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Hardening soft accounting information: Games for planning organizational change


Publication date: May 2012
Source:Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 37, Issue 4
Author(s): Casey Rowe , Michael D. Shields , Jacob G. Birnberg
This study provides theory and field evidence on the social process of hardening soft accounting information to make it persuasive for planning organizational change. Accounting information intended to support organizational change is often soft, that is, there is lack of interpersonal agreement about its quality. For example, employees can lack agreement about the quality of accounting information (e.g., activity-based costing) because the information is constructed from subjective information obtained from interviews and surveys. This information can contain unintentional errors as well as intentional distortions that are intended to avoid revealing embarrassing inefficiencies and/or to resist painful organizational change. We use concepts from applied game theory and social psychology to identify from the accounting literature four multi-person games that may be played to harden soft accounting information. These hardening games are characterized in terms of payoffs, players, the comparability of soft accounting information, and the rules of the games that are expected to emerge. We interpret the field evidence as indicating that the hardening games that emerge depend on who the players are and the comparability of their soft accounting information. In addition, we provide evidence on how the rules of the games that harden the information emerge from the players’ social interactions. Finally, we provide evidence on how an organization learns by trial-and-error how to harden soft accounting information by changing the players and the comparability of the soft accounting information.

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