The management control systems, obstacle or mover of the strategic adaptation ?
The management control systems,obstacle or mover of the strategic adaptation ? An illustration through the development of new control systems in five French networks companies. The management control systems are traditionally seen as the tools of the implementation of a predetermined strategy, in the hands of the top managers. They build coherence in the organisations which are described with clear and non ambiguous limits. This representation fails in front of the emergence of the strategies, the transversal nature of certain processes which overpass the frontiers of the firm, and in front of the recognition of the role of many social actors in the use of the control tools, in an interpretatisvist or constructivist point of view (Chevalier-Kuszla, 1997). Management control systems may be autonomous systems, which could drive to strategic inconsistencies as the pioneers of the Activity-Based-Costing and Management showed it, twenty years ago. For 1987, Simons has noted that, if some control systems exist in order to implement the strategies, others are used to limit their multiplication (boundary systems). This author describes in fact four "levers of control" for the managers (Simons, 1995), which depend : - on the degree of control which the leaders want to keep for themselves: do they try to simply straddle the strategic orientations of the company or do they want to make sure of the deployment of a clearly formulated strategy ? - and on the degree of autonomy which they leave to the intermediate managers and to the operational ones because of their own cognitive limits, or of their more or less limited rationality : do the leaders always clearly identify the key factors of risk and the key factors of success ? The notion of uncertainty which presses on the decisions cannot be evacuated by the models of control. Simons (1995) describes binding modes of control but also levers of control which are capable of encouraging the initiatives, possibly destabilizing, and the organizational learning (interactive control). The four levers of control may constitute a good framework in order to understand the role of the management control systems in firms which have to adapt their strategy and which deal with new key factors of success or risk. The aim of this communication is to show that, in firms in front of the same strategic context (the deregulation of the markets in the networks industries), control systems and processes play divergent roles in their strategic adaptation. They may reinforce their initial role or, in the contrary, generate change. In a first time, these different roles will be characterized with the help of the framework of Simons (1995). In a second time, we will show that these roles are not independent from the way by which the change in control systems is lead. The processes of change in management control systems are more or less constructivists. This analysis leans on the longitudinal studies of five French networks firms which belong of the sectors of the telecommunications, railways, energy and postal activities. All of them implemented new management control systems between 1992 and 1997. Chevalier-Kuszla Catherine (1997), „Organizational control: questioning models“, 8th World Congress of the International Association for Accounting, Education and Research, Paris, October 25-27, 25 p. Simons R. (1987), Accounting Control Systems and Business Strategy : An Empirical Analysis, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 12, 4, pp. 357-374. Simons R. (1995), Levers of Control, How Managers Use Innovative Control Systems to Drive Strategic Renewal, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts.
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