Drawing upon an institutional theoretic perspective, this study explores the performance outcomes associated with adoption timing and level of investment in a government antiterrorism initiative—the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). Using a large-scale sample of C-TPAT certified importers, this study found that performance outcomes for high levels of investment in adoption processes differ depending upon the strength of institutional forces. Specifically, early adopters of C-TPAT processes in a weak institutional context that reported high levels of investment performed no better than firms who invested nominally in the processes, while late adopters in a strong institutional context that reported high investment levels outperformed those that invested nominally. This finding can be explained by viewing C-TPAT as an ‘emerging’ institution, where forces are coalescing. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.