Between Control and Autonomy
Edited by Katarina Kaarbøe, Paul N. Gooderham and Hanne Nørreklit
Chapter 12: Systems of accountability and personal responsibility
A central challenge in any organization is ensuring that individuals, groups and organizational units act and perform as desired, and holding them accountable if they do not. This challenge has a performance dimension, as organizations need to be sure that task performance is adequate, that is, that employees undertake the tasks with which they are entrusted in a manner that promotes organizational performance. Accordingly, it is closely related to performance management and measurement (see, e.g., Kaplan and Atkinson, 1998). Moreover, this challenge has a conduct dimension, as organizations need to ensure that employees act in accordance with relevant norms and – when desired by the organization – with awareness of how their decisions and acts influence relevant internal and external stakeholders (e.g., Cooper and Owen, 2007; Zsolnai, 2009). These two dimensions constitute the basis for accountability. This implies that actors must be able to give accounts, explanations and justifications of what they have done and why (e.g., Munro and Hatherly, 1993; Messner, 2009), primarily with regard to performance and conduct (Benston, 1982; Jørgensen and Pedersen, 2011). Management control systems are designed to promote accountability on all organizational levels (Macintosh and Quattrone, 2010). They do so by enabling control after-the-fact, that is, by scrutinizing whether actual behavior met the relevant requirements, and by creating general awareness of control and, thereby, accountability among organizational members, that is, by instilling people with the knowledge that future performance and conduct will be scrutinized (Kirk and Mouritsen, 1996).
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