Need for achievement

The following is taken from Haslam (2004), and demonstrates the power of need for achievement (nAch), including that it can be taught [1 p. 64]

A case in point was a ten-year aid project devised by the American Friends Service Committee that set out to improve living conditions in an Indian community by spending $1 million on infrastructure and education projects (such as improving sewerage and teaching farming techniques). At the end of the project, the technology was abandoned and none of the training was put into practice, leaving little to show for the investment. To prove the value of his own approach, in perhaps his most famous study, McClelland (1978) attempted to deal with this issue by means of an aid package that put a small number of businessmen through an entrepreneurial training programme designed to enhance their need for achievement. The programme lasted 6 months, cost $25,000 and ended up creating jobs for 5000 local people.

Significantly, though, despite its apparent success, this study actually presents a theoretical challenge to McClelland’s own analysis. Specifically, if need for achievement is set firmly in place in child- hood so that it becomes a feature of a person’s personality, how can it be acquired in adulthood? If it can be acquired, the explanatory force of the nAch construct is diminished because the source of entrepreneurial success lies in training and experience, not personality. At the very least, then, this research implies that a person’s need for achievement is a psychological outcome, not just an input variable.

For additional evidence, see [2 p. 225–7], [3], [4].


[1]          S. A. Haslam, Psychology in organisations. Sage, 2004.

[2]          J. W. Atkinson, An introduction to motivation. 1964.

[3]          R. M. Sorrentino, (1973). An extension of theory of achievement motivation to the study of emergent leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 26(3), 356.

[4]           R. M. Sorrentino & N. Field, (1986). Emergent leadership over time: The functional value of positive motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(6), 1091.