Building a Human Recognition & Reward Culture According to Dr. David McClelland

November 24, 2015
| ByMadison

Although our organizational landscape has changed dramatically over the last 70 years, and the tools, systems, and processes we have at our disposal are much more advanced than they were in 1960’s, we still have the same basic human needs as we did all those years ago.

So, when we look back at some of the traditional theories of human motivation, we can learn plenty about how to recognize and reward our employees for the best results. McClelland’s Theory of Needs (1961) proposes that human beings have three basic needs that come from their work, the need for achievement, the need for authority or power, and the need for affiliation. By meeting these three basic needs in your recognition culture, your organization can be one step ahead of the competition.

Need for achievement

There are companies everywhere fighting for the best talent on the market. Those people who have a need to achieve in their careers (which in today’s Millennial workforce is high–check out point 1) will be looking for that opportunity that will give them their next chance at success. If you offer career development, training, coaching and mentoring opportunities at your company, you will attract and retain the best talent.

Understanding whom in your organization, or those you’re trying to recruit, are motivated by the need to achieve, and rewarding them with the opportunities to grow, learn, and challenge themselves, is one of the keys to building a positive recognition culture.

Need for authority

On the other hand, some people prefer:
“To be influential, effective and to make an impact.” Your Coach.

These people are motivated by status and power. However, there are two types of power: personal power, where someone wants to further their status for their gain; and institutional power, where someone wants to further their standing to be able to achieve more for the organization as a whole. The latter is the goal to nurture.

If an employee is out to further their personal goals, it is important to understand why this is so and to find ways to adjust this approach to meet both the goals of the individual and the company.

People with a need for authority often want to be seen to be progressing, so rewarding them with a more senior position, control of a prestigious project, or the opportunity to lead a team would be most appropriate for this group.

Need for affiliation

Someone with a high need for affiliation tends to favor collaboration over competition. They are a team player, and they want to create positive relationships with people throughout their employee peer group. This is the person who is most likely to want to recognize other people in their team or more widely for their efforts and, therefore, could be a champion for building a culture where recognition is given by peers as well as leaders.

Rewards for this group will be a more social affair and could include team building away days, or dinners and drinks with their team.

Final thoughts - Neat little boxes

Although it feels comfortable to assign people to groups based on their basic human needs, employees needs are much more complex.

Most people are motivated by one factor more than others and taking the time to understand what motivates your employees could help you to build a more engaged team and organization. However, people get tired of repetition so be sure to mix it up by giving promotions to employees when they are due, as well as frequent and timely recognition to deserving team players.

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