Friday, 6 December 2013

Managerial control versus performance pay

One of the most obvious problems in any employment relationship is moral hazard. What the boss wants workers to do and what the workers actually do can be two very different things. Two of the most common methods firms utilise to try to deal with this problem are the use of performance pay and managerial control. In the empirical literature the performance pay aspect of this solution has received much greater attention than has the managerial control aspect.

In a recent NBER working paper Kirabo Jackson and Henry Schneider examine how an experiment in managerial control affected revenue at an auto repair firm. When the firm provided detailed checklists to mechanics, and managers monitored their use, revenue was 20 percent higher under the experiment. They compare this effect to that of quasi-experimental increases in mechanic commission rates. The managerial-control effect is equivalent to that of a 10 percent commission increase.

These results suggest that managerial control can be a viable alternative to performance pay for the mitigation of the effects of moral hazard. Furthermore, the managerial-control treatment was larger for mechanics that had higher commission rates, suggesting that in this context managerial control and performance pay are complements. The results also support the theoretical prediction that the optimal incentive contract depends on the level and quality of monitoring.

When they investigated the forces underlying the results, Jackson and Schneider find that the mechanics under the managerial-control treatment increase revenue through doing more repairs on each car and working more hours each week. In contrast, mechanics that received commission increases, increased revenue by substituting away from low-revenue repairs toward high-revenue repairs and getting customers to consent to higher price repairs, with no increase in time on the job or number of repairs conducted. Because this shifting toward more expensive repairs may reflect mechanics exploiting their informational advantage over customers, the result underscore the possibility that pay-for-performance may encourage undesirable worker actions.

Also the behaviour of the mechanics is adversely affected because as they only receive a fraction of the firm's revenue, the additional compensation for mechanics for conducting a more thorough inspection of a car is insufficient to offset the associated effort and time costs. Jackson and Schneider's calculations based on their results indicate that a modest transfer of the profits due to checklist use from firm to mechanic could compensate mechanics for their additional costs and achieve a sizable Pareto improvement.

The Jackson and Schneider study shows that increased managerial control can reduce moral hazard, something that has not often been tested empirically. Evidence is also provided that shows that increased managerial control can generate complementarities with performance pay, most likely in settings with multiple complementary tasks. Given the widespread emphasis on performance pay as an incentivising tool, their results suggest that managerial control may be an additional important tool for designing compensation schemes.

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