Management accounting systems and organisational culture

Cristiano Busco (Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA and University of Siena, Siena, Italy)
Robert W. Scapens (University of Manchester, Manchester, UK and University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Publication date: 22 November 2011



The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature, roles and dynamics of change of management accounting systems (MAS), in processes of continuous organisational learning and transformation. By studying the interaction between the accounting (and finance) function and the implementation of a Six‐sigma initiative, as the engine for organisational change, the authors seek to uncover the potential of measurement‐based systems of management for aligning business processes with corporate strategies. Such systems sustain continuous processes of transformation by infusing organisational culture with financial and non‐financial metrics of accountability.


The research is based on a longitudinal case study in which one of the authors had the opportunity to exercise what Schein called the clinical perspective; i.e. combining the role of researcher with that of helper‐consultant. There is mutual interdependence in the relationship between the authors' theoretical framework and the authors' longitudinal case study. While, on the one hand, the case research contributed to the search for an institutional explanation of the evidence experienced and collected, on the other hand, the empirical data are illuminated by the theoretical insights gained from that framework.


After first discussing cultural change, the authors rely both on the “clinical” position of one of the authors as researcher/helper‐consultant and on the insights provided by Schein's work on organisational culture and Giddens' structuration theory to develop an institutional framework for interpreting the ways in which routinised systems of accountability bind the ongoing processes of cultural transformation across time and space.

Research limitations/implications

Possible limitations are: the conceptualisation of organisational culture as a shared and institutional phenomenon does not take account of wider anthropological aspects (such as the influence of national culture); the role of helper‐consultant as well as researcher may have influenced some of the authors' interpretations; the authors' analysis does not consider macro‐economic variables; and only a small percentage of shop‐floor workers were interviewed.


The paper sheds light on the role of management accounting within organisational processes of transformation far beyond their mere visible enactment. As a result, the authors develop an institutional framework to interpret the linkages between the cognitive dynamics which characterise organisational culture (viewed as shared cognitive schemas) and the behavioural and structural modalities through which they are drawn upon and reproduced by organisational members.



Busco, C. and Scapens, R. (2011), "Management accounting systems and organisational culture", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 320-357.

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