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People in suits: a case study of empowerment and control in a non-profit UK organisation

Roxana Corduneanu (Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK)
Laura Lebec (Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

ISSN: 1096-3367

Article publication date: 2 July 2020

Issue publication date: 13 October 2020




Drawing on Simons's levers of control (LoC) framework, the primary aim of this study is to advance an understanding of the balance between empowerment and constraint in a non-profit UK organisation. In particular, this study examines the antecedents and manifestations of LoC (im)balance, in relation to employees' level of engagement with the control systems in place.


For this study, 27 semi-structured interviews were conducted with different organisational members, from directors to non-managerial staff, to gain an in-depth appreciation of the main differences between managerial intentions in the design of management control systems (MCS) and employee perceptions regarding the role of such systems.


This research reveals that suppression of interactive systems and internal inconsistencies between different types of controls hinder the balance between empowerment and constraint. This imbalance is then found to have important consequences for employee buy-in, in some cases, defeating the purposes of control.

Research limitations/implications

This study enhances our understanding of the gap between the design of control systems and the employee perceptions of it in an unusual organisational setting (non-profit and bringing together clinical and non-clinical staff and operations).


The study of MCS and its role in organisations has long been the focus of both academic and practitioner research. Yet, while extant literature focused on management's perspective on MCS, few studies have explored employees' attitudes and behaviours that accompany the implementation of control. What is more, little is known about the specific uses and behavioural outcomes of MCS in the context of non-profit organisations. Drawing on Simons's LoC framework, this paper addresses these gaps in the literature and investigates the balance between control and empowerment of employees in a UK non-profit organisation with significant clinical remit.



We are very grateful to Dr Adina Dudau for her insightful comments and continuous support with this project. We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions, which have significantly improved the quality of this paper.


Corduneanu, R. and Lebec, L. (2020), "People in suits: a case study of empowerment and control in a non-profit UK organisation", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 511-528.



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