Controllers' Protoscripts and the Shaping of Control
21 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2004
Date Written: April 28, 2004
The control mechanisms and instruments that eventually emerge in an organization are the result of a number of interrelated factors and processes. The design and construction of control instruments, the communication about them, the way in which the instruments are actually used, the processes of institutionalization that lead to the procedures and routines that are eventually entrenched in an organization, and processes of accounting change are just a few examples hereof. Of special interest to us is the behaviour of management accountants and controllers in the shaping of control. Accountants and controllers are not only of importance in the shaping of control mechanisms themselves. It is also in their best interest that the control mechanisms they design, develop and alter are actually used in a firm and function properly. Furthermore, it is part of a controller's core-business to handle the link between management information and accounting and control change.
When studying the link between the behaviour of accountants and controllers and the institutional environment of a firm, it may be hypothesized that institutions both arise from and constrain social action, and that day-to-day operations involving institutions can be regarded as 'scripts'. Scripts describe observable, recurrent activities and patterns of interaction characteristic of a particular setting. Ultimately, scripts may become institutionalized in a firm. There is probably a greater tendency for the institutionalization of stereotypical behavioural patterns than for atypical patterns, since the latter are not common in an organization. Scripts may therefore be a useful tool to study how the institutionalization of accounting processes (which by definition involve stereotypical behaviour) comes about.
In this paper, we describe the procedure and outcome of the collection of a group of so-called behavioural scripts that management accountants and controllers apply in various types of problem situations. Through the use of a variety of interview techniques we could find several patterns of action that controllers deem stereotypical in the shaping of control. We find that in order to get an idea how the institutionalization of accounting processes and instruments actually takes place in an organization - a topic that is as of yet (almost) unexplored in management accounting studies although it is attracting more and more attention, the discovery of scripts is an important first step.
Keywords: Controlling, behavioral patterns, scripts, management accounting, interviews
JEL Classification: M20, M40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation