This study explores the risks and consequences of the reliance on visualizations in performance measurement for the sake of the simplicity and actionability of performance information. Despite the mounting interest in the visual aspects of accounting, little is known about what can happen when visuals are so embedded in organizations that they become a key semiotic resource for communicating performance measurement information. Theoretically, we draw from multimodality research to unpack how different semiotic modes (i.e., visuals, text, and numbers) interact in organizational meaning-making. To explore these issues, we conducted a study of the visual practices of one of the largest infrastructure megaprojects in the UK. The paper makes two contributions. Our first contribution consists of qualifying what we call the lure of the visual: A seemingly paradoxical process whereby the increasing ubiquity and reliance on visuals in an organization induces the trivialization of performance measurement visualizations and limits the communicative opportunities they offer to users. In so doing, we offer a substantive qualification of the risks and consequences of visual approaches to performance measurement. Our second contribution to the accounting literature is the theorization of how multiple semiotic modes can interact in performance measurement. We theorize three multimodal relationships between visuals, numbers, and text that shed new light on how performance measurement artifacts generate meaning in organizations.
- performance measurement