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Motivation types

Author: Mariana da Silva Godinho
Updated at:2017-12-12
Tags: motivation, need theory, employees, customers, stakeholder

Everyone has something that motivates them, both personally and professionally. In this article will explain "Need Theory". This theory was proposed by psychologist David McClelland, and will help you better understand employees, customers and other stakeholder’s motivations.


What is the “Need Theory”?

This theory is a model that tries to explain what motivates people to act in a certain way or to make a particular decision in a business context. According to McClelland, there are three types of people:

  • the Achiever,
  • the Power/Influencer
  • the Affiliator.

Each of these three types of people have their specific characteristics, needs, strengths and struggles, and we will talk about them briefly in this article. The characteristics that define someone in the work environment are shaped by the cultural experiences of each individual. However, the theory is not fully reflected in practice. It is very rare for someone to be a "pure" achiever,influencer or affiliator. Usually they are predominantly one, but also hold traits of the other.

How can we use the “Need Theory” to create an organizational culture?

We all know organizational culture. It translates what the group is and feels like. In a company (hierarchical group) Leaders, Founders and long standing team members of the company are the ones that have a strongest influence in the culture of the business. Changing one of those elements will probably change the culture of a company. The same thing if you hire or fire several people within the organization. Knowing each group element's needs, will help you understand, measure and engineer organizational culture. You can change the way your company operates, by defining a different mix between Achievers, Affiliators and Influences. If you want to know more about recruiting in a startup, read our article Recruiting in a Startup.

The Achiever


The first type we’re going to talk about is the Achiever. This is someone that wants to achieve goals, solve problems, have a good performance, success and make things better. They are well organised, innovative, good planners but at the same time they struggle in delegating to others, valuing relationships and team and calculating risk taking. At their best they might show Empowering Behavior and at their worst they might show a Dictatorial Behavior. The best assignment types you can give them are the ones with specific outcome targets and that provides new challenges, and typically are suited to be high level executives in large organizations. The best type of roles for an achiever are:

  • Fundraising,
  • Administration,
  • Training,
  • Financial,
  • Data gathering,
  • Professional tasks,
  • Board of directors,
  • Entrepreneurship,
  • Leadership of small task-oriented groups.

A good example of an achiever is the CEO os Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk.

The Power / Influencer


The Influencer is someone that mainly thinks about impact, influence, status and empowering others. They are good strategic thinkers, teachers/trainers and work better in hierarchy. However, they have some trouble dominating, argumenting and intimidating. At their best they might use power in an institutional manner and at their worst they might use power in a personal manner. A good assignment for them offers the opportunity to use influence and the ability to share expertise. They are not recommended for direct client service. These are the best roles for an influencer:

  • Middle and high level management decision maker,
  • Advocacy,
  • Policy making,
  • Fundraising,
  • Political action,
  • Speaker, trainer,
  • Media representative
  • Board chair.

The former president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, is an excellent example for this type.

The Affiliator


Finally, the Affiliator is someone who thinks about interpersonal relations, their feelings, their colleagues feelings and how they can help. They are good barometer of climate at the office, good listeners and persuaders. However, they struggle dealing with conflict, have difficulty in being objective and can overreact. At their best they might display Caring Leader Behavior and at their worst they might show Pollyanna Behaviour (the need of always seeing good in everything and in everyone). For them, a good assignment are a team or people-oriented activities and relationship building activities. They usually are not managers. The best type of roles for an affiliator are:

  • Direct client services,
  • Public relations,
  • Customer service,
  • Support activities,
  • Planning/giving recognition to others,
  • Leading terms or support groups,
  • Roles providing opportunities to socialize,
  • Roles which offer group involvement.

Marge Simpson is fictional character that exemplifies the influencer.

How to identify which need profile

You can identify what type your contributors are by submitting them to the Motivation Analysis Quiz or you can try and identify some signals which are archetypical of each profile for example:

  • Achiever - possible clue: extensive organized smart phone,
  • Influencer - possible clue: recognition plaque on the wall,
  • Affiliator - possible clue: has the biggest contact list and the largest number of friends on Facebook.

How can we use the “Theory of Needs” to motivate employees?

After identifying which type of “theory of need” profile you are dealing with, you can attend to their needs and keep them motivated. We will briefly going through each profile and identifying some of the most relevant needs.

The achiever needs:

  • Rapid feedback,
  • Challenges and opportunities to improve oneself,
  • High standarts, unique accomplishments,
  • Deadlines,
  • Responsability,
  • Checklists,
  • Likes to work alone or with other high achievers.

The influencer needs:

  • Position of leadership and influence,
  • Public recognition,
  • Prestige and job status.

The affiliator needs:

  • To help and be needed,
  • To be with friendly people,
  • To feel included and liked by a larger group,
  • To be supervised by a “leader-friend”
  • Personal recognition,
  • Opportunities to express feelings.

Other stakeholders

As we said in the beginning of the article, this theory is not only helpful because of the employees. It also helps the company dealing with:

  • Customer Segmentation - A product may be taillored to an achiever, affiliate or an influencer
  • Know how to deal with suppliers and customers.

Final Remarks

In general, soft skills are important. Knowing how to read the needs of the people around us is an important skill. In this sense, this theory is another tool in your toolbelt to help you achieve your goals. You need to respect and help them fulfill their needs for them to be motivated.