Associate professor at HEC Montréal, Elodie Allain assumes her role as visiting professor at EMSBS for the fourth time. We interviewed her about her background and recent research, particularly that carried out in collaboration with Célia Lemaire, a member of HuManiS.
Hello Elodie, could you tell me a bit about yourself?
After a master's degree in financial accounting to become a public accountant, I finally chose to follow the advice of one of my professors at the University of Rennes to do a PhD. I worked on a research project on calculating the costs of insurance services that I had already started for my master’s thesis defense. In 2010, I defended my PhD dissertation entitled “La modélisation des coûts dans le secteur des services : une lecture au travers de l'utilisation de la variable ‘temps’.”
After a semester of study in Montreal where I fell in love with the city, I wanted to move to Quebec after my PhD. I obtained a position at HEC Montréal, which I have held for 11 years now. I teach courses in management control, cost management, and accounting. At the same time, I conduct various research projects and participate in several pedagogical innovation projects.
What are your main areas of research?
During my PhD, my research topic was focused on costing and all the difficulties related to service companies in particular. Defining the scope of a service, which includes a significantly greater human dimension than a manufactured product for example, is indeed very complex.
More globally, my research work deals with the notion of quantification, which includes costing but also obtaining quantitative information from which performance indicators are derived for decision-making. I worked for many years on improving quantification through costing, but now I'm more interested in studying the impact of quantification and how it is used in business.
For example, I have started research on how the role of controllers have changed with new digital tools and in particular business intelligence tools that optimize operations, business processes, and decision-making.
Can you tell me more about your collaboration with Célia Lemaire, associate professor at EMSBS?
For the past few years, Célia Lemaire (HuManiS, EMSBS), Gulliver Lux (Université du Québec à Montréal), and I have been working together on a project that is very dear to us.
In 2016, we began a collective research project on the performance of health and social organizations. At that time, a series of reforms in the health and social field were adopted in Quebec. These have had a strong impact on the sector, and it seemed interesting to us to evaluate their impact on the personnel and more particularly the managers of these organizations.
These reforms lead to a massive restructuration, involving the merger of several organizations to reduce budgets and staff. They follow the new public management trend with much more optimization and rationalization of cost and with a transfer of managerial techniques from the private sector to the public sector.
By conducting numerous interviews, we were able to study how managers cope with reforms that are too dehumanizing for their staff. To resist, they use accounting tools but in fact reinforce the system they are trying to fight and promote the dehumanizing dynamic induced by the reform.
Thanks to the collection and analysis of all this information, we were able to write a first article entitled "Managers' subtle resistance to neoliberal reforms through and by means of management accounting" published in early 2021.
We are in the process of finalizing a second article on the topic of passionate interests. We also published a book chapter together entitled "Visual boards as a medium for a relational-based approach", which talks about the impact of using visual elements in performance management tools.
We still have many interviews to analyze, so our collaboration will extend well into the future. As these interviews were conducted in Canada and France, we plan to write a comparative article on the different reforms adopted by the two countries.
What do you think are the benefits and/or constraints of working together in different countries?
We are each at a different university, in different countries: Gulliver and I are in Quebec and Célia in France, but we regularly work via videoconference and organize visits, at least once a year.
The work progresses better when we see each other, but the videoconferences (planned every week or every two weeks on average depending on requirements) allow us to stay on track. In addition to online exchanges, we rotate the papers we collaborate on. Everyone takes turns reading the paper to provide feedback, inject new ideas, and revise the central theme if necessary.
There is no magic formula for collaboration, but we have common interests and a complementary approach that allow each of us to play a role in an informal way that balances the whole.
What advice would you like to give to doctoral students and young doctors at the School?
I would advise them to attend many conferences as soon as possible, even if they have no papers to present. I find it important to listen to the latest news, analyze how people are asking questions, and interact with researchers from different universities and nationalities. It is nevertheless important to target conferences in line with their fields of interest and branches of research.
Thank you very much Elodie for taking the time to answer my questions!