An Organizational Learning Approach to Process Innovations: The Extent and Scope of Diffusion and Adoption in Management Accounting Systems: Volume 24

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Table of contents

(18 chapters)

Seleshi Sisaye is Professor of Accounting at the Palumbo-Donahue School of Business, Duquesne University. His research interests are in organizational sociology, management control systems, process innovations, sustainable development, and reporting. His publications have appeared in accounting, management, sociology, and international development journals. He has assumed leadership positions within the Accounting, Behaviour and Organization Sections of the American Accounting Association. He holds two PhDs in Development Sociology from Cornell University and Accounting from the University of Pittsburgh.

A glossary of definitions is provided below to familiarize the reader with some of the sociology and organizational behavior literature terminology used throughout this book. We also relate this terminology to management accounting concepts to combine these two streams of literature into an integrated process innovation framework in management accounting systems.

Strange and Soule (1998) outlined the processes of innovations as follows. “Innovations are novel (at least to the adopting community), making communication a necessary condition for adoption. Innovations are also culturally understood as progressive, strengthening the hand of change agents. And since innovations are risky and uncertain, adopters carefully weigh the experience of others before acting” (p. 267).

Researchers in the social sciences have studied the process by which new ideas are adopted (implemented) and how acceptance is generated among those charged with accepting and implementing an innovation. Sociology, in particular, has developed an extensive literature on diffusion analysis which examines how innovations are diffused (see Coleman, Katz, & Menzel, 1966; Leagans & Loomis, 1971; Rogers, 1971; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971). While many of these studies dealt with the adoption and diffusion of a new product, for example, seed corn or drugs, the same analysis has been applied to process innovations, that is, system and organizational change.

Sisaye and Birnberg (2010a, 2010b) have described the extent and scope of the innovations dimensions as the degree to which learning has affected the organizational structures and processes of the organization. Within this framework, extent has been defined as the degree to which the innovation affects the organization's management accounting administrative structures, systems, and behaviors of members or units within the organization. Extent is synonymous with the two types of learning identified by Argyris and Schon (1978) discussed earlier. Thus, the learning in the extent dimension varies from a technical change within an existing system (single loop) to the adoption of an entirely new administrative system (double loop). While this continuum extends from technical changes that affect a single process or task to administrative changes that affect organization-wide systems and structures, we will treat them as though they are dichotomous. As indicated earlier (Chapter 2), extent is associated with two types of learning: single loop (technical change within an existing system, i.e., gradual-incremental) and double loop (the adoption of an entirely new system, i.e., radical-transformational) (Argyris & Schon, 1978, 1996).

The mechanistic-organic assumptions of SF address those organizational factors related to structural arrangements, contextual factors, job-task work activities, and human resources management policies. Organizations adopt structures and procedures in search of legitimacy and institutionalization (Riebero & Scapens, 2006, p. 96). Structures manifest themselves in centralized (mechanistic) and/or decentralized (organic) forms. These structures can be loose or tightly controlled; they can involve independent or interdependent tasks. These conditions have a direct impact on the operation of management information and control systems that will, in turn, impact organizational learning and process innovations, which, ultimately, affects organizational performance.

OD refers to cell 3 of the adoption-diffusion innovation typology defined in Table 1. It has an administrative extent and an autonomous scope. OD has been used pre-dominantly in organizational change and sociology literature to describe cultural innovation programs that are directed toward a change in individual employee behavior. In accounting, the OD approach is important because accounting innovations, such as ABC, are directed toward a change in managers' behavior and the use of accounting data to evaluate performance. The OD approach is applicable in the use of ABC data at the divisional or unit level. Before explaining the application and use of OD in accounting innovations, we will define OD and summarize its innovation approaches as described in organizational sociology and behavior literature.

The literature on organizational learning is very rich and complex. Although most research on learning suggests that it involves individual cognitive, cultural, social, and institutional changes and development, there are slight variations in terms of the number of factors various authors associate with these changes. We discuss the work of several authors as providing a contextual framework for viewing learning as involving both the adoption and diffusion of innovations.

The resource-based view of an organization suggests that differences in resources among organizations affect the propensities for organizations to undertake strategic planning initiatives in response to environmental changes. Organizational resources may be used less effectively when organizations engage in “exploitation” of knowledge that they already have acquired or when they try to use their resources to improve the products and/or services they already produce or provide rather than to undertake new or radically altered activities. Kraatz and Zajac (2001) suggest that organizations relatively well endowed with resources are less likely to engage in major strategic changes to adapt to environmental changes. This, may be because the abundance of (slack) organizational resources may permit them to survive environmental changes without undertaking any strategic changes. These organizations need to respond/innovate only when the environmental change is perceived to create a significant threat to the organization's survival and/or growth. Kraatz and Zajac (2001) noted that organizations having the most success in the past are the least likely to change their goals because of their commitment to the current strategies that maximize the utilization of existing resources, even in situations that involve environmental uncertainty (p. 636). Most of the time, resources-rich large organizations are more likely to survive external threats from environmental change. Nevertheless, this does not rule out the fact that successful strategic changes are initiated/undertaken by resources-endowed firms. When resource-endowed firms do undertake a strategic innovation, their superior resources can facilitate the innovation and increase the likelihood of its success. Thus when the resource endowed organizations do undertake the changes, they are likely to be adaptive to change and to benefit from strategic changes.

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Studies in Managerial and Financial Accounting
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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