PHOENIX--Kimberly Underwood, Ph.D., MBA, chair, Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research (CWDIR) with the University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies, joined the proceedings of the JFF Horizons conference on June 7-8, 2022, in New Orleans, LA. Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit driving transformation in the American workforce and education systems, earlier this year announced a partnership with University of Phoenix Career Institute® to support Black learners and workers in building professional social capital to advance their careers.
Employee Mindset and Self-Efficacy Development
Employee Mindset and Self-Efficacy Development
In 1977, Albert Bandura proposed a theory of behavioral change focused on self-efficacy. Bandura (1977) defined self-efficacy as the belief in one’s ability to make things happen – to manipulate the environment, change circumstances, and accomplish goals. Forty years later, in 2017, something with great transformative power is happening to America’s future workforce, in the midst of their compulsory education. One California teacher, David Gahagan (personal communication, April 22, 2017), noted that transformation is coming on the heels of Bandura’s theory further developed and popularized in an expanded 2016 reprint of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Much of Dweck’s (2007) early research can be linked to one aspect of Bandura’s original model of behavioral change: Social persuasion. This is the influence that others have on imparting self-efficacy, through praise, support, and encouragement. That 2007 article, titled “The Perils of Promise and Praise”, was published in the journal, Educational Leadership, and explains why teachers find Dweck’s works so compelling – It means what they do matters. Dweck’s (2007; 2016) collected works also explain how to make those changes in an educational setting. Today, however, employers do not have to wait for first graders to finish college before they can take advantage of this modern educational trend. Employers can translate those educational theories into employee development models now.
Social persuasion is just one part of Bandura’s theory. Self-efficacy can be developed by modeling the behavior of others, by noting and working through physiological factors, such as stress; and by direct experience. All these aspects of Bandura’s self-efficacy theory have been tackled in detail by current researchers and popular authors alike, ranging from Judge’s (2009) and Duckworth’s (2016) scientific publications, to Stephen Kotler’s (2014) popular book, The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. What Kotler (2014) decoded in his detailed account of the efforts and achievements of extreme athletes ties directly to Bandura’s (1977) modeling, physiological factors, and the impact of direct experience on belief. When one sees a difficult goal reached by others, accepts the stress of challenge or risk as a normal and motivating factor to be optimized, and has enough experience to believe the challenge can be overcome, it becomes possible and likely.
Judge and Bono (2001) tied these factors together in an underlying construct called core self-evaluations, impacting self-efficacy as well as self-esteem, locus of control, and emotional stability. These factors have collectively been shown to impact job satisfaction (Judge & Bono, 2001), and overall work success (Judge, 2009). Angela Duckworth (2016) expanded the model as a developmental circuit that builds perseverance and an ability to complete difficult goals with her conceptualization of grit. All these expansions can be linked to Bandura (2007) and self-efficacy, including Dweck’s (2007; 2016) research on childhood development amid the modern educational system.
What the research shows is that over the long-term, self-efficacy matters, but also that it can be developed. Self-efficacy springs from natural human curiosity at the youngest age (why it matters so much to teachers), but it is also something built (Bandura, 1977; Dweck, 2016; Yeager & Dweck, 2012). Curiosity leads to experimentation, then learning by accepting risks, venturing into unknowns, and either succeeding or failing – that establishes the underlying limits of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977). To expand self-efficacy, one need only expand exposure to those unknowns and the efforts to overcome them (Bandura, 1977; Dweck, 2016; Von Culin, Tsukayama, & Duckworth, 2014). For employers, expanding self-efficacy translates into an expansion of employees’ overall capabilities, self-belief, success, and even their motivation to learn and grow further (Judge, 2009; Maurer & Chapman, 2013). According to research by McKinsey & Company, this is what most contemporary employee development and leadership programs aim for, but what less than seven percent of executive leaders think their programs can actually do (Gurdijan, Halbeisen, & Lane, 2014).
The social persuasion model that Bandura (1977) identified 40 years ago, which Dweck (2007; 2016) popularized in the modern educational environment is something that employers can readily use now to help employees build self-efficacy at the basal level of direct experience. This is one thing that small proportion, seven percent of executives do right to help motivate employee growth, and the thing Dweck (2016) noted that most leaders do wrong. Maurer and Chapman (2013) provided the map of how this best occurs during a 10-year study of 289 employees from a variety of backgrounds and working environments. The study concluded that employer support for development and individual growth is what mattered most, and what had the most transformative impact when combined with individual learning orientation.
Going back to Dweck’s (2007) earlier work, what matters is what is actually supported – achievement or growth. When employers preach development but reward only high achievement, this has the same effect as teachers talking about learning but grading only the end result. When children are rewarded only for what they achieved, and only rewarded well for the highest achievement, they learn that they cannot learn. They learn to have a fixed mindset – that some individuals are born achievers and some are not (Dweck, 2016). This perception limits all future learning potential, from compulsory education all the way to the current adult labor market (Dweck, 2016). If what is required to accept challenge, to learn, and to gain self-efficacy, is support for those individual efforts to accept the risk of failure (Bandura, 1977; Dweck, 2016), then achievement is not the right thing to reward. Effort is the right thing to reward. Sustained effort in the face of risk leads to increased direct experience, increased learning, increased self-efficacy, and higher achievement overall (Bandura, 1977; Duckworth, 2016; Dweck, 2016; Maurer & Chapman, 2013).
Does your employer reward effort or achievement, and can you see the impact it has?
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2): 191–215. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.84.2.191
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Dweck, C. S. (2007). The perils and promises of praise. Educational Leadership, 65(2), 34-39. Retrieved from http://maryschmidt.pbworks.com/f/Perils+of+Praise-Dweck.pdf
Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Penguin Random House, LLC.
Gurdjian, P., Halbeisen, T., & Lane, K. (2014). Why leadership development programs fail. McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/leadership/why-leadership-developm...
Judge, T. A. (2009). Core self-evaluations and work success. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(1), 58-62. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01606.x
Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2001). Relationship of core self-evaluations traits – self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability – with job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 80-92. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.86.1.80
Kotler, S. (2014). The rise of Superman: Decoding the science of ultimate human performance. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co.
Maurer, T. J., & Chapman, E. F. (2013). Ten years of career success in relation to individual and situational variables from the employee development literature. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83(3), 450-465. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2013.07.002
Von Culin, K. R., Tsukayama, E., & Duckworth, A. L. (2014). Unpacking grit: Motivational correlates of perseverance and passion for long-term goals. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(4), 306-312. doi:10.1080/17439760.2014.898320
Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302-314. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.722805