Explaining management control structure variety: a transaction cost economics perspective
Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت) Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 26, Issues 4–5, May–July 2001, Pages 419–441
تئوری کنترل مدیریت - اقتصاد هزینه معامله -
This paper argues that the discipline of management control is likely to benefit from theories that provide a more cogent and comprehensive perspective to address the issue of control structure variety, and examines the potential of Transaction Cost Economics (TCE) to inform such theories. Based on TCE, this paper proposes a framework that explicates the link between various archetypical configurations of control devices and the activities they are expected to control. In this framework, the nature of the organizational activities and the required contributions from organizational participants are defined along three dimensions: (1) the extent of programmability; (2) the degree of asset specificity; and (3) the intensity of ex post information impactedness. These attributes are associated with distinctive control problems that need to be dealt with. The control archetypes differ in their problem-solving ability, which makes them appropriate for the governance of some contributions, but not for others. Moreover, they differ in cost, and the framework explains the alignment of a contribution with a control archetype by delineating the efficiency properties of the match.
One of the quintessential problems of management control (MC) as a field of scholarly inquiry is to explain control structure variety within and between organizations. Why is it that some organizations use extensive, formal planning to direct their efforts, whereas other organizations seem much less deliberate in their aims and actions? Why do some firms count on rules, procedures and standards to achieve control, whereas others rely largely on individual judgement to guide behaviour? Such fundamental questions, however, have not yet found a fully persuasive answer. To be sure, MC theory has come a long way in addressing the problem of control structure variety. This problem has always been the focal point of contingency theory as one of the more prominent streams in MC-thinking (Fisher, 1995). Also, agency theory has spawned a vast literature that is relevant to this issue (Baiman, 1982 and Baiman, 1990). But these literatures — although the source of many important insights — do not amount to a coherent and inclusive answer to the problem at hand. The contingency approach builds on the central premise that the appropriateness of MC structures is affected by some set of circumstantial factors faced by the organization. But this approach is more a general idea than an articulated theory in the sense that it has no a priori intuition of its own as to what the pertinent factors are and as to their likely consequences. Of course, researchers within that stream do have pretty clear notions about the variables and their effects, but these notions come from sources outside contingency theory per se. These sources are diverse and tend to differ widely across researchers, on account of which the contingency stream is rather heterogeneous (cf. Chapman, 1997, Fisher, 1998, Langfield-Smith, 1997 and Otley, 1980). Moreover, contingency models tend to be partial, focusing on elements of control systems (e.g. budgeting systems) as opposed to addressing directly the full configuration of control devices. For these reasons, the contingency approach does not provide a self-sufficient and fully fledged perspective on the issue of MC structure variety. Agency theory suffers from effectually similar weaknesses. Because agency theorists are known to have a strong predilection for formal mathematical modelling, they normally choose to focus on a limited number of well-specified, highly stylized elements of MC systems (cf. Merchant and Simons, 1986 and Scapens, 1991), rather than attempting to capture control in its entirety. They furthermore tend to confine themselves to single period, single agent models (Baiman, 1982 and Baiman, 1990), which may lack representational validity. Therefore, their contribution to knowledge in the field of MC — as that of their contingency theory counterparts — remains fragmented, whereas more inclusive approaches are also needed to understand MC.
This paper intends to contribute some insights that may increase the theoretical coherence of the study of MC structure variety. More specifically, it examines the potential of transaction cost economics (TCE; Williamson, 1975, Williamson, 1979, Williamson, 1985 and Williamson, 1996) to provide a cogent, parsimonious perspective that is able to inform the study of MC. A prima facie, this seems a reasonable thing to do, because TCE and MC share a common interest in understanding purposive control, and both are committed to the explanation of control structure choice. TCE has proven quite successful at this in its own domain, and trying to transfer the insights accumulated there to the domain of MC might well be worth the effort. Appearances may be misleading, though, and Section 3 of this paper provides a more thorough examination of the degree of correspondence between commonly held perspectives on what MC is about and on the direction in which to search for explanations on the one hand, and the theoretical angle of TCE on the other. This assessment allows a preliminary consideration of TCE's conceptual relevance to issues of MC, and helps to clarify the general nature and scope of TCE's potential contribution. The second step is to move beyond mere consideration and involves a concrete demonstration of what TCE is able to offer. To this effect, the logic of TCE is asked to speak for itself in Section 4, which presents a tentative transaction cost theory of MC. Section 5 contains a summary and discussion of the argument. But first, Section 2 provides an introduction to TCE's analytical toolbox and line of reasoning.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
This paper has argued that the discipline of MC is likely to benefit from theories that provide a cogent and comprehensive perspective to address the issue of MC structure variety, and examined the potential of TCE to inform such theories. TCE approaches phenomena of organization from a comparative point of view in which different organizational arrangements are studied as alternative ways to govern economic transactions. Essentially, TCE is about understanding the match between activities to be controlled and control structures, and holds that the characteristics of the activities and the credentials of the structures determine and explain which structures are appropriate and which are not. TCE shares its central problem — explaining control — with MC, albeit that the latter requires a higher level of resolution. The logic of TCE, however, is receptive to refinement, and supports a reasonably detailed study of control issues at the level of organizational subsystems — which level certainly is appropriate for research in MC. At that analytical level, this paper has proposed a transaction cost theory of MC. This theory intends to explicate the link between various archetypical configurations of control devices and the kind of activities they are expected to control. The nature of the organizational activities and the contributions from organizational participants that are required to perform these activities can be discriminatingly defined through their scores on three dimensions: (1) the extent to which the contributions are susceptible to up front programming; (2) the degree of asset specificity; and (3) the intensity of ex post information impactedness. Given bounded rationality and opportunism, these features are predictably associated with distinctive control problems that need to be dealt with. The control archetypes — nine of which have been identified and described — differ in their problem-solving ability, which makes them appropriate for the governance of some contributions, but not for others. Moreover, they differ in respect of cost, and ultimately, an empirically observable alignment of a contribution with a control archetype is held to be explainable by delineating the relative efficiency properties of the match, either quantitatively or — more likely — in a qualitative way.
It would seem that this theoretical approach has a good deal to recommend it. If MC is about enhancing organizational effectiveness — and that is a generally accepted position — , MC-theory should specify the modus operandi of MC-structures in delivering their contribution, and it must be able to evaluate these structures explicitly in terms of (differential) functionality. Especially this last aspect has received remarkably little attention in MC-theorizing, and effectiveness is more usually assumed than demonstrated. TCE's remediableness criterion moves beyond paying lip-service to effectiveness, and offers a reasonably concrete and practicable procedure to address this issue. Furthermore, the proposed theory suggests a pragmatic way to handle the issue of defining the organizational goals that MC is supposed to serve. These goals are notoriously elusive, but they can be presumed to affect the more easily identifiable patterns of actions, decisions and beliefs that shape what the organization is doing. The presented approach concentrates on the actual activities in which the organization is engaged, but studies these in relation to the patterns of which they are part to include in the analysis an understanding of the meaning the organization attaches to these activities. Such an understanding provides the means to relate concrete activities and contributions to what the organization apparently is trying to achieve, and allows to differentiate realized from desired activities and contributions. The proposed framework, then, focuses on the way in which MC helps to reduce the gap that may arise between the two in a cost-effective manner. This is a shamelessly instrumental approach in that it ignores more high-brow questions as to the contribution of MC to overall organizational effectiveness. But it is operational, and this mere fact puts the approach ahead of most alternative approaches — at least of those with similar wide-ranging ambitions.
The reference to these ambitions suggests another asset of the transaction cost approach to MC. Whereas traditionally, the focus of MC has been on the individual organization, there is a growing concern that this focus may be too restrictive (cf. Berry, 1994, Otley, 1994 and Otley et al., 1995). Since coordination and control of economic activity is increasingly often the province of all kinds of collaborative structures between firms (e.g. strategic alliances, supply networks, and joint ventures), the scope of MC-theory must be broadened to allow coverage of these arrangements. The theory proposed in this paper — and TCE as its intellectual ancestor — are well-positioned to answer to this challenge, for they offer an integrative and symmetrical point of view from which to address issues of control of any kind, irrespective of the particular organizational arrangement in which they arise. That is undoubtedly a welcome prospect.
Finally, the proposed theory is empirically testable — in principle at least. To be sure, the variables have been described at a conceptual level and their substance is suggested rather than defined. Moreover, the scale on which to score the variables is markedly rough and the boundaries of the intervals are left implicit. And the archetypes are constructs that (presumably) help to recognize and expound general tendencies, but they are not fully compelling categories. When applied in an empirical setting, the archetypes may not be descriptively accurate in every respect, and the observed configuration of control may not fall neatly into any of the pre-identified classes. For these reasons, the application of this theory is bound to command considerable interpretative efforts from the researcher to deal with the inevitable shades of grey. However, I submit that the approach is flexible enough to cope with the ambiguities, and that it is sufficiently cogent to ensure satisfactorily restrictive interpretations that preserve the general logic of the argument and on which academic consensus can be reached. Anyway, since TCE itself suffers from similar vagaries, and since these have by no means impeded empirical application and testing (see Shelanski and Klein, 1995 and Masten, 1996 for recent overviews of empirical research in TCE) there seems to be no basis to be particularly wary, and the best way to go is probably just to give it a try.