07 Oct 2009  Working Papers

Specific Knowledge and Divisional Performance Measurement

Executive Summary — Performance measurement is one of the critical factors that determine how individuals in an organization behave. It includes subjective as well as objective assessments of the performance of both individuals and subunits of an organization such as divisions or departments. Besides the choice of the performance measures themselves, performance evaluation involves the process of attaching value weights to the different measures to represent the importance of achievement on each dimension. This paper examines five common divisional performance measurement methods: cost centers, revenue centers, profit centers, investment centers, and expense centers. The authors furnish the outlines of a theory that attempts to explain when each of these five methods is likely to be the most efficient. Key concepts include:

  • Each of these methods can be seen as providing an alternative way of aligning corporate decision-making authority with valuable "specific knowledge" inside the organization.
  • Jensen and Meckling's theory suggests that cost and revenue centers work best in cases where headquarters has (or can readily obtain) good information about cost and demand functions, product quality, and investment opportunities.
  • Decentralized profit and investment centers tend to supplant revenue and cost centers when managers of business units have a significant informational advantage over headquarters.

 

Author Abstract

This paper discusses five common divisional performance measurement methods—cost centers, revenue centers, profit centers, investment centers, and expense centers—while providing a theory that explains when each of these methods is likely to be the most efficient. The central insight of the theory is that each method offers a different way of aligning decision-making authority with valuable "specific knowledge" inside the organization.

The theory suggests that cost and revenue centers work best in cases where headquarters has good information about cost and demand functions, product quality, and optimal output mix. Profit centers—defined as business units whose managers have responsibility for overall profits, but not the authority to make major capital spending decisions—tend to supplant revenue and cost centers when line managers have a significant informational advantage over headquarters and when there are few interdependencies (or "synergies") between divisions. Investment centers—profit centers in which unit managers are allowed to make major investment decisions—tend to prevail when the activity is capital-intensive and when it is difficult for headquarters to identify the value-maximizing investment strategy for the business unit.

In evaluating the performance of profit centers, rate-of-return measures like ROA are likely to be effective when unit managers do not have major influence over the level of new investment. But, in the case of investment centers, Economic Value Added, or EVA, is likely to be the most effective single-period measure because it is designed to encourage only value-increasing investment decisions. 13 pages.

Paper Information