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Too Motivated?

  • Van den Steen, Eric

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.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/18180
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Paper provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management in its series Working papers with number 18180.

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Date of creation: 08 Jul 2005
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Handle: RePEc:mit:sloanp:18180
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  1. Michael Manove & A. Jorge Padilla, 1999. "Banking (Conservatively) with Optimists," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 30(2), pages 324-350, Summer.
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  12. Morris, Stephen, 1995. "The Common Prior Assumption in Economic Theory," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(02), pages 227-253, October.
  13. Landier, Augustin & Thesmar, David, 2003. "Financial Contracting with Optimistic Entrepreneurs: Theory and Evidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 3971, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  14. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
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  16. John C. Harsanyi, 1968. "Games with Incomplete Information Played by `Bayesian' Players, Part III. The Basic Probability Distribution of the Game," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 14(7), pages 486-502, March.
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