Exploring Tension Complexity and Dynamics: A Case Study of Management Control Systems in the Private Sector Amidst Changing Environments

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School of Business | Bachelor's thesis
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Degree programme
23 + 7
Inspired by management control research, this paper aims to contribute to the literature on management control systems (MCSs) by examining how interactions within management control systems in a private sector company can simultaneously weaken and strengthen control (Tension complexity) and how these tensions can change over time (Tension dynamics). The empirical focus of this paper lies in the case study of a private sector company. This study also investigates tensions in changing environments and how managers manage these tensions. There has been extensive research on the behavior of management control systems (MCS) and the tensions between them. However, research on tensions, especially in the form of case studies, has predominantly focused on public entities and areas such as innovation projects in the public sector (Argento et al., 2023) during crises. Tensions in the private sector, particularly in changing environments, have not been extensively studied. This study aims to address this research gap in a case study setting. The findings indicate that, due to their complex and dynamic nature, tensions require continuous attention from management. The tension relationship between control elements can generate something positive that would not have emerged without tension, while, on the other hand, it can create something negative or disrupt something (van der Kolk et al., 2020). This study explores tension complexity and dynamics in management control systems in the private sector amidst changing environments. In addition to exploring the empirical manifestations of tensions, this study makes a theoretical contribution by integrating MCS and tension literatures. This study delves into the meaning of tension, operationalizing these frameworks in a case study setting. Tensions require continuous attention from managers, balancing the combinations of four levers of control that are internally consistent. This case study operationalizes the research question and frameworks in a vehicle financing company in Finland.
Thesis advisor
Vaivio, Juhani
management control systems, tensions, changing environments, management accounting
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