Say On Pay = New tool of Social Responsibility?

“If it makes good sense to tie compensation of top executives to the financial performance of their firms, it is also wise to gauge that compensation in relation to other corporate performance factors,” says Peter Madsen.

But, what is «Say on pay»? Is it an answer to the compensation issue? Or just another practice to pay more the CEO?

 

As an example, in 1991, President Clinton wanted to permit companies to write off executive compensation amounts of more than $1 million only if executives hit specified performance goals.

In a 2011 paper titled Killing Conscience: The Unintended Behavioral Consequences of ‘Pay for Performance,’ Stout offers three reasons to explain why the Clinton administration’s revisions to the Internal Revenue Code (I.R.C. Section 162(m)) didn’t work.

First, incentive schemes frame social context in a fashion that encourages people to conclude purely selfish behaviour is both appropriate and expected. As a result, pay-for-performance rules “crowd out” concern for others’ welfare and for ethical rules, making the assumption of selfish opportunism a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Second, the possibility of reaping large personal rewards from incentive schemes tempts people to cut ethical and legal corners, and for a variety of reasons, once an individual succumbs to temptation, future lapses become more likely.  The result can be a downward spiral into opportunistic and unlawful behaviour.

Third, industries and firms that emphasize incentive pay tend to attract individuals who, even if they are not « psychopathic », nevertheless are more inclined to selfish behaviour than the average.

It isn’t easy, however, to find companies that specifically state that the compensation of their executives is tied to more than financial performance. PepsiCo, for example, has established Performance with Purpose, a global initiative that makes an effort to deliver sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet. However, the company is cautious about linking executive compensation to the results of this program.

Aron Cramer, President and CEO of BSR, a CSR consulting firm that works with a global network of nearly 300 member companies, believes that financial performance is inevitably linked to social and environmental performance.

Cramer’s emphasis on rewards rather than incentives is consistent with Professor Stout’s point of view. “We should set financial compensation ex post, on the basis of the employers’ subjective satisfaction with the employees’ performance,” writes Stout.

 

Ironically, the new imperative for corporations to be socially responsible could be jeopardized by attempts to tie executive compensation more closely to corporate responsibility through pay for performance incentives. »

 

This article is an extract from: Can Say On Pay Increase Social Responsibility?

Read more: Executive compensation: Shareholders have their say

Is executive compensation fair or flawed?

Say-on-pay voting process ‘highly successful tool’, according to survey of institutional investors

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