Management Accounting Research 18 (2007) 125–149

Management Accounting Issues in interpreting its nature and change
Cristiano Busco a,∗ , Paolo Quattrone b , Angelo Riccaboni a

Universit` di Siena, Faculty of Economics, Piazza S. Francesco 7, Siena, Italy a Sa¨d Business School and Christ Church, University of Oxford, Park End Street, OX1 1HP Oxford, UK ı


Abstract Studies in the area of management accounting change have proliferated in the past few years. It seems then time for systematizing the analysis of management accounting change along some key dimensions which can prompt some further reflection. This paper proposes to organize such reflection along these dimensions: the agents and object of change; the forms and ratio of change; the space and time of change; and the interplay between change and stability. This systematization, the paper argues, will help us to relate a reflection on the process of change with the nature of management accounting itself. Studying change entails a reflection on what changes and studying what changes implies a reflection on the nature of management accounting and its ability to become what is not, i.e. its change. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Management accounting; Change and stability; Nature of management accounting; Heteromogeneity

1. Introduction “I definitely agree we need to improve our processes of integration within [MEGOC], we shall communicate better and engage more effectively in day-to-day operations . . . at present, despite the six common strategic imperatives, each business line is a kingdom on its own, we know that . . . However, I have heard we are introducing a new system called Balanced Scorecard that run within the SAP’s platform [MEGOC’s Enterprise Resource Planning system] and allows us to monitor the achievement of our strategic imperatives along four different perspectives of analysis. Let’s see what it is like, and its impact on the job as I wouldn’t like to change my existing working practices

Corresponding author. E-mail address: (C. Busco).

1044-5005/$ – see front matter © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.mar.2007.04.003


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because someone on the Board has fallen in love with the flavour of the month during a training course in London . . .” (Operating Manager). Middle-East Gas and Oil Company (MEGOC) is a large corporation operating in the oil and gas industry. The company is owned by the national government and the revenues generated constitute a large part of the GDP of that country.1 In 2002, following a call from the government for companies to take some action to improve the local economy and increase the revenue generated for the country, MEGOC’s executive management board redefined the strategic direction of the company “to significantly increase its contribution to the country’s revenue needs and [. . .] consistently promote the development of the local economy” (MEGOC’s mission statement). One of the concerns evoked by MEGOC’s operating manager relates to whether change is good to have or should be resisted. He also questions the novelty of the proposed new technical solution, the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) in this case, asking whether it is the result of transitory fads and fashions or of more profound reflections on effective organizational needs for such a new system, and on its effects on the corporation and its employees. The quote reported above and the brief description which followed it are illustrative of many of the themes that the literature on management accounting change has been addressing in these last few years, and that we also intend to recall and systematize in this paper, which opens the second Management Accounting Research Special Issue on Management Accounting Change. In doing so we believe that the first building block of our systematizing effort concerns the issue of what and who drives management accounting change and whether this is some hidden structural force, some clear individual agency, an opaque combination of the two or even something else. The operating manager rightly evokes ideals which are often mobilized for prompting change: ‘integration’ (see Busco et al., 2006; Dechow and Mouritsen, 2005; Hansen and Mouritsen, 1999), various ‘imperatives’ and slogans (see Quattrone and Hopper, 2001, 2005, 2006), and so forth. Are these the drivers of change? Are they the result of broader environmental, contextual and institutional forces (see, for instance, Baines and Langfield-Smith, 2003; Carmona et al., 1998) or the product of individual visions which are translated into the framing attempt of the Balanced Scorecard (see Bloomfield and Vurdubakis, 1997)? Addressing these issues and offering some material for reflection is the first building block of the systematization we intend to offer in this piece (see Fig. 1).2
1 This is the disguised name of a company, the analysis of which will be used for illustrative purposes along the whole paper. The insights from the MEGOC case are based on a longitudinal study conducted by one of the authors. From May 2003 to December 2005 we had the opportunity to collect empirical evidence through interviews, observations, participations in meetings and internal workshops. Overall, we conducted 32 interviews with managers and employees operating in various Divisions of MEGOC. The company is divided into seven major Divisions (or business lines): Exploration and Producing; Gas Operations; Refining, Marketing and International; Engineering and Operations Services; Law; Finance; and Industrial Relations. These business lines are headed up by Corporate Heads at the Senior Vice President level, and all report to the President and CEO. In addition, support functions such as Corporate Planning, Information Technology, Human Resources and Management Services (where the internal consulting department is located) also report directly to the President and CEO of MEGOC. 2 This figure has been used by one of the authors in other papers (e.g. Quattrone and Hopper, 2001) but with different poles of interaction. What seems interesting though is that whatever issue one intends to study from a constructivist perspective, this is always made of various concepts which appear as being in opposition and in need of being rethought under different terms. We begin in this paper by looking at issues of ‘agency’ in studying management accounting change, but this is done only for illustrative purposes and to follow the linearity of the paper for agency is indeed part also of the other poles constituting the figure which are not sequential but all affecting issues of management accounting change.

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Fig. 1. Issues in interpreting management accounting change and stability.

The second set of questions that the opening quote poses concerns the process through which these ideas and management accounting innovations travel and become successful (see, for instance, Lapsley and Wright, 2004). The quote calls for interpreting their ability to attract hordes of practitioners who more or less genuinely believe that the latest innovation is able to solve a problem, make financial transactions more transparent, hold employees more accountable, and making the corporation more integrated (among a plethora of many other hopes and myths). How are management accounting techniques able to spread and become practiced (Quattrone, 2006)? How do they manage to engage practitioners who are driven by different and sometimes opposing agendas? How do they manage to instil hope (of solving a problem, be it at the personal level of the manager or at the institutional level of the organization) in the perspective user? All of this is still quite obscure. It seems to us that a greater understanding of the process through which this happens (the How) can provide an understanding of Why this happens for it is also in how the management accounting solution is evoked and then performed, rather than only in the content it seeks to convey, that an understanding of successful management accounting practices can be gained. This is the second speculation we intend to provoke in the debate on management accounting change. Establishing a link between How and Why management accounting practices spread across organizations, economies and societies is not without consequences. Going back to the opening quote, we could be led to believe, with the operating manager, that the decision to implement the Balanced Scorecard was taken by some senior executive on a course in a prestigious business school in the UK. That senior executive would have seen the BSC as a knowledge package easily transportable from cold Britain to hot Middle-East. If this were the case (and indeed most consulting products are underpinned by that assumption), we would see a separation between the senior executive as agent (i.e. the subject of change—the active Who on the left hand side of Fig. 1) and the management accounting technique (i.e. the object of change—the What on the right hand side of Fig. 1). Agency thus would either be in the individual or in the context as driving forces of change. However, our operating manager is smarter and thus does not buy this simple story and the whole process of management accounting change at MEGOC is more complex than a linear evolution from MEGOC ‘without’ and ‘with’ the Balanced Scorecard. We do not witness a diffusion of a given practice across space


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and time, but its translation, i.e. a process by which the aim, nature and goal of the management accounting innovations are constantly shifted, mediated and renegotiated: management accounting change always entails a difference, a movement, a variation, in the nature of what is subject to change.3 If we were to think though that this translation stopped at some point in time (even for a nanosecond, see the arguments in Quattrone and Hopper, 2006) we would be back to the issue of recognizing that we have agents separated from the object of change. Thus, linking How management accounting changes (through a process of translation) to Why this happens implies a serious ontological question which concerns how to conceptualize the nature of management accounting, i.e. What is subject to (or object of) change. Indeed, the question can be also re-phrased in this way: if the process of translation necessarily needs to be thought as continuous, thus management accounting is never stabilized, for we would otherwise fall into a reification of subjects and object of change (with a clear move towards stabilization), how can this constant movement be combined with the apparent stability of these managerial practices? Yet, assuming that management accounting innovations stabilize and gain a certain degree of functionalism would limit the possibilities for these innovations to spread and diffuse. In other words, if budgeting is seen and theoretically conceived as something related to planning and operational control it would not be used (and theorized) as something instead related to organizational politics: its possibility of spreading will be limited and we would be editing a special issue on management accounting stability rather than change (see, on this matter, Granlund, 2001). Indeed this is a theoretical conundrum for, on the one hand, Balanced Scorecard, Six-Sigma, Activity Based Costing and the alike must appear quite concrete, stable, functional and homogeneous management solutions if they manage to mobilize millions of euros, dollars, pounds, etc., and if corporations are ready to invest considerable resources in consulting to have them implemented to the joy of consulting firms. On the other hand though, research shows how these are instead so fluid, unstable and heterogeneous that it would appear miraculous to find the same management accounting technique implemented in different organizations in the same manner, with the same range of problems and implementation patterns. Furthermore, they rarely solve the problems for which they were initially mobilized. However, despite all of this, they are successful if by that one means that they manage to diffuse across the globe, industries and sectors of the economy. These questions, in our view, concern the nature of management accounting practices and systems and thus call for a reflection on their nature, i.e. their ontology.4 Rather than looking for something ‘else’, something which is contextual to the practice that is object of change or related to the action of specific individuals (certainly legitimate paths of inquiry already successfully explored), we want to reflect on a different level which may prove equally fruitful. It seems to us that in the very nature of management accounting (and of accounting tout court) there are already some elements for understanding how accounting has the tendency to become what is not (Hopwood, 1987, p. 207). This thus prompts a reflection on the What is object of change (and whether this relates in some way to the identity of those involved in the process of change, the Who; but we will debate this aspect later).

Latour defines it as follows: “A relation that does not transport causality but induces two mediators into co-existence” (2005). In accounting see the classic Robson (1991). 4 The definition of the term ‘ontology’ used in this paper is drawn from Laudan’s concept of “research tradition” (1977, pp. 78–81) and from its etymological analysis. As is widely known, the etymology of the term ‘ontology’ (Chambers, 1989) derives from the Greek on, ontos (present participle of einai, to be) and logos (discourse). Thus ontology is a discourse, a reflection on the essence of various entities with no intention of reaching a concluding point.

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This leads to the fourth point of reflection we want to offer to the reader of this paper, that is, Where and When this change happens (and who is there to observe it). The initial quote and the other illustrative anecdotes we will use from the MEGOC experience are yet again insightful. What the operating manager is telling us is that change may happen in specific spatial and temporal niches, so it may have begun somewhere but not somewhere else. It may have begun in the mind of the senior executive but not yet in the department he works in or even in the whole corporation (‘every division is a kingdom on its own’). This will lead our reflection on a methodological plane. There the matter concerns those who are observing processes of management accounting change and whether in understanding these processes it is important to observe the phenomenon or instead speculate on the theoretical development which such observation may inspires rather than drive. What we have described may be a call, we will argue, to develop an understanding of the multiplicity of the nature of management accounting systems which makes them appear always different but inevitably the same (Burns and Scapens, 2000, quoting Lanza Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard). And thus the last set of issues we will address are those of Change and Stability and how this dichotomy can be overcome, i.e. how they may coexist and thus how these categories are somewhat useless and in need of urgent replacement. Before providing a more conventional introduction to the papers in this Special Issue (see Section 7), we will debate issues of management accounting change along the lines represented in Fig. 1 (Sections 2–6). This will constitute the structure of the paper and the flow of the arguments; but we recognize that these matters are never sequential and always intrinsically related to each other. In summary, this paper has grander aims than simply introducing the contributions in this special issue. However, we only aim to provide some possible directions for systematizing issues concerning change, in general, and management accounting change, in particular, and thus our contribution to the debate is more methodological and systematic that content driven. This will hopefully help clarify the choice of the papers included in this Issue and their contribution to the understanding of the process of management accounting systems change, as well as the gaps which are left open for further research and speculation. In order to make these complex and abstract issues intelligible we have decided to use MEGOC as an illustrative case, to which we will refer throughout the reminder of the paper.

2. What and who makes change happen? Issues of agency, structure and interaction The opening quote of MEGOC’s operating manager interestingly points out one important issue in understanding management accounting change: who/what is the agent in the process? Is change prompted by a serious matter concerning his/her job and the vision of the corporation or the result of a trendy fashion which will last as long as the life of a butterfly? Is it necessitated by the implementation of a new information or cameral technology? When interpreting management accounting change, one of the key issues that scholars have to address seems to concern where to locate the agency prompting the whole process. In this respect, for instance, change factors have been identified in individuals, be these a human actor (e.g. a rational accountant who identifies a calculative issue normally addressed with ‘better’ systems, as is the case of our MEGOC operating manager or the character of Johnson and Kaplan’s plot, 1987) or a non-human actant (e.g. the irruption of a new IT system entailing a need for a new accounting system as part of a broader organizational change, cf. Granlund and Malmi, 2002). Some other works have instead sought to identify


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these prompting factors in broader contextual issues, related to certain institutional pressures, political decisions economic imperatives, and some combination of them (e.g. Hopper and Powell, 1985; Carmona et al., 1998). The irruption of Giddens’ Structuration Theory in the management accounting literature (e.g. Burns and Scapens, 2000; Busco et al., 2006; Macintosh and Scapens, 1990; Modell, 2003; Scapens, 1994) has certainly sought to overcome this dichotomy. Several works have searched for more complex interactions between management accounting systems and organizational, institutional and contextual factors. In this respect, for instance, Burns and Scapens (2000) have argued that the incomplete isomorphism between management accounting systems as rules (i.e. stable but inanimate templates) and as routines (i.e. concrete practices which evolve over time) is what enable the link between the institutional context and the realm of actions. Management accounting systems are thus, and at the same time, rules, routines and roles (i.e. the network of organizational positions) which change in the constant interaction between contextual factors and human actions (see also Busco et al., 2006; Lukka, 2007). They embed norms and institutional factors which are mediated by human actions through routines.5 Analogously, the wave of studies inspired by Actor-Network Theory (e.g. Chua, 1995; Briers and Chua, 2001; Dechow and Mouritsen, 2005; Jones and Dugdale, 2002; Robson, 1991, 1992) has been partially driven by similar desires to overcome dichotomies between structure and agency which are exemplified in Latour’s call (2005) for a ‘flat sociology’, where, in solving the problems of the social, the notion of context must be abandoned or, at least, reformulated in ‘flatter terms’. Within MEGOC, the national imperative for ‘making the company a strategy focussed organization’ (see Kaplan and Norton, 2001, 2004) was eventually translated into six imperatives to be followed by the whole corporation: (1) Transform Corporate Performance; (2) Optimize the Corporate Portfolio; (3) Maximize Revenues by Capturing Oil Growth Opportunities; (4) Protect the Future Market for Oil; (5) Leverage the Oil and Gas Resources to expand the National Economy; and (6) Prepare the Workforce for the Future. Once these were defined, several divisions and departments of MEGOC began the implementation of the BSC. Ideals such as performance, optimization, maximization and the like, are something one cannot be against (Hansen and Mouritsen, 1999) for they present an appeal which is difficult to resist and thus they do seem ‘imperatives’ no one can oppose. What makes management accounting an interesting locus to speculate on issues of agency in change processes is exemplified in the MEGOC case by the conspicuous lack of understanding and ignorance of the content, key features and function of the BSC in the company. People referred to these ideals and to the BSC without having a clear idea of what they were. Yet, the extent to which its deployment (or better the deployment of the multiple scorecards) had fostered organizational integration within MEGOC was (and still is) questionable before, during and after the implementation. Even at the end of the process of deployment, the BSC failed to achieve what it was supposed to deliver, i.e. a greater integration.
Similar problems have been addressed in the Information Systems literature where, for instance, the notion of ‘technology in practice’ (Orlikowski, 2000) has viewed technologies as enactments of given structures in order to see them not as ‘systems’ out there, i.e. external or independent of human agency, but as the result of the interaction between structure and agency, which does allow the change of the IT artifact in directions which are not predetermined. However, if “people’s situated and recurrent use of a technology simultaneously enact multiple structures along with a technology-in-practice” (Orlikowski, 2000, p. 411) then the heuristic value of the notion of ‘structure’ is questionable (cf. Thompson, 1989; Giddens, 1989) given that there are as many technologies-in-practice as people enacting the structure (as Fig. 2 in Orlikowski, 2000, suggests). A similar argument can be made for Barley and Tolbert (1997). This argument is explored in greater details in Quattrone and Hopper (2006).

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Integration, as much as the BSC, was constantly referred to and evoked but always absent, never achieved and always in the making. However, and paradoxically, this constant failure and continuous unstable situation made these ideals and the BSC ever present. The illustration which follows may clarify the point. The ability of the BSC to be present in working relationships, although being absent ‘in practice’, is well illustrated by the way in which it engaged with the Finance division of MEGOC. The BSC was generally perceived within the Finance organization as an ‘operational tool’ (“it was invented by an engineer [Kaplan], wasn’t it?” commented a management accountant), which some business lines were eventually implementing—supervised by the Corporate Planning area. Although the average awareness on the BSC features was probably higher than in other divisions, within the Finance organization it was interpreted as a non-core initiative and, most importantly, often perceived as potentially disrupting for existing working practices. Talking to Finance experts the impression was that there were more important and valuable things to care about. A senior accountant stated: “I know some business lines are implementing the Balanced Scorecard with the help of Corporate Planning or external consultants, but we do not get involved with that, we don’t even have our own scorecard at present . . . Ultimately, what is the linkage between the scorecard and the budget? I do not see it, yet. Here we do not flex the budget: once it is finalized, that’s it (!) . . . so we better concentrate on that, as well as on the accountability reviews. Indeed, you can say we focus on one perspective [financial], and we are happy to leave the other three to the rest of the company (!)”. Significantly, also the way in which MEGOC came across the BSC was an object of speculation and story telling (see the quote in the prologue). Several managers within MEGOC knew the BSC (or some BSCs) was (were) there in the organization but they could not fully explain its (their) origins, and reasons for implementation. Frequently, managers ended up discussing advantages and disadvantages of the BSC in its absence, i.e. they speculated around the ideal of ‘translating strategy into action’ but the BSC was not yet a working technology with a clear identity and features for them—although this may have already occurred within other corners of MEGOC (see Quattrone and Hopper, 2006 for a similar situation with reference to information technologies). People referred to the BSC in its absence. However, despite this hetaerae nature, its lack of clarity and (paradoxically) possibly because the whole idea was fuzzy and obscure, the BSC was able to gain organization-wide visibility by mobilizing networks of relations with users and other organizational information systems. This posits an interesting question in terms of agency for something which is perceived as potentially absent and surely obscure, something which is always different from itself when observed in different organizational settings, but manages to spread and become present. So what is the driver of change and who is eventually there to prompt and steer it? And, if the BSC is so evanescent, the questions to be asked, as is argued later in the paper, are: how and why does change happen? what is subject to it and who? and where and when does it happen? A popular quote from Latour may provide some interesting insights on these issues. He asks whether: “you can, with a straight face, [keep] . . . hitting a nail with and without a hammer, boiling water with and without a kettle, fetching provisions with or without a basket, walking in the street with and without your clothes, zapping a TV set with or without a command, slowing down a car with or without a speed-bump, keep track of your inventory without a list, run your company with or without book-keeping . . .” (2005, p. 71).


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This quote tells us a few things. The first of these is that every agent is an actor-network (see Latour, 2005) for her or his agency is diffused and not stably located in a centre from which change is thought to be prompted. The second is that the nature of what is subject of, and to, change is also diffused. If the actor is conceived as an actor-network then agency and an object’s identity do not reside either in an individual or in an object but in a chain of relations. We enter into the realm of what Law and Singleton (2005) calls a ‘semiotic ontology’ where the nature of a thing is made in nests of references, in patterns of absences and presences. Everything is much more complex than a linear view of change presupposes and implies. This view would conceive, say, MEGOC without the BSC at a certain point in time and with it at a later point in time (see Quattrone and Hopper, 2001 and Andon et al., 2007, for an extended discussion of the problematic notion of linear change), with the clear corollary that everything would be clearly identifiable: agencies, rationales for change, objects and subject of change and so forth. This point is quite fundamental with respect to a theory of change, a theoretical framework which aims to explain change rather than stability, stabilization and finite institutionalization, and it can be illustrated further with another example. Think of a criminal organization such as the Mafia (as the three authors of this paper are Italian we are possibly the only ones allowed to use this example without being criticized as politically incorrect!). If one assumes that this superstructure exists then there is little room for resistance. The matter is very simple: who resists is killed. End of story. But if one assumes that Mafia does not exist6 then change is at least thinkable. We thus face an interesting paradox: if one assumes a linear view of space and time in which change happens, for instance, as an interaction between structure (e.g. Mafia) and agency (e.g. those who fight it), then we are theorizing stability or, at best, a process of institutionalization which leads to the replication of the status quo. If one assumes that the agents and the entities subject to change are definite, there is little room for thinking about change: change, in these conditions, is not thinkable and thus it is not possible. There is no progress and only conservatism. There is no theory of change but only of stability, stabilization and equilibrium. Thus, interpreting the nature and change of management accounting cannot rely on notions of structure and agency as explaining factors because if one assumes their finite existence this only explains tendencies towards stability. Notions of structure and agency are, thus, the problems rather than the solution to problems of management accounting change: change is thinkable only if there is a gap within and between these two entities. Without gaps, without this lack of isomorphism, without some kind of contradiction (see Nor-Aziah and Scapens, 2007), without some kind of incompleteness in the interpretation of the nature of management accounting (see Quattrone, 2000, 2006) there is no room for change: change cannot even be thought. Change requires an absence, a lacuna which can be mobilized and which can mobilize. This is why, in the MEGOC case, it is not surprising that the BSC was often referred to in its absence. How and Why this happens, how it is that an absence is able to mobilize and become presence; how these absences are partially filled with meanings, rationales, agencies and so forth; is the theme of the following section where it is argued that understanding these Hows sheds new light on understanding the Whys; i.e. the rationales underpinning the diffused agency.

Indeed the etymology of the term may come from the Arab maffia, which means ‘it does not exist’. We are grateful to Rihab Khalifa for reassuring us of the etymological analysis.


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3. How and why change happens? The translation of management accounting as a communal effort In this section we want to link issues of agency in management accounting change, which were highlighted above, with those of process (discussed this section) and its nature (discussed in the next section). If agency is diffused across a nest of relationships then how change happens is probably also in need of rethinking and, arguably, rationales for management accounting change can equally be rethought as more fluid, multiple and multifaceted.7 Once again, we will use, in even greater scale, material from the MEGOC case, as this will help make these abstract claims more intelligible. As normally happens with the deployment of any managerial innovation, the implementation of BSC within MEGOC was not easy. Scepticism was mounting in some parts of MEGOC, and this suggested one of the divisions that pioneered the BSC implementation (Engineering & Operations Services—E&OS) to stimulate an internal debate on strategy by relying on the BSC jargon and metrics. In 2004, some of the key customers of the division and several delegates from other business areas and divisions of MEGOC gathered together with a large number of E&OS employees for a meeting called the Caf´ .8 Few months after the E&OS caf´ , a member of E&OS BSC team stated: e e “What we did in our 2004 caf´ was to illustrate the way in which the business line is attempting to e align its strategies and initiatives with corporate level strategic imperatives. Using the strategy map as a guide, we relied on the BSC to describe the division’s objectives and the specific initiatives that were about to be undertaken over the business plan period. The strategy map builds from our mission statement – the reason we exist as an organization – which is to add value to [MEGOC] through the innovative solutions developed by our people”. As the interview with the member of E&OS BSC team was progressing, he increasingly relied on the BSC rhetoric and visual aids to clarify his story: “as you can see [pointing at a chart on the training room—see Fig. 2], our key goal is to focus on customers needs. [. . .]. Like a good strategy for a winning soccer club, our strategy map is strong up the middle: goalie – midfielder – centre forward. Therefore we have these nine objectives [again, pointing at the chart] locked within cause and effect relationships with the aim to improve productivity and achieve ‘best-in-class’ performance. Then, there are seven more supporting objectives to achieve increased revenue growth, to protect the oil market, to optimize the Corporate portfolio, and to support the national economy. Altogether these sixteen objectives complete the high-level view of the strategy map of the division”. And again: “These are the objectives that were highlighted in the 2003 E&OS Operating Plan presentation. Horizontally the objectives are organized according to the four balanced scorecard perspectives; vertically they are organized by strategic imperatives. Like any good map, it has coordinates for both longitude and latitude (!). [. . .] Strategy begins to be effectively translated into action when
7 This will also relate to the lack of clear starting and ending points, something which relates to space and time issues as discussed in Section 6. 8 Significantly, 680 out of 8650 employees of E&OS attended the meeting. Additionally, another 230 managers and employees joined the 2004 caf´ from other business lines of MEGOC, as well as representatives from key customers of the company. e


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Fig. 2. E&OS strategy map.

every individual can identify with one or more objectives that describe his/her participation in the workplace. A deeper connection or personal line-of-sight is made when an individual shares ownership of a measure that is critical to the achievement of one of the objectives of the division”. Clearly the reference to translation in these quotes is not casual. As noted by Latour (1999), a translation always entails a change, a difference, the creation of a link which was not there before. To become something to which people can refer to, the BSC, as much as any other managerial practice, needs to offer a possibility for engagement, for becoming what is not, for being translated into something which is less alien and more familiar to the user than what it may have seemed when it made its appearance in MEGOC. Following the executive management board decision to clarify MEGOC’s strategy by releasing the six imperatives to be pursued, the number of BSC implementation teams proliferated within the organization both at the division and department level. Each team was urged to identify the mission, vision and strategic imperatives of the area, and link them with the corporate strategic direction and its six imperatives. The jargon of the BSC spread rapidly throughout the organization. Calendars, diaries, posters were some of the means used to diffuse the idea of MEGOC as a strategy-focused organization around four clear and balanced perspectives. Walking along the corridors of MEGOC it was quite common to find statements that were trying to communicate the ‘spirit’ of the BSC. The following flyer was posted in several corners of a leadership development centre: “The Balanced Scorecard will help us translate our strategic imperatives into real action. [. . .] The foundations of the scorecard are the mission, the vision and the strategies. Any participating business

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line develops a Strategy Map that describes the way in which objectives are linked in line with the strategic imperatives. It helps us understand our strategy by looking at it from four perspectives: Financial, Customer, Internal Business, and Learning and Growth. It provides a snapshot of the way in which activities are linked to and support each other. By studying this map, you will be able to identify where you fit into the company’s plan for realizing its vision”. In fact, without entering into detailed and exhaustive representations of all the possible actions and constructions that the BSC can enable, its simplicity was ‘marketed’ to offer a space to practice the technique and to make it suitable for everybody’s need. Managers at E&OS were not trying make everything clear and rigid, and they were not forcing anybody ‘to fall in love with the initiative of the month’. Rather, they were trying to engage potential future users who could eventually come to see the BSC as an opportunity for action. Thus, happenings such as the E&OS 2004 caf´ and the workshop we attended e seemed to contribute to the diffusion of the BSC in a manner which is visually and methodologically engaging (see Quattrone, 2006). In this context, it is worth mentioning the way in which the member of E&OS BSC team ended the workshop: “. . . and now it is up to you, and your department leaders to find the proper objectives and measures to make sure you can orient yourselves on the [MEGOC] strategic map, and show how you can add value along these longitude and latitude [while pointing at a chart reproduced on Fig. 3]”. What we seemed to be witnessing in this recursive process of defining mission, vision and strategy is the possibility of creating forms, links, objects and subjects of accountability. The form of the Balanced Scorecard and how it seems to be offering space and time for its utilization (the How of management

Fig. 3. MEGOC’s “road ahead to achieve a better tomorrow”


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accounting change) becomes thus intertwined with the reason it is considered suitable for each organizational unit and individual within the organization (the Why). As illustrated by Alvesson and Willmott, 2002, presenting the BSC as something which empowers offers the possibility of collectively defining the identity of each organizational unit (see also Ezzamel et al., 2004). What we have here is the BSC’s ability to enrol users because, by using the BSC, they are defining what and where they are, and what relationships they have with the other units in the organization. The BSC becomes a heuristic device; a learning machine (Hopwood, 1980) which is appropriated by managers for various reasons and aims. This introduces the following aspects we intend to speculate on in interpreting management accounting change: What and Who is subject to change?

4. What and who is changing? From an epistemological to an ontological problem of change In the MEGOC case, the BSC seems to be assuming an almost infinite set of features while failing to deliver integration and allowing each division to be a ‘kingdom on its own’. And still the BSC is out there as an apparently coherent practice which people refer to and it is able to mobilize actions, as we have already argued. Management accounting seems to be less than a real artifact (for it can theoretically assume infinite forms and never constrains entirely) but it is more than a mere social construction (for is not malleable ad infinitum and it allows things to be done in certain ways and not others). It is only in this space ‘in between’, the ‘real’ and the ‘constructed’ that a speculation on the nature of management accounting can take place. This theoretical conundrum resembles what the contributions hosted in a recent special issue of Organization (2005) had to face in theorizing ‘objects’. As Law and Singleton (2005) noted in that special issue, the strategy that scholars may follow to study the ‘strange objects’, i.e. strange artifacts which do not easily fall within standard categories, may be two-fold. On the one hand, the difficulty in understanding their nature and evolution can be attributed to the observer. In this case, the complexity of understanding the object can be termed ‘epistemological’ for the object simply means different things to different people and constitutes a means to establish communication between different communities of practices (see also Burns and Vaivio, 2001). On the other hand, scholars may follow what Law and Singleton (2005) have termed an ‘ontological strategy’, i.e. objects are complex per se not (only) because people interpret them differently. This ontological approach has been followed by a series of works in the area of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Actor-Network Theory (ANT, e.g. Dugdale, 1999; de Laet and Mol, 2000; Mol, 1999). In the case of IT, for instance, Quattrone and Hopper (2006), have addressed the question of ‘What is IT?’, by exploring how a software best seller (SAP) paradoxically established its presence in a multinational organization by being absent as working technology in that corporation. The homogeneity of this system was not the result of a process of isomorphic adherence to a template or a set of rules but it was possible thanks to the presence of a space offered by the IT system to experiment, mediate and thus attract diversity. The object assumed an identity (albeit unstable and precarious) because it attracted rather than reduced diversity and difference. IT appeared homogeneous because it was heterogeneous in nature: hence the term heteromogeneous. Similarly, within MEGOC, the BSC has established its presence organization-wide by being absent as a working technology in several divisions and departments—such as the Finance organization and others. However, despite not using the technique, the majority of the people within these areas did engage with

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the BSC, although in its absence (“Indeed, you can say we focus on one perspective [financial], and we are happy to leave the other three to the rest of the company (!)”—[as cited earlier]). Eventually, it is the simplicity entailed by the four perspectives of the BSC as well as the visual clarity of the strategy map that made such techniques performable within MEGOC. The BSC is performable not because it forces users in certain directions, but because it leaves the potential adopters free to enact the space which is offered within it (“. . . and now it is up to you, and to your department leaders to find the proper objectives and measures to make sure you can orient yourselves on the [MEGOC] strategic map, and show how you can add value along these longitude and latitude”—as cited earlier). Eventually, it could be said that despite being developed under the umbrella (and the rhetoric) of the six corporate strategic imperatives the BSC has made it possible to preserve each division of MEGOC as a ‘kingdom on its own’. Thus, the ontology of the BSC is not clearly defined, but it is multiple and multifaceted. Despite the metaphor of a map, which offers longitude and latitudes for objects to be classified univocally, the BSC does not easily fit within conventional spatiotemporal co-ordinates. For example, the BSC was able ‘to attract’ divisions such as Human Resources and Information Technology for reasons that were quite different from E&OS or other functions (including Finance, where the ‘potential’ of the BSC was re-discovered in a second stage—see the remaining paragraphs of this section). Human Resources and Information Technology were among the first divisions to pioneer the BSC within MEGOC. Managers within these two areas were attracted by the opportunity to increase their visibility within the company as human capital and Enterprise Resource Planning systems were about to acquire greater importance through the logic of the BSC. Interestingly, the rhetoric of the BSC was also used to downplay the relevance of well-established accounting-driven practices within MEGOC, such as the budget and variance analysis. The following is the remark of an IT manager responsible for a knowledge management program labelled ‘shared values’: “. . . although our crude [oil] and natural gas are invaluable assets, in today’s turbulent competitive environment, [MEGOC] must compete not only through its physical resources, but also through its intellectual and knowledge capital. Employees’ capabilities and motivation, information technology, customer relationships and quality improvements represent the main ground to improve our contribution to the Government and the community. In this context, the annual budget exercise is not sufficient anymore to manage effectively such heterogeneous resources at work. Financial metrics alone are inadequate to drive the organization when so much of the value creation comes from things other than inventory, plant or equipment. You teach us [pointing at one of the researchers conducting the interview] this has historically been the focus of companies’ financial statements, which in actual fact are not able to capture the value of intangible assets, yet”. In line with the overall call of this paper for multiplicity and fluidity, it is also interesting to link ontological issues concerning What changes to those who are involved in this change. However, this time the focus is less on the active role of the subject and more on the effects on individuals of management accounting change, i.e. a focus on Who is subject to change. This calls for a speculation on how the diffused agency and ontology of management accounting that we are debating in this paper also has an effect on people and the way in which they see themselves when in interaction with these powerful heteromogeneous objects. At the beginning of 2005, the ideal of better integration among the different divisions of MEGOC was still on top of the agenda. Interestingly, given the original hostility to the BSC in the first stages of the BSC deployment in the company, the Finance organization displayed an active role in fostering cooperation


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and knowledge sharing across the company by developing a series of workshops tailored to illustrate the importance of relying on financial metrics and on Finance experts for achieving effective organizational integration. In doing so, the Finance organization decided to open “the door to other divisions to describe the way we can add-value to [MEGOC’s] operations, and contribute to the execution of the company’s overall strategic imperatives” (Finance manager). Several managers within Finance increasingly realized that the function needed a boost to “regain relevance within the company”. We had the opportunity to attend one of these workshops where a senior management accountant opened as follows: “It is a pleasure to be here with you this morning to give you an overview of the Finance organization. Working for a big company like [MEGOC], we all get so busy in our own operations that we do not get much chance to interact with each other and learn what each of us has to offer towards the accomplishment of the company’s corporate objectives. Many thanks to the [hosting department’s] coordinators for giving us this opportunity to speak to you today. My colleagues and I will help you opening up the Finance black box, as some of you have referred to us lately . . .”. During his speech, the senior management accountant surprisingly built on the BSC language, metrics and underlying logic to describe the reasons why Finance should be perceived as ‘a crucial partner in the business’: “The vision of the Finance organization is to be recognized as a responsive and effective business partner providing innovative financial expertise with a highly skilled, strongly motivated and empowered staff . . . I want to emphasize the word partner to you here because this is how we want you to see our organization: as your business partner, providing you as well as all the other operating and support organizations within [MEGOC], with innovative financial expertise to meet your operational needs and improve the quality of your economic decisions in line with the highest ethical and legal standards and in accordance with top management’s general and specific directives. We are not able to realize this vision and partnership on our own, by implementing our own initiatives . . . This makes today’s presentation extremely important to us. If we succeed in encouraging you to call upon us for consultation, then we can truly become your business partner in achieving the corporate strategic imperatives, as well as the key objectives included in your scorecards and business plans” (senior management accounting). Interviews and observations within the Finance function provided evidence that interest was increasing in the BSC; a technique that was originally considered an ‘operational tool’ outside the scope of the Finance organization, and for this reason largely ignored. This was not the case anymore. “We are currently in the process of developing our own scorecard . . . we already started its implementation in some pilot departments within Finance”, stated a Finance manager, who then adds, “I guess it is time for us to foster processes of interactions with the other divisions, which are all placing financial objectives at the top of their scorecards and strategy maps . . .”. Finance experts perceived a growing interest in financial measures following the BSC implementation in several operating and service areas of the company, and decided to build on this increasing focus on Finance to gain new relevance (and control) by introducing a full costing system within MEGOC. The malleable BSC made malleable and permeable those who engaged with it. Thus, accountants forgot their interest in budgets, which were not even flexed, and became ‘business partners’ and ‘experts’ providing ‘innovative financial expertise’, rather than preparers of boring budget figures. They could truly only become so if another community was created, a community made of hybrids of all sorts (Caglio,

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2003; Burns and Baldvinsdottir, 2003), where it is no longer clear who is an accountant and where accounting is actually done. The authorship of the accounting is diffused as much as the ontology of management accounting, its agency and forms of translation. Interestingly, Finance experts started to sell organization-wide their closeness and centrality within the BSC, which suddenly became a key source and object of trust to rely upon to promote the regained relevance of the Finance organization (Busco et al., 2006; Seal et al., 2004; Tomkins, 2001). Such intertwined relationships between the BSC and the Finance organization were evoked as the senior management accountant addressed the workshop’s audience as follows: “In each one of your scorecards you reach a point were operational metrics get translated in financial terms. Well, we can be your partner with you there, we can build with you an all new level of cost awareness . . . We have a brand new ‘Full Cost Reporting Project’ that will improve corporate and divisional performance through higher cost awareness. Current cost sheets include NDEs (net direct expenses) and support service costs. However these do not fully reflect the true costs required for each organization to function . . . This new system will help fuel your scorecards with accurate numbers, and help a better translation of operational achievement into bottom-line results”. The sceptic accountant has become a BSC enthusiast: the work of fabricating the management accounting technique (i.e. What is subject to change) goes hand in hand with the process of constructing the identity of those who are subject and objects of these new forms of accounting and accountability.

5. When and where change happens? And who is there to observe it? Alternative forms of interpreting change Over the last two decades, as accounting began to be understood and interpreted as a situated, context-dependent practice, the management accounting literature has seen a considerable growth in both fieldwork and case studies. Motivated by the quest for rich descriptions of accounting in action (Ahrens and Dent, 1998), case studies have been portrayed as a method that offers the researcher “the possibility of understanding the nature of accounting in practice; both in terms of the techniques, procedures, and systems, etc. which are used and the way in which they are used” (Ryan et al., 2002, p. 143). It is commonly argued that extensive and longitudinal case studies enrich our understanding of the field by providing detailed accounts of the intertwined relationships between organizational contexts and the functioning of accounting (Ahrens and Dent, 1998; see also Burns and Scapens, 2000; Boudreau and Robey, 2005). Generally, this position is supported by the claim that longitudinal studies allow an understanding of the object under scrutiny to be developed – in the case of MEGOC the BSC – evolves over time. However, the epistemological implications of this claim deserve a further discussion. Although the features of the social context being studied, and its interplay with the accounting constructions, can be interpreted only in light of the specific circumstances in which they unfold through time, a longitudinal case assumes a linearity of time and evolution which, for example, was not witnessed in MEGOC. The complex and continuous intertwining of various attempts of implementing the BSC(s) suggests that this technique assumed various evolutionary stages simultaneously and not necessarily progressively. MEGOC is so vast and its networks so diverse that the BSC implementation did not necessarily follow the same pattern and pace within all the participating divisions and departments (for


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example the E&OS and the Finance divisions engaged with the BSC in quite different ways and within different intra-organizational networks). Therefore, despite the length of time spent within the organizational context researchers need to confront the impossibility of fully representing and understanding the object of their enquiry as if it was out there, evolving in front of them along a linear pattern. In the case of MEGOC, for example, the researcher who developed the case could only offer a partial testimony of the events.9 In fact, the researcher did not have access to the complete story, which was unfolding simultaneously in different corners of the company. The BSC(s) engaged differently with the various actors and centres within MEGOC, and every attempt to account for that is unavoidably a limited and partial story in time and space. Paraphrasing Mol (1999), it could be argued that the BSC represents a complex object made by “different versions, different performances, different realities that co-exist in the present” (p. 79). The BSC is constantly defined by continuous acts of engagements through which it is performed (even in its absence) in various organizational time(s)–space(s). Therefore, the object did not need to ‘evolve’ over time to change, but only required the enactment of different realities and connections with other different practices and systems at work (Law and Singleton, 2005). Within MEGOC change did not happen on a linear timeline that the researcher could monitor, but in a semantic network of relations that created multiple spaces and times whose richness is very difficult to account for (Quattrone and Hopper, 2001, 2005, 2006). We argue this has implications for the rationale of longitudinal case studies and for understanding issues of Where and When change happens. Information on the project’s length and data collected may aid others to reflect on the interpretive journey the researcher undertook and the conclusions he has achieved, but they cannot be perceived as comprehensive and wide-ranging accounts which illuminate the processes of management accounting change—specifically the processes of BSC(s) implementation within MEGOC. Definitely, the passage of time was important for the researcher to gain an understanding of a practice such as the BSC, but it did not help to interpret in full what counts as an object, as well as the BSC ability to mobilize and engage with other elements (human and non-human) of the organizational context. Similarly, a manager from one of the divisions implementing the BSC had “mixed feelings on the scorecards ability to foster integration and cooperation throughout the organization, as well as on the process through which it was deployed, cascaded down to the different departments and, eventually, linked to employees’ appraisal”. Although he claimed to “agree in principle with the idea of translating strategic imperatives into action through a balanced bunch of objectives and key indicators”, he emphasized the fact that the BSC was imposed in his department “without taking into account the existing organizational culture and working practices”. In particular, he suggested: “top management at both corporate and business line level should have built the business case for such an important process of change that affects performance measurement systems throughout the division. They should have better described to the employees how things will look after the implementation and, eventually, they should have fostered support and commitment for change through effective communication and healthy dialogue within the division . . . Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and the process slows down . . . Dealing with resistance to change represents fifty per cent of my time as a team member for the scorecard implementation in my department.

As suggested earlier, the insights from the MEGOC case are based on a study conducted by one of the authors.

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[. . .] Regrettably, not all managers within the division understand that resistance is a natural force that people use to maintain and stabilize any system they are working with, and the scorecard gets sometimes trapped in such a lack of leadership”. Translating strategy into action, making companies strategy focussed and enabling alignment and integration are outcomes that the BSC promises to deliver (Kaplan and Norton, 2001). Whether the BSC implementation succeeded to do this in MEGOC was questionable, as well as When and Where this happened. The BSC was received unfavourably in some sections of MEGOC, but more favourably in some others. This was due to a variety of reasons ranging from a lack of clarity about the reasons for its introduction (“because someone on the Board has fallen in love with the flavour of the month during a training course in London”—as cited earlier), to a failure to engage with well established accounting practices, which eventually stimulated resistance within the Finance organization. Paradoxically, instead of integrating the company, the BSC was contributing to reinforce existing boundaries. Ironically, the initial successful implementation of the BSC in some corners of the organization increased the disappointment of those managers who talked about it, without being part of the BSC deployment, yet. The different business lines of MEGOC had the autonomy to decide whether implementing (or not) the scorecards in order to better align with the company’s overall strategic imperatives. The map was there (see Fig. 3), awaiting to be ‘performed’ and not simply followed. Eventually, divisions took different routes to practice the BSC. Some business lines decided to take a bottom–up approach by first piloting the BSC implementation in specific departments. In one such case, shop floor employees were deeply engaged with the new technique at work, and they were soon familiar with its logic and jargon. Such a bottom–up process of implementation favoured the creation of a sense of ownership and identification among the employees, as well as enabling it to reduce potential episodes of resistance. As claimed by a departmental BSC team member: “We started by brain-storming what we felt were the key objectives to be accomplished by the department. That was a very useful exercise that allowed us to think about and, sometimes, re-think the reasons why we were performing certain activities . . . [to understand] the need to operationalise the suggested objectives, to identify the key performance indicators and to measure them. Financial and non-financial measures helped us to quantify the statements that define the objectives and allowed a better process of communication and identification by the potential owners of those metrics. Then targets were identified according to our perception of the successful levels of performance to be achieved, and potential initiatives were discussed across the department . . . I must be honest and say that we strongly felt ownership and responsibility for the implementation of the scorecard, which today gives us a sense of pride and distinctiveness – it is truly seen as our own baby . . .”. Clearly, When and Where the BSC was taking shape was not easy to follow for either the researcher or the practitioner. Understanding how and why the BSC could mobilize potential users and how they could engage with it was not immediate. It took some time for the researcher as much as for the practitioners to understand that the BSC was not out there to do things, but offered a space and a time for change to happen.


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6. Change and/or stability? The heteromogeneity of management accounting practices Conceptualizing ‘change’ and/or ‘stability’ requires theorizing the nature of the ‘object’ that changes. Therefore, to interpret how management accounting (if not accounting tout-court) changes, we shall first discuss the nature of management accounting practices, i.e. their ontology. This is particularly interesting especially after the irruption of accounting studies drawing on various forms of post-structuralism which have questioned simplistic views of change and their current difficulties in theorizing at the same time the malleability of practices and their immutability and sameness (see Thrift, 2004). Consequently, the challenging issue now relates, not necessarily to the need for reconceptualizing change, but to how to link these non-linear views of change with a new view of the object that is subject to change which is, in the specific case, management accounting. In this respect management accounting practices can be interpreted as ‘objects’ that can extend and mobilize networks of relations with users and other organizational information systems to construct organization-wide visibility. Interestingly, the literature that relies upon Giddens’ Structuration Theory is sensitive to the temporal problem of change. As claimed by Orlikowski with respect to information technologies, they are “never fully stabilized or ‘complete’, even though we may choose to treat them as fixed, black boxes for a period of time. By temporarily bracketing the dynamic nature of technology, we assign a ‘stabilized for now’ status (Shryrer, 1993)” (Orlikowski, 2000, p. 411). This permits studies using Structuration Theory to accord time a central role, whereby interactions between structure and action follow a linear and recursive path in a progressive and ordered manner so that researchers are eventually able to account for situations at time2 that always follow events at time1 (see DeSanctis and Poole, 1994; Orlikowski, 1996; Orlikowski and Yates, 2002). However, how can we assume the stability of a practice (even for a limited period of time) without reifying the practice itself and limiting enactment possibilities? Management accounting practices are not necessarily a single, stable entity at a point of time, and change and stability seem to co-exist in forms, relations and within spatiotemporal frames which are still to be deciphered (cf. Granlund, 2001; Burns and Scapens, 2000). For example, as illustrated earlier, the BSC did not smoothly evolve over time (or space) but acquired different forms simultaneously in different parts of MEGOC. Moreover, BSC’s emergence as a working practice relied on human enactments and non-human praxis involving strategy maps drawing, cost calculations, physical measurement, and management controls. The perspective offered in this paper attempts to reconcile the apparent homogeneity of management accounting practices (such as the BSC) with the heterogeneity of their use, by recognizing that these practices are amenable to be flexible and malleable. Objects like the BSC can possess diversity and heterogeneity while being a homogeneous and operative technology. Management accounting (in this case, the BSC) appears homogeneous for it attracts and generates heterogeneous uses: its homogeneous nature is intrinsically linked to the heterogeneous nature of those (things and humans) that are attracted by it. As we noted earlier, within MEGOC the BSC can be theorized as an absence which establishes a presence by mobilizing and attracting other actors and technologies. In this respect the BSC seeks visibility in organizations as it emerges from multiple and continuous translations. Thus, the definition of a BSC is neither stable nor singular across MEGOC’s time(s) and space(s), and this enables this management accounting practice to drift across the different divisions and departments. Management accounting techniques can be interpreted as ‘objects’, which maintain their homogeneity despite and thanks to their heterogeneous use. Management accounting (the BSC, in this case) is thus

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an ‘heteromogeneous object’ (Quattrone and Hopper, 2006) whose ontology can be understood only by exploring how it is materialized in real or virtual forms, the way in which it relies on image or visual representation to organize thinking and actions, how it appeals to the potential users by remaining at a very superficial level of abstract principles and linear visual forms, as well as its ability to become a working space and time, which is offered to the users to perform and enact (see Ezzamel et al., 2004; Quattrone, 2006). One of the features of the BSC within MEGOC was to embody and communicate issues of integration and strategy execution in manners which are visually and methodologically engaging, without entering in too detailed and exhaustive representations of all the possible actions. The simplicity of the map described by E&OS managers during the workshop offered potential space(s) and time(s) to perform actions, to practice the BSC and make it work. Conversely, an attempt which would try to tell it all would not spread as it would not be translatable and thinkable at the ‘eventual’ level of the practice (Johns, 1998); i.e. it would not engage the prospective user who could see a space and opportunity for action. Thus, it is the simplicity entailed by the method and its visual clarity which make management accounting tools performable. Paradoxically, the BSC(s) are performable not because they force users to follow certain directives, but because they leave users free to enact that space which is offered by the technique. Within MEGOC the BSC thus became objectified, not because it is made of inscriptions which make it an immutable mobile (as early studies in ANT would have argued), but because it attracts a heterogeneity of users. This is why management accounting can be interpreted as a heteromogeneous object; i.e. an object which appears homogeneous and spreads across the organization, not because it is fixed and immutable, but because it attracts diversity and heterogeneity. The combination of the linearity exemplified by the visual schematization of the content of the technique and its simplicity ignite a process of reference to such a technique (Quattrone, 2006). In other words, one needs to understand what makes an abstract set of inanimate scripts a practice (see also Ezzamel et al., 2004; Chenhall and Euske, in press), something which can be performed. This is what has happened in MEGOC where multiple BSC(s) and different strategy maps mushroomed in several organizational-wide networks under the ideal of integrating the company along six strategic imperatives and four balanced perspectives of analysis. “I don’t see why we should engage with Finance on our own scorecard . . . at present we feel we are in control of the metrics and numbers we developed and we do not want to argue, mediate or simply justify to others what we do around here . . . We have built a solid team here: our employees identify with our strategy, at corporate planning they have learnt to appreciate our skills and initiatives and, finally, these guys [pointing at two members of the internal consulting organization] now feel at home within our premises . . .” (BSC team member). The extent to which BSC (or better the multiple scorecards) deployment has fostered processes of integration within MEGOC is currently debated within the organization. When asked, organizational members interpreted the results of the BSC implementation differently. For example, managers in the E&OS division celebrate the existence a new organizational map defined vertically by the company strategic imperatives and horizontally by the four balanced scorecard perspectives. Nevertheless, “longitude and latitude coordinates are useless if employees are suddenly placed in the middle of the desert and they are not told how to use the compass (!)” claimed a BSC team member from one of the divisions implementing the BSC. He was complaining that the BSC implementation lacked direction and support at the shop floor, “where the objectives of the scorecard were struggling to be translated into measures that make sense to everybody”.


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Among those people who appreciated the outcomes achieved by the BSC implementation in MEGOC, one of the most frequent comments was that “the scorecards were smoothly rolled out in all seven business lines of the company” (operations manager). In so doing, “it was unquestionably fostering processes of integration and knowledge sharing across the organization” (E&OS BSC team member). This was the case in the Finance organization that lately assumed the language, metrics and underlying logic of the BSC to ‘market’ itself as a crucial partner in the business and to promote a brand new full cost methodology. In spite of that, other participants suggested that the BSC was creating further boundaries and separation among MEGOC’s business lines, which were focussing on their own objectives and measures, and pursuing their own initiatives. Interestingly, a BSC team member of one of the MEGOC’s divisions highlighted the absence of a corporate scorecard: “with seven different divisional scorecards at work, and no corporate-wide scorecard in place, it is like playing the same sport but in different leagues . . . everybody wins, every business line is allowed to take its own actions and initiatives in light of the objectives to be achieved . . . Sometime I feel we miss the overall picture, and the six corporate [strategic] imperatives are not enough in this respect”. The absence of a corporate template is what allowed the BSC to persist as a practice which could be used in MEOC. If it had been implemented according to rigid guidelines, resistance would probably have stopped its deployment. Much better to leave it malleable, as this allows a nice and smooth combination of change and stability.

7. The papers in this Special Issue This Second Special Issue of Management Accounting Research on Management Accounting Change comprises five papers, which all, directly or indirectly, touch on the issues that we have addressed in this paper and represented in Fig. 1. The first three papers in the sequence all relate their analyses to new institutional sociology which has been largely utilized in the management accounting literature on change. The paper by Ezzamel, Robson, Stapleton and McLean addresses issues of change by looking at accounting reforms in the UK school sector. In their paper, the notion of accountability as an institution is seen as the medium and the outcome of processes of accounting change. They analyse the interplay between rational and legitimate notions of accountability, implied by the legal reforms of UK schools, and those ‘folk’ notions of accountability, implied by the local professional norms and routines, which had kept participants accountable until the emergence of the new accountability regime. Ezzamel et al. (2007) are concerned with the matter of assessing whether rational forms of accountability travel untouched and unchallenged from the reform discourse to the field of school education or instead are mediated by, and mediate, taken for granted accountability practices currently in operation in the organizational setting. The authors utilize the notion (and practices) of accountability as a locus where global tendencies towards homogeneization clash and/or intertwine with local and tacit forms of ‘giving accounts’. Their findings are that organizational actors operate under different institutional realms ranging from being accountable only to the ‘folk’ and local professional accountability, to virtually all of these sources of accountability, including the new societal demand for being financial efficient. Interestingly though, forms of financial

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accountability seem to be more pervasive than folk and local ones so that even these can no longer be articulated if not in the numerary and monetary terms pertinent to the dominant discourse of efficiency and value for money. This clearly entails the problem of understanding how some management accounting techniques, discourses and rationalities are seen as more valid than others even in (local) contexts where a strong (although ‘folk’) notion of accountability already exists. The paper also calls for a deeper understanding of how and why quantitative notions of accountability, i.e. accountabilities which are translated into numerical metrics, win over qualitative ones which do not translate so easily into monetary terms. Similar concerns and approach are offered in the paper by Dambrin, Lambert and Sponem, which also looks at management accounting change utilizing a New Institutional Sociology perspective in order to restate the need to move away from a functionalist perspective which views change as the result of some economic imperative. Drawing on the findings of Hasselbladh and Kallinikos (2000) they reflect on the explanatory power of the notion of decoupling to illustrate how processes of institutionalization are never linear, with precise outcomes. They address this issue in the context of a firm operating in the pharmaceutical context where, they note, management accounting systems play a dual role in the process of change. On one hand, management accounting is the target of change, in line with a new institutional approach, for it is utilized to provide organizations with an aura of efficiency and rationality which can legitimise them in the organizational field in which they operate. On the other, though, management accounting is also a vector of change. The authors thus offer a reflection on the notion of decoupling and how change can actually be implemented, rejected or decoupled through the practices currently in place in the organization. The ideals driving change can generate new ones and consequently the process of change is never linear, functional or predetermined, but untidy: how changes are internalized across the organization can vary and assume different forms. Change can be slowly implemented, rejected or ceremonially accepted depending on the element of the management control system which is having an effect on the organizational actors. Key in this process is the ambiguity (rather than the clarity) of the ideal driving change. The paper by Nor-Aziah and Scapens also reflects on the notion of loose coupling in the context of the corporatization of a Malaysian public utility. The study is concerned with understanding how and whether general calls for greater efficiency are translated into daily accounting practices or become instead loosely coupled from these general calls. They reflect on the notion of loose coupling, highlighting how loosely coupled budgets were not simply an automatic response to institutional forces driving accounting change. It was instead the result of institutional contradictions which percolated into budgets making them a source of tension and conflict between operation managers and accountants, and thus loosely coupled. Institutional contradictions, power and trust relations, and issues of resistance help to shift the focus of new institutional approaches: from the context to the individual as agents of institutional change. Yet, loose coupling facilitates a combination of change and stability in the organization and thus permits the stable provision of the public service offered by the public utility. It limits the effects on the organization of external factors calling for a restructuration of management accounting and organizational routines. The other two papers in the Special Issue follow different theoretical routes, but are still closely related to issues of stability and change, agency, process of change and its impact on organizational relationships, and management accounting itself. The paper by Thrane explores how the notion of organizational systems needs to be rethought in light of different forms of organizing, self-organizing and contribution of the literature on management accounting change. The occasion for this exploration is given by the study of a network of indepen-


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dent Danish consultants who collaborate to boost their own business by combining a series of actions which are both competitive and cooperative. In this network, managerial accounting techniques, such as transfer pricing, act as a source of instability and create unintended organizational outcomes. For Thrane change happens in systems which are not linear, but dynamic and multidimensional. However, change is not entirely free—but instead, it is dependent on the presence of path dependences and the influence (although unintended) of certain points of attraction which directs change. Differently from conventional approaches to change in management accounting and control, which view change as occurring within a specified organizational space (be this designed by a hierarchical organization, a market arrangement, or a more socially constructed notion of trust), the paper seeks to understand how management control is part of the processes of change, but in ways which are unpredictable, though still dependent on the self-organizing paths emerging in the interorganizational network which establishes a ‘networklogic’. The final paper is by Andon, Baxter and Chua10 who reflect on the notion of accounting change and develop the concept of ‘relational drift’. This notion conveys the idea that management accounting change work is always messy as it results from the negotiation and conditioning exerted by a series of collectives and actants which embrace a vast array of elements and connections (see Fig. 2 in their paper). They looked at the implementation of a new BSC in an Australasian telecommunication organization, and used this case to theorize the experimental nature of management accounting and to interpret change neither as a predetermined movement nor as free floating in a vacuum. Instead change is bound to ties such as technologies and various inscriptions which help the past, present and future interpretations of organizational worlds to emerge. Furthermore, given the intrinsically open and performative nature of the concept of relational drift, the paper calls for further reflection on the nature of management accounting as a knowledge object which seems to be always in the making. This, in turn, calls for a new conceptualization of the multiple ontologies which management accounting assumes in the experimental and relational nature of drift. As the reader will appreciate the study of management accounting change is an interesting locus for experimenting the theoretical advancement of our understanding of accounting as a practice which spans across several realms, from the social to the political via the economic, in forms which are still unclear. What we have sought to illustrate with this paper and the others hosted in this Special Issue also seeks to go beyond accounting. Management accounting change is a theoretical space which, possibly more than many others in management and organizational studies, intersects and interacts with the broader knowledge area of the social sciences, sociology and philosophy of knowledge and science and technology studies. Theorizing change, accounting and the alike is not a matter which can be confined to accounting and economics as disciplines conventionally conceived. It requires the understanding of ontological and methodological issue which require a tool box much greater and diverse than what accounting researchers seem to have used so far. Management accounting change is a laboratory, a theoretical puzzle the solution of which is difficult because there will always be a missing piece which will allow the continuous work around the composition of the picture. Management accounting change is possible because of this incompleteness which makes it an interesting exercise to perform.
10 The paper by Paul Andon, Jane Baxter, and Wai Fong Chua was not originally submitted to this Special Issue and was accepted independently by the Journal. We have included it with the consent of the authors whose patience in waiting for the completion of the refereeing process of the other papers is greatly appreciated.

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Acknowledgments We are grateful to Robert Scapens for his comments on earlier drafts of this paper and to MEGOC’s managers who have collaborated to the case study. The usual disclaimers apply. References
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