Tag Archives: management research

More Evidence of the Damage Done by Kleptocrat CEO Pay

I have been writing about the problems of overpaid executives that has lately become so bad that verbiage understand the nature of the problem. Today I see many CEO’s are acting as kleptocrats do – taking food out of others mouths to build their castles. The damage done to everyone else involved is of no concern. Both groups love bankers that flood them with cash for new and larger castles at the expense of the futures of their company (or country).

This paper does a very good job of providing more evidence of the damage done by these kleptocrat CEOs and their apologists.

Are Top Executives Paid Enough? An Evidence-Based Review by Philippe Jacquart and J. Scott Armstrong

Our review of the evidence found that the notion that higher pay leads to the selection of better executives is undermined by the prevalence of poor recruiting methods. Moreover, higher pay fails to promote better performance. Instead, it undermines the intrinsic motivation of executives, inhibits their learning, leads them to ignore other stakeholders, and discourages them from considering the long-term effects of their decisions on stakeholders. Relating incentive payments to executives’ actions in an effective manner is not possible. Incentives also encourage unethical behaviour. Organizations would benefit from using validated methods to hire top executives, reducing compensation, eliminating incentive plans, and strengthening stockholder governance related to the hiring and compensation of executives.

Many of the problems with the poor thinking around executive pay stem from the failure to grasp ideas Dr. Deming wrote about decades ago.

Executives are often evaluated on the basis of the success or failure of the business units for which they are responsible. In practice, many internal and external factors influence outcomes for firms, and assessing the role played by a given executive is not possible. For example, should a manager get credit for a firm’s success when the economy is booming or blame for the firm’s losses during a recession? When answering such questions, evaluators are biased toward ignoring contextual factors and overly attributing outcomes to leaders. This bias was illustrated in a laboratory experiment in which groups of participants had to solve a coordination task. In the experiment, group size varied, and participants could perceive that the task was harder when the group was larger. Despite this, participants credited group leaders for the success of small groups and blamed them for the failure of large groups (Weber et al. 2001).

The quote from their paper show a failure to understand variation (attributing variation to those near the variation at the time – good marks when the variation is good, bad marks when it is bad). And a failure to understand the organization as a system (the results of any subsystem are greatly influenced by the whole system and the conditions outside the system (the economy, the macro-economic conditions for the industry…). And a failure to understand the theory of knowledge: people should know our brains leap to causation explanations when the evidence doesn’t support it. Then confirmation bias and psychology lead us to accept the data that supports our biases.

Nonexperimental studies also find that increases in CEO compensation occur following increases in firm performance that result from factors beyond the CEO’s control—CEOs are paid for being lucky. For example, CEOs in the oil industry were compensated for increased profits resulting from fluctuations in the price of crude oil—a factor beyond their control (Bertrand and Mullainathan 2001).

You see this just looking at the money heaped onto executives (in addition to the already huge payments taken) in industries whenever those industries (not individual companies, the entire industry) have macro-economic windfalls.

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Rude Behavior Costs Companies

Approximately one-third of consumers surveyed reported they’re treated rudely by an employee on an average of once a month and that these and other episodes of uncivil worker behavior make them less likely to patronize those businesses.

Customers rarely report such behavior to employee supervisors, and management systems are so poor they don’t deal with this problem (good systems will – Trader Joe’s or Crutchfield, for example) ensuring a relentless cycle of poor employee behavior that leaves consumers angry and frustrated and saps businesses of customer loyalty, return business and profits, according to researchers from the University of Southern California and Georgetown University. Having tried many times to report failures in their systems to organizations I can say I am either treated with we have no way to accept your feedback or obvious disinterest.

Even, long after Brian Joiner told me he stopped wasting his time for most companies as they obviously had no interest in improving systems to avoid customer hardship I keep banging my head against a wall. It is very rarely that I don’t get complete disinterest. About the best is “you are so right, this is a problem I have to deal with all the time, I have told ‘them’ about the problem but nothing ever happens, I’ll pass on your comment.” It is no surprise people don’t bother to point out problems.

A majority of the respondents went home and told friends and family members about the incident (and connected customers often speak out online to large audiences about bad customer service). Managers are unable to address the issue with employees if the managers don’t have a grasp on what is going on at the gemba. The study found that witnessing employee incivility makes customers angry. Customers are less likely to repurchase from the firm and express less interest in learning about the firm’s new services. For managers who are made aware of the offending behavior, their own harsh treatment of the employee can also prompt negative reactions from consumers.

Related: Customer Service is ImportantUnited Breaks GuitarsFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed Management

“Regardless of the perpetrator or the reason, witnessing incivility scalds customer relationships and depletes the bottom line,” report the co-authors, Georgetown University Assistant Professor of Management Christine Porath and USC Professors of Business Administration and Marketing Debbie MacInnis and Valerie S. Folkes.

The best response is a simple apology, which researchers found was a just and proper response from both the employee and the supervisor. Of course, you should also address any other issue the customer has. Once you mistreat people they often are much more sensitive to things that they would have accepted otherwise. So I believe you would be wise to apologize and ask if there is anything you can help them with. Leave them with a positive, rather than just apologizing for the negative. It would be best to avoid the problems in the first place. Training programs that foster employee civility in order to prevent harmful outbursts may well be wise.

From the abstract of the paper:
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Incentivizing Behavior Doesn’t Improve Results

In the webcast Dan Pink’s shares research results exploring human motivation and ideas on how to manage organization given the scientific research on motivation.

  • “once a task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill a larger reward led to poorer performance”
  • “Pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Pay people enough so they are not thinking about money they are thinking about the work.”
  • “3 factors lead to better performance: autonomy, mastery and purpose” [not additional cash rewards]
  • Open source software is created by highly skilled people contributing their time to collaborative projects that are then given away (such as Linux, Ruby, Apache). For large efforts their are often people paid by companies to contribute to the open source software but many people contribute 20-30, and more hours a week for free to such efforts, why? “Challenge, mastery and making a contribution”
  • “When the profit motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive, bad thing happen. Bad things ethically sometimes, but also bad things like not good stuff, like crappy products, like lame services, like uninspiring places to work… People don’t do great things”
  • “If we start treating people like people… get past this ideology of idea of carrots and sticks and look at the science we can actually build organization and work life that make us better off, but I also think they have the promise to make our world a just a little bit better.”

The ideas presented emphasize respect for people, an understanding of psychology and validating beliefs with data. All of it fits very well with Deming’s ideas on management and the idea I try to explore in this blog. It isn’t easy to adjust your ideas. But the evidence continues to pile up against some outdated management practices. And good managers have to learn and adapt their practices to what is actually effective.

Related: Extrinsic Incentives Kill CreativityThe Trouble with Incentives: They WorkRighter IncentivizationIndividual Bonuses Are Bad Management

Extrinsic Incentives Kill Creativity

If you read this blog, you know I believe extrinsic motivation is a poor strategy. This TED webcast Dan Pink discusses studies showing extrinsic rewards failing. This is a great webcast, definitely worth 20 minutes of your time.

  • “you’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity… This has been replicated over and over and over again for nearly 40 years. These contingent motivators, if you do this then you get that, work in some circumstances but in a lot of tasks they actually either don’t work or, often, they do harm.”
  • there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does
  • “This is a fact.”

What does Dan Pink recommend based on the research? Management should focus on providing workplaces where people have autonomy, mastery and purpose to build on intrinsic motivation.

via: Everything You Think about Pay for Performance Could Be Wrong

Related: Righter IncentivizationWhat’s the Value of a Big Bonus?Dangers of Extrinsic MotivationMotivate or Eliminate De-MotivationGreat Marissa Mayer Webcast on Google Innovation

CEO’s Castles and Company Performance

Where are the Shareholders’ Mansions? CEOs’ Home Purchases, Stock Sales, and Subsequent Company Performance by Crocker H. Liu, Arizona State University and David Yermack, New York University – Stern School of Business

We study real estate purchases by major company CEOs, compiling a database of the principal residences of nearly every top executive in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. When a CEO buys real estate, future company performance is inversely related to the CEO’s liquidation of company shares and options for financing the transaction. We also find that, regardless of the source of finance, future company performance deteriorates when CEOs acquire extremely large or costly mansions and estates. We therefore interpret large home acquisitions as signals of CEO entrenchment. Our research also provides useful insights for calibrating utility based models of executive compensation and for understanding patterns of Veblenian conspicuous consumption.

To understand better the reasons behind the underperformance of companies whose CEOs acquire very large homesteads, we read news stories about major events affecting the firms in our sample in which a CEO acquires a property with at least 10 acres or a 10,000 square foot house. These news stories suggest parallels between the CEOs’ oversight of their personal assets and management of their companies. No less than nine of the 25 CEOs attempted major corporate acquisitions in the two years following their personal acquisitions of very large real estate,9 and seven of the 25 announced significant capital investment initiatives involving the construction or expansion of corporate facilities. An additional two firms became mired in accounting scandals shortly after their CEOs purchased mansions, and one firm saw a previously agreed merger collapse.

Using a database of principal residences of company CEOs, we study whether these executives’ decisions about home ownership contain information useful for predicting the future path of their companies’ stock prices. We find that CEOs who acquire extremely large properties exhibit inferior ex post stock performance, a result consistent with large mansions and estates being proxies for CEO entrenchment. We also find that the method of financing a home’s acquisition is informative about future stock returns. A general pattern of CEO sales of their firms’ shares and options exists over the twelve months leading up to the date of home acquisition. However, when the CEO does not sell any shares, his stock performs significantly better ex post than the stocks of firms whose CEOs do liquidate equity to finance their houses. The retention of company shares simultaneous with a new home purchase, despite the presence of an evident personal liquidity need, appears to send a signal of commitment by a CEO to his company.

That we put in power CEO’s that see themselves as nobility with the right to build castles (and many of these CEO castles dwarf all but the most conspicuous castle built by nobility) by taking the wealth produced by others from corporate coffers is a sign of our failure to select acceptable leaders for companies.

Related: Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive PayExcessive Executive PayExposing CEO Pay ExcessesNarcissistic Cadre of Senior Executives9 Deadly Diseases

Bogus Theories, Bad for Business

The Wall Street Journal has a book review of The Management Myth by Matthew Stewart. The book flushes out the ideas Matthew Stewert explored in a previous article in the Atlantic about the failure of management to mature as a discipline.

Mr. Stewart quotes Bruce Henderson, the founder of the ­Boston Consulting Group, who describes consulting as “the most improbable business on earth” and who goes on to ask: “Can you think of anything less ­improbable [sic] than taking the world’s most ­successful firms, leaders in their businesses, and ­hiring people just fresh out of school and telling them how to run their ­businesses, and they are willing to pay ­millions of dollars for their ­advice?”

I’m not sure about the book, I have not read it but that is a great statement. And I firmly believe managers need to become experts at managing and by and large they have quite a long way to go. Dr. Deming talked about how we “know” what we know in the aspect of his management called the theory of knowledge (which is not included in any other management philosophy I have seen). That area (with interactions in other areas) explores why people often believe what is not so. And management seems to have a surplus of beliefs that are not based on sound theories.

Read this good article I have mentioned before on this topic by Carlie and Christensen: The Cycles of Theory Building in Management Research.

Related: Righter IncentivizationAnother Quota Failure ExampleManagement Advice FailuresWhy Extrinsic Motivation FailsInnovation StrategyDoes the Data Deluge Make the Scientific Method Obsolete?Data Based BlatheringDoing the Wrong Things RighterHarvard’s Masters of the Apocalypse
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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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Multitasking Decreases Productivity

The problems with multitasking are becoming more and more well know, thankfully. Here is another article on the lower productivity multitasking produces – Multitasking Madness Decreases Productivity by Barbara Bartlein:

In a recent study by Eric Horvitz and the University of Illinois, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They often strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment web sites.

These findings are similar to those of David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” said Meyer. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”

“Many people delusionally believe they’re good at this,” he says. “The problem is that we only have one brain and it doesn’t work that way. In reality, nobody can effectively do more than one remotely complicated thing at a time.”

Related: The Siren Song of MultitaskingMulti-Tasking: Why Projects Take so LongFlow (the opposite of multitasking)