Relative Versus Absolute Performance Evaluation and CEO Decision-Making

Karen H. Wruck and YiLin Wu

We provide new evidence on how performance-based compensation plans affect CEO decision-making, especially risk-taking. Our main finding is that relative performance evaluation (RPE) plans provide incentives for CEOs to make decisions that generate more idiosyncratic performance outcomes; absolute performance evaluation (APE) plans do not. After switches from APE to RPE, the correlation between firm stock return and industry index return falls and firm idiosyncratic risk increases. Further, switches to RPE are followed by larger deviations in financial, investment, and operating policies from industry norms (i.e., more idiosyncratic strategies). All results are opposite for switches to APE.