Tag Archives: bonus

Massively Unjust Executive Compensation Damages Companies and Investments

For years I have believed the massively unjust executive compensation packages have been doing great harm to American businesses. As an investor, one of the big risks that has to be evaluated is how much of the business profits executives will divert to their personal bank accounts. And investors also have to worry about the risks executives take to reach huge incentives which then greatly damage your investment.

In 2007, I added two of my own deadly diseases to Dr. Deming’s list. These deadly diseases have emerged since Dr. Deming created the list of 7 deadly diseases (which started out at 5 deadly diseases- he added 2 more later). Excessive executive compensation is one of those new deadly diseases. Our outdated and harmful laws, regulation and tolerated behavior relating to patents, copyright and “intellectual property” is the other.

The Incentive Bubble by Mihir Desai, Harvard Business Review

Mature corporations without large shareholders may become bloated with perquisites or preoccupied by empire building that satisfies managers rather than shareholders—the classic principal-agent problem.

In order for these pay mechanisms to be successful, managers and investors should be rewarded only for success beyond what would normally be generated. Said another way, there are returns that one can generate by doing little, and managers and investors shouldn’t be compensated for those returns.

A very important point to consider in calculating “excess” returns is an understanding of variation. This core component of Dr. Deming’s management system is not understood by most executives today and leads to mis-assigning credit and blame. In addition, an appreciation of systems thinking shows the fallacy of assigning individual causal credit or blame when in reality much of the result is systemic in nature (result of the system with little ability to sensibly assign individual cause – not that those wishing to have huge transfers of corporate wealth deposited in their bank account won’t pay lots of money to people that will create fancy formulas to try and justify such payments).

The rapid spread of stock options over the past two decades resulted in large windfalls for managers because no effort was made to subtract average performance during a period of remarkable returns in asset markets. Moreover, wide varieties of misbehavior have been traced to incentives created by the “cliffs” in most compensation packages: strike prices and vesting dates. Reaching for extra earnings by cutting small corners when such large amounts were at stake was inevitable. The corporate governance crises of the past 15 years had many roots; large stock option grants and the distorted incentives they provide loom large among them.

Absent regulators, irresponsible intermediaries, and oblivious homeowners were all important agents in creating the financial crisis, but the transformation of investment banks into risk-hungry institutions was central to it—and that transformation is connected to the growth of financial-markets-based compensation. At a basic level, the appetite for risk by managers of investment banks can be linked to the rise of compensation structures that provided them with highly asymmetrical incentives

Second, it is tempting to diminish the role of the skewed incentives identified above and reorient the debate toward ethics and morality: If only we hadn’t lost our sense of right and wrong. Such complaints may be well-grounded, but they obscure just how important these high-powered incentives are. More can be achieved by understanding incentive structures and the ideas that underpin them than by bemoaning a decline in character or promoting the virtues of professionalism. And moving away from shareholder-centered capitalism toward stakeholder capitalism risks overcorrecting the excesses of the past three decades. Indeed, capitalism appears to be serving managers and investment managers at the expense of shareholders.

Well said. From a Deming management perspective I see the huge problems created by the deadly disease of unjustly outsized executive compensation. And as an investor I see great risk in executives destroying investment returns as they try and extract hugely excessive amounts of the profits the organization makes to their personal treasuries.

Related: Taking What You Don’t Deserve, CEO StyleObscene CEO Pay, 2005 dataExecutives Again Treating Corporate Treasuries as Their Money“Too often, executive compensation in the U.S. is ridiculously out of line with performance” Warren BuffettLeverage, Complex Deals and ManiaThe soaring executive pay in the 1990’s turned Drucker into a leading critic of unjust pay (and those levels were tiny compared to what executives are taking from treasuries today) – No Excessive Senior Executive Pay at ToyotaBrooks Brother BureaucratsLosses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses

No More Executive Bonuses!

Henry Mintzberg, wrote an excellent article for the Wall Street Journal today, No More Executive Bonuses!

Don’t pay any bonuses. Nothing.

This may sound extreme. But when you look at the way the compensation game is played – and the assumptions that are made by those who want to reform it – you can come to no other conclusion. The system simply can’t be fixed. Executive bonuses – especially in the form of stock and option grants—represent the most prominent form of legal corruption that has been undermining our large corporations and bringing down the global economy. Get rid of them and we will all be better off for it.

So, again, there is but one solution: Eliminate bonuses. Period. Pay people, including the CEO, fairly. As an executive, if you want a bonus, buy the stock, like everyone else. Bet on your company for real, personally.

All this compensation madness is not about markets or talents or incentives, but rather about insiders hijacking established institutions for their personal benefit.

Too many large corporations today are starved for leadership – true leadership, meaning engaged leadership embedded in concerned management. And the global economy desperately needs renewed enterprise, embedded in the belief that companies are communities. Getting rid of executive bonuses, and the gambling games that accompany them, is the place to start.

It is an great article on bad pay systems that let a few top executives (and their hand picked board members) in many companies to loot the treasury of the company. I have written about this problem many times, including: CEOs Plundering Corporate CoffersExcessive Executive Pay (2005)Narcissistic Cadre of Senior ExecutivesThe Best Leadership Is Good ManagementAnother Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive PayMore on Obscene CEO PayMore on Failed Executives

There are executives that don’t act like corrupt dictators looting their country, unfortunately they are less common than those that act like looters. And they all seem to have built cultures that taking respect for people is more important that feeding a few bloated egos. Akio Toyoda’s Message Shows Real Leadership, Tony Hsieh, the Zappo’s CEOWarren BuffettHonda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every Year

The obscene pay is not just a matter of people taking a tens of millions of dollars they don’t deserve. Companies whole management systems are distorted in ways that lead the company to risk all the other stakeholders future for the potential gain of a few senior executives.

When Performance-related Pay Backfires

When Economic Incentives Backfire by Samuel Bowles, Sante Fe Institute

Dozens of recent experiments show that rewarding self-interest with Economic incentives can backfire when they undermine what Adam Smith called “the moral sentiments.”

Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn, is a great book on this topic. The area of “motivating” employees is one it is often hard for managers to learn. Even managers that have been studying Deming, Ackoff, Ohno… for years still have trouble with the idea that trying to find the right incentive scheme to motivate the right behavior is the wrong approach. Read the The Human Side Of Enterprise by Douglas Mcgregor (in 1960) to re-enforce the understanding of human motivation provided by Toyota’s respect for people principles.

Managers need to eliminate de-motivation in the work systems not try and find bonus schemes to motivate behavior. Eliminating de-motivation is often much more work. You can’t just get some money from the bonus pool and start giving it away. You have to manage. But if you are a manager you shouldn’t be afraid to actually manage the system and make it better.

Related: “Pay for Performance” is a Bad IdeaReward and Incentive Programs are Ineffective — Even Harmful by Peter Scholtes – The Defect Black MarketWhat’s the Value of a Big Bonus?Problems with BonusesLosses Covered Up to Protect BonusesStop Demotivating Employees

When performance-related pay backfires:
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Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive Pay

I continue to do my part to publicize the abusive CEO pay packages that the current crop of unethical CEO’s, and those sitting on corporate boards have supported (Tilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 20082007 post on CEO pay abuses). It does seem there is more anger now at the looting these corrupt CEOs have engaged in; though far too many people seem to think the corruption is some isolated few CEO’s. The widespread failure of ethical standards by an enormous number CEO’s (those taking from corporate treasuries as though it was their own personal bank account) is the problem (not a few individuals). The looters certainly have littered their “courts” with apologists for their egregious behavior. Even with the large amounts they pay such lackeys I am surprised they find such willing apologists, in such large numbers.

2007 pay
rank
Company CEO 2008 Pay 2007 Pay CEO % of 2008 Earnings total employees
1 Motorola Sanjay Jha $104,400,000 company lost $4.2 billion 64,000
2 Oracle Lawrence Ellison $84,600,000 $61,200,000 1.5% 86,600
3 Walt Disney Robert Iger $51,100,000 $27,700,000 1.2% 150,000
4 American Express Kenneth Chenault $42,800,000 $50,100,000 1.6% 66,000
5 Citigroup Vikram Pandit $38,200,000 company lost $27.7 billion 322,800
6 Hewlett-Packard Mark Hurd $34,000,000 $26,000,000 7.4% 6,200
7 Calpine Jack A. Fusco $32,700,000 327% 2,000

This executive pay data is for 2008, from the New York Times article, Pay at the Top. Earnings and employee data for 2008 from Google Finance. I would not pay any of these guys 1% of what they were paid if I owned the company, myself.

These guys and their friends have created a culture where their looting is as accepted as the clothes the emperor is not wearing. We need to wake up and stop letting these people steal the bounty created by the employees, customers, community, suppliers, investors… They want a world where they can behave like nobility – taking whatever they want from the value created by others. And lately they have succeeded in creating such a world. They leave in their wake very weakened companies and societies.
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$60 Million Bonus – For all Staff

This is similar to a story I posted last November: Family Business Gives $6.6 million in Bonuses to Workers. I both cases long time owners sold their company to a foreign buyer and then gave a significant amount of the proceeds to long time employees.
Miami banker gives $60 million of his own to employees

After selling a majority stake in Miami-based City National Bancshares last November, all he did was take $60 million of the proceeds — $60 million out of his own pocket — and hand it to his tellers, bookkeepers, clerks, everyone on the payroll. All 399 workers on the staff received bonuses, and he even tracked down 72 former employees so they could share in the windfall.

For longtime employees, the bonus — based on years of service — amounted to tens of thousands of dollars, and in some cases, more than $100,000.

Sharing the wealth with staffers came naturally. Abess and his wife, Jayne, have long been big contributors to local organizations, such as the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and Mount Sinai Medical Center. In 2006, the Abesses gave $5 million to the University of Miami to promote environmental studies.

But he also wanted to reach out to his staff. ”I wonder if I did enough,” he recently mused.

”I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn’t feel right getting the money myself,” said Abess, who was concerned that their 401(k) plans had taken a beating in the downdraft on Wall Street last year.

Both these actions demonstrate respect for employees, rather than the hollow words many companies profess.

Related: People are Our Most Important AssetFind Joy and Success in BusinessHow Downsizing is Handled When Management Respects People

Family Business Gives $6.6 million in Bonuses to Workers

The PEER Bearing Company (a manufacturer of bearings based in Illinois) was bought out by a Swedish company this year. The family that had owned the company gave surprise bonuses of $6.6 million to the 230 employees of the company (an average of over $28,000).

family thanks employees with surprise bonuses

Family members signed two thank-you cards to each employee, one in Spanish and one in English, expressing gratitude for “the loyalty and hard work of our employees over the years.” “They treated us like extended family,” said Maria Dima, who works at the company along with her husband, Valentin. “We won the lottery.”

On the day the checks were distributed, Valentin Dima watched as co-workers broke down in tears over their bonus checks. He drove home first, then opened his envelope: $33,000. His wife received a check for a smaller amount, and the two Romanian immigrants have since taken a Caribbean cruise to celebrate.

The new owners intend to operate the company based 40 miles north of Chicago as a wholly owned subsidiary. Workers have been told that most will keep their jobs.

A small bit of good news for these troubling times. It is nice to see true respect for people being practiced. The family also created the Spungen Family Foundation, 2 years ago.

Related: Tilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 2008Focus on Customers and EmployeesPeople are Our Most Important AssetManufacturing Continuous to Increase in the USA

What’s the Value of a Big Bonus?

What’s the Value of a Big Bonus? by Dan Ariely

To look at this question, three colleagues and I conducted an experiment. We presented 87 participants with an array of tasks that demanded attention, memory, concentration and creativity. We asked them, for instance, to fit pieces of metal puzzle into a plastic frame, to play a memory game that required them to reproduce a string of numbers and to throw tennis balls at a target. We promised them payment if they performed the tasks exceptionally well. About a third of the subjects were told they’d be given a small bonus, another third were promised a medium-level bonus, and the last third could earn a high bonus.

So it turns out that social pressure has the same effect that money has. It motivates people, especially when the tasks at hand require only effort and no skill. But it can provide stress, too, and at some point that stress overwhelms the motivating influence.

When I recently presented these results to a group of banking executives, they assured me that their own work and that of their employees would not follow this pattern. (I pointed out that with the right research budget, and their participation, we could examine this assertion. They weren’t that interested.)

This is an interesting look at an effect of bonuses. We all know monetary bonuses can influence behavior. The problem is the type of behaviors that result. Huge bonuses, for example, create huge incentives to risk the future of the company for the chance at a huge bonus for the executive. Extrinsic motivation leads to many problems.

Problems with bonuses: Losses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses“Pay for Performance” is a Bad IdeaProblems with BonusesBook: Punished By Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn – posts on executive pay

Restaurant Eliminates Tipping to Improve System Performance

Why Tip? by Paul Wachter

When he opened the Linkery, Porter said, he hoped his employees would become as emotionally invested in the venture as he was, sharing a sense of purpose and joy in their work.

Porter instead proposed a service fee of 18 percent, to be pooled and split roughly 3 to 1 between the restaurant’s front of the house and its kitchen.

Porter, like the anti-tippers of yore, was persuaded tipping itself was pernicious. “If you have a fixed gratuity, but people are still tipping, then you’re back to Square 1 in terms of the money dynamic,” he says.

The restaurant was already paying 65 percent of its employees’ health-insurance premiums, and Porter was working on a scheme to give long-term employees ownership stakes in the business.

But Chelsea Boyd told me that eliminating tipping had made her work as a waiter at the Linkery more meaningful than any other restaurant job she has had in the previous 10 years. “For the first time, I get to concentrate on the job, and I’m looking at the guests without seeing dollar signs or worried about what anyone else is making,” she says. Under the old system, waiters earned between $25 and $35 an hour, much of which was untaxed. “Now, waiters make about $25 an hour, which is fully taxed,” Boyd says.

Renee Lorion, a former waitress at the Linkery who now works in publishing in New York, liked the new anti-tipping policy too. “As servers, we all took a pay cut, but we knew it was for the general health of the restaurant,” she told me. “What made it work is that Jay was very transparent about the restaurant’s finances.”

Obviously, the kitchen appreciates the new policy. “Earning three or four extra bucks an hour makes a difference,” Matthew Somerville, a cook, says. “In most restaurants, there’s not a close relationship between the front and the kitchen. But here you don’t have that tension, where waiters are trying to accommodate customers’ special requests, while the cooks doing the extra work don’t see any of the tips.” Today, Porter’s employees appear almost as fervent in their opposition to tipping as their boss.

The single most important factor in determining the amount of a tip is the size of the bill. Diners generally tip the same percentage no matter the quality of the service and no matter the setting.

In his one concession to big tippers, Porter offers them the option of donating money to charity. The Linkery’s charity of the month is printed on the menu, and in two years more than $10,000 has been raised for various causes.

This is an interesting article discussing some of the psychological and systems thinking aspects of managing a system made up of people.

Related: Eliminating CommissionsLosses Covered Up to Protect BonusesRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyLosing Consumers’ TrustCompensation at Whole FoodsI wasted the best years of my life

Individual Bonuses Are Bad Management

Gojko Adzic provides a nice post on Mary Poppendieck’s presentation at Agile 2008 on bonus, compensation and motivation: Paying programmers: are bonuses bad and what to do about it?

In software development, it is very hard to establish the effects of individual contributions and good teamwork is key to the project. Most individual compensation schemes, according to the presentation, absorb vast amounts of management time and resources and leave nobody happy, but team compensation strategies are not easy to implement. Mary presented results from HP’s experiments during the beginning of the nineties, when HP allowed 13 local organisations to experiment with team-incentive plans. All programs were discontinued by the 4th year, due to constant changes to the plans which were needed to distribute available money among the teams and a wide dissatisfaction with the plans by employees.

Use profit sharing schemes instead of bonuses to tie people to the organisation goals.
keep in mind the norm of reciprocity — if people feel that they are being treated generously, they will reciprocate it with increased discretionary effort.

As usually Mary Poppendieck provides good advice: Mary Poppendieck webcast on Leadership in Software Development. The idea that bonuses are bad management is one of the more difficult management improvement ideas for people to accept. See related posts for much more on the problems with them and what to do instead.

Related: Interview with Mary PoppendieckThe Defect Black MarketDeming on the problems with targets or goalsIncentive Programs are IneffectiveProblems with BonusesMeasuring and Managing Performance in Organizations

“Pay for Performance” is a Bad Idea

Pay for performance is a bad investment by Pete Waters

“Teacher pay set by the results” was the headline of a (Baltimore) Sun article I read the other day which suggested that “performance-based bonuses (were) cropping up across Maryland” in our state education system. Bonuses would be given to teachers and principals that were successful in raising test scores of students.

One of the many shortcomings of the program was that job duties were often not well defined, and favoritism was difficult for most supervisors to avoid.

Deming specifically considered “performance appraisals, merit ratings and annual reviews” as one category under the heading of Seven Deadly Diseases of Management. He thought that the notion of “teamwork” was destroyed by these evaluations. Deming further believed that the morale of the organization suffered because of these individual evaluations.

As Deming said (page 102 of Out of the Crisis): “The idea of a merit rating is alluring. The sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.” Understanding enough about managing organizations to know why it doesn’t work is not easy – which I think is a big reason why people go for the nice sounding, but flawed idea, I think. Read our posts on performance appraisals and the works we reference to learn.