Bruno Cohanier: “To become a CFO you need to prove you are a capable cross-disciplinary manager”
We welcome to Ph.D. Bruno Cohanier, from France, has just joined EADA’s Finance and Accounting Management Department. He has a wide experience in designing programmes on Management Accounting and Financial Accounting for several business schools. One of his research interest is performance management, a concept related to aligning organization resources, systems and employees to strategic objectives and priorities. Above all we talk with him in the following interview.
What do we talk about when referring to performance management?
Performance management is actually quite an ill-defined concept. Over the years, it has become so widely used and allegedly understood in many areas, but not only in business, that people often tend to think it is possible to spare oneself the effort of a definition. Webster’s suggests performance is “how well someone or something functions, works, (…) the manner in which something is accomplished”. Subsequently, it would come that performance management is the ongoing process through which managers ensure that employees’ activities and outputs are aligned with the organization’s strategic objectives. This suggestion seems odd when one remembers that R.N. Anthony defined Management Accounting back in 1965 as “the process by which managers assure the resources are obtained and used effectively and efficiently in the accomplishment of the organization’s objectives”. So performance management is not a new concept, rather the semantic evolution of an activity, which is now at the crossroads of the different management functions of organizations.
Managers should ensure that employees’ activities and outputs are aligned with the organization’s strategic objectives
In this sense, you are talking about aligning organization resources, systems and employees to strategic objectives and priorities. Aren’t you?
This term must be understood as a systemic concept: an organization’s performance management is made of subparts performance management ultimately tied to individuals’ motivation toward a goal. Should on speak about “aligning organization resources, systems and employees to strategic objectives and priorities”… one is indeed speaking about “how to make people do things”. This goes beyond process management and reaches to human resources, marketing, operations, etc…
What are the main results the company gets out of it?
It is more a matter of how companies manage performance rather than getting something out of it, as all companies at some point have to measure and manage performance. Some may conceive performance in a quantitative way, some more from a multidisciplinary perspective.
Your area of specialization is performance measurement and management in an international setting. Could you explain us your research field?
My research aims at studying to what extent the way management accounting exercised in different areas in the world is the same or is different. The intention of this research is not a record of the way they differ, but the way they are designed and used: what kind of managers uses what? Who is using what, why and for what purposes? The idea behind this is to investigate whether large international companies’ practices have changed in the way the textbooks have changed with regards to performance measurement and management, or whether cultural differences are still driving differences in performance measurement and management between them.
Could you share with us any best practice or good example in performance management?
Comparative performance measurement and management helps make managers and future managers (i.e. students) understand that there is no one domestic best way to reach an objective and that cross-disciplinary perspective on performance goal setting as well as assessment is extremely important. Knowing this and applying it contributes to helping them walk that extra-mile that will make them above average managers.
Cross-disciplinary perspective on performance goal setting as well as assessment is extremely important
You’ve just joined EADA’s Finance and Accounting Management department. What are your main purposes? How are you going to apply your research in class?
My goal in joining the Finance & Management Accounting team at EADA is to contribute to knowledge and to disseminate it among future managers and managers. It makes sense to apply research outcomes in class. For example in a performance management course where students will be exposed to a transdisciplinary perspective of the subject, pointing out what kind of measures and management techniques are developed, used or not and in what context in for what purposes.
In 2004 you published the paper “Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management”. What are main conclusions?
Its purpose is to emphasize the importance of qualitative research, especially case studies, in the understanding of the way large multinational companies operate. In this specific case, the idea was to focus on the use of qualitative research methods to gain a better understanding of the performance management system (PMS) of one of the largest retailers in North America. The case study approach has enabled to explore and gain further understanding of management accounting practices, particularly performance measurement and management, in their natural setting. A set of analytical steps and systematic analytical techniques for handling and interpreting data was adopted to enable theory building. The analysis suggests that financial performance measures remain dominant and that although non-financial performance measures are used, these are often de-coupled from the key performance measures at the highest levels of management. In response to these pressures, the companies’ appear to develop non-financial performance measures to appear legitimate in the eyes of these wider stakeholder groups.
What are the main skills required to any Accounting Manager or CFO?
I usually make students understand that whatever their area of specialization, companies are seeking capable managers able to evolve towards higher management positions. This ability is only permitted to students who are obviously competent and articulate about their area of specialization but also and foremost are able to link it to other areas of management. In short, to become a CFO you need to prove you are a capable cross-disciplinary manager: an impeccable specialist able of walking the extra-mile that makes him/her a capable therefore convincing top manager.
Companies are seeking capable managers able to evolve towards higher management positions
You have also been director of Master in Management Program at Neoma Business School. In this period, you researched in behavioral accounting. Could you define this concept?
Behavioral accounting is dealing, but not only, with the impact of individual behavior on the value of a company. It is aimed at better understanding the impact that processes, opinions, and human variables have on the value of a firm.
What about behavioral accounting in retail industry?
I have said on several occasions that retail industry is highly competitive and it is very sensitive to changes in customer tastes and behavior, as well as shareholder and financial market pressures. But this statement relates to be behavior of customers, not individuals within the company. It primarily means that shifts in customer behavior (e.g. towards being more environment conscious, etc.) is part of the external (i.e. “institutional”) pressures that drive a company to comply with the kind of corporate behavior which is expected by stakeholders.
What do you thing are next trends in your research field?
Following recent literature review, research is kind of slowly evolving through a process of self-criticism and more cross-disciplinary research: areas such as performance measurement systems, leadership, sustainability and environmental management, research methods, and the combination of research/practice for example.