(based on the theories of David C. McClelland)

Each of us draws from all three motives, but one will be predominant and may reinforce the person’s habitual way of operating. Employees will initially respond best to the approach that fits most closely with their dominant motive. However, if you’re in a managerial or coaching relationship, you could unwittingly strengthen a motive that’s not in their best interest. For example, if someone constantly looks to you for approval and you give it, that person will be satisfied but continue to rely on you for approval and won’t develop independent standards. 

Affiliation Motive – Being with others, expressing feelings and ideas, and getting others’ approval. People primarily motivated by affiliation are often friendly and work best when they feel appreciated and their work environment gives them the opportunity to interact with others. This motivation is reinforced and maintained by providing work where cooperation with co-workers is required, some time for personal interaction is encouraged, and team building efforts are valued. Positive feedback that’s not specific will satisfy and/or develop peoples’ affiliation motive because it lets them know they’re liked and accepted, but will not develop the achievement or power motive.

Achievement Motive – Standards of excellence are clear, with the opportunity to set goals and perform successfully against those standards (includes problem-solving about how to overcome obstacles to performance). People primarily motivated by achievement are usually competitive and work well independently. This motivation is reinforced and maintained by providing challenging work that stretches capabilities, along with concrete standards for success and clear, unambiguous feedback. Specific and descriptive feedback will provide people with a tool to satisfy and/or develop their achievement motive because it allows them to set their own goals and give themselves feedback about the degree to which the goals were accomplished.

Power Motive – Impact the working environment. This includes being able to persuade and/or influence others, either through organizational position or through opportunities for group input. People primarily motivated by power usually have an interest in moving up in the organization and are often fluent in their communication style. This motivation is reinforced and maintained by allowing personal control over work pace and methods, as well as opportunities to influence – especially if they can deal directly with people higher in the organization. Encouraging peoples’ involvement in problem solving and decision making will satisfy and/or develop their power motive because it gives them influence over their work and other people.