Achievement Motivation: Nine Ways To Use It in the Workplace

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Bailey Maybray
Bailey Maybray


What motivates you to push through work? Impressing your co-workers? Receiving positive feedback? Finishing assignments with flying colors? If so, you might run on achievement motivation, a type of motivation driven by setting goals and achieving them.

Achievement motivation: A man holds a carrot on a stick.

Understanding what motivates you makes a difference in the workplace — two in 10 employees perform better when motivated. This especially applies to entrepreneurs, who often run companies by themselves and require self-motivation.

Achievement motivation can help you stay driven and focused, even when hurdles get in the way.

Table of contents:

What is achievement motivation?

What is achievement motivation? Achievement motivation is the drive to accomplish goals, succeed at work, and reach a satisfactory level of achievement.

Achievement motivation is the drive to accomplish goals, succeed at work, and reach a satisfactory level of achievement. Individuals with high achievement motivation often enjoy receiving feedback, taking calculated risks, and facing challenges. They are characterized by their:

  • Ambition
  • Competitiveness
  • Determination
  • Risk-positivity
  • Goal-orientedness

Achievement motivation stems from psychologist David McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory. McClelland’s theory expanded Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — a pyramid of the needs and wants of people — to touch on what drives people.

McClelland found that three factors primarily motivate people:

  • Achievement: accomplishment and success
  • Affiliation: relationships and belonging
  • Power: influence and control

Achievement motivation works best for entrepreneurs because they possess goal-oriented mindsets, strive to achieve high-level goals, and deal with setbacks. In other words, achievement acts as a vital fuel to drive entrepreneurial success.

Achievement motivation examples

Achievement motivation examples: one shows someone driven by social status, while another shows motivation driven by growth.

You can clearly see achievement motivation when individuals set goals and work hard to reach them.

Consider a hypothetical fintech startup owner who wants to acquire more leads for their app. To do so, they set an ambitious goal of growing their user base by 100% by the end of the year. The idea of achieving this goal drives the owner and pushes them to develop an innovative marketing campaign and enhance user experience.

An entrepreneur with high achievement motivation may also want to expand their business into other territories. They break down their expansion into more measurable parts — striving to enter four countries within three years. The entrepreneur then conducts extensive research into local markets, regulations, culture, and competitors, even onboarding some freelancers to help them. The prospect of expansion — in this case, achievement — primarily drives them.

How to use achievement motivation at work

How to use achievement motivation at work: Set SMART goals. Break down big goals into smaller ones. Look for learning opportunities. Seek feedback from others. Surround yourself with high-achievers. Celebrate success. Evaluate yourself. Take calculated risks. Extract learning from setbacks.

1. Set SMART goals

To use achievement motivation, you need to set SMART goals — which can help you better define what it means to achieve. According to a HubSpot survey, 52% of respondents believe SMART goals help them reach their goals more effectively.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific: Niche down your high-level goal into a more detailed one
  • Measurable: Attach metrics you can use to measure progress
  • Attainable: Create goals you can realistically achieve
  • Relevant: Ensure goals align with your overall objectives
  • Time-Bound: Set a due date or timeline

When setting goals for yourself, ensure they have each of these aspects. You might, for example, aim to increase revenue by 30% within the next year. Achievement motivation complements this approach, as SMART goals establish clear, actionable road maps.

2. Break down big goals into smaller ones

By itself, changing the world is admirable. But it lacks any actual tasks. So, remember to break down your high-level goals into smaller, more approachable ones. This helps entrepreneurs:

  • Avoid feeling overwhelmed
  • Prioritize certain tasks over others
  • Maintain momentum

Smaller goals means achieving more often, which can help keep achievement motivation high.

3. Look for learning opportunities

Achievement motivation means regularly improving your skills and abilities. You feel motivated to succeed, which requires making improvements to yourself over time. Entrepreneurs can take advantage of learning opportunities, such as:

  • Attending workshops
  • Reading books
  • Taking online courses
  • Going to industry conferences
  • Joining communities on LinkedIn or Facebook

By seeking out learning opportunities, you can stay ahead of emerging trends, learn from others, and expand your knowledge. These all benefit achievement motivation, which requires building a growth mindset.

4. Seek feedback from others

According to Zippia research, 98% of workers disengage when they receive little or no feedback at work. Entrepreneurs, who sometimes work alone as solopreneurs, face a similar problem and should seek feedback from people they work with, such as:

Feedback from those close to you gives you unique perspectives on where you can make improvements. Constructive feedback taps into achievement motivation, as it creates another goal of self-improvement for entrepreneurs to pursue.

5. Surround yourself with high-achievers

Motivational speaker and entrepreneur Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Psychologically, Rohn’s right — the people you keep around change how you think and interact with the world.

So, to build achievement motivation, seek out other high-achievers and build relationships with them. This might entail:

  • Setting up coffee chats
  • Engaging with community groups
  • Getting a mentor
  • Attending industry events

By building a network of high-achievers, you can rekindle your own achievement motivation through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

6. Celebrate success

Achievement motivation drives entrepreneurs to, as the idea implies, achieve. To really hone in on motivation, remember to celebrate successes — big and small — to create a positive association with reaching your goals. Consider:

  • Hosting a small party
  • Announcing shared milestones
  • Rewarding yourself with a prize or treat

Remember not to skimp over even the smallest of victories, as celebrating them allows you to build achievement motivation. More than that, celebrating small wins improves your mood — 83% of people believe acknowledging a small win can turn a bad day into a good one.

7. Evaluate yourself

To improve your ability to achieve goals, make time to evaluate yourself by measuring goal progress, analyzing achievements, assessing time management, and thinking about your current strengths and weaknesses. Consider asking yourself:

  • What goals have I achieved? How did I achieve them?
  • Where am I at with my current goals? Am I on track?
  • How does my schedule complement or hinder my abilities? Do I need to make more time for collaboration or more time for work?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses? Have I improved on any? Do any need refining?

Self-evaluation helps you improve your decision making, master skills faster, and reach goals quicker.

8. Take calculated risks

High achievement motivators tend to lean into what they do best. After all, why take a risk and fail, when you can stick with your gut and achieve over and over? But achievement motivation requires you to build challenges for yourself and take calculated risks.

You can figure out whether a risk makes sense to pursue by:

  • Gathering information by conducting research into trends, customers, finances, and so on
  • Writing down a list of pros and cons and comparing
  • Starting with low-stake risks
  • Asking others for their feedback and opinions

9. Extract learning from setbacks

Alongside feeling motivated to achieve, high achievement motivation also means wanting to avoid failure. But in the world of entrepreneurship, failure follows you everywhere. Instead, reframe your mind and view setbacks as learning opportunities.

So, when dealing with failure, try:

  • Reflecting on what went wrong and what went right
  • Accepting responsibility for the mistake
  • Asking others for their input
  • Writing down specific lessons learned from the obstacle
  • Sharing lessons with others

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