Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

It's a Different World out There: Planning for Expatriate Success through Selection, Pre-Departure Training and On-Site Socialization

Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

It's a Different World out There: Planning for Expatriate Success through Selection, Pre-Departure Training and On-Site Socialization

Article excerpt

Internationalization has increased the demand for individuals who can manage effectively in a foreign environment. Historically, multinational firms have been plagued by the problem of premature return of expatriate managers due to their inability to adapt to the culture of the host country. This article integrates models of national culture thus providing a framework for the prediction of the appropriate types of cross-cultural training and socialization necessary for an expatriate manager prior to the foreign assignment, as well as the methods and goals of socialization to be used within the organization upon his/her arrival. The discussion leads to specific human resource planning guidelines and implications for the proper socialization of expatriate managers, more effective use of performance appraisal systems, and heightened motivational aspects of compensation, culminating in management styles that more closely correspond to the cultural expectations of host countries and result in higher overall managerial success.

As more and more firms move outside of their domestic borders into the dynamic arena of international business, the demand for individuals who can manage effectively in a foreign environment continues to increase (Bjorkman & Schaap, 1994; Hodgetts & Luthans, 1993; Zeira & Banai, 1987). Unfortunately, multinational corporations have been plagued by the persistent problem of significant rates of premature return of expatriate managers (Baliga and Baker, 1985; McDonald, 1993). It is estimated that up to 50 percent of managers sent abroad return prematurely from their overseas assignment, resulting in great costs to multinational firms (Tung 1981). One American manager stationed in Indonesia, for example, unfortunately discovered that when firing an oil rig worker, the proper approach is to inform the employee privately of the firing, rather than publicly, which resulted in the employee chasing the manager around the oil rig with a fire ax (Ricks, 1993).

As the previous example underscores, the inability of expatriate managers to adjust to the host country's social and business environment is costly in terms of management performance, productivity in the overseas operation, client relations, and operations efficiency (Howard, 1992; Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985). These costs may also be compounded by an increase in executive turnover resulting from failure to repatriate managers successfully (Gomez-Mejia & Balkin, 1987).

Recent surveys of multinational managers indicate the most important reasons for failure to function effectively in a foreign country include the manager's: 1) inability to adapt rapidly to a different culture; 2) personality or emotional characteristics; and 3) inability to cope with the complexity of work responsibilities posed by the overseas assignment (McClenahen, 1987; Zeira & Banal, 1987). In this article we seek to unify the models of national culture, discuss the causes of expatriate failure, and propose guidelines for increasing manager success. Our underlying premise is that through the understanding of national culture, effective human resource planning may be initiated prior to encountering overseas assignment failure.

Managerial failure occurs not only in the typical multi-year expatriate assignments but also in short-term, more focussed assignments that are oftentimes crucial to the future of the company's success in foreign markets. Sending managers on foreign assignment without adequate understanding of the host culture may result in significant inefficiency. The acquisition of Firestone tire by Japan's Bridgestone is an example where the crusty style of the former chairman of Firestone, John Nevin, resulted in requiring new managers be brought in to complete the acquisition because the Japanese, whose manner is much more subtle, were not used to the forceful and aggressive American management style (Ricks, 1993).

Firms have the choice to send managers from headquarters to foreign assignments, employ foreign nationals, or seek third country nationals to fill the needs in the firm's global operations. …

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