DP15378 Uncertainty and Contracting in Organizations

Author(s): David Dicks, Paolo Fulghieri
Publication Date: October 2020
Keyword(s): Ambiguity, incentive contracting
JEL(s):
Programme Areas: Financial Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15378

We study a multidivisional firm where headquarters are exposed to moral hazard by division managers under uncertainty (or "ambiguity") aversion. We show the aggregation and linearity results of Holmström and Milgrom (1987) hold in an environment with IID ambiguity, as in Chen and Epstein (2002). While uncertainty creates endogenous disagreement that aggravates moral hazard, by hedging uncertainty headquarters can design incentive contracts that reduce disagreement, lower incentive provision costs, and promote effort. Because hedging uncertainty can conflict with hedging risk, optimal contracts differ from standard principal-agent models. Optimal contracts involve exposure to other divisions even when division cash flows are uncorrelated and, with sufficient uncertainty, involve equity-based pay, even when division cash-flows are positively correlated. Our model helps explain the prevalence of equity-based incentive contracts and the rarity of relative performance contracts.