Panel Paper: Explaining Effort Substitution in Performance Systems: The Role of Task Difficulty and Mission Orientation

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Truman - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

S. Lorenzo Benaine and Alexander Kroll, Florida International University

Examples of gaming and cheating as a response to performance systems have become too common to be shrugged off as outliers or exceptions. This paper contributes to a theory of performance gaming, as it studies why public organizations engage in effort substitution (i.e., focusing on rewarded as opposed to unrewarded areas). We argue that effort substitution becomes more likely if tasks are difficult; less likely in the presence of a strong mission orientation; and that mission orientation can mitigate the task difficulty effect. We test these hypotheses by examining a five-year panel data set of 62 high schools in one school district, which allows us to hold all performance system-related factors constant. We find support for the effect of task difficulty and partial support for the main and interactive effects of mission orientation. Dealing with difficult tasks in a government setting often means working with underserved populations, which may end up doubly disadvantaged if improvements in one area are traded for null effects in another.