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Too Motivated?

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  • Van den Steen, Eric

Abstract

I show that an agent's motivation to do well (objectively) may be unambiguously bad in a world with differing priors, i.e., when people openly disagree on the optimal course of action. The reason is that an agent who is strongly motivated is more likely to follow his own view of what should be done. As a result, the agent is more willing to disobey his principal's orders when the two of them disagree on the right course of action. This effect has a number of implications. First of all, agents who are subject to authority will have low-powered incentive pay. Second, intrinsically motivated agents will be more likely to disobey and less likely to be subject to authority. Firms with intrinsically motivated agents will need to rely on other methods than authority for coordination. Moreover, an increase in intrinsic motivation may decrease all players' expected utility, so that it may be optimal for a firm to look for employees with low intrinsic motivation. Finally, subjective performance pay may be optimal, even when the true outcome of the project is perfectly measurable and contractible. Through this analysis, the paper identifies an important difference between differing priors and private benefits (or private information): with differing priors, pay-for-performance can create agency problems rather than solving them.

Suggested Citation

  • Van den Steen, Eric, 2005. "Too Motivated?," Working papers 18180, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:mit:sloanp:18180
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/18180
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Di Maggio, Marco, 2009. "Sweet Talk: A Theory of Persuasion," MPRA Paper 18697, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Marie-Louise Vierø, 2012. "Contracting in Vague Environments," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 104-130, May.
    3. Emilios Galariotis & Christophe Villa & Nurmukhammad Yusupov, 2011. "Recent Advances in Lending to the Poor with Asymmetric Information," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(9), pages 1371-1390, July.
    4. Eric Van den Steen, 2010. "Interpersonal Authority in a Theory of the Firm," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(1), pages 466-490, March.
    5. de la Rosa, Leonidas Enrique, 2011. "Overconfidence and moral hazard," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 429-451.
    6. Jed De Varo & Suraj Prasad, 2015. "The Relationship between Delegation and Incentives Across Occupations: Evidence and Theory," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(2), pages 279-312, June.
    7. Kohei Kawamura, 2015. "Confidence and competence in communication," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 78(2), pages 233-259, February.
    8. Augustin Landier & David Sraer & David Thesmar, 2009. "Financial Risk Management: When Does Independence Fail?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 454-458, May.

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    agent motivation;

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