Category Archives: Management Models

David Merrill & Roger Reid: Social Styles

Social Styles are a model of personality that focuses on our outer behaviour, rather than the inner you. Its founders described it as ‘the you that’s on display’.

In the early 1960s, two industrial psychologists, David Merrill and Roger Reid wanted to understand whether they could predict managerial, leadership and sales performance. To do this, they explored how people behave in social situations. They chose not to concern themselves with why.

Starting with BF Skinner’s ideas of behaviourism and James Taylor’s structured list of behavioural descriptions, Merrill and Reid discovered that people’s behaviour follows two continua, which they labelled: assertiveness and responsiveness.

Assertiveness and Responsiveness

Assertiveness styles range from ‘asking’ behaviours to ‘telling’ behaviours, while our responsiveness varies from ’emoting’, or displaying our feelings, to ‘controlling’ our emotions.

From these two dimensions, they defined four behavioural styles that we each display. As with other models, we each have our preferences, but can display all of the styles from time to time.

The value of the model lies in using it to assess the people around you, and knowing how to get the best from people with each preference.

Merrill and Reid labelled our ability to adapt to other people’s styles as ‘versatility’.

Four Quadrants: The Social Styles

David Merrill & Roger Reid - Social Styles

David Merrill & Roger Reid – Social Styles

The four quadrants that the two dimensions of assertiveness and responsiveness create, give the four social styles.

Analytical

The analytical style of interaction asserts itself by asking, rather than telling. It is also characterised by a high level of emotional control. It values facts, logic and accuracy, presenting a disciplined and unemotional – some would say cold – face to the world. This manifests in a deep need to be right about things, and therefore a highly deliberative, data-driven approach to decisions. As with all styles, there is a weakness, which is a lack of willingness to state a position until the analytical person is certain of their ground.

Driving

The driving style is the typical task-oriented behaviour that prefers to tell rather than ask and shows little concern for feelings. It cares more about results. This is a fast-paced style, keen to make decisions, take power, and exert control. Often unco-operative, this is an efficient, results-driven behaviour, the inevitable compromise of which is to sacrifice personal relationships in the short term and, in extremis, in the long term too. The weakness of this style is evident: a frequent unwillingness to listen and accommodate the needs of others.

Expressive

The expressive style is also assertive, but uses feelings to achieve its objectives. The behaviour is highly spontaneous and demands recognition and approval, and favours gut instinct in decision-making. At its best, this style comes across as charismatic, enthusiastic and idealistic. At its worst, however, the expressive style can be seen as impulsive, shallow and even manipulative.

Amiable

The amiable style expresses concern for people above all else. Keen to share emotion and not to assert itself over others, building and maintaining relationships dominate behaviour. These concerns manifest a slow, deliberate pace, coming across as sensitive, supportive and dependable. The corollary is a certain nervousness about, and even a resistance to, change. This arises from a deep need for personal security. The weaknesses of this style are the reverse of the strengths of the opposite quadrant: a low willingness to initiate change, and take action.

Assessment of Merrill and Reid’s Social Styles

Is this just another four box model?

Well, yes and no. In its current form, the company that David Merrill formed, Tracom, uses the model with a third, fully-integrated dimension: versatility. This is about how the four styles manifest in the real world, to meet other people’s needs. It is  closely related to ideas of Emotional Intelligence.

Even as ‘just another four box model’, it’s a good one. As a result, it has been widely emulated. A very similar model by Tony Alessandra uses the styles of Thinker, Director, Socialiser and Relater to replace Merrill and Reid’s four social styles, and dimensions of relationship and task orientation, to replace responsiveness and assertiveness.

Both models have considerable power in helping managers understand their behaviours and those of other people around them. And by adapting their style, the models allow managers to get the best from any social situation. And work is, of course, if nothing else… social.

Rensis Likert: Participative Management

Rensis Likert made an important contribution to management in the 1960s, which was to influence many large corporations in the US and Japan. Do you:

a. Strongly Disagree – b. Disagree – c. Neither Agree nor Disagree – d. Agree – e. Strongly Agree

Almost all of us have, at some time, had to use this type of simple perceptual scale. It is called a Likert Scale, after Rensis Likert, who invented it early in his career. But there is more to him than that, as we shall see.

Rensis Likert, 1903 - 1981

Rensis Likert, 1903 – 1981

Short Biography

Rensis Likert was born in 1903, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 1922, he went to study Civil Engineering (following his father) at the University of Michigan. However, during a Sociology class in his senior year, he realised he was more interested in people than in things, so switched subject and won his bachelors degree in Sociology and Economics, in 1926. In 1932, he was awarded a PhD for research in the new field of Social Psychology, by Columbia University. As a part of his research he developed a simplified scale for gauging opinions, which bears his name today. His research demonstrated that, despite its simplicity, it was able to achieve equally reliable results, when compared with more sophisticated approaches.

Likert then took on a series of increasingly important roles: lecturer in psychology at New York University, Director of Research at the Life Insurance Agency Management Association, and then  in 1939, he became a Director responsible for surveys at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gradually his role in Government surveys expanded, and during the US involvement in the Second World War, he headed up a part of the Office of War Information.

After the war, Government contracted and surveys were no longer mandated by Congress. So Likert, along with his colleagues sought to establish a centre for reseach into surveys at one of the universities. In 1946, they settled at the University of Michigan and founded the Survey Research Center with Likert as its first Director. The centre changed its name in 1949 to the Institute for Social Research (ISR) and has grown and thrived ever since. Likert remained Director until his retirement in 1970, when his co-founder, Angus Campbell, became the second ISR Director.

During the 1950s and 60s, Likert directed his research interest towards management. His 1961 book, New Patterns of Management, proved highly influential. It introduced his four systems of management and articulated his advocacy for ‘System 4‘. He followed this, in 1967, with Human Organization: Its Management and Value. This further detailed System 4, and contains his most widely quoted statement:

‘…the greater the loyalty of the members of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater is the probability that the group will achieve its goals.’

In 1970, he established his consulting business, Rensis Likert Associates, to capitalise on his thinking, and he also continued to develop and publish his ideas. His 1976 book, New Ways of Managing Conflict, was also very successful.

Rensis Likert died in September 1981.

Likert’s Four Management Systems

Likert articulated four styles of management. We can easily see these as an extension of the Theory X / Theory Y approaches that Douglas McGregor articulated.

Rensis Likert - the Four Systems of Management

Rensis Likert – the Four Systems of Management

The four systems are:

System 1. Exploitative-Authoritative

Decision-making takes place at the top of the organization and these decisions are imposed on others without consultation. There is little sense of teamwork and not much communication, other than threats, which form the primary means of driving performance (motivation). Consequently, it is only upper management who feel any sense of responsibility for the organisation’s goals.

System 2. Benevolent-Authoritative

This is a patriarchal, patronising system based on a master-servant relationship between management and employees. Rewards are the  motivators and teamwork, communication, and a sense of ownership of the organisation’s goals are still minimal.

System 3. Consultative

In this style, managers trust subordinates but not wholly. They motivate with both rewards and involvement, and expect a higher level of responsibility for meeting goals. There is  a moderate amount of teamwork and some communication across and between levels.

System 4. Participative

Participative management is based on trust and confidence in employees. Goals are determined collectively and form a basis for motivation and rewards. This fosters a collective sense of responsibility for meeting company goals, and incentivises collaborative teamwork and open communication.

The Characteristics of Likert’s System 4

Likert felt strongly that System 4 was the optimum system for managing an organisation, as McGregor argued for Theory Y as a means of motivating individuals.

He set out four principal characteristics of successful System 4 management:

  1. Supportive group relationships, both within the group and between the group members and the leader. A sense of care and collaboration.
  2. Each person’s individual contribution, needs, value, and development needs to be equally respected.
  3. The group undertakes problem solving together, and aligns behind their eventual consensus solution.
  4. Different groups overlap, with certain individuals playing the role of ‘linking pin’ between them. These are people whom Karen Stephenson refers to as ‘Gatekeepers’.

This all has a very modern feel to it and it is hard to feel the sense of novelty Likert’s ideas had in the 1960s. This, I suggest, is a measure of the importance of Likert’s ideas. So I choose Option e. Strongly Agree.

Rosemary Stewart: Practical Management

Rosemary Stewart studied management extensively, in the UK. Rather than revolutionary, her ideas serve to underpin the day-to-day challenges real managers face in the real world.

Rosemary Stewart

Rosemary Stewart

Short Biography

Rosemary Stewart was born in London, England, in 1924, and grew up first in Sussex, and then moved to Saskatoon, Canada, where she finished her secondary education. She studied economics at the University of British Columbia and then returned to England in 1945, after graduation (and after the war), to study Social Psychology at the London School of Economics, where she also won her doctorate in Management Studies.

She joined the Acton Society Trust as a researcher, and rose to become its director. There, she researched the challenges of large organisations and, in particular, of the newly nationalised British industries. Her interest persisted and she is best known for her studies into and analysis of Britain’s National Health Service. While at the Acton Society Trust, she worked with Joan Woodward, and Reg Revans was also a researcher there.

After seven years, she joined the new Oxford Centre for Management Studies, which became Templeton College, where she was made a Fellow and then, in 1992, upon her retirement, an Emeritus Fellow. Her long-time interest in healthcare management matured when, in 1996, she became the first Director of the newly founded Oxford Health Care Management Institute.

Rosemary Stewart died in 2015.

The Reality of Management

Rosemary Stewart was a prolific author, although most of her books have fallen out of print. Her three most notable books are still available:

All of her books have a focus on real, day-to-day management challenges, pitched firmly at middle managers. They help managers navigate the choices they need to make and the structures within which they work.

They are neither heavy-weight academic tomes, nor lightweight populist handbooks, and so are ideal for the interested, thinking manager, who wants ideas to help her or him to be effective at work.

Choices for the Manager

In the latest of Stewart’s three classic books, she fully articulates the model with which she is most closely associated. She suggested that management effectiveness arises from dealing well with demands and constraints, and, as a result, making good choices.

Demands, Constraints, & Choices - Rosemary Stewart

Demands, Constraints, & Choices – Rosemary Stewart

The diagram sums up 15 years of Stewart’s research.

Demands

Demands on a manager set out what they must do; their responsibilities or duties. But they also  include the demands we make upon ourselves, alongside those imposed by your organisation, manager, peers, and external players, like customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Constraints

These are the factors that will also limit a manager’s scope for choices. If anything, they have grown in number since Stewart originally wrote her list. Whilst we arguably have more technology choices, and more choices of where to outsource work to, she did not account these as constraints. Rather, using the one technology available, in the one location it was sited was something she took as a given.

Choices

What everyone in a creative role knows is that constraints don’t just limit choices, they make them clear and give us scope for innovation. But managers do have a lot of freedom about how they work with the resources they have. How well you exercise these choices will dictate your performance as a manager.

Charles Handy Part 2: The Nature of Organisations

In last week’s Pocketblog, we surveyed the life of Charles Handy, and referred to some of the big ideas in his many books. Now it’s time to look at those ideas.

The Gods of Management

In Handy’s first book, Understanding Organisations, he set out to collate and understand a wide variety of management and organisational thinking. In his second, The Gods of Management, he presented his own ideas. He perceived that organisational cultures can be classified into four broad types, according to how formal their structure is, and how centralised power is, within them. He drew the analogy with the characters of four of the olympian gods, from Greek mythology. He was, after all, an Oxford classics scholar.

The Gods of Management - Charles Handy

The Gods of Management – Charles Handy

Zeus – The Club Culture

Zeus presides over a highly centralised ‘Club’ culture, where one dominant executive holds all the reigns of power, making all of the important decisions themselves. They control al the important resources and can have low acceptance of what they perceive as under-performance. This culture tends to arise under a dominant and successful founder, or with the ascendancy of a charismatic leader. Political parties, start-ups, and crime families often share this culture.

Apollo – The Roles Culture

Mature, bureaucratic organisations adopt a solid, stable, rule-based culture, where everyone has a specific role. People know what is expected of them and will rarely step beyond those boundaries. Reporting lines are well-defined and decisions follow set procedures. Job positions confer authority to make those decisions, and processes can be long-winded and inflexible. Apollo cultures struggle to adapt to a changing environment

Athena – The Task Culture

The Athena culture is a meritocracy, where ability to think and get things done is highly valued, and rewarded well. Talent is well rewarded, and teams are fluid, with people coming together to work on projects and solve problems. Authority is less important here than knowledge, expertise and the ability to influence and persuade. You can see this culture in consultancies, research organisations, and in agile business units of larger, forward thinking businesses that may be stuck with an Apollo or Zeus culture.

Dionysus – The Existential Culture

The Dionysus culture is all about me, me, me. It serves the individuals and can lead to both creative freedom and equally internal discord and unproductive competition. The organisation is little more than the home and resource for a set of self-motivated individuals who often care more about their own position than that of the organisation. Accounting and law firms are good examples, because of the partnership nature of the businesses. So too are pressure groups.

New Organisations

In his 1989 book, The Age of Unreason, Handy started to foresee some of the changes we now take for granted. As technological and commercial realities were shifting, Handy built on his earlier book, The Future of Work, to develop new models of how we would work in the future. He further developed those ideas in The Empty Raincoat, and The Elephant and the Flea. Two of the characteristics of Handy’s books are

  • That they often take management and organisation as their starting point, but then extend their ideas outwards to reflect on the impact of society
  • Each book seems to build on and develop further, the ideas of its predecessor

Here are four of the trends and ideas that most appeal to me as both relevant to our readers, and accurate as forecasts. Inevitably, they interlink into a coherent idea-set.

Portfolio Workers

Handy’s concept of a portfolio career, with lots of components, rather than one single ‘job’ is a reality for many professionals nowadays (including me). The concept of a flexible labourer able to turn his hand to anything from agricultural work to general making and mending, to selling goods at market, to working in a tavern, is ancient. What Handy foresaw (and embraced for himself) was the emergence of this lifestyle for white collar, knowledge workers.

The Shamrock Organisation

This trend will enable what Handy describes as a Shamrock Company.

The Shamrock Organisation - Charles HandyThe Shamrock Organisation - Charles Handy

The Shamrock Organisation – Charles Handy

In the The Age of Unreason, Handy originally described three leaves, but four seems to be a fuller model: the first is the professional core of managers, technocrats, vital support staff, and a minimum of specialists. Together, they define the core competence of the business, and provide and manage its infrastructure. Everything else is provided by contracted workers: outsourced services from specialist providers, contracted independent professionals with highly specialised skills, and a flexible, lower-paid  workforce that can be brought in on short contracts and day-rates.

The Federal Organisation

Berkshire Hathaway seems to me to be the epitome of Handy’s Federal Organisation. Here, there is a tiny core business, managing a large number of highly independent businesses, all of whom have complete autonomy to manage their affairs, and succeed on their own terms. When you see the success that Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have created, you have to wonder why other large federal multinationals spend so much effort trying to control their subsidiaries, impose processes and functional verticals upon them, and generally over-manage the local talent.

The Triple-I Company

The astonishing rise of internet-based software companies, web-based news aggregators, digital information providers (increasingly, Management Pocketbooks is transitioning to becoming one of these), and the high-tech consultancies that serve them, seems to me to be ample evidence of the prescience of Handy’s third kind of new organisation: one that capitalises, above all, on:

  • Ideas
  • Intelligence
  • Information

Discontinuous Thinking

Handy foresaw our current period of discontinuous change, and suggested that incremental ‘continuous’ thinking was not going to solve the problems it throws up. He doesn’t require us all to have the genius-level intellects of Einstein or Marx, but instead implies we need to build a capacity for curiosity, reframing situations, and constant learning. It seems inevitable that, once again, Pocketblog returns to the thinking of Carol Dweck, on Growth Mindset.

Victor Vroom: Motivation and Decision-making

Why do people make the choices they do at work, and how can managers and leaders make effective decisions? These are two essential questions for managers to understand. They were both tackled with characteristic clear-thinking and rigour by one man.

Victor Vroom

Short Biography

Victor Vroom was born in 1932 and grew up in the suburbs of Montreal. Initially, he was a bright child with little academic interest – unlike his two older brothers. Instead, his passion was big-band jazz music and, as a teenager, he dedicated up to 10 hours a day to practising Alto Sax and Clarinet.

Leaving school, but finding the move to the US as a professional musician was tricky, Vroom enrolled in college and learned, through psychometric testing, that the two areas of interest that would best suit him were music (no surprise) and psychology. Unfortunately, whilst he now enjoyed learning, his college did not teach psychology.

At the end of the year, he was able to transfer, with a full year’s credit, to McGill University, where he earned a BSc in 1953 and a Masters in Psychological Science (MPs Sc) in 1955. He then went to the US to study for his PhD at the University of Michigan. It was awarded to him in 1958.

His first research post was at the University of Michigan, from where he moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1960 and then, in 1963, to Carnegie Mellon University. He remained there until receiving a second offer from Yale University – this time to act as Chairman of the Department of Administrative Sciences, and to set up a graduate school of organisation and management.

He has remained there for the rest of his career, as John G Searle Professor and, currently, as BearingPoint Professor Emeritus of Management & Professor of Psychology.

Vroom’s first book was Work and Motivation (1964) which introduced the first of his major contributions; his ‘Expectancy Theory’ of motivation. He also collaborated with Edward Deci to produce a review of workplace motivation, Management and Motivation, in 1970. They produced a revised edition in 1992.

His second major contribution was the ‘Vroom-Yetton model of leadership decision making’. Vroom and Philip Yetton published Leadership and Decision-Making in 1973. He later revised the model with Arthur Jago, and together, they published The New Leadership: Managing Participation in Organizations in 1988.

It is also worth mentioning that Vroom had a bruising experience while pursued through the courts by an organisation he had earlier collaborated with. They won their case for copyright infringement so I shall say no more. The judgement is available online. Vroom’s account of this, at the end of a long autobiographical essay, is an interesting read. It was written as part of his presidency of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 1980-81.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Pocketblog has covered Vroom’s expectancy theory in an earlier blog, and it is also described in detail in The Management Models Pocketbook. It is an excellent model that deserves to be far better known than it is. Possibly the reason is because Vroom chose to express his theory as an equation: bad move! Most people are scared of equations. That’s why we at Management Pocketbooks prefer to use the metaphor of a chain. Motivation breaks down if any of the links is compromised. Take a look at our short and easy to follow article.

The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model of Leadership Decision-making

This one is  a bit of a handful. Vroom has expressed some surprise that it became a well-adopted tool and, more recently, noted that societies and therefore management styles have changed, rendering it less relevant now than it was in its time. That said, it is instructive to understand the basics.

Decision-making is a leadership role, and (what I shall call) the V-Y-J model is a situational leadership model for what style of decision-making a leader should select.

It sets out the different degrees to which a manager or leader can involve their team in decision-making, and also the situational characteristics that would lead to a choice of each style.

Five levels of Group Involvement in Decision-making

Level 1: Authoritative A1
The leader makes their decision alone.

Level 2: Authoritative A2
The leader invites information and then makes their decision alone.

Level 3: Consultative C1
The leader invites group members to offer opinions and suggestions, and then makes their decision alone.

Level 4: Consultative C2
The leader brings the group together to hear their discussion and suggestions, and then makes their decision alone.

Level 5: Group Consensus
The leader brings the group together to discuss the issue, and then facilitates a group decision.

Choosing a Decision-Making Approach

The V-Y-J model sets out a number of considerations and research indicates that, when a decision approach is chosen that follows these considerations, leaders self-report greater levels of success than when the model is not followed. The considerations are:

  1. How important is the quality of the decision?
  2. How much information and expertise does the leader have?
  3. How well structured is the problem or question?
  4. How important is group-member acceptance of the decision?
  5. How likely is group-member acceptance of the decision?
  6. How much do group members share the organisation’s goals (against pursuing their own agendas)?
  7. How likely is the group to be able to reach a consensus?

A Personal Reflection

I have found both of Vroom’s principal models enormously helpful, both as a project leader and as a management trainer. I find it somewhat sad that, in Vroom’s own words, ‘the wrenching changes at Yale and the … lawsuit have taken their emotional and intellectual toll.’ Two major events created a huge mental and emotional distraction for Vroom in the late 1980s. At a time when he should still have been at the peak of his intellectual powers, he was diverted from his research. I think this is sad and wonder what insights we may have lost as a result.


 

Pocketbooks you might Like

The Motivation Pocketbook – has a short introduction to Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, which it refers to as ‘Valence Theory. It also has a wealth of other ideas about motivation.

The Management Models Pocketbook – has a thorough discussion of Expectancy Theory, and also Motivational Needs Theory, alongside eight other management models.

 

 

Joan Woodward: Technology drives Structure

In the  1950s, a revolution was underway in management thinking. Classical ‘scientific’ management theory had been discarded by the humanists, and now a new generation of researchers were challenging humanistic approaches.

Their conclusions led to ‘contingency theory’ – the idea that the best approach to management is contingent on the situation. Among them, working from the southern English backwater of SE Essex Technical College was a forgotten leader in the field of management studies: Joan Woodward.

Joan Woodward

Very Short Biography

Joan Woodward was born in 1916. She was originally a classicist, but changed direction and got her first academic post in the Department  of Social Sciences, at Liverpool University, where she worked from 1948-1953. There she started her work in industrial relations, which she expanded when she moved to South East Essex Technical College (now part of the University of East London).

It was here that Woodward did her most significant research, from within the Human Relations Research Unit. The purpose of her research was to enhance the performance of commerce and industry using the techniques of social science. She did this by examining, in detail, the organisational structures of 100 British manufacturing companies in the SE Essex area (east of London and north of the Thames).

She stayed there until 1957, when she secured a post at the far more prestigious Imperial college. She remained there until her untimely death, from breast cancer, in 1971. Woodward became the second female professor at the College when she was appointed Professor of Industrial Sociology in 1970.

Woodward summarised her research in her 1970 book, ‘Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice‘.

Woodward’s Findings

Today, the idea that there is no ‘best’ organisational structure, but that the right one ‘depends’ on many factors is taken as so obvious as needing no explanation. This was not at all the case in the 1950s. So, when Woodward published her first findings in 1958, they seemed revolutionary.

Among the 100 manufacturers she studied, she found wide differences in the way they were organised:

  • Management structures, levels in the hierarchy and spans of control
  • How work was allocated
  • Definitions of responsibilities
  • Levels of accountability
  • Skill levels of the workers

Her analysis led her to categorise the organisational structures and discover they were driven by the production methods and technology in use. These in turn, were driven by the products the manufacturer created, and the demands of their markets.

She categorised three types of structure with approximately equal representation in her sample (8 were not classified).

  • Group 1: Small Batch and Unit Production
  • Group 2: Large Batch and Mass Production
  • Group 3: Process (continuous) Production

Each had different structural characteristics, which we don’t need to examine here, because the technologies have changed a lot in the last 70 years. The principle remains relevant: that the systems your organisation creates are critical to successful organisational design. This is a different aspect to the idea of contingency, to the more familiar Situational Leadership models. It is also an idea (the need for structure to reconcile to systems) that finds its modern articulation in the McKinsey 7S model.

Woodward’s later work started to break down the control approaches that companies take. They identified two independent dimensions of control:

Personal-Impersonal
This ranges from the highly individualistic direct approach (often present in start-ups led by charismatic entrepreneurs) to bureaucratic styles of impersonal leadership, all the way to automated control of work that we now see in large, computerised warehouse operations.

Fragmented-Cohesive
At the fragmented end, every part of the organisation finds its own solutions (and ‘re-invents the wheel’ in 1990s jargon). We now see far more centrally controlled systems than Woodward did, facilitated by modern technology and mediated by business school teaching that this is more efficient. However, a select group of businesses are finding that this level of rigidity results in customer unfriendly outcomes that have led them to reject it and restore a measure of localism in their control systems.

Assessment

So, was Joan Woodward ahead of her time? I don’t think so. I think she was exactly of her time. But this should not detract firstly, from the importance, at the time, of her work, and secondly, of the achievement of a woman, in the 1950s and 60s, who led her field.

 

David McClelland: Competency and Achievement

David McClelland is best known to managers for his theory of Motivational Needs,which we covered back in 2012. He was a giant of the twentieth century psychology community, whose ideas remain relevant, practical, and valuable to manangers today.

David McClelland

Short Biography

David McClelland was born in New York state, in 1917 and grew up in Illinois. He gained his Bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1938, from Wesleyan University, a Master’s from the University of Missouri, and a PhD from Yale in 1941. He went on to teach at Connecticut College and then, as professor, at Wesleyan University. In 1956, he joined the Harvard University faculty as a professor, and he stayed there until his retirement to Professor Emeritus, in 1986. However, it’s hard for an active mind to stay retired, so in 1987, he started teaching at Boston University, continuing to do so up until his death in 1998.

Along the way, McClelland published many important books, few of which remain in print. Of those that do, the most notable are:

He also co-founded with David Berlew (and Chaired) a business consulting firm, McBer and Company, that trained and advised managers in recruiting and developing staff. McBer is now a part of the Hay Group.

Contributions

McClelland made two primary contributions that managers should know about. The first and best known is his psychological theory of three key motivators that drive our performance in the workplace. He applied this to corporations, small businesses, the medical profession, higher education and to large scale economic development.

Motivational Needs

The three needs (discussed more fully in the earlier Pocketblog, ‘David McClelland’s Three Motivational Needs‘) are:

  1. The Need for Affiliation (nAff)
    Our drive to form attachments, to be accepted by others, and to interact with them.
  2. The Need for Power (nPow)
    Our drive to control the way people behave, to influence their thinking, and to win status.
  3. The Need for Achievement (nAch)
    Our drive to accomplish demanding tasks, reach high standards, and overcome obstacles.

He also developed the work of Henry Murray to create a “Thematic Apperception Test‘ That allows trained users to evaluate the balance of these needs in an individual, based on their story-telling response to imagery.

McClelland studied how different balances of these three motivators impact people’s performances in different job roles. For example, he concluded that the most senior managers and leaders do not fare well if they have a dominant need for achievement. Rather, they tend to have this (and a need for affiliation) at moderate levels, with a high need for power.

Entrepreneurs and middle managers, however, thrive best with a high need for achievement. So much so, indeed, that McClelland believed that a nation’s economic development was dependent on the level of need of achievement among its citizens. This is what leads, he says, to setting big (but realistic) goals, taking calculated risks, and feeling a sense of personal responsibility for our work.

Competencies at Work

In the 1960s, McClelland took what was then a radical perspective on successful recruitment. He argued that we should hire for demonstrated competencies in the area of work we need people to perform and not, as was common in the US at the time, for IQ levels and the results of batteries of personality tests. This does not seem so revolutionary now, but it is well to be aware of when this idea started to emerge. His company, McBer, was at the forefront of developing lists of competencies.

More recently, his ideas have been applied to the workplace by popular psychologist, Daniel Goleman – particularly in his 2002 book, The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership, but also in his earlier, 1998 book, Working with Emotional Intelligence.

Learn More

There is an excellent interview with McClelland, from the end of his life, at: orientamento.it/indice/interview-with-mcclelland/

For more on motivation:

For more on McClelland’s theory in particular: