Doctoral Student

Shelley Xin Li

Shelley Xin Li is a doctoral candidate in the Accounting and Management (AM) unit. Her research interests lie in the study of traditional managerial accounting issues (e.g. management control systems, performance evaluation, and incentive design) in innovative settings (e.g. Innovation processes, entrepreneurial firms, implementing sustainability strategies, etc.). Her current projects focus on the use of incentives to induce sustainable behavioral changes within organizations, the effect of implicit control mechanisms on employee decision-making, and the effectiveness of monetary and nonmonetary incentives on firms' carbon emission. Shelley is expected to graduate in May 2015.

Prior to Harvard, Shelley worked in the Motor City as a financial reporting specialist. She received double Bachelor degrees in Economics and Law from Nankai University (2006), and a M.A. in Economics from Duke University (2008). She is a Certified Management Accountant and a Certified Financial Risk Manager.

Working Papers

  1. The Effect of Target Difficulty and Incentives on Target Completion: The Case of Reducing Carbon Emissions

    Ioannis Ioannou, Shelley Xin Li and George Serafeim

    Setting targets and providing monetary incentives are two widely used motivating tools to achieve desirable organizational outcomes. We focus on reduction of carbon emissions as a setting in which to examine how target difficulty and monetary incentives provided to managers affect the degree of target completion. We use a novel dataset compiled by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) that yields a sample of 1,127 firms from around the world. We find that firms setting more difficult targets or providing monetary incentives are able to complete a higher percentage of the target. The effect of target difficulty on target completion is nonlinear: above a certain level, stretching the target decreases the percentage of target completion. Moreover, we find that bundling difficult targets together with monetary incentives negatively affects the degree of target completion, suggesting that these two motivating tools act as substitutes in our setting. Finally, we provide evidence that both target difficulty and monetary incentives motivate managers to a) undertake more carbon reducing projects that generate more carbon savings, and b) invest more money in such projects, without increasing the average payback period of the project portfolio.

    Keywords: environment; environmental performance; carbon; climate change; sustainability; incentives; motivation; Motivation and Incentives; Motivation and Incentives; Environmental Sustainability;


    Ioannou, Ioannis, Shelley Xin Li, and George Serafeim. "The Effect of Target Difficulty and Incentives on Target Completion: The Case of Reducing Carbon Emissions." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-043, November 2012. (Revised August 2014.) View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Allied Electronics Corporation Ltd: Linking Compensation to Sustainability Metrics

    Robert G. Eccles, George Serafeim, Shelley Xin Li and Alan Knight

    Robert Venter, second-generation Chief Executive (CE) of family-owned Allied Electronics Corporation Ltd (Altron), considered the pros and cons of more clearly linking the firm's compensation system to sustainability performance. In June 2011, Altron, a conglomerate headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, controlled more than 200 companies in Africa, Europe, the US, the UK, Australia, and the Far East. More than 14,000 employees designed, developed, manufactured, and marketed a range of telecommunications, electronics, power electronics, and information technology systems and products. Having made a clear commitment to sustainable development, Venter was confident that the commitment was shared across the senior management team. However, there appeared to be more acceptance in the operating units for meeting financial targets than for meeting sustainability targets. Did the existing incentive structure send the correct message about the sustainability-oriented corporate strategy? Looking at the reshaped strategic themes, Venter considered the pros and cons of more clearly linking the firm's compensation system to sustainability performance.

    Keywords: Compensation and Benefits; Motivation and Incentives; Environmental Sustainability;


    Eccles, Robert G., George Serafeim, Shelley Xin Li, and Alan Knight. "Allied Electronics Corporation Ltd: Linking Compensation to Sustainability Metrics." Harvard Business School Case 412-075, November 2011. (Revised June 2013.) View Details
  2. Dow Chemical: Innovating for Sustainability

    Robert G. Eccles, George Serafeim and Shelley Xin Li

    Dow Chemical is one of the few major American industrial corporations that was founded in the late 19th century that is still in existence. From its origins producing bromine out of the brine underneath Midland, Michigan, the company has evolved from a diversified commodity chemical company to an advanced materials company whose products and services can make its clients more sustainable. During the 1960s and 1970s the company received a series of external shocks in the form of negative public opinion for some of its activities. These challenged the company's perception as being a "good company" and made it realize it needed to more proactively seek outside perspectives on how the company was viewed and what it should do. This led to the formation of the Corporate Environmental Advisory Council in 1992 which was renamed the Sustainability External Advisory Council (SEAC) in 2008. With substantial input from the SEAC, the company set two ambitious sets of ten-year goals: 1996-2005 and 2006-2015 and was largely successful in meeting them or on the way to doing so. In 2011, Neil Hawkins, Vice President of Sustainability and EH&S (Environmental, Health and Safety) is trying to decide what the content and format of the next ten-year goals should be to ensure the company's viability on its 200th birthday. Should they be incremental goals like the ones for 2005 or ambitious stretch targets like the ones for 2015? Or should they be broad statements of principles that encourage innovating for sustainability throughout the company? A further challenge facing the company is that it was rapidly globalizing with a large portion of its workforce outside its Midland, Michigan headquarters, making it even more difficult to preserve a common culture and commitment to sustainability.

    Keywords: Innovation Strategy; Environmental Sustainability; Chemical Industry;


    Eccles, Robert G., George Serafeim, and Shelley Xin Li. "Dow Chemical: Innovating for Sustainability." Harvard Business School Case 112-064, January 2012. (Revised June 2013.) View Details