Time and the sequential integration of management controls in open innovation between Unilever and its partners: A procedural perspective

Thomas Fisker Toldbod, Linda Nhu Laursen

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Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to examine management control integration through the lens of process theory. Based on a case study of the FOODS project, an open innovation project between Unilever and its partners, we show how the integration of countervailing management controls (known as “dynamic tension” in management control literature) unfolds over time. We argue that Unilever and its partners were able to effectively integrate countervailing controls, even though we do not observe these simultaneously at the same time. The FOODS project demonstrates that shifting between countervailing management controls across the distinct phases of an open innovation process that lasted approximately three-and-a-half years allowed the partners to balance their diverse strategic and operational objectives. In that sense, countervailing management controls were integrated into the open innovation process, but over time, rather than at one moment. Whereas current management control research depicts the separation and integration of countervailing management controls as incompatible contradictions, i.e., either countervailing management controls are separated or integrated, we argue that the seeming contradictions of separation and integration of management controls can actually complement each other. Organizations can separate countervailing management controls to achieve a unidimensional focus within a temporal zone. When we investigate these phases, it becomes clear that a significant amount of time was invested before they were able to resolve the intended control problems. However, because this separation of management controls is limited to temporal zones within the same overall process, countervailing management controls are integrated to shape the overall process over time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100901
JournalManagement Accounting Research
ISSN1044-5005
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • Dynamic tension
  • Interorganizational innovation
  • Management control
  • Operational fit
  • Strategic fit
  • Time

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