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What qualitative research can tell us about performance management systems

Bruno Cohanier (Accounting Control Law Department, Neoma Business School, Mont Saint Aignan, France)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Article publication date: 11 November 2014




This paper aims to focus on the use of qualitative research methods to gain a better understanding of the performance management system (PMS) of one of the largest retailers in North America. The motivation for the research was to assess whether the PMS at one of the world’s largest retail companies was congruent with the most recent thinking and research in the management accounting literature.


Using open-ended interviews, the paper seeks to develop relevant hypotheses emerging from the dimensions of the Strauss and Corbin’s qualitative research methodology (1998). A qualitative methodology was used because it provides a structured approach and analytical techniques that can build upon existing theory and literature.


The qualitative evidence collected during the course of the research indicates that financial measures were predominantly used by the company in its PMS, and that this reliance on financial measures may be an artifact of the industry in which the company operates. The retail industry is highly competitive, and it is very sensitive to changes in customer tastes and behavior, as well as shareholder and financial market pressures. In addition to financial measures, it was found that operational management developed certain non-financial performance measures and that this development may have been a response by operational managers to wider stakeholder pressures and external influences. However, these performance measures appear to be not fully integrated in the PMS and are therefore de-coupled and relatively unimportant in, or entirely absent from, top-level decision-making.

Research limitations and implications

The conclusions of the paper provide support for the concepts of isomorphism and de-coupling as found in the literature of new institutional theory.


The case study approach has enabled to explore and gain further understanding of management accounting practices, particularly performance measurement and management, in their natural setting. Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) grounded theory methodology was adopted because it provides a structured set of analytical steps and systematic analytical techniques for handling and interpreting data and theory building.



Cohanier, B. (2014), "What qualitative research can tell us about performance management systems", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 380-415.



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