McClelland’s Theory: Organizational Relationships


Employee motivation is an essential aspect of managing relationships in the organization and enabling better efficiency of daily work. Human capital management techniques allow employing different strategies for improving motivation. While Abraham Maslow’s theory outlines the basic needs and motivation factors, other researchers further developed this theory to gain a better comprehension of work motivation. One example is David McClelland, who determined three key elements that outline an individual’s motivation – power, achievement, or affiliation. This paper aims to explore an example of a performance issue that is a result of improper motivation and discuss approaches to resolving it using McClelland’s theory.

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Motivation and Performance

A performance issue that is a result of a lack of motivation is an employee who has been displaying great work results initially, but his work performance worsened and remained mediocre for several weeks. The employee works in a sales department, communicates with clients daily, and his reimbursement is linked to the number of sales he has within a month. The company has set key performance indicators (KPIs) for each sales representative, and this particular employee had shown excellent results when he was initially hired. However, within the third month of his work, he has achieved only the minimum requirements of the KPI, and this result persisted over several weeks.

The described problem creates a performance problem for the organization because the employee was well-motivated when he first started to work for the firm. While achieving the minimum set KPIs is not necessarily the problem, the fact that his results changed drastically may indicate an organizational problem. Therefore, a manager can assume that other sales representatives may be facing the same problem, and thus their work outcomes may worsen as well. Additionally, this employee represents the business before clients, and his low motivation and job dissatisfaction can create a negative perception of the company. Thus, both this sales representative and the organization will have a smaller number of clients, affecting the profitability and the public image of this business.

One assumption is that this employee’s work does not satisfy one of his basic needs. David McClelland’s hypothesis regarding the Three Needs Theory can be applied in this case, since the author outlines essential work-related motivation factors, unlike Maslow, who cites general factors such as food or personal security (Baack, 2017; Rybnicek, Bergner, & Gutschelhofer, 2017). McClelland argues that achievement, affiliation, or power are the primary motivating factors. It should be noted that only one of the mentioned elements is dominant. According to this theory, the dominant motivation factor was formed as a result of an individual’s culture or experience. According to Baack, “effective management arises out of several different individual needs, which must be tempered by self-knowledge and maturity” (p. 96). Therefore, to resolve this issue, a manager should have a discussion with the sales representative or observe his behavior, to determine which motivation factor is important for him.

Arguably, affiliation is not an issue in this case, since the job of a sales representative, implicitly implies an individual’s belonging to a particular group. Other factors connected to this element are teamwork since it can be necessary for a person to work in collaboration with colleagues (Hansika & Joshi, 2017). However, since this employee performed well initially and no changes to the teamwork within the department were implemented recently, one can argue that this factor is not applicable to this case.

Next, the power aspect of this motivation theory suggests that influence or status may guide employees and affect their motivation. As with the previous factor, a change in performance would be linked to a change in the way the job of the business sales representative is perceived. However, if no changes occurred, then the third factor or achievement may be the most important for this employee.

Some employees’ motivation relies significantly on the challenges they face and the accomplishments they can have in a particular position. This is often reflected in the job of sales representatives, who are always motivated to perform better, sell more, and showcase improved performance. Empirical studies support his suggestion, as Mahlamäki, Rintamäki, and Rajah (2019) argue that for account managers, whose daily work is similar to a representative, performance orientation is one of the two critical motivation factors, together with learning. Hence, continuous improvement, personal and professional development, and the achievement of new goals can be vital for some individuals.

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Based on the discussed theory of motivation, a solution can be developed. It is necessary to create an environment where this individual will have a challenge and a desire to achieve a new goal, which can be done through a new KPI system. Additionally, following this approach, it is vital to provide feedback to this employee regularly (Hansika & Joshi, 2017). Finally, giving freedom of work, which would allow him to engage in independent practice, is another helpful solution.

Hence, to correct the performance problem similar to the described one, a manager should ensure that the work-related tasks are challenging and that employees receive constructive feedback about their work.


Overall, the relationship between motivation, job satisfaction, and work performance is complex and requires an understanding of the human motivation theory. IN the examined case, a sales representative became demotivated because he did not have challenging goals. Several solutions, based on the premises of the Three Needs Theory, were proposed, such as a change of KPIs towards more challenging goals, feedback, and independent work.


Baack, D. (2017). Organizational behavior (2nd ed.). ‎Chandler, AZ‎: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Hansika, K. & Joshi, H.K. (2017). Motivation and its impact on individual performance: a comparative study based on McClelland’s three needs model. International Journal of Research in Commerce and Management, 8(7), 110-116.

Mahlamäki, T., Rintamäki, T., & Rajah, E. (2019). The role of personality and motivation on key account manager job performance. Industrial Marketing Management, 83, 174-184. Web.

Rybnicek, R., Bergner, S., & Gutschelhofer, A. (2017). How individual needs influence motivation effects: A neuroscientific study on McClelland’s need theory. Review of Managerial Science, 13(2), 443-482. Web.

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