Agency theory is one the most prominent theoretical perspectives utilized in business and management research. Agency theory argues—using fundamental assumptions that agents are: (a) self-interested, (b) boundedly rational, and (c) different from principals in their goals and risk-taking preferences—that a problem occurs when one party (a principal) employs another (an agent) to make decisions and act in their stead. Essentially, the value of a principal-agent relationship is not optimized because the two contracted parties may have different interests and information is asymmetric (not equal). Agency costs are the result of principal and agent conflicts of interest and disagreements regarding actions that are taken. As such, monitoring and incentive-alignment systems are used to curb costs associated with opportunist behavior. Agency theory is commonly utilized to understand and explain corporate governance phenomena, including executive incentive alignment, board monitoring, and control of top managers; this strand of the literature is founded in economics and represents the bulk of the research in business and management. However, other important principal-agent relationships are commonly seen in business and society, such as with politicians/voters, brokers/investors, and lawyers/clients, and have benefited from the vast stream of research that has explored the principal-agent relationship in various forms and contexts. Also, alternative theoretical perspectives have emerged to accommodate variations of the principal-agent relationship. Namely, principal-principal agency, behavioral agency, and stewardship theories are prominent alternative theories that challenge, expand, or relax the basic assumptions of the classic theory to extend our understanding of important relationships and mechanisms in business and management.
Agency Theory in Business and Management Research
G. Tyge Payne and Oleg V. Petrenko
The New Public Management and Public Management Studies
The New Public Management (NPM) is a major and sustained development in the management of public services that is evident in some major countries. Its rise is often linked to broader changes in the underlying political economy, apparent since the 1980s, associated with the rise of the New Right as both a political and an intellectual movement. The NPM reform narrative includes the growth of markets and quasi-markets within public services, empowerment of management, and active performance measurement and management. NPM draws its intellectual inspiration from public choice theory and agency theory. NPM’s impact varies internationally, and not all countries have converged on the NPM model. The United Kingdom is often taken as an extreme case, but New Zealand and Sweden have also been highlighted as “high-impact” NPM states, while the United States has been assessed as a “medium impact” state. There has been a lively debate over whether NPM reforms have had beneficial effects or not. NPM’s claimed advantages include greater value for money and restoring governability to an overextended public sector. Its claimed disadvantages include an excessive concern for efficiency (rather than democratic accountability) and an entrenchment of agency-specific “silo thinking.” Much academic writing on the NPM has been political science based. However, different traditions of management scholarship have also usefully contributed in four distinct areas: (a) assessing and explaining performance levels in public agencies, (b) exploring their strategic management, (c) managing public services professionals, and (d) developing a more critical perspective on the resistance by staff to NPM reforms. While NPM scholarship is now a mature field, further work is needed in three areas to assess: (a) whether public agencies have moved to a post-NPM paradigm or whether NPM principles are still embedded even if dysfunctionally so, (b) the pattern of the international diffusion of NPM reforms and the characterization of the management knowledge system involved, and (c) NPM’s effects on professional staff working in public agencies and whether such staff incorporate, adapt, or resist NPM reforms.
Privatization of State-Owned Enterprises
Theoretical developments in economics, alongside evidence that state-owned enterprises were often inefficient and unresponsive to consumers, led to a substantial program of privatizations from the 1980s. Privatization can take a number of forms, from the outright sale of state-owned assets to private investors to forms of public-private partnership, such as contracting out and franchising of public services. Privatization was promoted in both developed and developing countries, and large-scale privatizations occurred in Europe, Latin America, China, and the former communist economies of Central and Eastern Europe, in particular. Privatization revenues rose substantially from the late 1980s internationally. Taking the years 1988 to 2016, revenues from sales are estimated to have been around $3,634bn. In terms of main sectors of the economy affected, privatizations have particularly occurred in telecommunications, transport and logistics (mainly railways, airlines, and airports), other utility businesses (especially energy companies), and finance. Numerous empirical studies suggest that the performance of the privatized businesses and services has been mixed. While privatization has led to some impressive economic gains, in a number of countries, wider governance issues relating to political and legal systems have led to disappointing outcomes. Privatization has not always led to the removal of state interference in the management of businesses and services. Corruption and cronyism have blighted a number of privatizations. State sell-offs have led to income and wealth redistribution with gainers and losers from the process. Some privatizations have led to spectacular capital gains for investors. The impact of privatization on employment and working conditions remains unclear. There are a number of issues that deserve further investigation, namely the consequences of privatization for technological change and innovation, competition policy, and income and wealth distribution. A further subject for investigation is how the effective and efficient management of state-owned enterprises can be best achieved. The boundary between the private and public sectors remains fluid, with a number of enterprises returning to state ownership as political and economic conditions change.
Social Network Analysis in Organizations
Jessica R. Methot, Nazifa Zaman, and Hanbo Shim
A social network is a set of actors—that is, any discrete entity in a network, such as a person, team, organization, place, or collective social unit—and the ties connecting them—that is, some type of relationship, exchange, or interaction between actors that serves as a conduit through which resources such as information, trust, goodwill, advice, and support flow. Social network analysis (SNA) is the use of graph-theoretic and matrix algebraic techniques to study the social structure, interactions, and strategic positions of actors in social networks. As a methodological tool, SNA allows scholars to visualize and analyze webs of ties to pinpoint the composition, content, and structure of organizational networks, as well as to identify their origins and dynamics, and then link these features to actors’ attitudes and behaviors. Social network analysis is a valuable and unique lens for management research; there has been a marked shift toward the use of social network analysis to understand a host of organizational phenomena. To this end, organizational network analysis (ONA) is centered on how employees, groups, and organizations are connected and how these connections provide a quantifiable return on human capital investments. Although criticisms have traditionally been leveled against social network analysis, the foundations of network science have a rich history, and ONA has evolved into a well-established paradigm and a modern-day trend in management research and practice.
Governance of Financial Institutions
Corporate governance is a central issue in business and economics. However, governance in financial institutions is more complicated than in other fields because of the nature of financial services and instruments. Financial organizations are similar to other businesses in terms of their purposes of establishment, but confidence in management and complex risk structures are more important in financial organizations than in other businesses. In financial institutions, there are various areas in which problems arise that are related to corporate governance, including the agency problem and stakeholder protection. The importance of good governance for sound performance of financial institutions was reconfirmed during the 2008 financial crisis, raising the need to understand the agency problems and the efficiency of various corporate governance mechanisms in mitigating them. International organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Basel Committee, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Organization of Securities Commissions, have been working with regulators and policy makers to improve corporate governance practices both in nonfinancial and financial institutions. Corporate governance, especially in financial institutions, is essential in guaranteeing a sound financial system, capital markets, and sustainable economic growth. Governance weaknesses at financial institutions can result in the transmission of problems across the finance sector and the economy. Consequently, the effectiveness of governance mechanisms of financial institutions and capital markets after financial crises had significant importance in a period that witnessed an intensive discussion of corporate governance issues with new regulations and the related academic works.