The Strategic Competence of Accountants and Middle Managers in Budget Making

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Accounting, Organizations and Society 36 (2011) 167–182

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Accounting, Organizations and Society
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The strategic competence of accountants and middle managers in budget making Bertrand Fauré a,⇑, Linda Rouleau b,1
a b

University Toulouse III, LERASS, 115 Route de Narbonne, 31077 Toulouse Cedex 4, France HEC Montréal, 3000 Chemin de la Côte Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, Canada H3T 2A7

a b s t r a c t
This paper aims to advance the notion of the ‘‘situated functionality of numbers’’ (Ahrens & Chapman, 2007) by investigating the practical knowledge of strategy which shapes the calculations performed by accountants and middle managers when they are making a budget. It proposes an in-depth investigation of the budgeting conversations collected during an extensive field study in a large construction firm that had undertaken a new partnership strategy. Drawing on a conversation analytical approach, it identifies three micro-practices of calculation constitutive of the accountants’ and middle managers’ strategic competence: invoking the usefulness of numbers to activate local projects; constructing the acceptability of numbers to report them to external partners; authorising the plausibility of numbers to reconcile local contingencies and global coherence. The paper then explores how accountants and middle managers come to a mutual understanding of their respective accountabilities when they perform their strategic competence. It ends by discussing the unintended consequences of these transformations in their professional roles. Ó 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

1. Introduction In recent decades organizations have undergone two significant and related changes. Firstly, corporate strategy has tended to become increasingly business and client-oriented, secondly performance measurement systems strongly related to accounting have become increasingly complicated. These evolutions have led accountants and middle managers to face changes in their roles and in the relationships between them. Accountants are pressured to take on the role of strategic advisors and to act as change controllers across functions and hierarchical levels (Burns & Baldvinsdottir, 2005; Granlund & Lukka, 1998; Järvenpää, 2007). In addition to being recognized for their top-down role (Balogun, 2003; Balogun & Johnson, 2004; Floyd & Wooldridge, 2000), middle managers are more ⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +33 6 16 55 20 62.

E-mail addresses: (B. Fauré), linda. (L. Rouleau). 1 Tel.: +1 514 340 5669. 0361-3682/$ - see front matter Ó 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.aos.2011.04.001

and more viewed as important mediators across organizational boundaries in the implementation of strategic change (Balogun, Gleadle, Hope Hailey, & Willmott, 2005; Floyd & Wooldridge, 1997; Rouleau 2005; Rouleau & Balogun, 2011). In changing strategic contexts that often call for flexibility, accountants and middle managers frequently have the opportunity to work collaboratively on different accounting activities involved in strategic change projects. In these circumstances, both groups need to resolve contradictory pressures in order to reconcile the formal rules of management control systems on the one hand, and the growing need to be flexible in the ways they interpret numbers on the other (Marginson, 2002). To date, few studies have dealt with the practical skills accountants and middle managers perform when they are collaboratively engaged in activities that are at the interface of accounting and strategy. This paper seeks to better understand how accountants and middle managers collaborate in order to produce accounts that simultaneously conform to accounting norms, give a fair appraisal of strategy realisation, and facilitate


B. Fauré, L. Rouleau / Accounting, Organizations and Society 36 (2011) 167–182

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