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Performance Thresholds in Managerial Incentive Contracts


  • Xianming Zhou

    (University of Hong Kong)

  • Peter L. Swan

    (University of New South Wales)


Performance thresholds are commonly used in executive compensation contracts. We examine the contractual nonlinearity associated with performance thresholds and its incentive implications. Incorporating a performance threshold into a standard principal-agent model of a linear contract, we show that pay schemes using a performance threshold are optimal. By truncating a linear scheme at poor performance, the threshold mitigates agency costs associated with the downside risk of production. Examining CEO compensation data, we find evidence of the role of performance thresholds. As a consequence of under-threshold performance, the tobit estimator is shown to increase pay-performance sensitivity, notably improving upon the standard OLS estimator.

Suggested Citation

  • Xianming Zhou & Peter L. Swan, 2003. "Performance Thresholds in Managerial Incentive Contracts," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76(4), pages 665-696, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jnlbus:v:76:y:2003:i:4:p:665-696
    DOI: 10.1086/377035

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    Cited by:

    1. Joseph Y. Chen & Bruce L. Miller, 2009. "On the Relative Performance of Linear vs. Piecewise-Linear-Threshold Intertemporal Incentives," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 55(10), pages 1743-1752, October.
    2. Hu, Yifan & Zhou, Xianming, 2008. "The performance effect of managerial ownership: Evidence from China," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 32(10), pages 2099-2110, October.
    3. Arup Bose & Debashis Pal & David E. M. Sappington, 2011. "On the Performance of Linear Contracts," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 20(1), pages 159-193, March.
    4. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2007. "Incentives for Managers and Inequality among Workers: Evidence from a Firm-Level Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(2), pages 729-773.
    5. Oxholm, Anne Sophie, 2016. "Physician Response to Target-Based Performance Payment," DaCHE discussion papers 2016:9, University of Southern Denmark, Dache - Danish Centre for Health Economics.
    6. Patrice Gelinas & Lisa Baillargeon, 2018. "CEO Perquisites in Canada, 1971-2008: Certainly Not Pure Managerial Excess," International Journal of Business and Management, Canadian Center of Science and Education, vol. 13(5), pages 105-105, March.
    7. Herdan Agnieszka & Szczepańska Katarzyna, 2011. "Directors Remuneration and Companies' Performance the Comparison of Listed Companies in Poland and UK," Foundations of Management, Sciendo, vol. 3(2), pages 41-54, January.
    8. Oxholm, Anne Sophie & Kristensen, Søren Rud & Sutton, Matt, 2018. "Uncertainty about the effort–performance relationship in threshold-based payment schemes," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 69-83.
    9. Leon Yang Chu & David E.M. Sappington, 2009. "Implementing high‐powered contracts to motivate intertemporal effort supply," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 40(2), pages 296-316, June.
    10. Abascal, Ramón & González, Francisco, 2019. "Shareholder protection and bank executive compensation after the global financial crisis," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 15-37.
    11. Lefgren, Lars J. & Platt, Brennan & Price, Joseph & Higbee, Samuel, 2019. "Outcome based accountability: Theory and evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 160(C), pages 121-137.
    12. Gutiérrez Arnaiz, Óscar & Salas-Fumás, Vicente, 2008. "Performance standards and optimal incentives," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 139-152, March.
    13. Wenjuan Xie, 2013. "Do Investors See Through Accounting Profitability and Recognize Efficiency? Evidence from Chinese Listed Companies," Multinational Finance Journal, Multinational Finance Journal, vol. 17(3-4), pages 243-293, September.
    14. Caylor, Marcus L. & Lopez, Thomas J., 2013. "Cost behavior and executive bonus compensation," Advances in accounting, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 232-242.

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