Enabling Control and the Problem of Incomplete Performance Indicators
Posted: 13 Sep 2012
Date Written: September 13, 2012
To which extent do managers care about the design characteristics of performance indicators and other control systems? The paper examines this question with the help of the framework of enabling and coercive control. Drawing upon data from a longitudinal field study in a manufacturing organization, we study operational managers’ attitudes towards the incompleteness of performance indicators. Managers are likely to perceive performance indicators as enabling if the latter facilitate their actions without unduly constraining them. This is true even for incomplete performance indicators as long as managers can handle these indicators in a flexible way, treating them as means rather than ends when carrying out their work. Our case also shows, however, how a flexible use of indicators becomes more difficult to sustain once top management signals an increased importance of the indicators. Incompleteness then becomes a more pressing concern for managers. We illuminate the various forms of top management sense-giving through which such tightening of control is achieved and we show how they translate into managers’ perception of the control system as being a coercive rather than enabling one. Taken together, the findings of the present paper add to our understanding of enabling and coercive forms of control and also extend previous studies that have addressed the problem of incomplete accounting information.
Keywords: performance measurement, sense-making, sense-giving, lean production
JEL Classification: M10, M41
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