Sustainable management control – capturing the dynamics of the management control field

Alf Westelius & Ann-Sofie Westelius (2018) Sustainable management control – capturing the dynamics of the management control field. ANZAM, 4-7 December 2018, Auckland

Academic and management literature, as well as practice, is teeming with management control concepts, tools and ideas, like New public management, Value-based management, full costing, budgets, (key) performance indicators, strategy maps, kaizen… New varieties, and sometimes even new species, keep appearing. We who are in the game, attempt to keep a grip on the existing flora, while scanning to detect what is on the rise – new or merely rebranded. Which new ones are merely varieties in already existing families, which ones are rather to be considered as new subfamilies, or even new families? It is unlikely that we will wake up tomorrow to find that a new concept has completely taken over – processes are much slower than that. But it can still feel reassuring to be familiar with the novelties when new concepts are trending. A comfortable way of keeping abreast, is to follow the management control literature – both via central management control journals and via management books1. However, if we are not content to just follow, but really want to approach the front and perhaps even participate in driving it, what alternatives are then available?

We are presenting an ecology view of management control tools and concepts as a way to capture the dynamics in the field and grasp where it comes from. In so doing, we propose an alternative way of structuring management control terms to provide an overview of the field and facilitate an analysis of the dynamics. We start on such an analysis with both historical examples and attempts at looking forward. The proposed structure does not reveal any clear group of concepts or tools for sustainable management control. Therefore, we draw on a model for human-centred organising to guide the assessment of imbalances and the sustainability of management control packages. Exemplifying with current organisations, we demonstrate that from a narrow organisational perspective, human-centred control is not necessary for success or survival; strict economism can work for a high-profiled company, even if it appears to be detrimental for society. And value-based, trusting, non-monitoring management control also seems to be for particular, high-profiled (and possibly not very large) companies, rather than a realistic mainstream alternative in our mainstream world. We end by identifying plausible trends and future challenges for management control.

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