Elements of Expatriate Management

This section details the different constituent elements of expatriate management. Companies place varying degrees of emphasis on these elements.

Expatriate selection

Stone (1991) enumerates the following criteria used by companies for expatriate selection: ability to adapt; technical competence; spouse and family adaptability; human relations skill; desire to serve overseas; previous overseas experience; understanding of host country culture; academic qualifications; knowledge of language of country; and understanding of company culture. Additionally, most companies prefer managers who have good interpersonal skills, and are able to establish rapport with different types of people.

Black and Mendenhall (1990) have arranged the adaptive characteristics of expatriates in three clusters:

  1. Those associated with resilience, such as high self-esteem and a high threshold for stress.

  2. Those associated with the ability to form relationships with people from other cultures, such as tolerance and flexibility.

  3. Those associated with the ability to assess, perceive and understand behaviour in new cultures.

An expatriate who possesses technical expertise, but lacks adaptive characteristics from the above three clusters, will be unable to perform satisfactorily. In that event the expatriate may have to leave, either by personal choice or by company request.

The existing literature indicates that although cross-cultural adaptability should play a role in the recruitment of expatriates, in practice insufficient attention is given to this capability. A study of 50 major US firms by Solomon (1994) revealed that 90 per cent of expatriates were selected on the basis of their ability to demonstrate technically superior performance.

All the companies in the case studies in this book have engaged in some form of assessment of the cross-cultural skills of their expatriates. Nestl carefully grooms potential expatriates, so that by the time they are sent on an international assignment, they have already been exposed to more than one culture.

Multinational corporations are still trying to develop reliable means for predicting 'ability of an expatriate candidate to adapt to a foreign culture'. Multiple sources of information are used to elicit information on this, including in-depth interviews, special instruments, past actual behaviour of the candidate, and behaviour of the candidate in simulations. BMW involves prospective expatriates in problem-solving exercises that require them to sift and analyse actual case studies from other cultures. The problem-solving efforts also involve making a two-week visit to the country where the case study has been set.

Most of the expatriates surveyed for this book reveal a preference for being posted to cosmopolitan cities and towns. Their rationale is that small towns tend to be parochial and provincial, even ethnocentric. Even if expatriates are willing to savour a new culture, they may not be received into the mainstream of that culture. Although an expatriate is expected to make the lion's share of the effort in achieving assimilation, the process is two-way. The give and take of assimilation is most likely to be evidenced in a cosmopolitan, pluralistic city, with a population that is international in orientation. The choice of Singapore as the location for Credit Suisse's Project Copernicus has enabled the company to attract best-of-breed expatriates.

Pre-assignment orientation

Many global corporations believe that certain types of academic training predispose managers for international assignments. The world's top-rated business schools generally provide inputs in international management. Examples in Europe are the London Business School in the UK, INSEAD in France, IMD in Switzerland, the Instituto de Empressa in Spain, and SDA Bocconi in Italy. Top-rated US business schools include Wharton, Harvard Business School, Sloan School of Business, MIT and Carnegie-Mellon University's Business School. Well-known business schools in other parts of the world include the Asian Institute of Management, Philippines; Australian Graduate School of Management; University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business; the Chinese University of Hong Kong; and the National University of Singapore Graduate School of Business. These business schools attract an international community of students and faculty. By the time they graduate, the students have already experienced life in a culturally diverse enclave.

Companies often formally assess a potential expatriate's strengths and weaknesses for cultural adaptability. A favoured method is to use instruments such as the CCAI mentioned in the ICAS case study. These instruments identify areas in an expatriate's cross-cultural competencies that require bolstering. Accordingly, appropriate training is provided. Such training should be custom made, keeping in mind an individual expatriate's special needs. Ultimately, an expatriate's fit into a new culture depends on that individual's effort to assimilate with an entire society.

Customized individual training is usually complemented by general awareness training programmes. These programmes educate expatriates heading towards a particular country about the customs and behaviour patterns of that country. Expatriates come to know how people in the country they are going to relate to each other socially .

Pre-assignment orientation is essential. Aeppel (1996) has observed that European companies such as British Petroleum, ABB Unilever, Volkswagen and Bayer AG operate regional assessment centres comprising both host-country representatives and specialists, to select and orient expatriates. Swank (1995) has recorded that Ford uses international human resources teams with local representatives, to conduct assessments and prepare expatriates for their overseas assignments.

Organizational support at the new locale

Organizational assistance in adjusting to work life at the new branch is a source of succour for an expatriate. It is important that expatriates integrate themselves into the culture of the new branch and establish congenial work relations with their colleagues and associates . If they experience difficulty getting socialized into the new branch, they will be unable to perform effectively on the job. This then reduces their motivation to cope with the new culture.

Mentoring enables expatriates to assimilate into their new places of work and new countries of residence. Cultural anthropologist Marie Andersen, in her book Around the World in Thirty Years , used the term 'informer' to describe the mentor who continuously informs a newcomer on aspects of culture. According to Andersen, having an informer is the key to gaining acceptance speedily in a new culture. An expatriate's mentor informs him or her of the nuances of corporate culture, as well as ethnic culture. Expatriates may prefer to be mentored by two people, one for providing information about corporate feedback, and another for serving as a link with ethnic culture.

Many Japanese companies connect expatriate families with host families at destination countries. Kumaga (1991) records that Mitsui assigns mentors for their international employees both at home and in the destination country.

A study of 1,100 Swedish expatriates by Torbiorn (1982) reports that all of them were at least fairly satisfied with their experiences abroad, while some were very satisfied. Part of the satisfaction stems from the fact that the expatriates were motivated to venture overseas and experience a new culture. They were recruited appropriately. Their companies gave them organizational support. Torbiorn suggested that the expatriates were likely to be satisfied in countries where the overall standard of living was similar to their own. Similarity of language and religion also contributed to the expatriates' overall sense of satisfaction. The companies and expatriates surveyed in this book postulate that when expatriate motivation and organizational support are at optimal levels, expatriates can experience satisfaction even in cultures dissimilar from their own.

One method by which companies provide the necessary organizational support to their employees is through the dissemination of uniform core values at all their branches. Expatriates can then feel they are in a familiar environment at least professionally. Nestl has adopted this strategy.

Hall (1995) has described how Unilever, by contrast, has branches across the globe, each with its own corporate culture. The expatriates surveyed for this book opine that they would prefer to work for an organization that disseminates uniform core values across all its branches. This is parallel to the philosophy propagated by Kets de Vries and Mead (1992) for expatriates to conduct themselves: 'Truly global leaders need a set of core values that will guide them in whatever environment they may find themselves.' In other words, expatriates should have strong values that they can draw on in order to have a sense of self.

Shell Corporation uses the expression 'the road to Hell is paved with good intentions' in its expatriate training programmes, to illustrate that despite good intentions, problems can still arise when expatriates interact with host country nationals. According to Shell expatriate trainer Gareth Evans, problems can arise because of a lack of trust on both sides. The issue of trust then has to be addressed specifically .

Expatriates should ascertain, a month after they have arrived in a new culture, whether local managers trust them. If trust has not been established they should take remedial action, before the lack of trust degenerates into distrust . Quite often expatriates may not recognize that trust does not exist between themselves and the local managers because the latter do not make known their reservations until the relationship is beyond salvage. Expatriates who have not earned the trust of local managers often note that they encounter a glass barrier when they try to reach out to local managers. A mistake expatriates might make at this stage is to try to break through that barrier. The more they try to break through that barrier , the more they alienate themselves, and the more local managers recoil from them. The situation is exacerbated when both sides are evaluative of each other, instead of being objective. Being judgmental in circumstances where there is no trust is tantamount to adding insult to injury . In cross-cultural situations, the process of being evaluative will be coloured by cultural biases.

While many transnational corporations invest time, effort and resources in easing expatriates into a new culture, very few prepare local managers for the adjustments they have to make when accepting colleagues and bosses from another culture into their fold. Local managers have to be educated about the culturally determined behavioural patterns of expatriates, to obviate avoidable misunderstandings. They should never be made to feel that 'rule by expatriates' is being imposed on them.

In some countries, expatriates live and work under residence permits granted because they hold specialized expertise not found locally. Bahrain is an example. After getting independence from the United Kingdom in 1971, it has established a diversified range of industries including aluminum processing, shipbuilding, iron and steel processing, furniture and door making, and offshore banking. Wherever it was noticed that Bahrainis did not possess the requisite specialized knowledge for managing any aspect of these industries, expatriates were brought in from overseas (Ellement, Maznevski and Lane, 1990). Expatriate managers are treated deferentially in Bahrain and occupy senior positions in the firms that employ them. However, the residency permits can be revoked whenever the Bahraini employing company decides that the expatriates' services are not required. Expatriate managers of skill and competence prefer to work for the Bahraini branches of global companies.

A US woman who worked in Bahrain for some time found that lack of trust between US expatriates and Bahraini colleagues arose due to differences in the perception of 'truth'. It seemed to her that ' "truth" to a Bahraini employee was subject to an Arab interpretation, formed over hundreds of years of cultural evolution' (Ellement, Maznevski and Lane, 1990). When a Bahraini manager did not see something as the truth, it was not believed, and therefore not accepted. A US manager convinced by facts might see the same matter as an obvious 'truth'. Bahraini managers have quickly rejected US managers who have gone to Bahrain inadequately prepared for such eventualities.

Expatriates from first-world countries need to understand the implications of life in an Islamic country like Bahrain before they set foot there, if they are to be accepted. 'To function successfully [in an Islamic country like Bahrain], the expatriate must understand and learn to accept a very differently structured society' ( Gulf Daily News , 1987). Islam requires that Muslims pray five times a day. Since the prayer timings are distributed across the day, they need to pray at their place of work three times a day. A devout Muslim could spend 10 minutes at a time in prayer, thus using half an hour a day of company time in prayer. During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, it is illegal for a Muslim in an Islamic country to work after 2 pm.

Differences of religion are not a bar to good professional relationships or intercultural friendships. However, ignorance about religious practices that impinge on workplace behaviour can lead to the irrevocable breakdown of trust. An uninformed expatriate who comments to a Muslim subordinate in an Islamic country, 'You could be so much more productive if you were to pray in your off-office hours', is inviting trouble. An expatriate manager is well advised never to comment on a local national's religion and religious practices.

Female expatriate managers in countries like Bahrain have to be prepared not only for overall cultural differences, but also for culturally conditioned attitudes regarding women's role in society. Expatriate women managers in Bahrain sometimes have to fight the opposition of Bahraini males to having women in managerial positions.

Intercultural Management
Intercultural Management: MBA Masterclass (MBA Masterclass Series)
ISBN: 0749435828
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 98
Authors: Nina Jacob

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