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Exploring the transformative potential of management control systems in organisational change towards sustainability

Venkateshwaran Narayanan (RMIT University City Campus, Melbourne, Australia)
Gordon Boyce (La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 12 June 2019

Issue publication date: 8 August 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of management control systems (MCS) in organisational change towards sustainability. In particular, it examines the extent to which MCS may be instrumental in transformative organisational change in this sphere.


Through an in-depth case study of an Australian multinational corporation in the property sector, this paper explores the possibilities for MCS to influence organisational change towards a multi-bottom-line, balanced approach to social and environmental challenges facing corporations. MCS are conceptualised using Simons’ (1995) Levers of Control framework. On the question of sustainability, the approach adopted in this paper contrasts with much of the prior literature that largely takes a predominantly pragmatist approach and equates sustainability performance with financial performance. The prior literature generally reports a positive role for MCS in organisational change efforts. By contrast, drawing on the typology developed by Hopwood et al. (2005), this paper views sustainability as requiring a balancing of economic, social and environmental concerns.


The findings indicate that although MCS are not irrelevant, they do not play a transformative role in enabling deep-seated organisational change towards sustainability. The critical literature on the nature of MCS is drawn upon to explore the reasons for the observed non-role.


The analysis sheds light on factors that may influence the effectiveness of conventional notions of MCS in organisational change. The findings contribute to the debate regarding the suitability of continued efforts at using conventional notions of management accounting and MCS in enabling organisational change towards greater social and environmental sustainability. The paper also highlights the value of a critical examination of the usefulness of management accounting and control practices in the context of organisational change towards sustainability.



Narayanan, V. and Boyce, G. (2019), "Exploring the transformative potential of management control systems in organisational change towards sustainability", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 1210-1239.



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