How management control systems enable and constrain integrated thinking

Dimes, Ruth and de Villiers, Charl (2021). How management control systems enable and constrain integrated thinking. Meditari Accountancy Research, 29(4) pp. 851–872.



Purpose This paper aims to examine how management control systems (MCS) can enable and constrain the successful adoption of integrated thinking in an organisation.
Design/methodology/approach The study adopts a case study approach, involving in-depth interviews and documentary evidence.
Findings The case study organisation perceived trust to be critical to the successful adoption of integrated thinking, and informal social controls with strong endorsement from senior management frequently substituted for more formal technical controls in helping to develop a trust-based organisational culture. These cultural changes improved collaboration and brought economic benefits by encouraging outcome-based decision-making rather than capital-based decision-making, thereby enabling employees to identify and address poorly performing projects earlier. However, established performance measurement systems geared towards reporting and rewarding accounting profits created tension, constraining the potential benefits of integrated thinking by reinforcing business unit protectionism.
Practical implications Integrated thinking can be seen as a form of management with the potential to improve organisational outcomes. An improved understanding of factors that might enable or constrain integrated thinking could facilitate its spread.
Originality/value Despite several calls for research on the practical implementation of integrated thinking, this has not been studied extensively. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is one of the firsts to contribute to a better understanding of the role of MCS in the successful implementation of integrated thinking in an organisation. The study also contributes to the MCS literature.

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