The Early Bird Gets the Worm, but the Confident Bird Gets Two

Topic(s): motivation

Topic: Motivation
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Self-efficacy and resource allocation: Support for a nonmonotonic, discontinuous model.
Blogger: Benjamin Granger

Imagine a football game in which you have the inside scoop on the competing teams’ overall self-efficacy for performing well in the upcoming game. Team A is highly confident that they will perform well and win the game, but Team B is not so confident. Who should you bet on?  Well, that’s a no brainer, right? Perhaps not!

Although it has long been found that self-efficacy (belief that one can successfully perform a certain task) is positively related to performance, recent work in this area has found quite the opposite. So, let’s assume that your insider information on the football teams comes a week prior to the game.

Some research would suggest that high levels of self-efficacy lead to increased motivation to perform well (players practice very hard), while other research would suggest that high self-efficacy leads to decreased motivation (players think the game is in the bag and coast). In the latter case, the confident team A may be beaten by Team B even though team A is more efficacious overall. However, Vancouver, More, and Yoder (2008) found that the relationship between self-efficacy and performance may not be as simple as either of these possibilities.

The authors found that self-efficacy relates to various aspects of motivation in different ways.  For example, their results showed that employees with high levels of self-efficacy were more likely to accept challenging goals (I’m going to tackle every player that comes into my zone this week!) but
applied less resources to individual tasks (Since Team B’s players are pretty slow, I don’t need to work too hard).

Although this may seem odd at first glance, let’s think about this a bit more.  Would it be wise for the confident, overpowering team A to apply all available resources to beat an inferior team B, while they have several more games left in the season?  Would it be wise for an employee to devote all possible resources to a single task when there are several other tasks required of her?  In many cases, the answers to these questions are clearly no!

The point that Vancouver and colleagues make is that even though self-efficacy can lead to lower levels of resource allocation, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Employees are often required to perform many tasks that all require valuable resources.  If an employee has high levels of self-efficacy for one of the tasks then it would be wise to devote only those resources necessary for successful completion. That way, the employee can devote more resources to those tasks he or she feels less confident about (I have a game this week, but I also have a tough final exam!).

Overall, organizations can influence employee self-efficacy for work-related tasks. The results of this study suggest that organizations should not necessarily expect high levels of self-efficacy to predict high levels of resource allocation and performance.

Importantly, Vancouver et al. suggest that overconfidence should be avoided. That is, organizations can and should increase the self-efficacy of their employees for performing work-related tasks but should not bolster them to the point of overconfidence!

Vancouver, J. B., More, K. M., & Yoder, R. J. (2008). Self-efficacy and resource allocation:  Support for a nonmonotonic, discontinuous model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(1) 35-47.