Pay-for-performance schemes have become a widespread management strategy in the public sector. However, not much is known about the rationales that trigger the adoption of performance-related pay provisions. This article examines managerial and organisational features of university departments in Denmark that use publication incentive payments. Most often it is used when heads of department outside the humanities think it is a good idea to reward scholars financially for publications. In-depth analysis of the cases reveals, however, that department heads cannot simply be divided between ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’. Almost half expressed confidence in that publication incentive payments motivate researchers to perform better, not because of the monetary reward, but because of the positive feedback signalled by the pay supplement.