SCT incorporates both social/environmental and cognitive elements and the behaviors themselves. SCT explains psychological functioning in terms of environmental events; internal personal factors in the form of cognitive, affective, and biological variables; and behavioral patterns. These three (environment, personal cognitions, and behavior) operate as interacting determinants that influence one another bidirectionally. Embedded within SCT, along with the human’s capabilities of symbolizing, forethought, and observational learning, is a self-theory including both self-regulation and self-reflection. It is the capability for self-reflection—people reflect back on their actions/experience with a specific event/task to then cognitively process how strongly they believe they can successfully accomplish this event/task in the future—that serves as the theoretical basis for self-efficacy.
Bandura strongly emphasizes that this self-efficacy is the most pervading and important of the psychological mechanisms of self-influence. He declares, “Unless people believe that they can produce desired effects and forestall undesired ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act. Whatever other factors may operate as motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to produce desired results.”
The formal definition of self-efficacy that is usually used is Bandura’s early statement of personal judgment or belief of “how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations.” A somewhat broader, more workable definition for positive organizational behavior is provided by Stajkovic and Luthans: “Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s conviction (or confidence) about his or her abilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to successfully execute a specific task within a given context.” Notice that this definition deals with efficacy on a specific task and context. To further clarify the exact meaning of self-efficacy as it is used here in meeting the criteria of positive organizational behavior, specific versus general efficacy needs to be clarified. Earlier the differentiation between the various POB constructs was briefly discussed, but the difference between self-efficacy and closely related established organizational behavior constructs such as self-esteem, expectancy motivation, and attribution/ locus of control also needs to be addressed.
Specific versus General Self-Efficacy
Specific self-efficacy follows Bandura’s conceptualization and is widely recognized by almost all efficacy scholars and the psychology field as a whole. In recent years, however, general self-efficacy has been used as another dimension of self-efficacy by a few efficacy researchers. They suggest that in addition to specific self-efficacy, there is a generalized efficacy that reflects people’s belief in successfully accomplishing tasks across a wide variety of achievement situations. It should be recognized that this generalized efficacy is quite different from Bandura’s portrayal of self-efficacy. In particular, the accepted task-specific version of self-efficacy is statelike, and thus meets this important criterion for POB. Specific self-efficacy is highly variable depending on the specific task and is cognitively processed by the individual before any effort is expended.
Bandura argues that self-efficacy represents a task-and situation-specific cognition. On the other hand, general efficacy is conceptually the opposite; it is traitlike. That is, general efficacy is relatively stable over time and across situations; in this regard it is like a personality trait. Bandura contends with his years of theory building and basic research that “an efficacy belief is not a decontextualized trait.” However, Bandura and others point out that even though self-efficacy is not traitlike, this does not mean that specific self-efficacy evaluations never generalize. Instead, although not necessarily stable across situations, efficacy judgments on one task may generalize to others depending on the situation, the task, and the person.
In summary, as presented here as a POB construct, self-efficacy is statelike and therefore is aimed at specific tasks and open to training and development. For example, a systems analyst may have high self-efficacy on solving a particular programming problem, but low self-efficacy on writing up a report for the CIO (chief information officer) on how the problem was solved. Importantly for POB, this low efficacy can be raised through training and development, and the enhanced efficacy will result in improved performance.
How Self-Efficacy Differs from Established Organizational Behavior Concepts
At first glance self-efficacy appears very similar and is often confused with widely recognized organizational behavior concepts, in particular, self-esteem and expectancy motivation. The same confusion also often surfaces with the well-known construct of attribution/locus of control. A brief summary of the major differences will help clarify the exact meaning of self-efficacy.
1. Self-efficacy vs. self-esteem. Following from the preceding discussion of specific versus general self-efficacy, there is no question that general self-efficacy is very similar to self-esteem, but the widely accepted specific self-efficacy as used here is quite different. The first difference is that self-esteem is a global construct of one’s evaluation and belief of overall worthiness, whereas self-efficacy is one’s belief about a task-and contextspecific capability. Second, self-esteem is stable and traitlike, whereas self-efficacy is changing over time as new information and task experiences are gained and developed and is statelike. Finally, self-esteem is aimed at any aspect of one’s current self, whereas self-efficacy is a current assessment of one’s future success at a task. An example of the differences would be the salesperson who has high self-efficacy of selling a luxury item to low-income customers, but low self-esteem because he knows his career has been based on selling unneeded items to his customers and this takes away from their ability to buy some of the basic necessities for their families.
2. Self-efficacy vs. expectancy concepts. Although E1 and self-efficacy would both say that effort leads to performance, self-efficacy involves much more. Self-efficacy beliefs also involve perceptions of ability, skill, knowledge, experience with the specific task, complexity of the task, and more. In addition, self-efficacy has psychomotor reactions such as emotions, stress, and physical fatigue. With the E2 (behavior-outcome expectancy) there are even more pronounced differences. The process is different—efficacy is a judgment of one’s ability to successfully execute a certain behavior pattern (i.e., “I believe I can successfully execute this task”), whereas the outcome expectancy is a judgment of the probable consequence such behavior will produce (i.e., “I believe that what I do will (or will not) lead to desired outcomes”). In other words, the individual’s self-efficacy evaluation will usually come before any behavior outcome expectancies are even considered.
3. Self-efficacy vs. attribution/locus of control. The third close, but different, construct that is often confused with self-efficacy comes from Attribution Theory, specifically locus of control. Those who make internal attributions about their behavior and its consequences (success or failure) believe they are in control of their own fate (e.g., “It is my effort or ability that makes the difference”) and assume personal responsibility for the consequences of their behavior. Externals, on the other hand, make attributions to the circumstances (“The task was too hard”) or to luck and do not take personal responsibility for the consequences of their behavior. Bandura has argued that locus of control attributions are causal beliefs about action-outcome contingencies, whereas self-efficacy is an individual’s belief about his or her abilities and cognitive resources that can be marshaled together to successfully execute a specific task.
Although the differences outlined above may seem quite technical, they must be pointed out to make sure that self-efficacy is indeed a valid, independent construct and help clarify its exact meaning.