Managing Autonomy in Industrial R&D: A Project-Level Investigation

Organization Science, Forthcoming

Bocconi University Management Research Paper No. 16

39 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2019

See all articles by Alfonso Gambardella

Alfonso Gambardella

Bocconi University - Department of Management and Technology

Pooyan Khashabi

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich - Institute for Strategy, Technology and Organization (ISTO)

Claudio Panico

Bocconi University - Department of Management and Technology

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 31, 2018

Abstract

Management practices explain an important part of the heterogeneity in firm productivity, but the literature has largely focused on manufacturing while leaving out research in the industrial setting. A key managerial practice in industrial research projects is the use of autonomy (through the delegation of decision rights). Our paper clarifies the drivers and the effects of autonomy in settings where other managerial instruments are less effective. We discuss that in industrial research projects, autonomy is set for efficiency reasons — autonomy allows researchers to make more competent decisions about a specific problem — as well as for motivational considerations — autonomy motivates researchers to exert greater effort. We also argue that project-relevant capital — the resources that enhance the productivity of researchers on a given project — is a key driver of autonomy. We theorize that the efficiency and motivational channels have opposite implications for the relationship between project-relevant capital and autonomy, and find that empirically this relationship is U-shaped, which is suggestive evidence of the presence of both channels.

Keywords: autonomy, delegation, efficiency, motivation, project-relevant capital, managerial practices

Suggested Citation

Gambardella, Alfonso and Khashabi, Pooyan and Panico, Claudio, Managing Autonomy in Industrial R&D: A Project-Level Investigation (December 31, 2018). Organization Science, Forthcoming; Bocconi University Management Research Paper No. 16. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3346482

Alfonso Gambardella (Contact Author)

Bocconi University - Department of Management and Technology ( email )

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, MI 20136
Italy

Pooyan Khashabi

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich - Institute for Strategy, Technology and Organization (ISTO) ( email )

Kaulbachstr, 45
Munich, 80539
Germany
+49 89 2180 5415 (Phone)

Claudio Panico

Bocconi University - Department of Management and Technology ( email )

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, MI 20136
Italy

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