organizations ; decision making ; goal setting;
Using field data from an American financial services organization, the authors examined the effects of three important variables in Cyert and March's (1963) initial conceptualization of the aspiration-level adaptation process: The previous aspiration level, performance feedback, and social comparison. Past findings obtained in controlled contexts (Glynn et al. 1991; Lant 1992) have provided empirical support for the attainment discrepancy model (Lewin et al. 1944), which includes variables of the previous aspiration level and attainment discrepancy (i.e., performance feedback).The authors replicated these findings in the field: The effects of the previous aspiration level and attainment discrepancy on the current aspiration levels were significant and positive. In addition, they investigated the effect of social comparison using a variable based on the difference between the performance of the focal unit and the performance of comparable others (Greve 1998). Based on the assumption that decision makers in organizations will expect to observe similar performance levels among those in the same comparison group (Wood 1989), they posited that the effect of social comparison would be negative, reflecting managerial efforts to reduce performance discrepancies among similar units. The empirical results supported the prediction from this reasoning.The authors conclude by discussing implications of our findings for theory and research in organizational learning and the behavioral theory of the firm.