Communicated Values as Informal Controls: Promoting Quality While Undermining Productivity?

Steven J. Kachelmeier, Todd A. Thornock, Michael G. Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We find that the effectiveness of piece-rate compensation relative to fixed pay in a laboratory letter-search task hinges on the presence or absence of a nonbinding statement to participants that the experimenter values correct responses. In the absence of the value statement, participants with piece-rate rewards for correct responses generate more correct and incorrect responses than do their counterparts with fixed pay, correcting errors as they go along to maximize compensation. Essentially, piece-rate compensation acts as an output control, incentivizing participants to maximize correct responses through a “produce-and-improve” strategy. The value statement suppresses this strategy because participants appear to perceive it as an input constraint, prompting greater initial care at the expense of lower overall productivity. As a result, the value statement eliminates the gains in correct responses that piece-rate incentivized participants otherwise realize. Thus, in settings in which individuals can gain efficiency by working expeditiously and improving quality when necessary, our results suggest the possibility that organizations could be better off just letting incentive schemes operate, rather than emphasizing quality in ways that could overly constrain productivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1411-1434
Number of pages24
JournalContemporary Accounting Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


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