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strategy and business
 / Summer 2004 / Issue 35(originally published by Booz & Company)


Recent Studies

On corporate theater, social enterprises, activity-based cost accounting, and other topics of interest.

Photograph by Matthew Septimus

The Play’s the Thing
Timothy Clark ([email protected]) and Iain Mangham ([email protected]), “From Dramaturgy to Theatre as Technology: The Case of Corporate Theatre,” Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 41, Issue 1, January 2004. Click here.

There’s nothing like a night at the theater to stir people’s passions and drive people into action; that was Hamlet’s idea when he put on a play within a play to trigger the conscience of the king. According to Timothy Clark, professor of organizational behavior at Durham Business School at the U.K.’s University of Durham, and Iain Mangham, a senior visiting research fellow at King’s College, University of London, “corporate theater” is increasingly being used to spice up business conferences, annual meetings, and product launches, and to attract audiences to “a company’s service, product, and/or slogan.” The corporate live events sector is an industry worth even more than £500 million ($900 million) in the U.K. alone, with 200 companies offering the service. The cost of these events can range from £100,000 ($180,000) to millions of pounds.

The events are part evangelical rally, part Broadway extravaganza, as Professors Clark and Mangham found out when they were invited to watch the development and performances of a piece of theater put on by a bank that had recently undergone a merger. At this performance, the audience was made up of employees from throughout the recently merged organizations. The show, featuring managers and other bank employees alongside a TV personality and the band the Corrs, took place in a 5,000-seat arena. The performance was titled “Your Life. Your Bank.” Its purpose was to celebrate the merger, but at a deeper level, the company hoped that the theatrical experience would galvanize the audience into becoming champions of the new corporate culture on their return to the workplace.

The authors’ assessment is that the audience’s reaction was highly enthusiastic, but they also note that there were some indifferent executive performers who didn’t show up for rehearsals. Corporate theater, the authors conclude, is most effective when it is used to encourage camaraderie and team spirit among employees, rather than to foster deeper strategic thinking.

As Easy as ABC?
Robert S. Kaplan ([email protected]) and Steven R. Anderson ([email protected]), “Time-Driven Activity-Based Costing,” Harvard Business School Working Paper Number 04-045. Click here.

For nearly two decades, Activity-Based Costing (ABC) has been the accounting equivalent of a white knight — the methodology that, its supporters say, has the potential to rid business of the imprecise and inaccurate measures of profit and loss used in traditional accounting. ABC assigns the costs of manufacturing a product or providing a service to specific activities — such as research and development, market analysis, cleaning a widget for assembly, sales campaigns, and so on — not to the more generalized accounting categories like raw materials, overhead, and salaries. Ideally, ABC offers a realistic portrayal of individual cost drivers and a more accurate assessment of total costs, so that management can make more educated decisions about how to sustain profitability for each of the company’s products and services.

But ABC is not always the most desirable option. It has one primary drawback, according to Robert S. Kaplan, the Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development at Harvard Business School, and Steven R. Anderson, chairman and founder of Acorn Systems Inc.: ABC can be time consuming and, therefore, expensive. To properly implement the ABC methodology, companies must conduct detailed examinations of what goes on in each step of the design, development, and delivery of every product and service. That approach involves extensive interviews and surveys to identify core processes and to analyze costs at each stage in an operation.

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