This paper explores how contextual uncertainty and the use of the budgetary system explain cross-sectional variation in the organisational role of business unit controllers. We argue that there are complementarities between the role of the budgetary control system (i.e. coercive vs. enabling) and the role of the controller (i.e. corporate policeman vs. business partner). Thus, we explore both the direct effect of uncertainty on the role of the controller and the indirect effect through the role of the budgetary control system. Using survey data from 134 business unit controllers, we find that uncertainty provides a partial explanation of the variation in the role of budgetary control systems and in the role of controllers. In particular, our data suggest alignment between the coercive (enabling) use of the budgetary control system and the role of controllers acting as corporate policemen (business partners). These findings add to our understanding of the functioning of business unit controllers within their organisational context.

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ERIM Top-Core Articles
Accounting and Business Research
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Hartmann, F., & Maas, V. (2011). The effects of uncertainty on the roles of controllers and budgets: an exploratory study. Accounting and Business Research, 41(5), 439–458. doi:10.1080/00014788.2011.597656