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Accounting for total quality management

This thesis examines changes to the culture of three manufacturing organisations, two of which had implemented total quality management (TQM), and one in which a TQM implementation was unsuccessful. The effects of this organisational change on accounting systems and accountants were also examined. Ethnographic research was carried out in the three organisations, using several methods of evidence gathering: semi-formal and informal interviews and conversations, analysis of documents (such as internal accounting reports, newsletters, non-financial performance measures, production records, and newspaper, magazine and journal articles), and non-participant observation at meetings and in the factories. The evidence was viewed from three different perspectives, as promoted by Martin & Meyerson (1988), looking at integration, differentiation and ambiguity. Content themes characteristic of TQM and documented changes to management accounting systems subsequent to TQM implementation were identified in the literature. The practices and artifacts in each organisation were then compared with each other and with the content themes. The integration perspective highlights consensus between content themes, practices and artifacts, and between organisational actors. It assumes a unitary culture with a powerful change agent effecting the organisational change. Seen from this perspective, two of the organisations had made cultural changes consistent with TQM characteristics, and had also made many of the changes to accounting systems predicted in the literature. However, looking at the evidence from the differentiation perspective uncovered many examples of lack of consensus and conflict both between content themes themselves and between content themes, practices and artifacts. One of the “successful” organisations had made few changes to its accounting systems and had several subcultures which resisted change. The simultaneous existence of both harmony and conflict, and consensus and lack of it results in ambiguity for the organisational members. People differ in the way in which they deal with ambiguity, ranging from action paralysis through to using it as a motivation for innovation. The presence of ambiguity provides an explanation for the lack of success in implementing TQM in the third organisation, and for the lack of accounting change in one of the organisations which had successfully changed to TQM. This research contributes to knowledge in two ways. Firstly, it uses all three of Martin & Meyerson’s (1988) paradigms to look at TQM environments. This model has not been used in this setting before. Secondly, in using ambiguity to explain cultural and accounting change (or the lack of it), it provides an alternative viewpoint to the literature to date, which has been exclusively integrative and differentiating.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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