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Task variability and the effectiveness of management control: the mediating effect of organisational learning

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posted on 2023-01-18, 15:55 authored by Xingdan Sarah Yang Spencer
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the La Trobe Business School, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

This thesis examines how organisational learning mediates the relationship between task variability and management control, and subsequently, the process through which the combined effect leads to effectiveness. Methodical learning and emergent learning from Miller’s (1996) learning dimensions are adopted to measure organisational learning. The conceptualisation of management control systems is derived from conventional organisational control theory, together with Simons’ Levers of Control framework. The effectiveness of management control systems is measured through job satisfaction and managerial performance. It is proposed in this study that the process through which task variability influences choice of management control is mediated by the type of organisational learning, and implied that effectiveness requires all of the elements in the process to be aligned. Hypotheses were tested using data collected from questionnaires distributed to managers in manufacturing organisations in Australia. The results reveal that organisational learning is a dynamic conscious process that can independently transmit the effect of task variability to effectiveness. During this process, management control mechanisms can also be used as learning mechanisms to implement subconscious learning and create dynamic tension. By doing so, organisations are able to build up capabilities to respond to the uncertainty whilst keeping track of financial performance. In regard to effectiveness, however, the outcomes are varied with the types of control implemented by the organisations. This thesis finds that selection and training procedures, a proxy for boundary input control, are the most proactive control mechanism in implementing emergent learning, subsequently leading to job satisfaction and improved managerial performance. The findings of this thesis add to our understanding of organisational learning and the principles of designing effective management control as a package. Additional contributions with respect to the management literature include developing a new organisational learning measure, combining conventional organisational control theory with Simons’ Levers of Control framework, and, from a methodological perspective, highlighting the difference between mediation effects and suppression effects and contributing to theory-building in this area.


Center or Department

Faculty of Business, Economics and Law. La Trobe Business School.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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This thesis contains third party copyright material which has been reproduced here with permission. Any further use requires permission of the copyright owner. The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over all other content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

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