The Frame-Makers: Transformations in the Roles of Functional Experts
London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Accounting and Finance
Harvard Business School
London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Accounting Department
August 15, 2010
AAA 2011 Management Accounting Section (MAS) Meeting Paper
The evolution of many staff functions displays a movement from a relatively narrow technical function (“bean counters,” or “compliance champions”) to a broader role in which the staff expert serves as a “strategic business partner” to key decision makers and top managers. But how do functional experts increase their influence in organizations? Our argument is twofold. First, we examine the role of functional experts as toolmakers - experts who develop and promote practices, routines, and technologies by means of which their expertise becomes embedded in the organization’s decision-making practices. Second, we plot the routes along which toolmakers can expand their influence. Our theoretical model and empirical findings indicate that, while toolmakers may be successful in becoming frame-makers - influential actors in the organization’s strategic decision-making process - they might also fall into one of two less desirable roles, the disconnected technician and the ad hoc advisor.
We focus our empirical examination on risk-management experts, based on a five-year longitudinal field study in two large banks in the United Kingdom. In the first bank, referred to here as Saxon Bank, we traced the changing roles of risk experts and learned how their increasing organizational significance depended on both toolmaking and frame-making. These risk managers created a wide variety of interpretive tools, successfully attached these tools to some of the bank’s routine practices, and defended the legitimacy of their tools and framings in various internal political fora. In the other organization we studied (Anglo Bank), the risk function, despite its considerable political power, failed to embed its risk officers’ personal expertise in communicable and distributable tools that could disseminate risk management through the organization and therefore remained, in effect, in an ad hoc advisory position within the bank. We warn about the paradox of expert power - ad hoc advisors may be influential for a time, however, truly deep influence accrues to experts who are able to create tools that are capable of outlasting their original creators.
Following from our analysis, we conceptualise that a successful transformation of the role of experts in the organization is a movement from tacit knowledge, communicable person-to-person, to highly communicable knowledge that is readily transportable through a variety of organizational documents and practices. Using this framework, we develop a discussion about the nature of the internal dynamics that govern the influence of risk managers and other functional experts in today’s complex organizations.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 33
JEL Classification: M40, M46working papers series
Date posted: August 16, 2010 ; Last revised: August 20, 2012
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