The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of employee empowerment, and the implications for management control systems (MCS), as the style of management changes from a hierarchical, top‐down, style to a more lateral, bottom‐up, orientation, in which workers assume greater responsibility for situated decision‐making and self‐monitoring.
A longitudinal, multiple method, case study explores how empowerment is both understood and applied by management and workers. Simons “Levers of Control” framework is employed as a sensitising device to understand the implications for MCS.
The transformation strategy is largely successful in changing the long‐standing, bureaucratic, public‐sector culture, to a more devolved style in which challenge and participation is encouraged, although actual adoption patterns are uneven and developments are not always linear. By the end of the study period, there is a move back towards centralised control but, significantly, the study is able to confirm Simons' argument that the use of an appropriate mix of levers in a “loose‐tight” manner can still promote empowered working.
The field work consists of a single case, albeit this is a large company with a number of autonomous units and, over time, each developed its own style of management control. At times, it is difficult to establish clear linkages between the empowerment initiative, operational management, actual performance and the MCS due to numerous contextual factors, hence the longitudinal nature of the project.
Whilst practitioner literature has made copious exhortations to empower workers, there is little empirical work on the practical application of empowerment, or the implications for MCS in the longer term. This paper finds that empowerment can, despite some academic reservations, have an honest purpose and indeed outlive its otherwise faddish tendencies.
Herbert, I. (2009), "Business transformation through empowerment and the implications for management control systems", Journal of Human Resource Costing & Accounting, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 221-244. https://doi.org/10.1108/14013380910995511Download as .RIS
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