General framework for analyzing behavioral management accounting research

In order to evaluate behavioral management accounting research for the purpose of encouraging ethical viewpoints in research and practice, we address six specific questions:

  • 1 What management accounting topics are generally being examined?
  • 2 What research paradigms guide research as it seeks to influence practice?
  • 3 What theories are used to help us understand managerial accounting?
  • 4 What are researchers’ viewpoints and the resulting implications of their study for management accounting practice?
  • 5 Is there an ethical perspective used?
  • 6 How can we make progress toward a greater emphasis on ethical issues in management accounting behavioral research?

These six questions are addressed by conducting a literature review of related accounting research and relating these studies to management accounting practice. This exploration provides evidence that management accounting research — and specifically behavioral management accounting — focuses on managerial topics fundamentally from a shareholder theory perspective. Further, we explain that this fundamental starting point in the development of management accounting research and practice limits alternative research and practice perspectives that can more directly integrate ethical considerations into management accounting decision making.

Question 1 : What management topical areas are generally being examined?

Management accounting research focuses on several relevant topics including workload, independence, employee effort, time constraints, budget slack, budgets, budget participation, self-, social, and organizational controls, costing, cost allocation, balanced scorecard, and management controls. Some of these topics have consistently grown in interest (i.e., employee effort and organizational controls) while others have decreased (i.e., budget slack and balanced scorecard). Other research topics include incentive compensation schemes, employee trust, employee and manager relationships, performance measurement and evaluation, and employee and manager errors. This list is by no means exhaustive. The three commonly referred to areas in all of management accounting research are management control systems, cost accounting, and a small “other” section (Hesford et al. 2006). These three areas also represent the bulk of professional activities that constitute management accounting practice.

Management control systems

Management control system (MCS) is a term that describes one of the most broadly used concepts in management accounting. About 70% of management accounting research articles deal with accountings role in management control (Hesford et al. 2006). Defined as a decision-aiding tool that assists managers in achieving their and their organization’s goals (Chenhall 2003; Chenhall, Hall, and Smith 2010), MCS refers to an integrated approach to control design, including budgeting, organizational control, and performance measurement and evaluation. The definition of MCS has significantly evolved over time, and thus the particular aspects of managing that are considered to be components of an MCS also has changed. For example, Arnold, Hannan, and Tafkov (2018) examined how the allocation of rewards enhances employees’ effort and team performance. Bruggen, Feichter, and Williamson (2018) investigated whether input and output targets improve employees' creativity and performance. Regarding budgets. Cools, Stouthuysen, and Van den Abbeele (2017) examined how budgets play different roles in an organization’s creative spending. In addition to budgeting and reward systems, MCS encompasses other topics such as controls. Hesford et al. 2006 considers management control as the most explored topic in management accounting research. Over the last few decades, management control topics have seen a shift from budgeting and organizational control toward a greater emphasis on performance measurement and evaluation (Hesford et al. 2006). Performance measurement and evaluation topics include incentive contracts, contract selection, employee effort and performance, and employees’ relationship with their manager.

Cost accounting

A second area that is studied by management accounting researchers is known as cost accounting. About 20% of all managerial accounting articles focus on cost accounting topics (Hesford et al. 2006). Cost accounting is further classified into topics such as cost allocation and cost practices. For instance, Rossing and Rohde (2010) address whether overhead cost allocation system designs in organizations are affected by transfer pricing tax regulation. However, Hesford et al. (2006) suggest that articles publishing cost accounting topics continue to decline over time. Another stream of research classifies cost as cost management. Banker et al. (2018) classify cost management as the costs that are caused by managers’ operating decisions. They find that this specific area has grown in the past few years.


The last section discussed by Hesford et al. 2006 is classified as other because it consists of a wider range of management accounting topics. This classification includes other areas such as, but not limited to, accounting information systems (AIS), quality management, strategic management, and benchmarking. AIS examines accounting systems by specifically analyzing computer-based systems. Strategic management accounting research examines the relationship between management control systems and organizational strategy (Hesford et al. 2006). Nixon and Burns (2012) provide evidence that strategic management accounting techniques and tools are being increasingly utilized in attempts to link management accounting practice more closely to corporate strategic goals. Only 10% of all management accounting articles publish a topic that is considered other (Hesford et al. 2006).

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