The role of management controls in managing heterogeneous interests during extreme situations: the Swedish migrant crisis in 2015

Martin Carlsson-Wall, Adrian Iredahl, Kalle Kraus, Mats Wiklund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This paper aims to explore the role of management controls in managing heterogeneous interests during extreme situations. Design/methodology/approach: Through interviews and observations, the authors analyse the Swedish Migration Agency’s management controls and study routines during the peak of the European Migrant Crisis. Findings: Prior to the crisis, the strategy used by the employees was to mediate between two interests (labelled legal security and empathy) to create a workable compromise. During the crisis, however, the authors observed filtering in the form of the previous hierarchical ordering of interests was further strengthened as the employees increasingly relied on just a single interest (the interest which they previously had deemed to be the most important) at the expense of the other interest. The findings suggest that behavioural and social controls helped such filtering; social controls helped certain employees to filter the empathy interest as more important during extreme situations and behavioural controls helped other employees to filter the legal security interest as more important. This help us explain why the authors observe less mediation between the two heterogeneous interests and rather a stricter dominance of one of the interests. The authors also illustrate how especially behavioural controls may become unsupportive of the operations during extreme situations as it consisted of rule-based standards, built to cope with “normal” situations. The heterogeneous interests affected the probability of actors, at times, ignoring behavioural controls when such controls were unsupportive. Actors whose day-to-day operations were mainly guided by the legal security interest remained tightly coupled to behavioural controls even when they felt that these controls were no longer useful. On the other hand, actors who were mainly guided by the empathy interest ignored behavioural controls when they felt that they were unsupportive. Research limitations/implications: The authors acknowledge that bias might arise from the reliance on retrospective views of past processes and events, which the authors primarily gathered through interviews. Practical implications: The authors highlight an important relationship between heterogeneous interests (i.e. legal security and empathy) and management controls during the crisis and how this relationship can lead actors to fundamentally different actions. Originality/value: The two bodies of study on the role of management controls in managing heterogeneous interests and the role of management controls during the crisis have been largely unconnected and it is in this intersection that this study contributes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2020


  • Crisis
  • Extreme situation
  • Heterogeneous interests
  • Management controls
  • Migration
  • Sensemaking

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