Do Compensation Committee Members Perceive Changing CEO Incentive Performance Targets Mid-Cycle to be Fair?

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We examine the influences of social capital, source credibility, and fairness perceptions on the judgments of experienced compensation committee (CC) members who are considering a proposal to reduce management’s performance targets in the middle of a compensation cycle due to difficult circumstances. Eighty-nine U.S. public company CC members participated in a 2 × 2 experiment with social capital and source credibility each manipulated as low or high, and outcome fairness to management, process fairness to shareholders, and outcome fairness to shareholders included as measured variables. While social capital and source credibility are not significant, we find that outcome fairness to the CEO and outcome fairness to shareholders are significantly related to CC members’ support for reducing performance targets during a compensation cycle. In addition, we find that more experienced CC members are less supportive of changing the performance targets. The significant interactions include one between outcome fairness to shareholders and process fairness to shareholders, which suggests that CC member support for the proposal relies on both process and outcome fairness being present. Finally, the participants’ qualitative responses reflect arguments both for and against adjusting performance targets. Overall, the results highlight the important roles of fairness and director experience in boardroom decisions and provide important insights into factors affecting CC judgments.