Goal Setting in the Principal-Agent Model: Weak Incentives for Strong Performance
We study a principal-agent framework in which principals can assign wage-irrelevant goals to agents. We find evidence that, when given the possibility to set wage-irrelevant goals, principals select incentive contracts for which pay is less responsive to agents’ performance. Agents’ performance is higher in the presence of goal setting despite weaker incentives. We develop a principal-agent model with reference-dependent utility that illustrates how labor contracts combining weak monetary incentives and wage-irrelevant goals can be optimal. The pervasive use of non-monetary incentives in the workplace may help account for previous empirical findings suggesting that firms rely on unexpectedly weak monetary incentives.