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Mayo and McClelland

Elton Mayo: The Hawthorne Studies

Elton Mayo was the founder of the Human Relations Movement. Mayo was initially a believer in F W Taylor's scientific management and indeed had been lectured by Taylor. He was asked to look at poor productivity at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in Chicago.

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When Mayo initially approached this task he felt, as a believer in scientific management, that the problems would be related to a poor working environment or unsatisfactory reward structure.

Hawthorne Experiment

These studies were carried out between 1924 and 1932 at a factory called the Hawthorne Works. The plant was owned and operated by Western Electric Company in Chicago in the United States. At its height, the plant employed 45,000 workers.

Light_bulb.pngFollowing Taylor's scientific management approach, Mayo and his team of researchers took a group of six women of the main factory as a control group and to allow easier observation. He tested his hypothesis that working conditions significantly affect the motivation of the workforce. He believed that the poor productivity must be the result of the environment, such as noise or poor lighting conditions. Starting with lighting conditions, Mayo and his team altered conditions of work in a number of ways over a five year period, and observed the effects on production and the morale of the control group. Over the period, changes such as new payment systems, rest breaks of different sorts and lengths, varying the length of the working day, and offering food and refreshments were tried. In almost all cases, productivity improved.

At the end of the experiment, Mayo felt that he had proven his point and closed it down, returning the women to their original conditions, a six day week, with long hours and no rest breaks or refreshments. Surprisingly, productivity in the group rose to their highest levels and Mayo had to rethink his conclusions. This effect became known as the 'Hawthorne Effect'.

He questioned the women and discovered that they:

  • felt important because they had been singled out for attention.
  • had developed good relationships amongst each other, which often extended outside of the workplace - they formed a close working group.
  • felt empowered as they had been allowed to set their own work patterns.
  • believed their relationships made for a much more pleasant working environment, which included the fact that the researchers were prepared to answer their questions.

Mayo decided that work satisfaction must depend, to a large extent, upon the informal social relationships between workers in a group and upon the social relationships between workers and their bosses. Classical theory had focused exclusively on the organisation structure and the formal relationships that existed. Mayo focused on the informal organisation that developed out of the interactions between individuals. He concluded that the power of the working group (both formal and informal) should never be underestimated.

David McClelland

Over the years behavioural scientists have observed that some people have an intense need to achieve; others, perhaps the majority, do not seem to be as concerned about achievement. This phenomenon fascinated David McClelland and for over twenty years he and his associates at Harvard University studied this urge to achieve. He was concerned more with differences between individuals than understanding common factors in motivations.

McClelland's research led him to believe that the need for achievement is a distinct human motive that can be distinguished from other needs. More important, the achievement motive can be isolated and assessed in any group. He developed a content theory of motivation based around people's needs. He identified three needs that influenced motivation:

  1. Achievement (N-Ach) - the n-ach person is motivated primarily by achievement and is therefore looking for realistic goals and targets that they can achieve. They will be strongly motivated by a desire to progress and be promoted within the organisation. McClelland argued that n-ach is not inherited, but is determined by environmental influences. People with a high n-ach are likely to have a low level of n-aff.
  1. Affiliation (N-Aff) - the affiliation motivated person is driven by a need for social relationships and is driven by their interaction with other people. People with a high level of n-aff are likely to be good team players.
  1. Authority and power (N-Pow) - people with a high need for authority and power are very driven by status. They want to lead and will want their ideas to prevail. They are likely to be motivated by personal status and prestige.

The dominance of any of these needs influences the behaviour of the individual. N-Ach is a key feature of human motivation and is developed by environmental factors such as parents, schooling and peer groups. Management, therefore, can foster high achievement motivation through appropriate training programmes.

People with high achievement motivation are interested in excellence for its own sake, rather than for rewards such as money, prestige or power. Achievement gives them a sense of intense inner satisfaction and fulfilment.

High achievement-motivated people have certain shared characteristics including;

  1. the capacity to set challenging personal, but obtainable goals,
  2. the concern for personal achievement rather than the rewards of success
  3. the desire for job-relevant feedback (how well am I doing?) rather than for attitudinal feedback (how well do you like me?).

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Top sports men and women often exhibit these qualities, especially when they are already very wealthy and successful, but still continue to pursue further titles and honours. Does Roger Federer need to win more prize money?

Achievement-motivated people as managers

Achievement-motivated people can be the backbone of most organisations, because as individuals they get things done.

However, when they are promoted, when their success depends not only on their own work but on the activities of others, they may be less effective. Since they are highly job-oriented and work to their capacity, they tend to expect others to do the same. As a result, they sometimes lack the human skills and patience necessary for being effective managers of people who are competent, but have a higher need for affiliation than they do. In this situation, their overemphasis on producing frustrates these people and prevents them from maximizing their own potential.

Thus, while achievement-motivated people are needed in organizations, they do not always make the best managers, unless they also develop their human skills.

McClelland's concept of achievement motivation is also related to Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory. People with high achievement motivation tend to be interested in the motivators and are less demotivated by hygiene factors.


For more detail on the work of Mayo and McClelland, why not have a look at some of the following links?