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Exploiting institutional contradictions: The role of management accounting in continuous improvement implementation

  • Gun Abrahamsson
  • Jonas Gerdin
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    Purpose – Based on an institutional perspective, this study explores the role of management accounting (MA) in promoting or impeding changes in the employees' conceptions of shopfloor worker responsibility in a company trying to implement a continuous improvement (CI) working practice. Design/methodology/approach – An ethnographically inspired research method is needed where weekly CI meetings in two workgroups were observed over a period of eight months and in-depth interviews with managers and operators were conducted regularly. Findings – The study reveals that active and skilful exploiters of inconsistencies within social arrangements may use MA as one important way of transforming a traditional vertical view of worker responsibility into a more horizontally-oriented view by: creating collective reflection and reasoned analysis of the limits of the present order, and visualising and justifying an alternative model(s) of social behaviour. However, the study also shows that MA may contribute to the reinforcement of a vertical view by the use of group-level measures strictly as a one-way performance monitoring device. Originality/value – The study highlights that “contradictions” between social orders may not only nurture institutional stability, but may also be a necessary (although not sufficient) condition for institutional change.

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    Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management.

    Volume (Year): 3 (2006)
    Issue (Month): 2 (July)
    Pages: 126-144

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    Handle: RePEc:eme:qrampp:v:3:y:2006:i:2:p:126-144
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    1. Macintosh, Norman B. & Scapens, Robert W., 1990. "Structuration theory in management accounting," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 455-477.
    2. Joao A. Ribeiro & Robert W. Scapens, 2004. "Power, ERP systems and resistance to management accounting: a case study," FEP Working Papers 141, Universidade do Porto, Faculdade de Economia do Porto.
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