TipTip Of The Month: What Motivates People?


I get asked all the time, "How do I motivate people?" The simple answer is "Ask them what motivates them." Everyone is motivated by different things in different situations. Since many people don't understand why they are motivated or not, here is one simple theory that explains three possible reasons.

The Three (or Acquired) Needs Theory by David McClelland states that people are generally motivated by one or more of three needs that people acquire through life experiences and cultural influences:

  1. Achievement
  2. Affiliation
  3. Power

It's helpful to understand these needs and what you can do to satisfy them, which leads to motivation.

People who have Achievement needs desire challenging projects that give them a sense of accomplishment. High achievers will avoid low risk tasks because they can easily succeed; they are interested in overcoming obstacles in difficult, but not impossible situations. They enjoy working alone or with other high achievers.

People who have Affiliation needs are motivated by being part of a group. They like to work with others, maintain group harmony, and collaborate on group tasks. They tend to avoid risky situations because they don't like uncertainty. Their relationships with people are more important than the tasks.

Power needs are often perceived as negative, and they can be if people are concerned with personal power and controlling others in a team environment. However, people who have institutional power needs are necessary to drive decisions, organize people, and influence others. These people are effective in competitive situations and negotiations that further the organization's goals and boost their careers.

Start to notice what drives people to do certain tasks. Once you've identified a person's possible need, assign the right tasks to fulfill those needs. This assumes that people have the knowledge, capability, resources, and authority to perform well. If they have what they need  but they are still not thriving, you may have identified the wrong need; the good news is that there are only two other possibilities. Pay attention to people's behaviors to get clues about what works for them, then modify your approach to meet their needs to have a more motivated, engaged, and productive team.

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Tiffany Dahlberg - Ready2ACT