Academic journal article Management International Review

Do Expatriates Change Their Behavior to Fit a Foreign Culture? A Study of American Expatriates' Strategies of Upward Influence

Academic journal article Management International Review

Do Expatriates Change Their Behavior to Fit a Foreign Culture? A Study of American Expatriates' Strategies of Upward Influence

Article excerpt


In today's age of multicultural, global organizations, superiors and subordinates who must work together are often from different cultures (Mendenhall, Dunbar and Oddou 1987). Much research has already shown that there are differences in the values held by people from various cultures around the world (Evans and Sculli 1981, Hofstede 1980, Hofstede and Bond 1984, 1988, Kelley, Whatley and Worthley 1987, Ralston, Cunniff and Gustafson in press, Ronen and Shenkar 1985, Tung 1991). To accurately assess what motivates employees in a multi-cultural work environment, managers must understand the differences in values and the resultant behavior patterns of individuals from other cultures (Ralston, Gustafson, Cheung and Terpstra 1992, Ricks, Toyne and Martinez 1990, Schwartz 1992, Tung and Miller 1990).

Understanding the behavior patterns of individuals who are from different cultures is particularly salient for expatriate managers who not only must work with individuals from other cultures, but who also must work in a foreign culture (Mendenhall and Oddou 1985, Shaw 1990). However, the transfer of domestic managers into foreign assignments is not always successful (Gregersen and Black 1992, Tung 1982). In fact, the failure of expatriate managers to adjust to a foreign assignment is a serious problem for many organizations, especially those in the U.S. According to Tung (1981, 1984), 25% to 40% of all expatriates from the United States have failed. Besides lost productivity, the cost to a company for each failure runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars (O'Boyle 1989).

The success or failure of expatriate adjustment is a complex issue (Armes and Ward 1989, Black 1992, Black and Gregersen 1991, Black and Mendenhall 1990, Black and Stephens 1989, Briody and Chrisman 1991, Everett and Stening 1987, Gomez-Mehia and Balkin 1987, Shaw 1990). To be effective in a foreign culture, expatriate managers must understand both the origin of their own behavior and the congruence of their behavior with that of individuals who are from the foreign culture (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou 1991, Internationalization 1989). Thus, it is important to assess the degree to which home-culture values dominate expatriate managers' behaviors and their perceptions of others (Feather, Volkmer and McKee 1992).

We believe that most researchers and practitioners would agree that an important part of a manager's behavior revolves around the ability to wield influence successfully, whether a domestic or expatriate manager (Ralston, Gustafson, Mainiero and Umstot 1993, Schermerhorn and Bond 1991, Schriesheim and Hinkin 1990, Yukl and Tracey 1992). And, often times, a manager's critical challenge is to use these influence behaviors effectively with those in the organization who are in a superior position (Ansari and Kapoor 1987, Mowday 1978, Porter, Allen and Angle 1981). To be effective, managers must use influence behaviors that are acceptable to their superiors. Yet the perceived acceptability of particular upward influence behaviors may differ significantly across cultures (Ralston et al. 1993b). Thus, expatriate managers face an additional set of challenges - cultural differences - when they attempt to influence superiors who are from a foreign culture.

To date, there appears to be little or no research on whether expatriates do or do not adapt their use of influence strategies to fit the norms of the foreign location. Therefore, our study sets out to explore the degree to which expatriate managers change their influence strategies to accommodate the cultural norms of the host location. Specifically, we will look at American expatriates working in Hong Kong. The question we pose is, "Do these American expatriate managers modify their upwards influence strategies to accommodate the cultural norms of Hong Kong business?"

If the American expatriates adopt the values and behaviors indicative of the Hong Kong culture, we may conclude that they are exhibiting convergent tendencies. …

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