A View of Pioneers and Settlers from a David McClellan Perspective

I posted an article in response to a opinion piece about Google’s understanding of the perfect team (What Google learned about creating the Perfect Team). The article is on this website and is entitled (Pioneers and Settlers on the Perfect Team).

A friend of mine, Ian Blei, commented on this and it sparked a discussion on the real issue about teams is that we really don’t understand the dynamic because of the complexity of our human nature. But we keep on trying to understand them and we are all getting better at understanding how they work. I must admit that I have a very selfish motive, if I understand them better, I can increase the value of my services to clients when we help teams identify and solve a problem with a 50 to 1 ROI during my War on Waste program.

My long time business associate, George Sibbald, and I tried to get into this in our book The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm. We referenced David McClelland, who was an American psychological theorist who focused on understanding achievement motivation. Our interest in him was that his theory of motivation guided our thinking about the keys to creating any culture, especially an Innovation Culture.

McClelland believed that an individuals needs are acquired from the culture. Therefore, from his perspective, we needed to deal with the three needs that he identified: achievement, affiliation and power. And as you read further into McClelland, you see how the Pioneer and Settler concepts emerged.

He believed that achievement motivation is the most valuable in business. And through experiential learning, achievement motivation can be increased in a population.

So when we defined the culture of our paradigm, we needed to include some of his thoughts.

An achievement-motivated person would thrive in an environment where he could take some responsibility to solve problems. He would set moderate (not extreme) goals and would be inclined to take calculated risks.  And from our perspective, one of the keys, this person would want feedback on performance. In other words, he wanted “Atta Boys.”

However, the affiliation-motivated person would want to interact socially with others. This person is concerned with the quality of interpersonal relations. Thus these relations take precedence over task results. In dealing with the multi-ethnic work groups of today’s business, this issue is big. These different ethic groups value their social interaction of family and friends. And it means that teams, which are intense social structures, are going to be important in making businesses work more efficiently.

And finally, the power-motivated person would want to obtain and exercise power and authority. This person likes to influence others and win arguments. The key to this issue is where it goes. It is either positive or negative. The negative orientation occurs when a power achiever wants to dominate instead of lead people. Of course, the positive aspect occurs when these people demonstrate persuasive and inspirational behavior. They are our leaders.

So what we takeaway from McClelland are the basics of what a culture should look like and that positive reinforcing experience can improve a culture.  All this thinking contains some guidelines for the paradigm that we proposed in our book on the Tribal Knowledge Paradigm.

You can read more about this on the War on Waste Academy website: http://www.ewaronwaste.com. Go to the Blog (Len & Craig’s Blog) to see more material.


Len Bertain

About Tribal Knowledge Series

In a career spanning over 30 years, Len Bertain has coached over 150 CEO’s to help them understand and correct inefficiencies and lost profits in their business. He created the well-known “War on Waste” program, a preeminent Lean Business tool, to guide leadership teams through the process. He is an author of four books on the War on Waste and a frequent speaker to CEO groups. Since its inception, the War on Waste program has generated over $1 Billion in first-year profits from over 10,000 ideas, all generated by client company employees. The companies involved in the War on Waste have been as small as 10 people with Fortune 100 companies at the other extreme. His books include: How to Win the War on Waste in 90 Days, The War on Waste Paradox, War on Waste Innovation, and The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm. Len's Bookstore In 1994, he founded the Institute for Productivity and, in 1999, CEO University, both based in San Francisco, CA. He holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Nevada and a B.S. in Physics and Math from St. Mary’s College of California. He lives in California with his wife and has 3 grown sons and 9 grandchildren.
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