are feeling disconnected at work, you aren’t alone.
According to David McClelland’s Theory of Needs, there are three main needs, or motivating factors, that drive people: Achievement, Power, and Affiliation. We all have these needs in us to some extent, but the workplace can bring out the main factor that motivates us the most. How do you know which of these needs drives you and how can you identify it in your colleges?
People who are driven by the need for achievement want to succeed and excel in the workplace. They have very high standards, they tend to set challenging goals for themselves. These people work best with others who are driven to succeed. If they perceive others as “slacking off,” it is very frustrating for them. If you work with someone who has a high need for achievement (think about the person who stays late, goes the extra mile to get the job done), and you are having a hard time connecting with that person, take the time to recognize their contribution. While people who have a need for achievement find the accomplishment of the task and formal promotions to be rewarding, they also need praise and recognition. Also, they are sometimes taken for granted by others because they are such hard workers. If you are the “achiever,” know that others have learned to depend on you, and lack of praise or recognition of your hard work should not be mistaken for lack of appreciation.
Some people put a high premium on leadership and influencing others. These are the people with a need for power, according to McClelland. They want to have a positive impact on the organization, and they work best in a position of authority in which they can motivate and lead others. The power motivation is sometimes perceived negatively, but we all have it in us to some extent. Nobody wants to have no power; we all want to have some authority and ability to sway the organization we work for. How many times have you questioned your boss’s decision and thought of a better way to do things? The people with a need for power think about these things regularly and imagine how they would run the organization or make decisions differently if they were in charge. Being in that position means being in the spotlight – it’s a big risk. Yet, these people are willing to put themselves out there in order to improve the company and, admittedly, it also does improve their own reputation when things go well. If you are the person with the need to be in a position of power or authority, be careful not to isolate yourself on your rise to the top. Being a team player is the key to being an effective leader. If you are working with someone with this need, you very well could be working with your future boss. These people have an amazing drive to get ahead. Whereas the “achievers” are the steady and stable – working hard and plugging along in the workplace to get ahead – the “power people” are risk takers. They may have seemingly unusual or creative ideas, but they are willing to put their reputation on the line for them. Many times, they are just one great idea away from recognition from the head boss!
Developing positive and meaningful relationships is critical for people with a need for affiliation. They strive for a friendly workplace where everyone supports each other. They work well in teams. In fact they tend to work best in environments where there is a lot of friendly cooperative interaction with others. Because they get along well with others, it bothers these people if they feel they aren’t accepted or liked by others in the workplace. If they are working in an environment where there is a lot of competition or tension, it can be very stressful for them. If this sounds like you, practice being more objective about the situation. Remember that everyone has different personalities and different needs. If someone is short with you or doesn’t take the time to chat about their weekend plans, their needs may conflict with yours and it’s not always personal. If you work with someone like this, remember that taking a few moments out of your day to connect with this person is all it takes to get along. Remember that establishing relationships at work is more than just about work – it’s about the people, too. Setting aside time to build and maintain harmonious work relationships is critical for success, too.
Whether you are driven by achievement, power, or affiliation, it’s important to understand what motivates you and others and how it impacts the workplace environment. No matter where you work, you will likely see people who exemplify these three core needs, and now you will understand each other a little better!