Management accounting literature devotes considerable attention to the “controllability principle.” This principle stipulates that managers should only be held responsible for the results they directly control through their actions. The literature argues that the use of less controllable performance measures reduces managerial motivation and causes stress. However, Karl Schuhmacher, assistant professor of accounting; Michael Burkert (U Fribourg); Franz Fischer (independent researcher); and Florian Hoos (HC Paris) argue that there can also be positive effects associated with a lack of controllability. The researchers conducted a survey with 432 business managers, asking questions related to the measures used for their performance evaluations. They concluded that less controllable measures do create stress but also induce proactive work behaviors. In fact, the lack of controllability stimulates managers to cope with stress by interpreting their roles more flexibly and cooperating with peers to seek solutions for organizational problems they cannot control individually. The authors suggest further research to determine how organizations modulate between the positive and negative effects of disregarding the controllability principle.
Karl Schuhmacher Assistant Professor of Accounting