Researching performance management

An actor-reality perspective

Authored by: Will Seal

The Routledge Companion to Performance Management and Control

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138913547
eBook ISBN: 9781315691374
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter responds to calls for business research to have practical impact (Bennis and O’Toole, 2005) by proposing an actor-reality perspective (ARP). ARP is a research design based around a particular view of performance management in which organizational reality and success are based on an integration of four dimensions: facts, values, logics/possibilities and communication. In the ARP research design, reality is based on the pragmatic criterion that “what works” is real. With the research focus on the organizational member actor as a purposeful, social human being, performance management is seen as a way of recognizing and constructing organizational reality. The contribution of the ARP as a research design is that it narrows the gap between theory and practice (Nørreklit et al., 2006; Seal, 2012) because it avoids both an excessive focus on one or two dimensions of reality and the naive views of reality sometimes in the mainstream management control literature (Nørreklit et al., 2006). Second, by proposing an actor-based philosophy of performance management, the application of ARP seeks to avoid the pitfall of management control illusion (Dermer and Lucas, 1986) which stems from top-down, mechanistic and uni-rational perspectives on the organization. Developing their suggestions for impactful research, Bennis and O’Toole (2005) argue that business schools should adopt a professional orientation similar to Law and Medical schools. From an accounting perspective, such a call is likely to find some support. Yet in order to promote a professional paradigm, a profession such as accountancy needs a valid concept of truth which can be based on an ARP conceptual framework. Nørreklit et al. (2007) argue that

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