What Does Organizational Change Mean?

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doi: 10.1006/mare.2001.0176
Management Accounting Research, 2001, 12, 403 435
What does organizational change mean?
Speculations on a taken for granted category
Paolo Quattrone* and Trevor Hopper†
Despite widespread research on why and how organizations change, what constitutes change is often taken for granted. Its definition is avoided. Studies based on individuals’ rational choice imply that change flows from purposive actions in accordance with an objective, external reality whereas contextualism argues that change results from institutional pressures, isomorphisms and routines. But both depict change as the passage of an entity, whether an organization or accounting practices, from one identifiable and unique status to another. Despite their differences over whether reality is independent, concrete and external, or socially constructed, both assume that actors (or researchers) can identify a reality to trace the scale and direction of changes. This reflects modernist beliefs that organizational space and time are unique and linear. The paper takes issue with this and argues that ‘a-centred organizations’ and ‘drift’ should replace conventional definitions of organizations and change. The arguments are inspired by the arguments of the sociology of translation and constructivism, and insights from two case studies of Enterprise Resource Planning system implementations in large multinational organizations. The latter illustrate how defining change is problematic—as new systems gave rise to multiple spaces and times within the organizations. The paper traces the implications of this for control and accounting studies tout court.

c 2001 Academic Press
Key words: ERP; SAP; organizational change; drift; a-centred organization; order; multinationals; sociology of translation; constructivism.
Address for correspondence: Paolo Quattrone, Departamento de Economía de la Empresa, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Calle Madrid, 126 Getafe, 28903 Madrid, Spain. E-mail: Quattron@emp.uc3m.es *Departamento de Economía de la Empresa, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain. †Manchester School of Accounting & Finance, The University of Manchester, UK. E-mail: Trevor.Hopper@man.ac.uk

1044 5005/01/040403 + 33/$35.00/0
c 2001 Academic Press
404 P. Quattrone and T. Hopper
1. Introduction
Organizational change is a central issue within organization theory, management and, increasingly, accounting. Consultants argue that firms should adopt various ‘new’ accounting systems with acronyms such as ABC/M, EVA and TOC (Cooper and Kaplan, 1988; Johnson and Kaplan, 1987). Many firms have responded with alacrity, adopting them with varied results. Academics have commended various theoretical frameworks to explain these accounting changes, e.g. Briers and Chua (2001) commend Actor-Network Theory whereas Burns and Scapens (2000) proffer Old Institutional Economics. Research is divided over whether and how management accounting changes bring success (Cobb et al., 1992; Shields, 1995), and whether clear-cut definitions of success versus failure exist (Malmi, 1997). Change has been examined across different geographical and temporal spaces to find variations (Lukka, 1994). Resistance to accounting change (e.g. Scapens and Roberts, 1993; Ezzamel, 1994) has been identified alongside models of how to implement change (Innes and Mitchell, 1990; Vaivio, 1999). Since Hopwood’s frequently quoted claim that ‘very little is known of the processes of accounting change’ (1987, p. 207), studies on change have proliferated.

This has provoked controversy over the theory of why and how changes are occurring. Accounting change has been attributed to conditions of possibilities (Hopwood, 1987), the emergence of accounting constellations (Burchell et al., 1985), interplay between actions and institutions (Burns and Scapens, 2000), disciplinary regimes (Hoskin and Macve, 1986, 1988; Ezzamel, 1994; Miller and...
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