A Conceptual Development of Simons’ Levers of Control Framework

Posted: 17 Apr 2012

Date Written: April 16, 2012

Abstract

The management control literature has been criticised for having concepts that are ill-defined. This causes mixed empirical results and makes it difficult to build a coherent body of knowledge. The paper addresses this issue by developing an important framework, that of Simons’ Levers of Control, which has been criticised in the past for its vague and ambiguous definitions. Using methods of concept analysis, the paper analyses prior literature to identify ambiguities with the different levers of control and uses examples from prior field studies to illustrate these ambiguities. The paper also analyses the positive and negative dimensions of controls which, although part of Simons’ framework, have remained unexplored. For each ambiguity identified, the paper proposes a solution to improve concept definitions or to clarify the relationship between concepts. The result is a revised framework that explicitly separates managerial intentions for controls and employee perceptions of controls. Managerial intentions are comprised of three levels: 1) types of controls (social and technical) 2) which are organised as four control systems (strategic performance, operational performance, strategic boundaries and operational boundaries) and 3) which can be used diagnostically or interactively, have an enabling or constraining role and can lead to either reward or punishment. Finally, after defining the framework’s concepts and explaining how they interact, the paper concludes by offering avenues for future research.

Keywords: framework, management control systems, levers of control, management control literature

JEL Classification: M4

Suggested Citation

Tessier, Sophie and Otley, David T., A Conceptual Development of Simons’ Levers of Control Framework (April 16, 2012). Management Accounting Research, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2040765

Sophie Tessier (Contact Author)

HEC Montreal ( email )

3000, Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine
Montreal, Quebec H3T 2A7
Canada

David T. Otley

Lancaster University ( email )

The Management School
Lancaster LA1 4YF
United Kingdom
+441 524 593 632 (Phone)
+441 524 652 01 (Fax)

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