Unhelpful institutional theory, real world

Let’s say that the CEO of an organization publicly announces during a board meeting that if the org misses its (ambitious) numbers over the coming year, she will eliminate X employees. We know that often, public announcements of impossible goals get met not by actually meeting those goals, but by shifting the goalposts down the line – (i.e., that the $10 million gap somehow gets filled at the last moment, or that fuzzy ‘productivity’ numbers come into line somehow). But just as often, those publicly-stated goalposts force company’s do make real changes, despite their often-symbolic nature (i.e., that Exxon commits itself publicly but symbolically to ‘green technologies,’ which then gives employee activists ammunition to start up a costly recycling program which otherwise the company would reject).

But when are ambitious, symbolic statements going to be decoupled from on-the-ground changes, and when are ambitious, symbolic statements going to be the impetus for on-the-ground changes? Absent a wave to ‘well-situated activists’ or somesuch, do we really have an answer here?

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