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Authority and Discretion Tensions, Credible Delegation and Implications for New Organizational Forms

  • Kirsten Foss
  • Nicolai J. Foss

We analyze a key problem in organization theory and design, namely the potential tension between authority (i.e., the power to make decisions which guide the decisions of another person) and the discretion of employees (i.e., the ability of an agent to control resources including his own human capital). The problem is rooted in the fact that in organizations, decisions rights are always loaned rather than owned; a hierarchical superior can always in principle overrule a hierarchical inferior. We provide an integrative treatment of the tensions that are involved in the interaction between authority and discretion, and the motivational problems that may result from this tension. We discuss how these problems may be checked by credible managerial commitments and other mechanisms. The framework is then applied to an analysis of new organizational forms, specifically internal hybrids. Thus, the framework adds to the understanding of the costs and benefits of alternative organizational forms.

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Paper provided by DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies in its series DRUID Working Papers with number 02-11.

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Date of creation: 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:aal:abbswp:02-11
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  1. Fama, Eugene F & Jensen, Michael C, 1983. "Separation of Ownership and Control," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(2), pages 301-25, June.
  2. Sah, Raaj Kumar & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1985. "Human Fallibility and Economic Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 292-97, May.
  3. Herbert A. Simon, 1991. "Organizations and Markets," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 25-44, Spring.
  4. Baker, George & Gibbons, Robert & Murphy, Kevin J, 1999. "Informal Authority in Organizations," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(1), pages 56-73, April.
  5. Armstrong, Mark, 1995. "Delegation and discretion," MPRA Paper 17069, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  6. Gal-Or, Esther & Amit, Raphael, 1998. "Does empowerment lead to higher quality and profitability?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 411-431, September.
  7. Michael C. Jensen & William H. Heckling, 1995. "Specific And General Knowledge, And Organizational Structure," Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Morgan Stanley, vol. 8(2), pages 4-18.
  8. Foss, Kirsten, 2001. "Organizing Technological Interdependencies: A Coordination Perspective on the Firm," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 10(1), pages 151-78, March.
  9. Nahum D. Melumad & Dilip Mookherjee & Stefan Reichelstein, 1995. "Hierarchical Decentralization of Incentive Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 26(4), pages 654-672, Winter.
  10. Margit Osterloh & Bruno S. Frey, . "Motivation, Knowledge Transfer, and Organizational Form," IEW - Working Papers 027, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  11. Dow, Gregory K., 1987. "The function of authority in transaction cost economics," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 13-38, March.
  12. Raghuram G. Rajan & Luigi Zingales, 1997. "Power in a Theory of the Firm," NBER Working Papers 6274, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Demski, Joel S, et al, 1999. "Practices for Managing Information Flows within Organizations," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(1), pages 107-31, April.
  14. Nicolai J. Foss, 2001. "Selective Intervention and Internal HybridsInterpreting and Learning from the Rise and Decline of the Oticon Spaghetti Organization," DRUID Working Papers 01-16, DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies.
  15. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521597135 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Klein, Benjamin & Leffler, Keith B, 1981. "The Role of Market Forces in Assuring Contractual Performance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 615-41, August.
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