We use unique data from 245 stores of a UK retailer to study links among middle (store) manager skills, sales, and manager pay. We find that, of the six management practice areas surveyed, the most important is “commercial awareness,” where abler managers achieve up to 13.9% higher sales per worker. We find that many stores have poor managers on this indicator. However, the company is careful to incentivize managers, operating a scheme giving shares (approximately 20%) in both positive and negative deviations of actual sales from expected. Abler managers do not receive higher pay, implying that their skills are company specific.
In a randomized controlled trial, a large retail chain’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) sets new goals for the managers of the treated stores by asking them to “do what they can” to reduce the employee quit rate. The treatment decreases the quit rate by a fifth to a quarter, lasting nine months before petering out, but reappearing after a reminder. There is no treatment effect on sales. Further analysis reveals that treated store managers spend more time on human resources (HR) and less on customer service. Our findings show that middle managers are instrumental in reducing personnel turnover, but they face a trade-off between investing in different activities in a multitasking environment with limited resources. The treatment does produce efficiency gains. However, these occur only at the firm level.
We study the consequences of misreporting in settings where ambiguity-averse investors face uncertainty about two aspects of the firm: productivity and reliability of the information system. We show that the joint presence of these two sources of uncertainty distort the firm’s investment choices in opposing ways, leading to over-investment by large firms (to signal productivity) and under-investment by small firms (to signal reliability). Our analysis suggests that uncertainty regarding the reliability of financial statements affects both the level of the market-to-book ratio and its association with firm size. In addition, we show that, under plausible circumstances, reductions in uncertainty can be detrimental to social welfare: lower information asymmetry about reliability always encourages more aggressive misreporting and boosts investment, thereby exacerbating the possible over-investment problem facing some firms.