Strengths and Weaknesses of McClelland’s Acquired Needs Theory and Expectancy Theory

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Strengths and Weaknesses of McClelland’s Acquired Needs Theory and Expectancy Theory

Motivation play an important role in today’s work environment as motivated employees are more productive employees. However, the ways how we motivate the employees have to be improved from time to time as employees are being more demanding and that they are more concern about their needs than before. Motivational strategies have probably affected the most by employee concerns and values (Greiner 1986, p. 82). ‘A motivational strategy is any effort to induce employees to initiate and sustain activities that can directly or indirectly improve service productivity’ (Greiner 1986, p. 82). Motivation can have an effect on the output of your business and concerns both quantity and quality. For example, if you are in a manufacturing company, your business actually relies heavily on your production staff to make sure that quality product are being produce and being delivered to your client at the right time. However, if your production employees are lack of motivation they will be not motivated to produce the amount of product demanded, thus will be very costly. In the essay below, we will be discussing on the strength and weaknesses of McClelland’s acquired needs theory and the expectancy theory.

McClelland proposed that an individual’s particular needs are obtained over time as a result of life experiences (Wood et al. p. 146). Most of these needs fall into three general categories of needs which can be class as need for achievement, affiliation or power. The strengths of the McClelland’s acquired needs theory is that it provides a clear picture for the organization and the managers to know which type of job are suitable for the employees and which types of people that can make the organizations more successful. According to the article, the authors stated that managers who have strong power of needs are more successful than those with lower power needs (Wagner & Swanson 1979, p. 66). ‘McClelland and Burnham identify two types of power managers: those who seek personal power and those who seek institutional power’ (Lyden 1976, p. 201). However, manager who seek for institutional power are more successful as they can create favorable condition at work. Wagner and Swanson (1979, p. 66) attributes the success of higher power needs people to their ability to create a greater sense of responsibility and team spirit in their organizations. This will give a clear picture for the organization on which of the employees that are suitable to be promoted and become a manager.

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MLA Citation:
"Strengths and Weaknesses of McClelland’s Acquired Needs Theory and Expectancy Theory." 18 Jan 2017

Therefore, management should provide people with high need for power the opportunity to manage other. In addition, this will also give the manager a guideline on how to become a good manager because as stated manager who seek institutional power are more successful.

Apart from that, the strength of McClelland’s acquired need theory is that it provides an understanding for the managers on how to deal with different types of employees. As we all know, there are three general categories in the McClelland’s acquired need theory. The manager can actually put the employees to different types of work according to these categories. The authors stated that, people with high level of achievement are suitable to become salesperson as they prefer challenging task, whereas people with high need for affiliation are suitable to hold a position of customer service representative as they are good in maintaining interpersonal relationship and people with high need of power are suitable to hold formal supervisory position as they have influence over other people in the organization (Wood et al. p. 148). From here, human resource manager are able to benefit from this theory as during the interview with the employee, the manager can ask question on whether the employee like challenging task or whether the employees like to interact with the other people, and from the answer that they give the manager can determine which type of job is suitable for the employee.

Furthermore, a major problem with affiliative manager is that due to the concern of the well being of the subordinates, he is willing to make exceptions to the company’s rule in responding to his employees’ need in which this action violate one of the bureaucracy’s first principles, fairness (Lyden 1976, p. 201). However, this will be a weakness for the theory as manager should act accordingly and see what kind of situations are they in before making any decisions. The manager should not always look at fairness when judging because different situation require different types of decision. For example, two employees with different situation at the same time wanting to apply for leave, one saying that he want to go for a vacation and one saying that he needs to go back to his home town to attend his parent’s funeral. If the manager were to be fair both of the employees are not to be given any leave, however the manager should act accordingly.

Besides that, the weaknesses of the McClelland’s acquired needs theory is that it serves little purpose in the public sector. As stated in the article, public sector employees are being motivated by job security and stability, teamwork and worthwhile service to society, while eschewing monetary rewards, prestige and the desire for challenge and autonomy (Jurkiewicz, Massey & Brown 1998, p. 231). From here, we can see that public sector employees are only high in affiliation and low in achievement and power. When this happen, superiors will find it hard to delegate task and to create a competitive environment between the employees in public sector, because they do not like challenging task and that most of them are very high in affiliation which are suitable in providing customer service.

Expectancy theory which was developed by Victor Vroom states that motivation is the function of an individual’s expectancy that effort will lead to performance, instrumentality judgment that performance will lead to certain outcome, and valence of outcomes (Miyamoto 2007, p. 207). The strength of expectancy theory is that it is practical, simple, easy to apply and most important is that the theory works (Quick 1988, p. 30). Quick (1988, p. 30) also stated that human behavior, expectancy theory explains, is a function of two factors which is the perceived value of the reward that certain behavior yield and the expectation in the doer that certain behavior actually yield that reward. Expectancy theory can be translated into five simple steps that can help managers motivate their employees. The five steps include define the expectation, make the work valuable, make the work doable, give regular feedback and reward employees when they meet the expectation. In fact, manager would find these steps very helpful and that manager who practices and follows these steps would be able to motivate the employees.

Furthermore, according to Igalens and Roussel (1999, p. 1006), the expectancy theory clearly indicates that the attitudinal factors which, during the motivational process; drive the individual to produce effort to perform better. Examples of attitudinal factors are the extrinsic or intrinsic rewards felt by the employee, and the expectancy of whether the employee will succeed or fail in his or her task. Therefore, in the process of motivating the employees the manager can work on the attitudinal factors which can drive the individual to perform better. Thus, in order for the employee to produce effort to perform better, the manager can either discuss with the employee on the reward he or she wants, and have two-way communication when the task is being carry out to find out if the employee is facing any problem and try to eliminate the problem to reduce the employee’s expectancy that the project will fail.

The weakness of expectancy theories is that the relationship between effort and performance will not be perfect since it is moderated by one’s skills and knowledge and by the difficulty of the task (Ferris, Beehr & Gilmore 1978, p. 342). Employees’ skills and knowledge play an important role as more skillful and more knowledgeable employees will find it easier to complete the job. However, the difficulty of the job can only be determine by the employees himself or herself, because each of the employees have different level of skills and knowledge and that the manager cannot assume that the job which are easy for a particular employee are also easy for the other employees.

The weakness of the expectancy theories is that the specification of an outcome from some choice of job behavior is more complex and open ended (Connolly 1976, p.39). Manager might assume that giving several positive outcomes is enough to motivate their employees, however, this may be wrong because one outcome may lead to another in an extended sequence. For example, choosing to work hard may be associated to increase in wages, however this does not stop there because demand for the employees will increase from time to time. Managers might find it hard to cope to employees demand as their demand might change or remain, and the only way to know is through two way communication or having feedback form from time to time.
In a conclusion, both of these motivation theories are suitable for the managers to apply. The managers can actually learn from these theories because these theories provide some guidelines for a manager to excel. Besides that, these theories also post some challenge to the manager as they are weaknesses in the theory itself, thus manager must apply different motivation theories on different individuals. Furthermore, successful manager are one who can motivate their employees to the maximum and the answer towards these success is through two-way communication with the employees, because through two-way communication manager would be able to know what actually can be done to motivate their employees.


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Ferris, GR, Beehr, TA & Gilmore, DC 1978, ‘Social facilitation: A review and alternative conceptual model’, Academy of Management Review, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 338-347, from ABI/INFORM Global database.

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Wagner, KV & Swanson, C 1979, ‘From Machiavelli to Ms: differences in male-female power styles’, Public Administration Review, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 66-72, from Jstor database.

Wood, J, Wallace, J, Zeffane, RM, Chapman, J, Fromholtz, M & Morrison, V 2004, Organisational Behaviour A Global Perspective, 3rd Edn, John Wiley & Sons, Milton.

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