Power and performance: Institutional embeddedness and performance management in a Chinese local government organization

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore how performance management practices are implicated in the exercise of power with particular reference to the ability of individual managers to balance between more or less institutionalized conceptions of performance while pursuing organizational change. Design/methodology/approach: The paper builds on a longitudinal field study in a Chinese local government department conducted over a period of six years. Findings: Recent reforms in the Chinese government sector have resulted in an incomplete shift between moral- and merit-based conceptions of performance. The focal manager in this analysis initially balanced successfully between these conceptions of performance whilst pursuing a degree of organizational change, but was ultimately transferred as the power relationships forged through her manoeuvring were radically reversed. Whilst this balancing act was facilitated by the simultaneous embeddedness of the manager in both conceptions of performance, she experienced growing difficulties in maintaining such a position as a means of nurturing critical power relationships. Research limitations/implications: The empirical analysis underscores the importance of examining institutional embeddedness as a multi-layered phenomenon constituted by institutionalized expectations as well as internalized values and beliefs of individual actors. The varying degree of alignment of these constituent elements of embeddedness has important implications for the ability of managers to balance between diverse conceptions of performance and effect change and the configuration of power relationships. Originality/value: In contrast to much previous research on performance measurement and management the paper analyzes power as a dynamic and relational concept. The study also sheds new light on the notion of institutional embeddedness by underlining its multi-layered nature and how this gives rise to potential value conflicts among individual actors. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-132
Number of pages31
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Balance
  • China
  • Embeddedness
  • Institutional theory
  • Performance management
  • Performance measurement
  • Power


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