Banduras Social Cognitive Theory


Banduras Social Learning Theory posits that we learn through observation, imitation and modelling of behaviours, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others (Bandura 1982). When we consider how this theory applies to the conventional workplace there are three key areas which it relates to: observational learning, self-efficacy, and modelling. Banduras defines self-efficacy as a judgement an individual makes about their own ability to perform required tasks. Our perception of our own abilities to perform tasks can influence our ability to transfer theory to practice in a work setting (Burke-Smalley and Hutchins, 2007).

Observation: The process of observation allows you to absorb information and gain primary insight into best practices while you learn to communicate effectively with your team. Toyota is a primary example as they have long been known to promote a culture of continuous advancement where employees observe through regular on-site observations. This emphasizes the importance of expression and collaboration and reinforces to the individual the importance of their own perspectives. As with any relationship, a core pillar in the foundation of employment relationships is a sense of value. A sense of value is interlinked with employees’ sense of purpose and a sense of purpose is a fundamental quality of life.

Modelling: Modelling is an element of Banduras Social Cognitive Theory which involves observing supervisors and peers as role models in order to demonstrate how to approach your role (Passi and Johnson, 2016). Role modelling has a significant impact on the employee as they will likely emulate a manager who they perceive to be similar to themselves. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella modelled the ideal leadership behaviours through public speaking and appearances highlighting the importance of empathy and a growth mindset encouraging continuous learning and willingness to embrace mistakes and challenges.

Imitation: Imitation has been defined as an action taken by a person where the individual engages in a behaviour they have observed. The importance of imitation lies in the idea that employees acquire and develop new skills by observing and imitating those around them.

How can organisations weave these key elements into their business strategy?

Businesses can leverage the above elements of Banduras Social Cognitive Theory by fostering a culture of mentorship and encouraging employees to use their initiative. This creates a healthy environment for employees to observe and improve skill acquisition and knowledge transfer. Encouraging collaborative work environments also facilitates observational learning, as team members can observe and adopt effective practices from their peers.  This can also have a positive impact on employee self-efficacy as it provides them with an opportunity to observe successful role models, partake in difficult tasks and enhance their self-efficacy through different tasks.

The Power of Role Modelling: Having role models in the workplace is crucial as they establish a standard for effective management and positive attitudes which can influence the satisfaction and commitment of employees. Google serves as a prime example of an organization fostering openness and diversity in its leadership approach. The company instils a culture of curiosity and encourages employees to think innovatively, prioritizing creative freedom and innovation from top leadership down to managerial levels.

Waterfall Effect: The waterfall effect echoes the importance of modelling as it highlights the impact of managerial decisions on the actions of a group. Almost like a domino effect, one decision can cause a series of reactions and cascading events as a result. If the employer does not demonstrate the behaviours it would expect to see in a business environment employees will not feel the need to either.

Believing in Themselves (Self-Efficacy): Increased self-esteem has been linked to productivity (Gomez-Jorge F, Diaz-Garrido E. 2023).  Additionally, self-efficacy is linked to employees’ sense of agency and autonomy (Ma et al.,2022). If employees feel supported and confident in their capabilities this will inevitably increase the likelihood that they take initiative in completing tasks without fear of being condemned. It also promotes autonomy as the they can make more decisions which reflect the organisational culture and their personal goals. Patagonia are an example of a company which has created a loyal high performing work force, driving employees through connecting their work to the overall company mission. Patagonia moulded employee self-efficacy as they fostered a healthy relationship in which employee feedback was valued and consistent. Realistic goals are set which contributes to growth in confidence amongst employees. In essence when a workplace makes employees feel capable and confident, they are more likely to enjoy their work and want to stay. 

Rewards Matter: Employee rewards and recognition are paramount in creating a healthy ecosystem within the business (Tessema et al., 2013). Positive reinforcement has previously been deemed the most powerful leadership tool for managers (Luthans 2000). The driving concept for positive reinforcement is that if a behaviour is rewarded in the workplace, it is more likely to be repeated. By rewarding employees for their work, you are acknowledging not just the significance of their action but the value of their contribution to the business. This in turn increases motivation and engagement from a wider range of employees as it highlights their efforts and abilities. Particularly for employees who engage with the public in more customer facing roles rewards can drive them to provide the most exceptional service for clients.

Feedback and Psychological Safety: Bandura’s Theory underscores the significance of fostering open communication and feedback channels between employers and employees. By encouraging employees to freely express their thoughts and feelings, organizations cultivate an environment of psychological safety and engagement (Khairy 2023). In such an atmosphere, employees feel empowered, knowing their opinions matter and won’t result in punishment or ridicule. This concept of psychological safety ensures that individuals feel secure in expressing themselves without fear of negative consequences (Khairy 2023). Crucially, managers play a pivotal role in providing feedback, which should be both critical and constructive. Consistent feedback, delivered in a casual and non-threatening manner, helps alleviate anxiety and fosters a sense of comfort among employees. They perceive feedback not as criticism, but as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Cultural and Environmental Influences:

A feedback loop is a dynamic system where outputs become inputs, influencing further change. Positive loops speed up progress, while negative loops slow it down. Understanding the quality of the broader organizational culture and environment is crucial in employee productivity. The workplace environment significantly shapes employees’ thoughts, emotions, and observations. A positive culture where learning is encouraged, and judgment is absent is paramount. When employees feel supported and comfortable, they naturally drive growth and development within the organization.

Priming: The priming effect is a psychological effect where exposure to a particular stimulus shapes one’s subsequent response to another stimulus, whether it’s a word, action, or image. Leveraging this effect in the workplace can effectively prompt and encourage positive behaviours amongst employees (Peifer et al .,2000). This concept aligns with the observation aspect of social cognitive theory. Through the consistent use of positive language, tone, and body language, employees naturally absorb these cues, leading to a subconscious adoption of the preferred behaviours. Particularly in client-facing roles, this can be especially advantageous as employees tend to mirror these actions when interacting with clients.


Understanding the importance of the business environment in the context of how employees engage with their work and build their confidence are crucial in promoting a culture and environment where people can grow both as individuals and as professionals with trust in their capabilities.

More on Recognition

Organisational Psychology and Motivation

Refining Performance Assessments: Reducing Recency Bias for Superior Evaluations

The Workplace Motivation Theory That Works

Passi, V. and Johnson, N. (2016) ‘The hidden process of positive doctor role modelling’, Medical Teacher, 38(7), pp. 700–707. Available at:,engagement%20%5B17%2C92%5D.,seniority%20of%20the%20teaching%20staff.