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The influence of directive explanations on users’ business process compliance performance

Frank Hadasch (Institute of Enterprise Systems, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany)
Alexander Maedche (Institute of Enterprise Systems, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany)
Shirley Gregor (ANU College of Business and Economics, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)

Business Process Management Journal

ISSN: 1463-7154

Article publication date: 6 June 2016




In organizations, individual user’s compliance with business processes is important from a regulatory and efficiency point of view. The restriction of users’ choices by implementing a restrictive information system is a typical approach in many organizations. However, restrictions and mandated compliance may affect employees’ performance negatively. Especially when users need a certain degree of flexibility in completing their work activity. The purpose of this paper is to introduce the concept of directive explanations (DEs). DEs provide context-dependent feedback to users, but do not force users to comply.


The experimental study used in this paper aims at investigating how DEs influence users’ process compliance. The authors used a laboratory experiment to test the proposed hypotheses. Every participant underwent four trials for which business process compliance was measured. Two trial blocks were used to cluster the four trials. Diagrammatic DEs were provided in one of the trial blocks, while textual DEs were provided in the other. Trial blocks were counterbalanced.


The results of the experiment show that DEs influence a user’s compliance, but the effect varies for different types of DEs. The authors believe this study is significant as it empirically examines design characteristics of explanations from knowledge-based systems in the context of business processes.

Research limitations/implications

This study is certainly not without limitations. The sample used for this study was drawn from undergraduate information systems management students. The sample is thus not representative of the general population of organizations’ IT users. However, a student sample adequately represents novice IT users, who are not very familiar with a business process. They are particularly suitable to study how users react to first-time contact with a DE.

Practical implications

The findings of this study are important to designers and implementers of systems that guide users to follow business processes. As the authors have illustrated with a real-world scenario, an ERP system’s explanation can lack details on how a user can resolve a blocked activity. In situations in which users bypass restricted systems, DEs can guide them to comply with a business process. Particularly diagrammatic explanations, which depict actors, activities, and constraints for a business process, have been found to increase the probability that users’ behavior is business process compliant. Less time may be needed to resolve a situation, which can result in very efficient user-system cooperation.


This study makes several important contributions to research on explanations, which are provided by knowledge-based systems. First, the authors conceptualized, designed, and investigated a novel type of explanations, namely, DEs. The results of this study show how dramatic the difference in process compliance performance is when exposed to certain types of DEs (in one group from 57 percent on the initial trial to 82 percent on the fourth trial). This insight is important to derive design guidelines for DE, particularly when multimedia material is used.



Hadasch, F., Maedche, A. and Gregor, S. (2016), "The influence of directive explanations on users’ business process compliance performance", Business Process Management Journal, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 458-483.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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