Learning in multinational enterprises as the socially embedded translation of practices

Florian Becker‐Ritterspach (Department of International Business and Management, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Groningen, The Netherlands)
Ayse Saka‐Helmhout (School of Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK)
Jasper J. Hotho (Center for Strategic Management and Globalization, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark)

critical perspectives on international business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Publication date: 2 February 2010



With a few exceptions, the mainstream literature on learning in multinational enterprises (MNEs) has shown little concern for the transformational nature and the social constitution of learning. This paper aims to address this gap by drawing on Scandinavian institutionalism, social learning perspectives, and comparative institutionalism.


A comparative case study of two subsidiaries of the same MNE was conducted. The subsidiaries received similar practices from headquarters (HQ) but displayed contrasting learning outcomes.


It is shown that learning outcomes differed based on the varying extent to which practices were translated, which depends on the participation of local actors. The difference in participation pattern, in turn, is rooted in differences in the institutional context of the two subsidiaries.

Research limitations/implications

It is recognized that apart from institutional influences, organizational idiosyncrasies may be at work. In addition, the paper briefly considers the extent to which the notion of contrasting forms of capitalism is still useful when comparing the German and British institutional contexts.

Practical implications

The findings highlight the importance of involving employees in the translation of new practices. A challenge for MNEs is that learning of new practices can differ by institutional context. Where enabling institutional conditions are absent, conscious effort may be needed to ensure employee participation.


This paper highlights that MNE practice transfer rests on the translation of the practice content to the local context, and that subsidiary‐level learning processes may be institutionally embedded, thus establishing a link between subsidiary learning and the macro‐level context. As such, this paper both illustrates the value of social learning perspectives and the relevance of the work of institutionalists for understanding MNE learning processes.



Becker‐Ritterspach, F., Saka‐Helmhout, A. and Hotho, J.J. (2010), "Learning in multinational enterprises as the socially embedded translation of practices", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 8-37. https://doi.org/10.1108/17422041011017603

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