Management Theory of David McClelland Key Terms

Understanding the needs of your employees based upon McClelland's management theories

David McClelland believed the motivation for employees to perform their jobs adequately, and at optimal levels, was dependent upon their personality and characteristic needs. He also believed the skills employees had, not their intelligence levels, determined their abilities to perform a job or task.

It's important to start from the beginning and better understand some of the crucial elements of David McClelland's management theories if you want to implement them.

Theory of Needs

The management theory that provides the most recognition for David McClelland is his Theory of Needs, also known as the Acquired-Needs Theory, Three Need Theory or Learned Needs Theory. McClelland proposed that individuals/employees acquire needs over time and experiences determine those needs.


N-Ach (nACH) refers to the need for achievement and is one of the three main elements of McClelland's Theory of Needs. McClelland was especially fascinated by achievement-motivation in employees. Among the many achievement characteristics is the need to stretch one's abilities, thus avoiding high- and low-risk tasks.


N-Aff, or nAFF, refers to the affiliation need element of Theory of Needs. Those with affiliation associated needs have a strong desire to get along with others within their working environment. They tend to be conformists and followers, rather than leaders, because they want everyone to like them and try to avoid confrontation.


N-Pow (nPow or nPWR), refers to the third element in McClelland's Theory of Needs, which is the need for power. People who fall under this category tend to be natural-born leaders and strive for a leadership role in their workplaces and other aspects of their lives. They search out competition and status-oriented careers.
The College of St. Scholastica explains the need for power in more detail, including the two different types.


TAT stands for Thematic Apperception Test, an exam developed by David McClelland. The TAT determines the needs of an individual by looking at imaginative abilities.


McClelland noticed that many employers were hiring individuals based upon their IQs rather than their capabilities. McClelland argued that competencies are much more valid than aptitude and intelligence tests at determining how well and individual will do in a certain job.