Accounting for flexibility and efficiency: A field study of management control systems in a restaurant chain

Thomas Ahrens*, Christopher S. Chapman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

337 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

While some field studies have suggested that management control systems can be used simultaneously to make organizations more efficient and more flexible, the contingency literature has found it difficult to address this issue in the absence of a clear and comprehensive typology for analyzing more processual uses of management control systems. This paper distinguishes between enabling and coercive (Adler and Borys 1996) uses of management control systems. Coercive use refers to the stereotypical top-down control approach that emphasizes centralization and preplanning. In contrast, enabling use seeks to put employees in a position to deal directly with the inevitable contingencies in their work. The design principles that underlie the enabling use of management control systems are repair, internal transparency, global transparency, and flexibility. Through a detailed analysis of a single-case field study carried out over a two-year period, we illustrate how management pursued the objectives of efficiency and flexibility by using management control systems in enabling ways. We suggest that the four design principles of enabling use can facilitate field studies of management control systems, but that they can also be used to define an enabling typology for contingency researchers to analyze the ways in which organizations simultaneously pursue efficiency and flexibility through their management control systems.

Translated title of the contributionAccounting for flexibility and efficiency: A field study of management control systems in a restaurant chain
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)271-301
Number of pages31
JournalContemporary Accounting Research
Volume21
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004

Keywords

  • Enabling control
  • Field study
  • Flexibility and efficiency
  • Management control systems

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