The impact of accounting earnings based compensation contracts an effort allocation is analyzed using an agency‐theoretic model. In this model, the CEO of a publicly traded firm expends effort on operational short‐run activities and strategic long‐run activities. The shareholders desire the CEO to expend more effort in the strategic long‐run activities because the return to shareholders depends more on long‐run than short‐run activities. More specifically, they desire the effort to be allocated between these two activities on the proportion of the sensitivity of stock returns to these two activities. Compensating the CEO based on the stock returns performance measure is shown to induce the CEO to exert the desired proportion of effort in the long‐run activities. Unlike stock returns, accounting earnings are believed to focus more on the short‐run performance of the firm and not reflect the full impact of a CEO's long‐run effort. Compensating the CEO based on accounting earnings, in addition to stock returns, is shown to induce the CEO to expend less than the desired proportion of effort in long‐run activities. As the emphasis placed on accounting earnings relative to stock returns increases, the CEO decreases the proportion of effort expended in long‐run activities. On the positive side, including accounting earnings in the contract increases the total effort that the CEO exerts in short‐run and long‐run activities. The benefit accruing from the increase in total effort more than offsets the dysfunctionality caused by the short‐run focus. More specifically, adding accounting earnings to the incentive contract is shown to increase the expected return to the shareholders. In summary, while accounting earnings cause the CEO to be short‐run focused, their use in the incentive contract improves the firm's performance by motivating the CEO to work harder overall.
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