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Authority versus Persuasion

  • Eric J. Van den Steen


    (Harvard Business School, Strategy Unit)

This paper studies a principal's trade-off between using persuasion versus using interpersonal authority to get the agent to 'do the right thing' from the principal's perspective (when the principal and agent openly disagree on the right course of action). It shows that persuasion and authority are complements at low levels of effectiveness but substitutes at high levels. Furthermore, the principal will rely more on persuasion when agent motivation is more important for the execution of the project, when the agent has strong intrinsic or extrinsic incentives, and, for a wide range of settings, when the principal is more confident about the right course of action.

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Paper provided by Harvard Business School in its series Harvard Business School Working Papers with number 09-085.

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Length: 22 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:09-085
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  1. Jean Tirole & Roland Bénabou, 2006. "Belief in Just World and Redistributive Politics," Post-Print hal-00173678, HAL.
  2. Van den Steen, Eric, 2007. "The Limits of Authority: Motivation versus Coordination," Working papers 37305, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  3. Philippe Aghion & Jean Tirole, 1994. "Formal and Real Authority in Organizations," Working papers 95-8, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  4. Paul Milgrom & John Roberts, 1986. "Relying on the Information of Interested Parties," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 17(1), pages 18-32, Spring.
  5. Susan Athey & John Roberts, 2001. "Organizational Design: Decision Rights and Incentive Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 200-205, May.
  6. Paul R. Milgrom, 1981. "Good News and Bad News: Representation Theorems and Applications," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 12(2), pages 380-391, Autumn.
  7. Yeon-Koo Che & Navin Kartik, 2009. "Opinions as Incentives," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(5), pages 815-860, October.
  8. Wouter Dessein & Luis Garicano & Robert Gertner, 2010. "Organizing for Synergies," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(4), pages 77-114, November.
  9. Crawford, Vincent P & Sobel, Joel, 1982. "Strategic Information Transmission," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(6), pages 1431-51, November.
  10. Sherwin Rosen, 1982. "Authority, Control, and the Distribution of Earnings," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 13(2), pages 311-323, Autumn.
  11. Eric Van den Steen, 2010. "Interpersonal Authority in a Theory of the Firm," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(1), pages 466-90, March.
  12. Morris, Stephen, 1995. "The Common Prior Assumption in Economic Theory," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(02), pages 227-253, October.
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