We investigate how performance-to-target (exceeding versus missing prior target) and task type (ability-driven versus effort-driven) affect managers' target-setting decisions in a setting where a manager sets targets for multiple employees. To do so, we use an experiment that involves executives, who average more than 16 years of work experience. We predict and find stronger target adjustments when prior targets are exceeded than when they are missed, especially when tasks are ability-driven. We also predict and find targets are differentiated more between employees within a firm when tasks are ability-driven rather than effort-driven, but this effect is attenuated when prior targets are missed. As prior empirical findings are inconclusive in this area of research, we contribute to the literature by providing controlled experimental evidence about the asymmetric nature of target adjustments. Additionally, we identify an important factor affecting managers' target-setting decisions—task type—that has largely been neglected in prior work.
JEL Classifications: M21; M41; M52.