Family Firms and the Impact of Incentive Compensation

[We’re pleased to welcome authors James Chrisman of Mississippi State University, Srikant Devaraj of Ball State University, and Pankaj Patel of Villanova University. They recently published an article in Family Business Review entitled “The Impact of Incentive Compensation on Labor Productivity in Family and Nonfamily Firms.” From Chrisman, Devaraj, and Patel:]

 Family firms are thought to face a managerial capacity constraint owing to the preference of hFBR_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgigh-ability job candidates from outside the family to seek employment with non-family firms, which usually offer higher compensation and more lucrative career opportunities. In our paper, we theorize that incentive compensation can ease this constraint by signaling the attractiveness of working in family firms, thereby increasing the average ability of a family firm’s workforce. We therefore hypothesize that incentive compensation will reduce the productivity gap between family firms and non-family firms.

We are interested in this topic because much of the focus in the literature on non-family employees in family firms deals with issues associated with alignment of interests after workers have been hired. Few studies deal with the pre-employment problem of adverse selection, which is primarily (but not entirely) an issue of worker ability rather than worker effort. We also wanted to emphasize that if job candidates seek employment with firms that are compatible with their self-interest, adverse selection can exist even in the absence of an opportunistic pursuit of self-interest (or in the presence of stewardship motives).

Bounded rationality and information asymmetry make judging the ability of potential employees difficult for the owner-managers of both family firms and non-family firms (and even for the potential employees themselves). However, when the labor pool available to family firms becomes attenuated because high-ability workers self-sort according to a preference to work in non-family firms, the adverse selection problem facing family owner-managers becomes even greater.

Incentive compensation will be more valuable for high-ability job candidates than it will for low-ability job candidates because the former are most likely to benefit from it. Thus, incentive compensation signals performance will be rewarded, which may help alleviate the adverse selection problem facing family firms. Our empirical analysis of a matched sample of over 200,000 small and medium-sized firms obtained from a U.S. Census survey supports our contentions. Findings indicate that the productivity of family firms that provide incentive compensation increases at a greater rate than the productivity of non-family firms that provide incentive compensation (compared, respectively, with family and non-family firms that do not offer incentive compensation).

We hope that our paper will inspire further work on the adverse selection problem facing family firms. We also hope that our paper will lead researchers to focus more on how bounded rationality and information asymmetry, rather than simply opportunism or the lack thereof, influences the behavior and performance of non-family employees in family versus non-family firms.  In this respect, we suggest that the presence of bounded rationality and information asymmetry make incentive compensation and monitoring valuable tools in family firms regardless of the composition or proclivities to behave opportunistically of the workforce.

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This entry was posted in Business, Compensation and Benefits, Family Business, Firm Performance by Cynthia Nalevanko, Editor, SAGE Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

About Cynthia Nalevanko, Editor, SAGE Publishing

Founded in 1965, SAGE is the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. Known for our commitment to quality and innovation, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students across a broad range of subject areas. With over 1500 employees globally from principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC, and Melburne, our publishing program includes more than 1000 journals and over 900 books, reference works and databases a year in business, humanities, social sciences, science, technology and medicine. Believing passionately that engaged scholarship lies at the heart of any healthy society and that education is intrinsically valuable, SAGE aims to be the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. This means playing a creative role in society by disseminating teaching and research on a global scale, the cornerstones of which are good, long-term relationships, a focus on our markets, and an ability to combine quality and innovation. Leading authors, editors and societies should feel that SAGE is their natural home: we believe in meeting the range of their needs, and in publishing the best of their work. We are a growing company, and our financial success comes from thinking creatively about our markets and actively responding to the needs of our customers.

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