Self-efficacy is often an overlooked, but critical component to successfully completing a task in the workplace. In order to develop a more effective workforce, managers should have a comprehensive understanding of self-efficacy and what factors affect levels of self-efficacy in employees.
There are two levels of efficacy in the workplace:
Self-efficacy is a person’s belief about his/her chances of successfully accomplishing a specific task. It arises from the acquisition of complex cognitive, social, linguistic, and/or physical skills through experience .
Collective efficacy is a group’s perceptions of their ability to achieve results . It is the collective belief that the group shares and is therefore emergent property of the group rather than the individual.
In the workplace, both self-efficacy and collective efficacy are important when engaging in individual, collaborative and group-based tasks. How an individual views their own capabilities affects not only their personal work, but the work they engage in with the team. Additionally, the team’s collective view of their capability not only affects their work as a team but also what each individual comprising the team feels capable of executing.
The remainder of the blog will focus on self-efficacy, although the same concepts can be applied to collective efficacy.
Stanford University psychologist Albert Bandura  extensively researched the relationship between self-efficacy and performance and found that, “the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required” has been shown to have a positive effect on performance.
His work has more recently been substantiated by a meta-analysis encompassing over 21,000 subjects which found a positive correlation between self-efficacy and job performance. Thus, when self-efficacy increases, so does performance.
This relationship is critical and lays the foundation for how each employee interacts with their work and what they are capable of achieving.
The relationship between self-efficacy and on the job performance can also be described as cyclical in nature: performance affects self-efficacy, which in turn affects performance.
This iterative loop often becomes “deviation-amplifying” – a deviation in either self-efficacy or performance leads to a deviation in the other . Thus, the cyclical nature can result in a downward (decreasing self-efficacy and performance) or upward (increasing self-efficacy and performance) spiral.
A downward spiral can have a major impact on the performance of the employee or team. It is critical that managers understand triggers of downward spirals, how to prevent them and how to enhance the likelihood that an upward spiral will occur in the workplace.
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Understanding the triggers of an efficacy spiral is critical in order to prevent a downward spiral. 3 factors that may trigger an efficacy spiral include:
When the quality of performance feedback is low or feedback isn’t given, employees and teams may lose a sense of self-efficacy, setting off a downward spiral.
Acquiring high-quality performance feedback will help the employee avoid a downward efficacy spiral. When the feedback is accurate, timely and specific, the individual or group can better understand the cause-and-effect relationship involved in performing the task and can work to fix any errors or mistakes. This process will help them maintain a healthy level of efficacy or precipitate an upward efficacy spiral.
When task uncertainty is high (the causal links in task performance are unknown, ambiguous or unpredictable) managers are less likely to provide direct feedback. This is because they themselves are not clear on what the feedback would entail. When feedback isn’t provided, corrective action is less likely to be taken and self-efficacy will decrease. This can trigger a downward spiral.
Tasks that are concretely defined and have a level of complexity equivalent to the employee’s skill level will increase self-efficacy.
Success or failure on previous tasks may influence a person or group’s perception about their capabilities. Initial task attempts, when task experience is limited can have a strong, persistent effect on perceived efficacy. Thus, an initial failed task can precipitate a downward self-efficacy spiral. An employee who experiences many successful task completions will have a greater sense of self-efficacy.
When armed with a comprehensive understanding of self-efficacy and factors that can trigger an efficacy spiral, managers can more effectively enhance self-efficacy and in turn, increase performance in their employees.
 Bandura, A. 1977. Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84: 191-215.
 Bandura, A. 1982. Self-efficacy: Mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37: 122-147.
 Henshel, R. L. 1976. On the future of social prediction. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill.
 Kreitner and Kinicki. 2004. Organizational Behavior. Boston. MA: McGraw Hill, Irwin.