iby Susanna Savage
What motivates people to take action? Why do we work tirelessly on some projects, but put out little effort on others? Why do we stay at some jobs for decades, but leave others after only a few months or years? A group of theories called “motivation theories” seek to develop answers to these questions. Organizational leaders often utilize motivation theories in determining how to motivate employees and increase job satisfaction. This case study focuses on David McClelland’s Acquired Needs Theory and explores how that theory is displayed in the way Google treats its employees.
Acquired Needs Theory
Acquired Needs Theory was developed by David McClelland to explain human motivation. McClelland proposed that humans acquire their needs over the course of their lives based on the experiences that they have had (Avtgis, Rancer, & Liberman, 2012). While studying these needs over time, McClelland was able to divide them into three categories, the need for achievement, the need for power, and the need for affiliation. These became the basis for what is now known as Acquired Needs Theory (McClelland’s human motivation theory). In its most general sense, the theory maintains that everyone has needs which fall into one or more of these three categories. The motivation to fulfill these needs determines what people will choose to do (Garrin, 2014). The ultimate goal of fulfilling these needs is what motivates us to act, and we will strive our hardest to meet those needs. We will put out much effort on tasks that lead us to fulfilling needs, and we will put out little or no effort on tasks that are not related to our needs (Garrin, 2014).
Acquired Needs Theory is often applied to organizations as a way of increasing job performance and satisfaction. The theory states that if people can fulfill their needs through their work, they will be motivated to work and to work hard. However, if they do not feel that they can fulfill their needs with their job, their motivation to do excellent work will decrease. The surest way to ensure high quality work, is to motivate employees by enabling them to fulfill their needs through the work that they do (Lazaroiu, 2015).
• The Need for Achievement
People who have a high need for achievement are driven to make personal accomplishments. They like to be put into positions of responsibility (McClelland’s human motivation theory). Achievers tend to set moderate goals for themselves. This is because goals that are easily achieved are not satisfying to them, but at the same time, goals that are very difficult to achieve hold the risk of failure. Because achievement is so important, they will set goals that they believe they can achieve, but that are not easily attainable for others (McClelland’s human motivation theory). To satisfy this need in the work place employees must be able to take on responsibility and set their own goals. They must be given creative freedom and recognizes for their achievements and accomplishments (McClellands human motivation theory).
• The Need for power
People who have a high need for power want to attain positions that give them power over others. They aspire to be figures of greatness and respect. These people want to be in control (McClelland’s human motivation theory). To fulfill this need in the work place, individuals must have the ability to rise in influence. This means the possibility of promotion to management positions that enable them to have power over other, lower employees (Avtgis, Rancer & Liberman, 2012). Fulfilling the need for power in the work place could also mean allowing employees to pitch ideas and give input that might influence the organization. People with a need for power must feel as if they are in control, so letting them make decisions on their own and ensuring that they have some kind of influence is key.
• The Need for affiliation
According to Avtgis, Rancer and Liberman (2012), this is the “need to develop and enjoy quality relationships with others, avoid conflict, and be less dogmatic and less assertive in an effort to maintain those relationships” (186). People with the need for affiliation are primarily motivated to develop and maintain positive relationships. They want to have many friends and be liked by others. They also need a strong group affiliated. This can be achieved in the work place when employees are encouraged to have strong relationships with one another. To accomplish this, organizations can stress bonding activities and a strong corporate ‘we’ culture. People who have the need for affiliation need to find social value in the time that they spend with their co-workers and in their group membership as part of the organization (McClelland’s human motivation theory).
Critical Analysis of Google
Google is well-known, not only for its financial success and innovative products, but also for the way it treats its employees. Google has been ranked among Fortunes top 100 places to work for the last 10 years, and this year was ranked number one. Not only do Google employees experience a staggering number of luxury perks, but Google also strives to maintain a healthy and nurturing environment and workplace culture. This facilitates the high job satisfaction that Google employees experience, and in turn, the success of the organization. One of Google’s primary goals is to be an excellent place for people to work (Google careers). And Google accomplishes this goal by making sure that whether an employee needs power, achievement or affiliation, those needs can be met on the job. This does a lot more than just making Google a great place to work. It also means that Google employees love their jobs and put forth excellent work, and this employee excellence contributes to the success of the organization.
• Googlers With The Need For Achievement
Google provides employees with ample opportunities to achieve. Being employed by Google, in and of itself, is a great accomplishment, because Google’s hiring process is highly selective. Beyond that, Google encourages achievement, even from its lowest level employees. A program that exemplifies this is Google’s 80/20 rule. According to Inc., “The 80/20 rule allows Googlers to dedicate 80% of time to their primary job and 20% working on passion projects that they believe will help the company” (D’onfro, 2015). Many of the ideas that are developed in that 20% of an employee’s time become successful assent to the company. For example, Gmail was developed by a Google employee during his 20% time (D’onfro, 2015). This rule allows employees to truly use their skills and talents to make achievements, whatever their job position might be.
Google also provides employees with opportunities to take on large responsibilities. Googlers have the ability to climb to higher positions within the company through promotions. Individuals who have a strong need for achievement are given the opportunity to fulfill that need as a Google employee. Google is filled with the brightest and best minds making it an ideal atmosphere for achievers to achieve great things.
Additionally, Google offers a large number of extensive perks to its employees. While these perks serve many purposes and are offered for a variety of reasons, many of them are intended to facilitate the employees’ achievement. Free massages and delicious meals and nap-pods are all examples of perks that are designed to facilitate employee success, giving them everything that they need to feel great and do well on the job.
• Googlers With The Need For Power
Google offers employees a workplace full of opportunities to hold positions in which they have power. Managers and higher level employees hold power over the employees who report to them. And those who do not hold positions of power have the opportunity to advance to those positions based on merit. Google puts extensive stress on career planning and encourages all employees to set goals and take steps to reach their career aspirations (D’onfro, 2015).
All employees, regardless of their level in the organization are given power with programs like Google’s TGIF. According to Forbes, TGIF is “Google’s weekly all-hands meetings, where employees ask questions directly to the company’s top leaders and other execs about any number of company issues” (He, 2013). This program allows all employees to have an impact on Google, and in doing so, gives them power.
Another program that gives Google employees power is the survey. Google employees are regularly surveyed about their managers. This gives them the opportunity to express their preferences and provide feedback on the performance of their superiors. Google takes these surveys into account when evaluating management and makes crucial decisions based on them. The best managers are publicly rewarded and given the task of coaching the worst managers who are enrolled in intensive training to improve their management skills (He, 2013). This gives all employees to opportunity to take a position of power, even over their superiors. It gives them a sense of control and ensures that their voice is heard and will have an impact on the company and their own work environment (Crowley, 2013).
• Googlers With The Need For Affiliation
Google provides ample opportunity for employees to find affiliation, with a strong sense of unity and a social culture. Google employees are empowered to think of themselves as a group of people who are bound together by their skill and extraordinaire. To be employed by Google one must be among the brightest and best in one’s field. Being a Googler means belonging to a subset of the population that is known for being excellent and so Googler group membership is, by itself, incredibly affirming to employees.
Aside from this, Google employees enjoy perks that set them apart from the rest of the world and increase group solidarity. And once you become a Googler, you are a Googler for life. People who no longer work at Google are considered alumni and enjoy perks as well as support and continued group membership (D’onfro, 2015). By making it clear that Googlers are special, and set apart from others, Google makes employees feel proud to be part of a unique social group.
Another way that Google fulfills the need for affiliation is by encouraging social interactions in the work place. Many of the perks that Google offers to employees are socially oriented and designed to assist in building strong, healthy relationships between Googlers. For example, Googlers are given free access to a gym on site with fitness classes and they are encouraged to participate in organized sports with their fellow Googlers (D’onfro, 2015). Google makes employees feel like they are members of a special group of people, a group of people that they can be very proud to belong to. Within that group, Googlers are validated by strong work place relationships, encouraged by a social workplace culture.
Google effectively aligns employees’ needs for achievement, power, and affiliation with high job performance. In the framework of Acquired Needs Theory, this should mean that employees are highly motivated to fulfill their needs, and since fulfilling those needs and being an excellent Google employee are aligned, employees’ motivation to fulfill needs should translate into motivation to do an excellent job at Google. Considering Google’s success, not just in terms of business prosperity, but also in employee job satisfaction, it is safe to say that Google has successfully used Acquired Needs Theory to capture its employees’ motivations and guide them in ways that help the company and the employees themselves prosper.
Many organizations focus solely on issues that directly impact the wellbeing of the company. Things such as productivity or maximizing profits are valued above issues that seem less relevant, such as employee job satisfaction. However, it is important to understand that one cannot have a successful organization without employees who are motivated to put forward their best work. Some people believe that motivating employees is quite simple. They use rewards and punishments to encourage ideal behavior. While this strategy may work on small children, adults are much more complex beings, and this type of management may lead to resentment, high employee turnover, and low workplace motivation. Acquired Needs Theory abolishes this simplistic view of humans, by explaining motivation as the complex and sophisticated process that it is. As Google has demonstrated, when an individual’s needs can be achieved by being an excellent employee that individual will be highly motivated to be excellent (Moore, 2016). Satisfied, motivated employees are an essential component to any successful company, and following Google’s model can greatly benefit organizations of all kinds.
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