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    “When You Make Manager, We Put A Big Mountain In Front Of Y...
    research summary posted October 31, 2013 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 05.0 Audit Team Composition, 05.04 Staff Hiring, Turnover and Morale, 10.0 Engagement Management, 10.03 Interaction among Team Members, 10.04 Interactions with Client Management 
    “When You Make Manager, We Put A Big Mountain In Front Of You”: An Ethnography Of Managers In A Big 4 Accounting Firm
    Practical Implications:

    This study points out the paradox that managers find themselves in as they struggle to manage relationships with staff, partners, and clients while simultaneously engaging in non-client productive activities in order to gain notoriety in the firm and impress the partners. The “mountain” referred to in the title of this article represents the different and unpredictable obstacles that managers must overcome in order to reach the other side of their career; partnership.

    For more information on this study, please contact Martin Kornberger.


    Kornberger, M., L. Justensen, and J. Mourtsen.2011. When you make manager, we put a big mountain in front of you: an ethnography of managers in a big 4 accounting firm. Accounting, Organizations and Society 36 (8): 514-533.

    Purpose of the Study:

    The “missing link” between trainee accountants and their senior employees, i.e. partners is the manager. This article suggests that becoming a manager is a rite of passage with two main effects:

    • Destabilization of the manager’s previous identity.
    • Shaping of the new identity as a manager through a set of new practices.

    The authors address the important, yet under-researched, role of the manager through an ethnographic analysis of their fundamental transition from junior trainees to potential partners in the context of a Big 4 Firm. This analysis outlines how managers in a complex network balance being an efficient client manager while also being a good team and time manager; additionally, how managers generate visibility to develop a “fame agenda” is addressed.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors collaborated with a Big 4 Firm to gather the data.  The data consisted of four sources of empirical materials. First, the Big 4 Firm’s website, newsletters, and other publicly accessible materials were analyzed along with confidential internal documents including employee satisfaction surveys, performance reports, change management surveys, exit surveys, and employment statistics. Second, the research team performed un-obtrusive on site observation including participating in meetings, planning sessions, client site visits, and other internal gatherings. Third, they conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 employees from different divisions of the organization and included partners, managers, and directors. Fourth, researchers shadowed 7 organizational members, managers and directors, for one working day each. The empirical research for this study was conducted between January 2005 and September 2006. However, a second round of interviews with senior executives was conducted from mid- 2009 until May 2010. An ethnographic approach was deemed the most appropriate method to allow researchers to focus on real data from many sources.

    • Managers must manage relationships with junior staff which involves acting as a mentor, a supervisor, a nurturer, and also as a person responsible for reviewing work and providing feedback.
    • Managing client relationships is another key role for a manager. This role involves adjusting behavior towards the client according to the hierarchical position of the client representative as well as handling relationships with global and local clients differently. Relationships with higher ranked representatives and with local clients are more nurtured because of the increased influence that these clients have when deciding to keep the Big 4 Firm as the auditor. Additionally, managers have to find a way to use clients as a vehicle for self-promotion.
    • Managers also have to be able to manage partner relationships. Managers must begin to show interests in different aspects of the firm to impress the partners who are ultimately responsible for the future of the managers. Managers must be able to handle the uncertainty that comes with a partner that can override any and all of a manager’s decisions.
    • However, one of the most important things that managers must be able to do has no technical relevance at all; it is to become visible to the firm. Managers must find time to get involved with firm initiatives in order to essentially gain popularity and increase their chances for promotion. This is referred to in the article as developing a “fame agenda”.
    Audit Team Composition, Engagement Management
    Interaction among Team Members, Interactions with Client Management, Staff Hiring - Turnover & Morale