Top Leadership Compensation: From Hockey-Stick to Shared Pay-checks

“Sharing is Caring” is a way to manage post-COVID19 Economic Crises and Layoffs

By Anirudh Agrawal & Bharat Dhamani

10 of the 25 Linkedin review of best companies to work in India published in 2019 are firing their employees in 2020.  They paid huge performance based salary to top management, who drove performance by reducing pay of the lower rung employees [1].

There is a moral dilemma when we compare top management compensation with those employed at the lower levels or those employed on temporary contracts in India Inc. The median top management salary in India is as much as 243 times than those at the lowest strata of the organisation [2]. During the recent Covid-19 crises, this wage asymmetry between the lowest rung employees and top management the resulting crises of legitimacy were further highlighted. This opinion piece discusses three strategies to control hockey stick pay-outs to the corporate leadership. Contrary to current narrative on free market  and invisible hand, the corporate must self-reflect and implement policies for greater employee rights and dignity, collective bargaining and equality of pay to create  sustainable competitive advantage. 

India Inc. must learn from Scandinavian enterprises about their top leadership compensation model where the compensation is decided collectively ( along with the employee union), ensuring fairer pay and shared accountability towards organizational performance. Scandinavian strategy of collective bargaining has ensured multiple benefits [3].

  1. It has ensured that the rights of the lowest-ranked individual is protected.
  2. It has ensured that organizations follow sustainable policies both internally and externally, keep sharing the impact from shareholders to stakeholders, and
  3. The employees at each level and the communities work in sync towards ensuring organisational mission and competitiveness politics, cliques and influence of personal interest groups are limited.
  4. The collective agreements ensure that the employee flights to competitors are limited.

The effect of Scandinavian model has ensured an overall positive impact on organisational longevity, brand recall and competitiveness [4].

The India Inc should engage with their Indian public sector counterparts and learn their functioning and how they treat their employees through fairer pay and work conditions. India Inc should reflect and study the pay structure adopted by the Indian Public sector [5].

The public sector salaries have ensured respect for each, preservation of rights, longevity in the job and service to all irrespective of caste, colour or religion.

For example, the public sector banks like SBI ensure delivery of financial services to the poorest of the poor while ensuring that its banking officials are paid well. Our common sense would suggest that the Indian private sector to emulate some of the public sector compensation methodology, ensuring that the employee at the lowest strata get decent wages. The private sector can learn from the public sector on how to manage organisational compensation and increase organisational loyalty and in doing so, it must also increase benefits to the lowest ranking employee in the organisation. Similarly, the public sector should develop agility to reflect on market forces and learn to innovate to ensure that it is aligned and competitive as the competition demands. 

Narayan Murthy of Infosys rightly questioned his senior management about the lack of accountability despite hockey stick payouts. He pointed out that shareholders might approve the actions of the top management but the corporate leadership must be accountable to the stakeholders that includes the public and the employees [6]

Therefore, top management compensation should be duly decided by following a strong corporate governance principles, transparency and by installing elements of corporate ombudsman

Firms with strong accountability and stakeholder interests would perform better in the long run, than those firms which are driven by offering high incentives to top management for performance.

Some Indian private sector organisations belonging to distressed industries and markets had taken large public owned capital to run their businesses, paid hefty compensation to higher management but when things went wrong, both the promoters and top management had no public accountability. Besides, when the business failed to perform, the top management were just let go while the lower-ranked employees struggled to pay their bills. The audit reports were hardly made public and the accountability measures and corporate governance rules of such organisations were never questioned.  

The organisations while deciding top management compensation must also bring proportionality in accountability and stakeholder engagement.

Collective bargaining, equality in pay similar to public sector and corporate social and moral accountability are three strategies that the Indian corporations must reflect and incorporate in their managerial processes. Some of the NIFTY fifty Indian corporations like the Tata Group, Infosys, Mahindra and Mahindra, Hero Motors, ICICI Bank have implemented in their processes and one can see these effects on the employee satisfaction on Glassdoor employer ratings, brand recall by the consumers and overall stakeholder satisfaction is reflected positively.

Therefore, if the Indian private sector implements the policies that lead to greater accountability, equality in pay, collective decision making while ensuring its flexibility to market forces, we will see a disruptive and positive change in the image, governance mechanism, competitiveness and longevity of Indian corporations.

While the hockey stick model of compensation shifts the responsibility entirely on the top management, the collective bargaining and equitable compensation distributes the responsibility to each and every employee, bringing greater sense of employee engagement and employee accountability. Such a strategy has a potential to create long term competitiveness and shareholder value.


References

[1] https://www.businessinsider.in/here-are-the-25-most-popular-workplaces-in-india-according-to-linkedin/articleshow/68704338.cms
[2] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/company/corporate-trends/india-incs-top-executives-earn-243-times-more-than-average-staff/articleshow/63359591.cms
[3] https://www.socialeurope.eu/why-trade-unions-at-work-do-work
[4] http://norden.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:816030/FULLTEXT02.pdf
[5] https://www.spjimr.org/blog/learning-public-sector
[6] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/narayan-murthy-recounts-his-spat-with-vishal-sikka-to-drive-home-point/story-YNG126VbaGMO5nDgFx0XCM.html


About the Authors

Anirudh Agrawal is Impact Investing and Social Entrepreneurship Fellow at Copenhagen Business School and Lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Department of Entrepreneurship at FLAME University India. He is researching on the institutional theory framework to reflect on debates in social entrepreneurship and social innovation. 

Bharat Dhamani is a Lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at the Department of Entrepreneurship at FLAME University India. He practices engagement oriented learning through simulation and practical work. His subjects include financial management, business plan preparation, new venture business strategy and social entrepreneurship.


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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