Self-efficacy is the belief a person holds about whether or not he can successfully attain a desired level of performance. In his studies of self-efficacy, psychologist Albert Bandura demonstrated how the concept relates to human motivation, performance accomplishments, and emotional well-being: When people believe that their actions can produce the outcomes they desire, they have a greater incentive to embark on those activities and persevere in the face of obstacles or adverse circumstances.
Efficacy varies on three dimensions: level (the number of tasks a person can do); strength (how resolutely a person believes in his ability to perform each task); and generality (the extent to which expectancies can be generalized from one situation to the next). Self-efficacy affects behaviors and social interactions in multiple ways and is a central tenet of positive psychology, which focuses on the factors that create meaning for people.
When we understand how to foster self-efficacy within ourselves, we learn how to lead happier and more productive lives. Moreover, when we--as trainers, people managers, or leaders in the workplace--understand how to foster the development of self-efficacy within others, we extend to others the capability to lead more rewarding and fruitful lives.
Self-efficacy versus self-esteem
It is important to distinguish self-efficacy from self-esteem. Self-esteem is a term that is frequently used in popular psychology literature, as well as in the media. It relates to a global sense of self-worth. An individual has a certain level of self-esteem at any point in time, and this level is likely to fluctuate as her experiences change.
In general, when our life circumstances are positive, our self-esteem increases, and we feel optimistic about ourselves and the world around us. When things aren't going so well for us, the reverse process occurs: Our self-esteem plummets, and we tend to have more negative perceptions of ourselves and our surroundings.
In contrast, self-efficacy is a situation-specific expectation. We experience a range of high and low self-efficacy expectations at any point in time. For example, currently you may feel that you are an excellent basketball player (high self-efficacy), an average public speaker (moderate self-efficacy), or a terrible forecaster of stock market fluctuations (low self-efficacy).
Developing self-efficacy through training and development
Self-efficacy is important to the learning and development profession because research has shown that it relates to human performance. Psychologists initially used the concept of self-efficacy to treat individuals with behavioral disorders such as snakephobia or agoraphobia. Since then, self-efficacy has helped people to learn a much wider range of behaviors, including an array of work-related skills.
For example, research shows that self-efficacy expectations affect salesforce performance, academics' research productivity, employees' job attendance, army recruits' success in basic training, and managers' decision-making abilities. Learners can develop a sense of self-efficacy by processing information derived from four sources: performance accomplishments, modeled exposure, verbal persuasion, and physiological arousal.
Performance accomplishments. Prior performance is the most powerful source of information when developing self-efficacy expectations. Once a person attempts a behavior and executes it successfully, he builds a seemingly tangible sense of self-efficacy, often resulting in improved performance. As learning and development professionals, we should provide opportunities for employees and participants to try new behaviors so they can witness their own successes.
Performance accomplishments help to calibrate self-expectations. An individual often develops the most robust sense of self-efficacy when she overcomes an initial performance barrier. …