Academic journal article International Journal of Business

An Analysis of Managers' Use of Management Accounting

Academic journal article International Journal of Business

An Analysis of Managers' Use of Management Accounting

Article excerpt


The manager (1) is supposed to undertake diverse organizational roles: informational, decisional, and relational. The success of the manager in playing these roles is vital for any organization (Mintzberg, 1989). To do so, this actor uses several tools, among them management accounting. A manager, according to Anthony (1988), is someone who must achieve results that are in general expressed by objectives in the form of figures and dates. Hence management accounting has to produce information that must be diversified and global in order to be used by different managers. The majority of researchers agree on three functions of management accounting: (1) providing information on results and past performance, (2) facilitating decision-making, and (3) orienting the behavior of others in the expected direction (Burchell et al., 1980; Anthony, 1988; Mellemvik et al., 1988; Macintosh and Scapens, 1990; Sprinkle, 2003; ven Veen-Dirks, 2010). Nevertheless these roles are more assumed than demonstrated at the level of the individual manager (Hall, 2010). Certain authors severely criticize the inability of management accounting to aid managers in their decision-making (Sillince and Sykes, 1995). So far, few studies have investigated accounting practice according to managers' own perceptions, or the importance of each role of accounting for these actors (Wiersma, 2009). Several theories and paradigms have been used to understand the roles of accounting within organizations (contingence theory, strategic management). This paper adheres to a less conventional perspective. It contributes to "alternative perspectives on accounting" (Baxter and Chua, 2003), by mobilizing Giddens' structuration theory (ST). We believe that the three dimensions suggested in Giddens' structuration theory (signification, domination and legitimation) help in understanding managers' use of management accounting information. This study aims to provide an analysis of managers' use of management accounting information in their daily business life. This paper, based on the analysis of the discourse of twenty-five managers in large French companies, provides evidence that management accounting is mainly used to legitimate decisions and to dominate others. Our results question the assumption in the literature that management accounting is used by managers to build representations of managerial situations and for decision-making.

Our paper is organized as follows. Section II presents briefly the theoretical framework. It shows how structuration theory provides the elements for the understanding of the management accounting use. Section III sets out the methodology deployed in this study. Section IV interprets the discourses of managers regarding the use of management accounting. The paper concludes with a discussion of the findings and a statement of the main contributions.


A. The Three Dimensions of Structuration Theory

A detailed exposition of the concepts of structuration theory (ST) has been provided by several authors (Macintosh, 1994; Macintosh and Scapens, 1991). Our aim in this paper is to explain how the main concepts of ST will be relevant to understand the use by managers of management accounting.

According to Giddens, ST is concerned with the relationship between agents' actions and social structures in the production, reproduction and regulation of social order. Social structures are defined as rules including codes of signification or the constitution of meaning (signification structures), normative elements (legitimation structures) and command over authoritative and allocative resources, (Giddens, 1984), that enable the exercise of power (domination structures).

B. Signification

Social systems have structures. Structures include codes of signification or the constitution of meaning. The construction of signification necessitates a system of interpretive schemes by which agents communicate with and understand each other. …

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