Uncertainty and Compensation Design in Strategic Inter-Firm Contracts
Posted: 24 Jun 2019
Date Written: February 5, 2019
In strategic outsourcing contracts, a substantial portion of implementation occurs at the client’s premises and requires integration of effort between the vendor and the client. Compensation design in such contracts involves trade-offs between the higher (lower) incentive properties of fixed-price (cost-plus) contracts and their higher (lower) ex ante contracting and ex post adaptation costs. Uncertainty influences these trade-offs and affects compensation design. We explore the compensation implications of two types of uncertainty—volatility and ambiguity—which are reflected in the client’s accounting measures. Volatility reflects the unpredictability of changes in the future environment, which makes it difficult to contractually specify future contingencies. Ambiguity reflects lack of consensus about the nature, drivers, and value effects of uncertainty, which makes it difficult to contractually specify responses to contingencies if and when they occur. Volatility increases the likelihood of ex post adaptation costs while ambiguity increases ex ante contracting costs; therefore, volatility and ambiguity decrease the attractiveness of FP contracts. We use accounting and market measures to calibrate volatility and ambiguity and examine their implications for compensation design and ex post renegotiation. Analysis of archival data for 455 strategic outsourcing contracts valued over $15 million indicates that volatility and ambiguity influence contract compensation design and renegotiation likelihood. These results hold even after controlling for asset specificity, task complexity, and relational factors. We conclude that accounting measures can provide signals of volatility and ambiguity and thereby influence compensation design in strategic inter-firm contracts.
Keywords: uncertainty, outsourcing, transaction cost economics
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