Developing performance measurement systems as enabling formalization: A longitudinal field study of a logistics department

Marc Wouters, Celeste P.M. Wilderom

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This paper reports on a developmental approach to performance-measurement systems (PMS). In particular, we look at characteristics of a development process that result in the PMS being perceived by employees as enabling of their work, rather than as primarily a control device for use by senior management. We will refer to such a PMS as “enabling PMS”. The theoretical part of the study builds on ideas of enabling versus coercive formalization [Adler, P. S., & Borys, B. (1996). Two types of bureaucracy: Enabling and coercive. Administrative Science Quarterly 41 (March), 61–89]; on notions of organizational learning (e.g., [Zollo, M., & Winter, S. G. (2002). Deliberate learning and the evolution of dynamic capabilities. Organization Science 13(3), 339–351]); and on awareness of the incompleteness of performance measures (e.g., [Chapman, C. S. (1997). Reflections on a contingent view of accounting. Accounting, Organizations and Society 22, 189–205; Lillis, A. M. (2002). Managing multiple dimensions of manufacturing performance—An exploratory study. Accounting, Organizations and Society 27, 497–529]). The empirical context entails a mixed-method, 3-year longitudinal study of the logistics department of a medium-sized company in the beverage manufacturing industry. Qualitative data were gathered through interviews, participation in meetings, action research, and review of company documents. We also analyzed two waves of quantitative survey data, gathered from a panel of 42 employees. We find that a development process that is experience-based contributes to the enabling nature of the PMS, as it builds on existing skills, local practices, and know-how on performance measurement to enrich the PMS step-by-step over time. Also, experimentation with specific performance measures was found to enhance the enabling nature of the PMS: testing, reviewing, and refinement of conceptualizations, definitions, data, and presentations of new performance measures. Professionalism was significantly related to positive attitude toward performance measures in our survey data. The results also illustrate that transparency of the PMS itself is key to enabling PMS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)488-516
Number of pages29
JournalAccounting, organizations and society
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • IR-79096
  • METIS-242250

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