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Formal Contracts in the Presence of Relational Enforcement Mechanisms: Evidence from Technology Development Projects

  • Michael D. Ryall


    (Melbourne Business School, Melbourne, Victoria 3053, Australia)

  • Rachelle C. Sampson


    (Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742)

Formal contracting addresses the moral hazard problems inherent in interfirm deals via explicit terms designed to achieve incentive alignment. Alternatively, when firms expect to interact repeatedly, relational mechanisms may achieve similar results without the associated costs. However, as we now know from a growing body of theoretical and empirical work, the resulting intuition--that relational mechanisms will be substituted for formal ones whenever possible--does not generally hold. The extent to which firms substitute relational mechanisms for formal ones in the presence of repeated interaction is an empirical question that forms the basis of this paper. We study a sample of 52 joint technology development contracts in the telecommunications and microelectronics industries and devise a coding scheme to allow empirical comparison of contract terms. Counter to the above intuition (but consistent with recent research), we find that a firm's contracts are more detailed and more likely to include penalties when it engages in frequent deals (whether with the same or different partners). Our results suggest complementarity between formal and relational contracts, and have implications for optimal contracting, particularly in high technology sectors.

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Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Management Science.

Volume (Year): 55 (2009)
Issue (Month): 6 (June)
Pages: 906-925

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Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:55:y:2009:i:6:p:906-925
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