Need for Effectance

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Understanding the Key Concepts in White’s Need for Effectance

White's Need for Effectance is a theory developed by psychologist Robert White that suggests that humans have a basic need to feel competent and effective in their interactions with the world. This need is motivated by a desire to achieve mastery and control over one's environment.

The term effectance is a concept used in psychology to describe an individual's need to interact effectively with their environment. The need for effectance is related to a person's desire to have an impact on their surroundings, to master and control their environment, and to achieve a sense of competence. Need for Effectance is sometimes identified as “N Effectance”.

N Effectance is evident in babies when they try to constantly explore their own small little world. They reach out for things, crawl and take their first steps, feeling happy with each success that they experience in their endeavors. Such explorations of the environment is bound to continue throughout our lives as we venture into and explore the different spheres and traverse the various paths.

White believed that the Need for Effectance is a powerful motivator that drives people to seek out challenges and opportunities to prove their competence. When people are able to successfully meet these challenges, they experience a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. However, when they are unable to meet these challenges, they may experience feelings of frustration, anxiety, and incompetence.

Jay Lorsch and John Morse (1975) at the Harvard Business School used the concept of Sense of Competence to study the motivation and performance of organizational members. They defined sense of competence as confidence in one’s own competence.

Their findings show that sense of competence accounted for higher levels of motivation and performance of managers in service organizations. This author’s own pioneering work (1977; 1986b) in this area, in the Indian Banking industry, indicates that sense of competence is highly correlated to the motivationOpens in new window, job involvement and job satisfactionOpens in new window of employees at all levels. The study also showed that several job related factors lead to a sense of competence, especially for those high in N for Effectance.

There are a number of factors that can influence the strength of a person's Need for Effectance. These include:

  1. Early experiences: People who have had positive experiences of mastery and competence in their early lives are more likely to have a strong Need for Effectance.
  2. Personality: People who are extroverted, assertive, and risk-taking are more likely to have a strong Need for Effectance.
  3. Culture: Some cultures place a greater emphasis on competence and achievement than others. In these cultures, people are more likely to have a strong Need for Effectance.

The Need for Effectance can be a positive force in people's lives. It can motivate them to set high goals, work hard, and persist in the face of challenges. However, it can also lead to negative consequences if it is not managed in a healthy way. For example, people with a strong Need for Effectance may be overly competitive or driven to achieve at all costs. They may also be quick to give up when they face difficulties.

In order to manage the Need for Effectance in a healthy way, it is important to:

  1. Set realistic goals: It is important to set goals that are challenging but also achievable.
  2. Focus on the process: It is important to focus on the process of achieving one's goals rather than just the outcome.
  3. Learn from setbacks: Setbacks are inevitable, but it is important to learn from them and not give up.
  4. Find a balance: It is important to find a balance between striving for competence and enjoying other aspects of life.

The need for effectance is a powerful motivator and can be creatively tapped by managers by creating, through appropriate job assignments, avenues for employees to channel their energies to feel a sense of competence and stepping up successive increment in the degree of challenge the tasks offer.

With adequate guidance and appropriate encouragement, employees will explore the environment, achievement success and develop confidence in their own competence.

Motivation and sense of competence mutually influence each other, since sense of competence will motivate people to explore further successes, and such experiences of success will further motivate employees to engage in work behavior.

The intrapsychic or intrinsic rewards experienced through a sense of competence will be self-perpetuating and all that the manager has to do is to tap this need for effectance.

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