Variables Influencing Expatriate Learning and Organizational Learning

Article excerpt

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The increase of globalization has presented multinational corporations with the challenge to remain competitive in a diverse cultural environment. Organizational learning is one of the critical factors that help organizations maintain a competitive advantage in the global arena. One source of competitive advantage is the wealth of knowledge that expatriates provide from their international assignments. It is, therefore, crucial that an organization examine the factors that enhance expatriates' learning and organizational learning. The present research identifies the moderating variables that influence the international assignment-expatriates' learning relationship as well as the moderating variables that influence the relationship between expatriate's learning and organizational learning. The present research identifies the conditions under which the expatriates' learning and organizational learning can be maximized.

Keywords: Organizational learning, Expatriate learning, International assignment

INTRODUCTION

Multinational organizations have long recognized the importance of sending employees on expatriate assignments in order to benefit from the numerous international business opportunities that exist in the global marketplace. Expatriates often gain a wealth of knowledge from international postings that are seldom utilized by the organizations upon the expatriates' return to the parent headquarters.

Such organizations have not implemented active strategies designed to tap into the expatriate's individual knowledge and embed such knowledge into organizational learning (Antal, 2001). As organizational learning theories have stated, organizations "tend to know less than the sum of the knowledge of their members do and unless a conscious effort is made to tap into the knowledge of individuals, investments made in their learning will remain underused" (Antal, 2001, p.63).

The literature on expatriates has usually focused on the differences between female and male expatriates and the various factors that impact their level of success in completing international assignments such as organizational support and training (Downes & Thomas, 1999). However, the literature is scarce with regards to the role of learning in the expatriate process, especially at the individual and organizational level (Downes & Thomas, 1999).

The objectives of the present research, therefore, are two fold: (1) to identify the factors that influence the expatriates' learning from their international assignments; and (2) to identify the factors that influence the relationship between the expatriates' learning and organizational learning. The present research will review the literature and develop hypotheses for future testing regarding the above objectives. Figure 1 identifies the research variables.

Studying the factors that influence expatriate and organizational learning is important. First, as indicated above, little research has been done to explore expatriates' learning and organizational learning. Second, examining the factors that influence the expatriates' learning is important since there should be a direct relationship between the expatriates' learning and organizational learning. Third, organizational learning and the factors that influence it may be important since there should be a direct relationship between organizational learning and an organization's competitive advantage.

In addition, while expatriates are an attractive resource for acquiring foreign market knowledge, the enormous investment that organizations devote to selecting, retaining and successfully repatriating expatriates require that factors facilitating and inhibiting expatriate learning as well as organizational learning be investigated (Downes, Thomas, & Singley, 2002). Therefore, an organization should recognize that expatriation could provide a competitive advantage to a greater degree if the organization is able to collect the intellectual capital of individual employees and distribute this knowledge through its various organizational levels (O'Keeffe, 2003). …