How incentive contracts and task complexity influence and facilitate long-term performance
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The purpose of this study is to investigate how different incentive contracts that include forward-looking and contemporaneous goals motivate managers to make decisions consistent with the organization’s long-term objectives, in tasks of varying complexity. Two research questions are addressed. First, in a long-term horizon setting, how do incentive contracts based on various combinations of forward-looking and contemporaneous measures influence decisions? Second, how does task complexity influence the expected effect of various incentive contracts on management decisions? I address my research questions using a multi-period experiment where I compare the effects of three different incentive structure types and two different levels of task complexity. Results show that in a low complexity task, individuals perform better when only contemporaneous goal attainment is rewarded in the incentive contract than when both forward-looking and contemporaneous goal attainment is rewarded. In a high complexity task, individuals perform better when both contemporaneous and forward-looking goal attainment is rewarded, but only when the contemporaneous goal attainment is weighted more heavily in the incentive contract. My research contributes to the existing literature in two ways. First, this is the first study of which I am aware that compares the performance effects of long-term incentive contracts that reward forward-looking and contemporaneous goal attainment. Second, this study is the first of which I am aware to experimentally test incentive contracts, for employees with a long-term horizon, that incorporate various weightings of forward-looking measures in the contract. In addition, this study will be amongst the first to examine the impact of task complexity on incentive contract effectiveness.