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Rethinking budgetary slack as budget risk management

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to draw on a small‐scale study that investigated the relationships between the budget‐setting process and slack, and how budgetary, behavioural and contextual factors can affect this relationship, to reconceptualise the phenomenon of budgetary slack as a budget risk management strategy. Design/methodology/approach – A case study method was employed, which enabled the researchers to investigate factors suggested by prior literature that affect slack creation. In total, nine structured interviews were conducted in a state‐owned Egyptian petroleum company, which gave the researchers a different way of thinking about the budget slack phenomenon. Findings – The authors found that slack is created, but not perceived negatively by managers, wherever they are in the organisational hierarchy. Few factors from the literature appeared to have any effect on the creation of budgetary slack, but the covert view of budget slack as a negative behaviour, adopted by early literature was perceived by participants as unethical and inconsistent with Egyptian culture. Managers did not recognise the notion of budgetary slack, though a “contingency” was created and was seen as entirely rational and acceptable by both superiors and subordinates. These findings are consistent with more recent literature in taking a more positive view, and with risk management thinking. Research limitations/implications – The evidence from this small study in a single organisation obviously cannot be generalised to the whole population. More research is needed in different contexts in order to discover whether managers may perceive this link between budget contingencies and risk management. Also, further research may explore the ethical dimension of behaviour and its possible foundation in religious values and beliefs, to see if this influences how building “contingencies” into budgets is perceived. Practical implications – If we were to stop portraying the creation of budgetary slack as a negative behaviour and accept that practitioners find it acceptable in managing budgets in an uncertain economic environment, more managers may be open about it. Originality/value – The main contribution of this paper is that it proposes that what was originally described as a negative behavioural phenomenon be rethought as a positive risk management strategy. Though other authors have viewed budget slack more positively, none has made the explicit link to risk management. The authors reposition budget slack in terms of contingency planning and show how this is consistent with risk management thinking. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Applied Accounting Research Emerald Publishing
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