تغییر و ثبات مدیریت حسابداری : قواعد و روال آزادانه همراه با عمل
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Management Accounting Research, Volume 18, Issue 1, March 2007, Pages 76–101
A problematic practical situation, which had remained unsolved for a long period, was encountered in a case research project. The apparent problem of the case firm was the modest standardisation of its information systems and management accounting reporting. Though problems linked with standardisation seemed to chronically look for solutions in the firm, only few attempts to change the situation emerged. The immediate purpose of the paper is to explain why there appeared to be problems without solutions in the case firm, and, in particular, how it managed to cope with such a situation. The paper contributes to recent literature on management accounting change and stability, primarily by drawing on the framework, based on institutional theory, by Burns and Scapens [Burns, J., Scapens, R.W., 2000. Conceptualizing management accounting change: an institutional framework. Manage. Acc. Res. 11, 3–25]. The notion of loose coupling is mobilised and integrated with the framework, and thereby the many-sided relation between two of its central notions, rules and routines, is refined. Loose coupling between rules and routines was characteristic of the everyday management accounting life in the case firm: well-developed and flexible informal routines and knowledgeable actions by the organisation's participants had the capacity to smooth the frictions of the formal rule systems related to management accounting, saving them from pressure for major change. The findings support the argument of the possible coexistence of change and stability in management accounting, however pointing to the need of keeping clear what aspect of management accounting – formal or informal – we refer to in each instance. They also suggest that the legitimising relation between the formal and the informal domains of an organisation can be an inverse of that typically claimed in the new institutionalist theory.
The starting point of this study was a confusing situation, encountered in a case study project, outlined in a stylised manner in the Prologue above. It was a situation where management accounting change (especially related to standardisation, one form of setting organisational rules) could have been expected, but where it was not much encountered. The immediate purpose of this paper is to make sense of what was going on in the case firm. Hence, why does it appear that there were problems without solutions? And, in particular, how did the firm cope with the situation? From the theoretical viewpoint, this paper integrates some of the ideas in the literature of organisational decision-making and the recent literature on management accounting change, drawing primarily on the institutional framework suggested by Burns and Scapens (2000). Accordingly, management accounting systems and practices are regarded as constituting relatively stable organisational rules and routines, which encode the ‘taken-for-granted’ issues at the institutional level and become enacted in the realm of action. The paper focuses on the relation between formal rules and informal routines in particular and on the role of this relation regarding management accounting change and stability. This paper contributes to the recent literature on management accounting change and stability, such as Granlund, 1998 and Granlund, 2001. The starting point of the analysis is the central thesis of Burns and Scapens (2000): while management accounting systems and practices tend to constitute relatively stable rules and routines, there is always a possibility for change. In a more striking form, they argue that “stability and change are not mutually exclusive processes, they occur simultaneously.” (p. 22). This study specifically sheds light on how this suggested change and stability of management accounting can actually coexist. For this end, a significant notion mobilised in this paper, imported from the modern literature of organisational decision-making, is the idea of an organisation as a loosely coupled system (Glassman, 1973, Weick, 1976, Orton and Weick, 1990 and Seo and Creed, 2002). In brief, the variety of elements of an organisation need not be tightly linked to each other and the organisation can still function. By mobilising the notion of loose coupling, this paper brings further evidence on the complex relation between the rules and routines of management accounting. The paper not only generally supports the argument of Burns and Scapens (2000), but also refines it by showing a new mode of how change and stability can occur simultaneously. Ahrens and Dent (1998) argue that analysing managerial ambiguities, tensions, and contradictions is a major opportunity offered by field research methods, since they permit an analysis of suggestive themes and counterpoints, interpretations and counter-interpretations, and different voices around accounting in organisations. As the empirical part of the paper describes a multidimensional tension situation of the case firm Southlake, it is precisely this type of analysis that we pursue in this paper, which responds to recent calls for research on management accounting practices exploring not only formal processes and intentional change/stability but also informal processes and unintentional change/stability (cf. Burns and Scapens, 2000 and Burns and Vaivio, 2001). The case study at Southlake indicates that organisational routines and knowledgeable everyday actions can be flexible enough to smooth the problems of the formal rule systems so that the outcome performance of the controller function2 is satisfactory. Flexible and sufficiently well functioning management accounting routines offer intra-firm legitimation for the problematic formal rule system relieving pressures to change it. Thereby the way the firm solves the issue of its inadequately functioning rule systems – how it copes with the situation – is at least partially an explanation to why there appears to be problems without solutions. This is a new finding regarding how stability and change can co-exist: change in the form of flexibility within the informal domain can allow stability across the domain border within the formal—an inverse of the relation between formal rules and informal routines typical of new institutional sociology (e.g., Meyer and Rowan, 1977, DiMaggio and Powell, 1983 and Carruthers, 1995). As will be explained, this loose coupling between rules and routines can be viewed both as a solution and a problem. The rest of the paper is organised as follows. In the next section, we will shortly review prior knowledge on the basic elements of the study, i.e., that dealing with management accounting change and stability, focusing on the institutional framework of Burns and Scapens (2000). We will also introduce the notion of loose coupling there. In the section that follows, the notion of management accounting standardisation – on which the empirical part focuses – will be briefly explored. After describing the case site and the methods applied, the dilemmas encountered around standardisation of the case firm will be described, focusing on two management accounting related issues: standardisation of information systems and standardisation of management accounting reporting. In the central part of the study that follows, an attempt will be made – with the help of the theoretical lenses raised in the front end of the paper – to make sense of the case findings, and develop the theoretical arguments of the study. The paper ends with conclusions.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
The point of departure for this paper was the genuine puzzle encountered in the empirical study at Southlake Group, a Finnish-based globally operating firm. Though the case firm seemed to have several problems linked to its rule systems, more specifically the low level of standardisation of its information systems and management accounting reporting, there seemed to be surprisingly little effort to solve them. It was stability rather than change which appeared to characterise the situation. The immediate purpose of the paper was to make sense of what was going on in the case firm, primarily by responding to two questions: Why does it appear that there were problems without solutions? And, in particular, how did the firm cope with the situation? Theoretically the paper contributes to recent literature on management accounting change and stability, primarily by drawing on the framework based on institutional theory by Burns and Scapens (2000). Their paper focuses on the relation between formal rules and informal routines, and the role of this relation in management accounting change and stability. More specifically, the findings of this paper shed further light on how change and stability can occur simultaneously. It generally supports the main thesis of Burns and Scapens (2000), but also refines it by explicating a new mode of the simultaneous emergence of change and stability. The notion of loose coupling, imported from the modern literature on organisational decision-making, played a crucial role in the analysis and was the key to making sense of the case findings. In the Southlake case, the recognition of goal ambiguity – straddling between the traditionally dominant decentralised and the recently emerged centralised management approach – made it possible to understand the discrepancy between standardisation related talk and action. While the nature of Southlake's management accounting process can be described by the notion of ‘muddling through’, this condition did not paralyse it. Southlake's management accounting was able to deliver, though with considerable inconvenience, the expected routine reports month after month. This was since management accountants had found creative routes to cope with the inconvenient situation: they had developed, within the informal domain, routines only loosely coupled to the problematic formal rule systems, introducing flexibility into its management accounting practices. Pressures to increase standardisation were relaxed as a sufficient level of the required integration was achieved via informal routines and daily actions. The analysis of the paper not only generally supports the usefulness of the framework by Burns and Scapens (2000), but also refines its central relation between formal rules and informal routines, which they do not examine in great detail. This paper suggests that the relation between rules and routines at a given point/limited period of time can be very loose, and that this loose coupling of rules and routines can be instrumental in the smooth functioning of a firm's management accounting, at least in the short run. The loose coupling between rules and routines explains the major argument of Burns and Scapens that management accounting change and stability can co-exist. As the Southlake case indicates, this can take place, for instance, so that the formal rule systems are relatively stable while the informal routines flex, together with the knowledgeable everyday actions of the management accounting personnel. As a particular new result, the findings of the study suggest a relation between rules and routines that is opposite to what can be found implicitly in Burns and Scapens (2000) and explicitly in the literature of new institutional sociology. Not only can formal rules legitimate the existence of an organisation, while allowing informal routines to remain intact, but informal routines can also act as the ‘protecting’ device, legitimating the existing formal rule systems and shielding them from pressures for change. Hence, the study provides evidence of an inverse relation between organisational rules and routines when compared to the prior understandings. The case findings suggest that the adequate performance of the controller function, driven by the well-developed and flexible informal routines and knowledgeable actions of local controllers, can play an important role in the legitimation of the related rule systems. However, while this smoothing of the pressures for change through flexibility within the informal domain could be viewed as a solution in the short run, it may turn out to be a problem in the longer term, if it causes the organisation to postpone for too long the necessary functional adaptations. Overall, the results of this paper add to our knowledge of the complex interplay between the formal and the informal domains of management accounting. Considering the formal and informal domains simultaneously, change and stability can indeed coexist, and it is not only that the formal rules have the potential to buffer the informal routines, it can be the other way round as well. The paper supports the emerging view that in order to thoroughly understand management accounting change, we need to probe far beyond the limits of the formal rule systems (like the management accounting designs suggested and sold by the consulting industry) and pay increasing serious attention to the informal domain of organisations. Despite a few examples of recent studies doing this, further research along these lines is certainly needed. Understanding more profoundly the interplay between the formal rules and informal routines of management accounting is no doubt instrumental for the successful design and implementation of management accounting change.