A Conceptual Framework for the Design of Organizational Control Mechanisms

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.25.9.833

The problem of organization is the problem of obtaining cooperation among a collection of individuals or units who share only partially congruent objectives. When a team of individuals collectively produces a single output, there develops the problem of how to distribute the rewards emanating from that output in such a manner that each team member is equitably rewarded. If equitable rewards are not forthcoming, members will, in future cooperative ventures, adjust their efforts in such a manner that all will be somewhat worse off (cf. Simon [Simon, H. A. 1964. On the concept of organizational goal. Admin. Sci. Quart.9 (1, June) 1–22.], Marschak [Marschak, Thomas A. 1965. Economic theories of organization. J. G. March, ed. Handbook of Organizations. Rand McNally, Chicago, Ill., 423–450.], Alchian and Demsetz [Alchian, Armen A., Harold Demsetz. 1972. Production, information costs, and economic organization. Amer. Econom. Rev.62 777–795.).

It is the objective of this paper to describe three fundamentally different mechanisms through which organizations can seek to cope with this problem of evaluation and control. The three will be referred to as markets, bureaucracies, and clans. In a fundamental sense, markets deal with the control problem through their ability to precisely measure and reward individual contributions; bureaucracies rely instead upon a mixture of close evaluation with a socialized acceptance of common objectives; and clans rely upon a relatively complete socialization process which effectively eliminates goal incongruence between individuals. This paper explores the organizational manifestations of these three approaches to the problem of control.

The paper begins with an example from a parts distribution division of a major company which serves to give some flesh to what might otherwise be overly-abstract arguments. Through the example, each of the three mechanisms is explicated briefly and discussed in terms of two prerequisite conditions, one social and the other informational. The more concrete organization design features of the three forms are considered, along with some consideration of the unique costs accompanying each form.

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