University of Oulu

Lepistö, S., Dobroszek, J., Lepistö, L. and Zarzycka, E. (2020), "Controlling outsourced management accounting to build legitimacy", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 435-463.

Controlling outsourced management accounting to build legitimacy

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Author: Lepistö, Sinikka1; Dobroszek, Justyna2; Lepistö, Lauri3;
Organizations: 1Department of Accounting, Oulu Business School,University of Oulu, Finland
2Faculty of Management, University of Lodz, Lodz, Poland
3Turku School of Economics, Pori Unit, University of Turku,Turku, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Emerald, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-04-24


Purpose: This paper aims to explore controls within an inter-organisational relationship involving outsourced management accounting services from the contractor’s perspective.

Design/methodology/approach: Qualitative data from within the relationship are analysed in a legitimacy-theory framework, illustrating how controls within the relationship are intended to build the contractor’s legitimacy and what kinds of implications the controls have in relation to conflicts between interests inherent in the relationship.

Findings: The legitimacy perspective clarifies that while controls are aimed at ensuring efficiency for the client, they may also provide symbolic displays of the appropriateness of the contractor’s actions both at an inter-organisational level for the client and at an individual level for the contractor’s employees. While the contractor intends to build legitimacy with the client by demonstrating utility in the form of efficiency, the process also gives the client influence and allows the disposition in terms of shared values to be demonstrated. However, this process has some negative consequences for the contractor’s employees as it is insufficient for serving the boundary-spanning employees’ interests connected with the nature of their work. Hence, the same controls need to yield benefits and fair outcomes for employees. The controls simultaneously foster interconnections that contribute to permanence and formalise the outsourcing of complex services, thereby rendering such processes comprehensible and transferable to other settings, which can be seen to serve the contractor’s continuity interests.

Originality/value: The paper contributes to academic research by illustrating how controls within inter-organisational relationships not only steer boundary-spanners’ work to conform to a client’s needs but may also help to build legitimacy via symbolic properties in the presence of conflicting interests at both an inter-organisational and individual level. It specifically highlights the important role of boundary-spanners lower in the organisational structure, who both affect and are influenced by the intentions to build legitimacy with the client.

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Series: Qualitative research in accounting & management
ISSN: 1176-6093
ISSN-E: 1758-7654
ISSN-L: 1176-6093
Volume: 17
Issue: 3
Pages: 435 - 463
DOI: 10.1108/QRAM-05-2019-0062
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 512 Business and management
Funding: In addition, the corresponding author gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Foundation for Economic Education and the Marcus Wallenberg Foundation.
Copyright information: © 2020, Sinikka Lepistö, Justyna Dobroszek, Lauri Lepistö and Ewelina Zarzycka. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at