The Optimal Allocation of Prizes in Tournaments of Heterogeneous Agents
18 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2016
Date Written: January 2017
Tournaments are widely used in organizations, explicitly or implicitly, to reward the best‐performing employees, for example, by promotion or bonuses, and/or to penalize the worst‐performing employees, for example, by demotion, withholding bonuses, or unfavorable job assignments. These incentive schemes can be interpreted as various prize allocations based on the employees' relative performance. While the optimal prize allocation in tournaments of symmetric agents is relatively well understood, little is known about the impact of the allocation of prizes on the effectiveness of tournament incentive schemes for heterogeneous agents. We show that while multiple prize allocation rules are equivalent when agents are symmetric in their ability, the equivalence is broken in the presence of heterogeneity. Under a wide range of conditions, loser‐prize tournaments, that is, tournaments that award a low prize to relatively few bottom performers, are optimal for the firm. The reason is that low‐ability agents are discouraged less in such tournaments, as compared to winner‐prize tournaments awarding a high prize to few top performers, and hence can be compensated less to meet their participation constraints.
JEL Classification: M52, J33, J24
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation