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Human performance measurement and management in early seventeenth century English agriculture : the case of Henry Best

Lookup NU author(s): Tom McLean


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Agriculture is one of the oldest and most important forms of organised human activity Roberts [Roberts, J. M. (1988). The Pelican History of the World. London: Penguin, p. 49] but accounting historians have paid it relatively little attention when investigating the measurement and management of human performance. Undertaking a detailed analysis of the records of Henry Best, a seventeenth century English farmer, the current paper seeks to remedy this deficit. The current research finds that Best maintained financial records but notes that, in the absence of external accountability relationships and professional accounting, these records were not used for the calculation of financial performance or financial position but were employed simply to maintain track of transactions and to hold his workforce accountable for their performance. In drawing up a treatise on operational farm management for the benefit of his son and heir, who did subsequently employ this treatise, Best made extensive use of non-financial information. Best advocated that, when managing human performance, personal supervision should be guided by appropriate measurement systems: presaging later developments in scientific management, Best developed, inter alia, labour classifications, specified rates of pay, and required working methods and output levels. Like labour tasking on nineteenth century slave plantations, Best's methods may be perceived as “thematic precursor(s) to accounting-based disciplinary controls like standard costs and a transitory element from pre-modern to modern control systems” Tyson [Tyson, T., et al. (2004). Theoretical perspectives on accounting for labor on slave plantations of the USA and British West Indies. Accounting Auditing & Accountability Journal, 17(5), p. 758].

Publication metadata

Author(s): McLean T

Publication type: Article

Journal: Accounting Forum Special Issue - Financial accounting: Past, present and future

Year: 2009

Volume: 33

Issue: 1

Pages: 62-73

ISSN (print): 0155-9982

ISSN (electronic): 1467-6303

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.accfor.2008.07.001

Notes: This article offers an unusual perspective on human performance measurement and management by focusing on agriculture in the seventeenth century, whereas the current literature tends to focus on manufacturing in the post-British Industrial Revolution period.


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