The Role of Cognition and Motivation in Understanding Internal Governance and Hierarchical Failure: A Discriminating Alignment Analysis

Libby Weber, Nicolai J. Foss, Siegwart Lindenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Transaction cost economics (TCE) carefully analyzes market failure while remaining largely silent about hierarchical failure. We argue this omission occurs because TCE’s opportunism assumption does not consider organizational member motivations under different hierarchical forms. Thus, TCE does not fully examine opportunistic behavior under hierarchy, resulting in an incomplete governance analysis. To fill this gap, we build a discriminating alignment theory of hierarchical choice that incorporates explicit motivations under each hierarchical form. We make three contributions to TCE with this theory. First, using the counterproductive work behavior and goal framing literatures, we predict specific motivations (effort, visceral, financial or status opportunism, or collaboration) across hierarchical forms. Second, we predict when “efficient” hierarchical forms (mapped from Williamson’s internal governance analysis) do not effectively mitigate opportunistic behavior, creating hierarchical failure. In these cases, we augment the hierarchical forms with supplemental governance mechanisms necessary to efficiently govern the exchange. Finally, we investigate how different motivations across hierarchical forms lead to excess misalignment costs to enhance our understanding of hierarchical failures. Examining how both transaction hazards and specific motivations drive particular behaviors allows for a more nuanced understanding of specific “costs and competencies” of hierarchy and in turn hierarchical failure in TCE
Original languageEnglish
JournalAcademy of Management Review
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: 17 June 2021

Cite this