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Faculty & Research


The When and How of Delegated Search

Journal Article
Firms often outsource search processes, such as the acquisition of real estate, new technologies, or talent. To ensure the efficacy of such delegated search, firms need to carefully design incentive contracts to attenuate the ill effects of agency issues. The authors model this problem using a dynamic principal-agent framework, embedding the standard sequential search model. The optimal contract pays the agent a fixed per-period fee plus a bonus for finding a suitable alternative. The bonus size is defined a priori and decreases over time, whereas the range of values deemed suitable expands over time. If the principal is unable to contract on the value of the delivered alternatives, the optimal contract consists of two parts. Early in the search process, the agent is granted a small bonus for every alternative brought to the principal, irrespective of whether the principal accepts it; late in the search process, the agent is awarded a comparatively larger bonus, which is decreasing in time, but only if the principal accepts the alternative. The authors also consider situations where the principal chooses between searching in house and outsourcing. This decision is shown to hinge on the principal’s trade-off between speed and quality. The age-old aphorism “if you want it done right, do it yourself” holds, as in-house search is optimal for a principal who prioritizes quality. Yet, in the context of their model, the authors also establish an addendum: “If you want it done fast, hire someone else to do it.”

Professor of Decision Sciences

Professor of Technology and Operations Management

Professor of Technology and Operations Management