How combinations of control elements create tensions and how these can be managed: An embedded case study

Berend Kolk, van der, Paula Van Veen-Dirks, Henk Bogt, ter

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This paper explores how combinations of management control (MC) elements can create tensions, and what supervisors can do to manage these tensions. We extend the literature on the interplay of MC elements by examining the underlying micro-processes that give rise to tensions between MC elements. Specifically, drawing on both the MC and the organization literature, we investigate how interactions between MC elements can simultaneously enhance and diminish control effectiveness, for which we coin the term tension complexity, and how these tensions can change over time, which we label tension dynamics. We empirically inform our study with an embedded case study in a public sector organization in the Netherlands. Using interviews, desk research, and observations, this study specifically investigates how an organization-level MC element (the value 'self-management') relates to departmental MC elements, creating tensions. The findings highlight that tensions, because of their dynamic and complex nature, require continuous attention from managers. Furthermore, the case findings demonstrate how department managers can influence the tensions by affecting the balance, balance tendency, and intensity of the MC elements within them. We conclude by providing suggestions for further research into the interactions of MC elements.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100677
Number of pages15
JournalManagement Accounting Research
Early online date29-Feb-2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept-2020


  • Complementarity
  • Dynamic tension
  • Management control
  • Paradox
  • Self-management
  • Value

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