Amy Finkelstein

Amy Finkelstein

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Principal-Agent Triangle

              I have witnessed a triangular principal-agent model in the workplace. I have a sibling who recently completed a Co-op internship with DuPont Pioneer.  My brother is currently an agricultural engineering student at Iowa State University, although his internship was located at the University of Illinois. He engaged in soybean research developing genetically modified strains of seeds working under the auspices of a professor based in Iowa. My brother was caught in a principal-agent triangle because he had to work on projects given to him by his professor back in Iowa, while following the direction of managers and other head researchers at DuPont.
                Frequently my brother would talk about how what you might call “serving two masters” can create a very stressful and hectic work environment for the middleman being pulled in both directions. He often had to complete extra work, juggling dual employers and different systems and standards in research procedure. My brother also discussed that his relationship with the supervisors in Illinois was much different and much more distant than the relationship between the supervisors and other interns, because he was conducting research for an out-of-state professor. He particularly emphasized that the supervisors would often favor their University of interns over those from other colleges.
                If the two principals didn’t see eye to eye on what counts for good performance, the research supervisors would have a phone or Skype conference to come to a compromise and resolve the issue, or what would happen more often than not, my brother was expected to uphold the performance standards of each principal depending on which research project he was working on a given day or week. There are definitely many “paths to the same mountain” as Buddhists would say, when it comes to resolving tension and some methods are better than others. In my brother’s situation the better, more efficient resolution mechanism occurs when the different supervisors compromise. As well, in my brother’s work situation it would be a failure if he chose to serve one master while ignoring the other. In choosing to favor one supervisor over another, my brother would risk losing his internship if he only sought to meet the needs of the supervisors in Illinois. As well, if my bother chose to meet the needs of only his professor in Iowa he may create an undesirable work environment or could threaten his opportunity to network with the researchers in Illinois at DuPont Pioneer and could estrange himself form making corporate contacts.

1 comment:

  1. This example is interesting because the different principals were able to negotiate directly on occasion. But the story could have been told better if you explained or gave an example of the sort of disagreement that would arise.