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 Science18(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 Psychology86(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 Behavior83(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 Psychology9(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 Psychologist47(4), 302-314. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.722805



Dorothy Williams's picture Dorothy Williams | April 17, 2017 2:57 am MST

As the CEO of Life Foundation, I reward my staff and volunteers for their efforts in our various training projects. I believe in rewards for your endeavors, such as recognition certificates, buying lunch for the team, celebrating holidays together, including the clients. From my perspective, the concept that Bandura uses for self-system; how the person perceives a situation, and behave in a particular situation emphasizes developing personality. I can see the impact of recognition for efforts. Attendance is good, very few late excuses, and the staff and volunteers take ownership in their jobs.

Dorothy Williams's picture Dorothy Williams | April 17, 2017 2:48 am MST

As the CEO of Life Foundation Training Center, a nonprofit organization (501(c)3, located in Oak Park, IL. I co-created a recognition program for City College of Chicago, and Loop Academy of Business Proprietiary College for student achieving 100% accuracy on keyboarding techniques and data entry (numeric) keyboarding. Every 18 weeks when the students are in the program half way we have a half-cap recognition program. An incentive for the students to stay in the program and graduate with another ceremony in 36 weeks. The students received a certificate for perfect attendance, grades, professional attitude, and verbal praise for oustanding leadership qualities. Illinois Board of Education could see the impact of recognition for efforts. The two Colleges were recognized for retaining 300 students on the roster for 3 years.

Michael Thompson's picture Michael Thompson | April 19, 2017 8:03 am MST

Hi, Dorothy, and thanks for your comments. There is a lot of scientific substance to what your organization, the Life Foundation Training Center, is doing right. For now, I would like to focus on one key observation that Angela Duckworth (2016) covered in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, that might help you get even better results. If you are unfamiliar with the grit scale, it is largely a measure of attitude towards setbacks on the path towards goal achievement. Given that, one of the most significant contributors to an individual's level of perseverence in the grit scale is purpose - specifically, having an other-centered approach to the goal itself. With that knowledge, I would say one of the significant advantages your people have is that the charity itself is other-centered by nature, so most of the people you attract as employees or volunteers will have a grit advantage that approximately doubles their likelihood of persevering through setbacks to a successful end (Duckworth, 2016, Part 2). With that in mind, those employees or volunteers are excellent models for the students in the program. And, as covered in the original post, Bandura (1977) duly noted that modeling behavior is one of four significant means by which we develop personality attributes, such as self-efficacy, and furthermore, grit, our locus of control, and self-concept (Duckworth, 2016).

Apart from merely modeling grit, or perseverence towards goals, another way to take advantage of the power of purpose would be to have students articulate their purpose to you or those you work with. A greater, other-centered purpose is typically something that develops as we mature past our need for self-serving recognition in adolescence, but helping those students articulate their goals as purpose-driven now will make them significantly more likely to achieve them (Duckworth, 2016).

Do you notice any differences in persistence or goal attainment between the students that are more self-focused or other-focused, and do you agree that an other-centric attitude towards goals is a benefit to you or them?



Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review84(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.

Valerie Barney's picture Valerie Barney | April 22, 2017 12:54 pm MST

My employer rewards effort, as well as achievement in a variety of ways, including monthly 100% quality certificates and 100% attendance certificates, departmental parties, and/or the employee’s name mentioned on the company’s internal web site for those employees exhibiting the company’s core values. These approaches may have an impact, but often it is just temporarily. Recognition is great, but it may mean more to employees if the recognition was “usable.” In other words, printing certificates wastes paper and plaques collect dust, so why not create recognition in the form employees can use; a PTO (paid-time-off) day, comp time, or through monetary means.

More recently, my employer sent out, via email, a “burst” questionnaire, which includes about 5 to 10 questions geared toward how employees view their direct manager (or supervisor). (This questionnaire is a condensed version of the actual employee survey that is sent out annually in November.) I mention this questionnaire because it included a specific question that asked how an employee would like to be recognized. I believe that the question arose out of the need for employers to offer employees a variety of recognition options. By having options, employees believe their opinions matter, because after all, after a while of receiving the same form of recognition (e.g. certificates), employees may view the recognition process as not meeting their needs, thus becoming routine and having less of an impact.


Christopher Hicks's picture Christopher Hicks | April 22, 2017 4:44 pm MST

Great post Mike!

You got me thinking about a coaching client of mine who is an educator. Two things that this client took away from our work together were:

(1) There are certain areas and instances where we fail to apply the growth mindset, no matter how familiar we may be with the concept. It is more of a commitment than a cure-all.

(2) It is the role of the educator (or organization) to create an environment where growth mindsets can flourish.

As an executive coach, I find that clients set goals that demonstrate their commitment to achievement and that the real work begins when they start focusing on their own specific developmental strategies. At a minimum, we may discuss their needs, preferences, and obstacles. Sometimes, there is just not enough time during the workweek to focus on the amount of differentiation necessary to move everyone toward achievement.                I think it is commendable that many organizations invest in the development of their people through interventions such as coaching. 

Kimberly Usrey's picture Kimberly Usrey | June 6, 2017 1:05 pm MST


I enjoyed reading your post and in answer to your question, I would say my employer rewards organizational effort and achievement to a certain degree. There are no individual rewards for achievement or effort. However, if the organization as a whole brings in more business through proficient and timely completed work every employee receives a decent bonus. There are no set goals to reach within each department of the company and gain recognition for a job well done.  My employer treats his employees as if they were family members. Treating your employees as though they are family members has the potential to negatively and positively affect working relationships and how the employees view the manner in which their effort or achievement is rewarded.  I found your post to be intriguing and has motivated me to do more research on rewarding an employee's effort and possibly coming up with some recommendations for my current company to encourage continual effort.

Simona Parker's picture Simona Parker | June 11, 2017 1:32 am MST

So far, my employer does neither: reward for effort or achievement.  Reward of any nature, in my opinion, is the motivation many employees need to perform at least as expected.  The absence of reward and recognition can sometimes lead to unproductive behaviors.  Why perform at our best if we are not at least recognized for our efforts?  As subordinate employee, I need some levels of recognition to let me know I am performing as needed, expected, and perhaps beyond my scope of duty.  My reward does not need to be materialistic, but a compliment on my efforts and achievements carry just as much weight as the physical reward or incentives. In many cases, a lack of reward may be perceived as unappreciation in the eyes of many subordinates.

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Michael Thompson
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