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The tension between intention and attention: Dialectic changes in the coercive and enabling orientations of organizational rules

June Borge Doornich (Business School, Nord University, Bodø, Norway)
Katarina Kaarbøe (Department of Accounting, Auditing and Law, Norwegian School of Economics, Bergen, Norway)
Anatoli Bourmistrov (Business School, Nord University, Bodø, Norway)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Article publication date: 29 July 2019

Issue publication date: 16 August 2019

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to explore how changes in the coercive and enabling orientations of the organizational rule system influence the attention managers pay to rules.

Design/methodology/approach

The findings of a case study covering a multinational energy company, which are interpreted based on insights from the coercive/enabling bureaucracy literature and the evolution of rules literature, help explain how rules can direct attention.

Findings

The findings suggest that the tensions between corporate management’s intentions for an organization’s rule system and the attention middle (country) managers pay to those rules were the main driver of dialectic changes in the rule system. The more coercive the rule system became, the more middle managers diverted their attention away from rule compliance. The paper shows how the dialect change process constituted a dynamic interaction between mindful “rule setters” and mindful “rule followers.” The alignment between intentions and attention was reestablished by better balancing the coercive and enabling orientations of the rule system: enabling better flexibility, enhancing internal transparency based on local business logic and improving global transparency through closer alignment of local and global growth and efficiency goals. Surprisingly, the repair characteristic was not as important.

Originality/value

The findings contribute to the literature by showing how the enabling and coercive characteristics of an organizational rule system constitute managerial attention artifacts. The paper demonstrates how tensions between corporate intentions and local contingencies in the context of global organizations can lead to constrictive change and create a win-win situation for both central and local actors by better balancing the coercive and enabling orientations of the rule system. It also offers new insights into the dialectic change process in an organization’s rule system based on attention view toward organizational rules.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

We grateful acknowledge all the company employees and managers who aided this research. We are also grateful for funding from Equinor. The funding has been provided on an unconditional basis and without any specification regarding how the funds should be used. Finally, we are very thankful to two anonymous reviewers as well as the editors of this special issue, Sophie Tessier and Erik Strauss for their valuable and important comments, which improved the quality of the manuscript.

Citation

Doornich, J.B., Kaarbøe, K. and Bourmistrov, A. (2019), "The tension between intention and attention: Dialectic changes in the coercive and enabling orientations of organizational rules", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 197-223. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRAM-06-2017-0056

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited