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Tensions in managerial attention in a company in crisis: How tightening budget control resulted in discomfort zones for line managers

Anatoli Bourmistrov (Nord University, Bodø, Norway)
Katarina Kaarbøe (Norwegian School of Economics, NHH, Bergen, Norway)

Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change

ISSN: 1832-5912

Article publication date: 5 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to understand how in a situation of a crisis can Management Accounting Systems (MAS) create tensions in attention to information between top and line managers.


The study is based on a field study.


The findings based on an attention-based view on organizations demonstrate how change to an MAS introduced to handle the crisis failed to integrate top and line managers’ attention toward the common issues. Tightening of budget control was an expected response in such a situation. However, this change produced rather the opposite result – attention to information articulated by the top and line managers became even more disintegrated. This was visible in terms of different interpretations of both the reasons and the strategy of how to get out of the crisis – this is what we call a tension in attention.

Research limitations/implications

The study is subject to the usual limitations of case-based research.

Practical implications

Implications from the study is that there is a need for caution about how managers move in the beginning of the crisis because the initial response sets a tone and trajectory of the crisis. In practice, this means that sense making processes are important in an early stage of a crisis to avoid tensions in attention between different groups in the organization.


The authors argued that little research has been conducted so far regarding what information managers focus their attention on in organizations under financial distress conditions. The originality is the use of an attention-based view together with organizational psychology to understand this area.



The authors gratefully acknowledge all the respondents at TelCo who aided this research. They would especially like to thank controller Silje Therese Gabrielsen and Line Jeanette Jelstad at TelCo for access to and facilitation of the data collection process. The authors would also like to thank the BB research group and the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting Conference in July 8-10, 2015 in Stockholm. They are also grateful for funding from Statoil. The funding has been provided on an unconditional basis and without any specification regarding how the funds should be used. The authors show gratitude to Janet Iversen Consulting for providing them with language help. Finally, they are very thankful to two anonymous reviewers as well as a journal editor for their valuable and important comments, which improved the quality of the manuscript.


Bourmistrov, A. and Kaarbøe, K. (2017), "Tensions in managerial attention in a company in crisis: How tightening budget control resulted in discomfort zones for line managers", Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 239-261.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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