The Role of Management Controls in Meeting Contemporary Control Problems

Nov 07, 2023
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Date: Nov 7th, 2023

Time: 3.30 pm CET

Mediator: Professor Martin Messner

 Speaker (s) Professor Christine Cooper & Professor Chris Chapman

The overarching purpose of management control is to help organisations achieve their objectives. The nature of those objectives, and so the implications for how management control might be pursued, change over time, however. For example, widespread concern of how control systems had developed in Anglo-American contexts in the early 1980s crystalised in “Relevance lost” not least, leading to significant debate about the ongoing suitability of control practices that had become established practice. The following decade saw a raft of innovations in control practice (e.g., ABC, Balanced Scorecard, EVA, Strategic Cost Management) seeking to introduce a greater sense of how external concerns might be brought into internal control processes and decision – often focused on the concept of strategy. At the same time, a different stream of research sought to show the importance of understanding the implications of (often implicit) assumptions baked into such control approaches (e.g., highlighting the role of control systems in perpetuating class inequalities, discrimination, exploitation, and fear, and challenging the role of such systems in commensurating aspects of our lived world beyond the conception of shareholder value).

Turning to today, just as in the 1980s, we find ourselves increasingly conscious of the limits of existing approaches to control. Attention is again turning to how control systems can play a role in supporting organisations’ ability to see and respond to challenges beyond their currently established scope. For us as a research community, a challenge in this respect is to avoid fracturing our field into Utopian or Dystopian, or perhaps worse, disinterested camps. Debating what control can or should achieve is essential for the development of our field of study, as well as for enhancing the practical and societal contributions of management control research. Accordingly, this EAA academic empathy conversation will explore questions such as:

  • What kind of purposes has research looked at when examining the effectiveness or utility of management control practices, and what do we know about the complementarities and trade-offs between these purposes?
  • The perspectives of which actors are represented in control research when it comes to judging the effectiveness of control practices?
  • What should be the relationship between the financial sustainability of the organisation itself and the broader sustainability of communities and of the global eco-system, and how might control practices contribute to managing this relationship?
  • Where does the balance lie between promoting financially efficient and resilient supply chain arrangements with the legal, but also moral responsibility lie in ensuring organisations are not directly, or indirectly promoting conditions for modern slavery?
  • What are the technical possibilities of advances in technology in areas of big data and artificial intelligence in addressing management control challenges, but also what are the risks that these technologies might perpetuate discrimination and widening inequalities of opportunity and wellbeing?


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