Effort and Compensation in Relational Contracts

Desmond Lo (Santa Clara University)
Heikki Rantakari (University of Rochester)

Abstract: To generate downstream sales, manufacturers often spend both effort and compensation when working with their dealers. Existing theories are inconclusive about the interdependent role of the two kinds of instruments in motivating dealer effort; that is, whether they are substitutes or complements. There is little empirical evidence to inform their relations either. We first examine the conditions that determine the interdependencies among monetary compensation – both formal and informal – and manufacturer effort in a game-theoretical framework. We show that monetary compensation and manufacturer effort are complementary instruments in motivating dealer effort if the manufacturer’s effort is primarily about monitoring. They become substitutes when the manufacturer’s effort is primarily productive and thus provides indirect compensation. We then empirically illustrate some of these novel predictions in the distribution channel of the leading manufacturer of a computer accessory and its sixty dealerships in China. In particular, evidence from company archival and survey data shows complementarity between informal compensation and manufacturer effort in motivating dealer effort. This result appears to hold only when the dealers are situated in highly relational contexts. Theoretical and managerial implications are drawn from our analyses.

Download the paper