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A rhetorical-discursive analysis of the institutionalisation of long term incentive plans in the UK 1992-2014

Wynne, Steven John (2018) A rhetorical-discursive analysis of the institutionalisation of long term incentive plans in the UK 1992-2014. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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In the context of increases in both the quantum and complexity of executive remuneration in the UK, understanding the rapid diffusion of pay-for-performance models, and in particular Long Term Incentive Plans (LTIPs), has become a focus of extensive analysis and debate. The absence of unequivocal evidence of a strong correlation between the adoption of LTIPs as an element of executive remuneration and improved company performance entails the need to develop supplementary explanations for the rapid diffusion of LTIPs. A neglected aspect of the explanation of the diffusion of LTIPs is an understanding of the rhetorical-discursive framework used to legitimate their use. This thesis uses a rhetorical-discursive methodology, within a rhetorical institutionalism theoretical framework, to disclose and analyse the rhetorical devices and structures used to legitimate LTIPs, with particular reference to the role of wider cultural templates and social endoxa. The findings identify three empirical rhetorical-discursive structures - the rhetoric of the metonymic mask of relative and comparative performance, rhetoric of transparency, and the rhetorical deflection of the human resource argument – that inform and respond to a central aporetic tension that arises within the discourse between the evaluation an individual director’s performance in terms of their differential impact on company performance, and the use of external, aggregated and comparative statistics to infer that differential performance. This analysis contributes a new understanding of the nature of the discursive phenomena that have informed the diffusion and institutionalisation of LTIPs in the UK over the period 1992-2014. The thesis also extends our understanding of rhetorical institutionalisation by demonstrating how the institutionalisation of LTIPs can be understood as an iterative process, in which the construction and reconstruction of arguments mirrors the cycloidal path of a stone on a wheel, with alternating periods of increasing ‘taken for grantedness’ and periods of conflict and contestation engaging with the rhetorical tension created and maintained by the central aporetic of executive pay.

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