Self-efficacy was first introduced as a core concept in Professor Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. It is an important topic in organisational behaviour because of its strong relationship with goal commitment, task learning, persistence of effort and performance.

Self-efficacy is defined as a personal judgment of how well one can execute the courses of action needed to deal with prospective situations to attain designated goals. These judgments affect service employees’ motivation and behaviour.

Service employees weigh, integrate and evaluate information combined with personal and situational factors about their capabilities to perform. They subsequently decide on a course of action and exert effort to perform the task accordingly.

Individuals who perceive themselves as highly efficacious activate sufficient effort to produce the outcomes, whereas those who perceive low self-efficacy are likely to cease their efforts prematurely and fail in the task.

Boosting self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is influenced by four key sources of information in the social learning process:

1. Personal mastery experience

This is defined as repeated performance accomplishments. Change will depend on how service employees process the information resulting from that past service delivery performance.

For instance, after a service employee completes a customer’s request, he interprets and evaluates the results obtained, and judgments of competence are created or revised according to those interpretations.

When he believes that his efforts have been successful, his confidence to accomplish similar or related service tasks is raised; when he believes that his efforts have failed to produce the effect desired, confidence to succeed in similar endeavours is diminished.

Frequent successes in service delivery leads to higher self-efficacy, and consistent failure experiences lower it. Employees who have earned compliments and awards for their service delivery will typically believe they are capable in this area for years to come.

2. Vicarious experience

Vicarious experience (modelling) means observing competent service employees doing a similar task successfully. People learn by observing the behaviour-consequence patterns of others. Observing the successes and failures of other service employees perceived as similar in capability to you contributes to beliefs in your own ability to raise your performance (“If he can do it, so can I.”)

3. Verbal persuasion

Verbal encouragement and progress feedback from others that you can perform a task successfully leads to greater self-efficacy. Encouragement from supervisors, colleagues and customers can boost service employees’ confidence in their capabilities to deliver quality service.

Verbal persuasion is commonly used because it can be easily dispensed. If employees receive encouragement (“You can do this.”) and reassuring statements (“You can do better next time."), they are more likely to exert greater effort and succeed in the given task.

4. Physiological states

Physiological states such as feelings of anxiety, stress, pain and fatigue may influence an employee’s self-efficacy. An individual in an emotionally aroused state (high level of stress while serving a demanding customer) may feel vulnerable and anticipate a service failure. High anxiety can undermine self-efficacy.

Staff who experience a feeling of dread when attending to a particular customer are likely to interpret their apprehension as evidence that they lack the capabilities to provide good service.

By increasing service employees’ physical and emotional well-being and reducing negative emotional states, managers can help their staff to strengthen their self-efficacy levels and deliver the performance expected of them.