The Role of Expatriates in MNCs Knowledge Mobilization: Volume 27

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(18 chapters)
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Pages xi-xv

In Chapter 1, Susan Shortland (2011) examined theories and models that could be used to explain female expatriate participation with a view to identifying the most promising theoretical lenses for future research. Her study took as its basis, issues, evidence and explanations from both the ‘women in management’ and ‘women expatriates’ literature to identify four main theoretical domains: family issues, assignee characteristics, host and home country norms, and institutional factors. Findings revealed that the most promising explanations of women's low expatriate participation were identified as being linked to occupational gender stereotyping and sex roles in employment, women's reduced social capital and patriarchal attitudes towards their identity and homemaker roles. These were reinforced by institutional isomorphic behaviour through which organisations mimic each other's human resource practices.

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Purpose –– This chapter examines theories and models that could be used to explain female expatriate participation with a view to identifying the most promising theoretical lenses for future research. It takes as its basis, issues, evidence and explanations from both ‘women in management’ and ‘women expatriates’ literature to identify four main theoretical domains: family issues, assignee characteristics, host and home country norms, and institutional factors. Key theories and models within each of these four domains are highlighted and discussed and their potential contribution to understanding and explaining female expatriation evaluated.

Methodology/approach –– A Delphi study and advanced library database search were used to generate data for conceptual analysis.

Findings –– The most promising explanations of women's low expatriate participation are identified as being linked to occupational gender stereotyping and sex roles in employment, women's reduced social capital and patriarchal attitudes towards their identity and homemaker roles. These are reinforced by institutional isomorphic behaviour through which organisations mimic each other's human resource practices.

Research limitations/implications –– The research drew upon English language sources only in data collection and analysis.

Practical implications –– Scrutiny of organisational policies and practices applied to expatriate assignments is required to increase gender diversity in expatriation.

Social implications –– Further research using theoretical underpinning is required both to understand gender diversity within corporate international mobility and to prevent women's current low representation from continuing in future.

Originality/value of chapter –– There is little evidence to date of an accepted theoretical framework to test hypotheses relating to women's low expatriate participation. This chapter addresses this gap, identifying potentially helpful theoretical lenses for future female expatriate research.

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Purpose — The purpose of this chapter is to outline the findings of research into knowledge transfer across countries and culture and the implications of the findings for human resource practitioners.

Methodology/approach — Use of a qualitative case study methodology approach was employed.

Findings — The findings highlight the inherent difficulty of knowledge transfer and the broad range of factors that influence the knowledge transfer process and which are connected together in a complex and non-linear manner.

Research implications — The research revealed insight into those managers most likely to be effective at knowledge transfer and what characteristics and experiences had supported this openness to knowledge from outside of their cultural context. The lessons from the research can be incorporated into the selection and development processes for expatriates.

Originality value — The study affirmed the critical importance of face-to-face interaction in knowledge transfer. The research also resulted in the development of a practical model and tool, which pulls together the broad range of factors that impact on knowledge transfer.

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Purpose — We investigate the contribution of international business as a distinct academic area whose domain spans comparative and cross-border environments and institutions and the business behaviour of their major players.

Methodology/approach — We investigate knowledge flows into and from international business, using cross-citations between the Journal of International Business Studies (JIBS) and leading management journals over a 13-year period.

Findings — We find JIBS to be a net importer, especially of strategy; however, in the most recent period, the journal has become a net knowledge exporter. Despite the improvement over time in JIBS' network position, international research published in JIBS appears to have less impact on management knowledge than management outlets have on international business research.

Practical implications — Findings confirm that international business is at a crossroads and international business scholars would do well to capitalise on global presence, by expanding into areas of growth and developing integration and cross-fertilisation capabilities. Specifically, international business should build on its comparative advantages to develop theory that is useful to scholars in other areas through multidisciplinary research.

Originality/value of chapter — This study is a pioneering attempt to extensively review and conduct an aggregate analysis of all papers in a range of journals in order to identify the narratives that comprise the field of international business.

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Purpose –– The aim of the present study was to shed light on the role of Western expatriates in knowledge transfer processes in foreign subsidiaries in Central and Eastern Europe and the impediments they face in these roles in the context of socio-economic transformation.

Methodology/approach –– The findings are based on qualitative data collected via in-depth telephone interviews with 18 Finnish expatriates across a range of firms and industries –– nine located in Estonia and nine in the Czech Republic.

Findings –– The expatriates performed a wide variety of roles reflecting their use as mechanisms of control, coordination and the transfer of knowledge; however, the extent of their knowledge transfer activities was largely influenced by the MNCs' desired level of subsidiary integration. Challenges in the knowledge transferor role were identified at all three levels –– social, organisational and relational –– with some noticeable similarities and differences across the two countries.

Research limitations/implications –– This study included the views of expatriates only and not the views of other key stakeholders such as host-country employees and managers at headquarters. In order to verify the accounts of expatriates as well as establish a picture of how effective the expatriates are in their knowledge mobilisation roles, future research should endeavour to include other key parties in the knowledge transfer process.

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Purpose –– The purpose of this chapter is to test the managerial decision-making knowledge of Mexican administrators managing maquiladora plants, or ‘twin plants’, in the effort to devise a practical skill set assessment.

Design/methodology/approach –– A sample of Mexican maquiladora managers was studied along dimensions of gender, experience, proximity to parent firm and upward mobility in order to assess the managers' level of ‘managerial intelligence’, where the constructs of tacit knowledge and intuition were used as proxies for managerial intelligence.

Findings –– While managerial decision-making may be classified as special forms of knowledge, assessment of this knowledge as forms of tacit ‘knowing’ did not prove successful.

Research limitations/implications –– Due to limitations of time and money in conjunction with the characteristically low response rate on surveys in Mexico, the sample was rather limited given the number and size of ‘twin plants’ and not wholly random. Thus, future research will need to address these shortcomings.

Originality/value –– This chapter is an effort to fill a gap in the literature regarding measures of tacit knowledge and the effort to elucidate the operation and management of plants in Mexico's maquiladora industry.

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Purpose — Most managers seem dissatisfied with their careers after they return from expatriate assignments. The study aimed to identify the reasons for their dissatisfaction and distill implications for MNCs interested in improving the return on the investment they make on expatriation and harnessing the valuable knowledge with which many managers return after successful completion of expatriate assignments.

Methodology/approach — The data were collected via depth interviews with recently returned expatriates.

Findings — The level of dissatisfaction among returning expatriates is high and is attributable to a poorly managed HR function. While considerable sums are invested in transferring knowledge from home to host offices, MNCs seem curiously inattentive to the process by which their returning expatriates are reintegrated into the firm.

Practical implications — Managers' voices call for a strategically oriented HR function of MNCs and a new organisation for developing intellectual capital and a cadre of globally trained managers. Changes in structure, systems and processes are discussed.

Social implications — If MNCs continue neglecting the repatriation needs of their expatriates, and paying little or no attention to transferring their knowledge about international operations, U.S. companies are likely to lag in terms of utilising that knowledge to become more effective global organisations.

Originality/value of the chapter — Sources of dissatisfaction among returning expatriates are identified. Much of the dissatisfaction relates to the disconnect between expectations and reality, the failure of the mentor role and a lagging HR function. The chapter identifies steps to correct these problems.

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Purpose — This study assesses the effectiveness of initiatives by expatriate employees of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T, popularly referred to as the ‘Bell System’11The use of the term ‘Bell System’ as a synonym for AT&T reflected the firm's initial dependency on the exploitation of the telephone patents of Alexander Graham Bell. The Bell System consisted of AT&T, a holding company, and its affiliates including The Bell Telephone Laboratories (research), Western Electric (manufacturing) and 13 regional telephone operating subsidiaries.) in the revival of the Japan's telecommunications system and allied industries after World War II.

Methodology — Our primary methodology involves historical analysis of archival resources for AT&T and the Civil Communications Section (CCS) of the Supreme Command Allied Powers (SCAP), the American occupation government agency responsible for advising Japanese government and industry during the period 1945–1950.

Findings — Before the war, the Bell System maintained strong direct connections in Japan. AT&T's influence during the occupation, however, was indirect: knowledge dissemination through the activities of the CCS, which had several employees on loan from the Bell System.

Research limitations/implications — While our sample of organisations seems narrow and the duration of time relatively brief, the Bell System's people made a tremendous impact: transforming the Japanese telecommunications system. This suggests that guidance and tutelage by expatriate experts may enable host countries to master best practices rapidly without incurring high costs of evolutionary development.

Social implications — Local social mores and differences in workforce educational attainment may temporarily impede the acceptance of new foreign approaches to management and administration.

Value of the chapter — This chapter demonstrates how firm-specific and proprietary knowledge built up over decades at one firm could, through the agency of expatriates, revolutionise in just a few years the basic approaches followed in another country's telecommunications industry.

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Purpose –– The People's Republic of China has introduced policies to encourage Chinese who have worked or studied abroad to return and bring back the knowledge and skills they have gained. This chapter reports on the experiences of these returners as agents of organisational learning.

Methodology –– The exploratory qualitative study is based on a written questionnaire and telephone interviews with 24 returners in diverse organisations and industries in China.

Findings –– The study identifies a type of returner not yet addressed in the literature, ‘experienced self-internationalisers’, which we expect will grow significantly. We find that despite expecting returners to contribute to organisational learning, management does not organise the process. It depends on the individuals themselves, who develop various strategies for sharing their knowledge with local colleagues. Organisational learning is a cross-cultural process and requires bridging a gap between the kinds of knowledge the local employees are interested in gaining and what the returners feel the organisation needs. We note that organisational learning is more likely when the returners recognise their own need to learn rather than just to teach.

Research limitations –– The sample is relatively small; we describe how to take the research forward to more organisations and additional kinds of respondents.

Practical implications –– We formulate recommendations for policymakers, returners and human resource managers seeking to stimulate organisational learning more effectively.

Value –– The chapter generates new insights into organisational learning in China, and it shows how to addresses a phenomenon at the crossroads between the fields of organisational learning, intercultural communication and international human resource management.

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Purpose — The purpose of this chapter is to provide knowledge and insights gained into Canadian expatriates' perspectives of living and working in Indonesia and to enhance the reader's understanding of the lived experience of being immersed in another culture.

Methodology — A descriptive phenomenological qualitative method was employed, which uncovered paradoxes that were lived by Canadian expatriate managers.

Findings — The following paradoxes are presented using participants' words and lived experiences of the authors: powerful-powerless, understanding-not understanding, being supported-not supported, belonging-not belonging and freedom-restriction.

Research limitations — While the qualitative findings may not be ‘generalisable’ according to a quantitative viewpoint, they are certainly applicable to others' experiences as demonstrated by the authors' description of their own experiences.

Practical implications — Enhanced understanding of this lived experience will spark improved expatriation strategies and lead directly to significant improvement in the overall performance of international organisations because an effective expatriate will be more capable of facilitating the two-way sharing and blending of the local and exogenous knowledge, therefore fulfilling a key role in knowledge transfer.

Social implications –– The importance of being open to others' lived experiences and supporting others who are immersed in another culture has universal appeal from a social perspective.

Originality/value of chapter — This is a unique research chapter describing research findings and joining participants' words and experiences with the authors' experiences. As well it is hoped that readers will relate to the paradoxes.

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Purpose –– This chapter shows the connection between the reality of intercultural communication training and its importance to the development of intercultural communication competence, symbolised by the Rainbow Model of Intercultural Communication Competence.

Methodology/approach –– 405 useable questionnaires (response rate=19.4%) were used from 56 German MNEs in a convenience sample of companies in the high-tech industry that are suppliers for the automotive, aviation, optical and chemical industry.

Findings –– German MNCs provide traditional intercultural communication training sparingly to expatriates, but with adjustments depending on the target country. Only 41% of training recipients deemed the training helpful for their mission. Non-traditional training methods are administered more consistently.

Practical implications –– The Rainbow Model of Intercultural Communication Competence should guide the implementation of customised intercultural communication training efforts.

Social implications –– Assisting expatriates in their development of intercultural communication competence via intercultural communication training fulfils the social responsibility of multinational enterprises.

Originality/value of chapter –– This chapter provides guidance to human resource specialists in the international arena to design and implement customisable intercultural communication training programmes for expatriates.

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Purpose — The purpose of this chapter is to give a framework to the issues that need to be addressed with the advent of the global economy and the realisation that the only lasting competitive advantage is an organisation's ability to effectively exploit intellectual capital. Excellent companies build learning organisations systematically, but in their haste, many firms underestimate the importance of cultural, technological, executive and learning imperatives that permeate dynamic, knowledge-based environments. Learning is a dynamic process between the needs of the individual, its leader, operational environment and the demands of the organisation.

Methodology — An initial quantitative study of 101 successful multinational companies with manufacturing facilities in Ireland the findings from which were reinforced by five case studies randomly selected from the ten firms identified from the quantitative research actively developing towards becoming learning organisations.

Findings — The findings of the quantitative and qualitative research are undertaken in the development of the learning imperatives presented in the body of the chapter under: Host Location, Culture Shock, Cross-Cultural Understanding, New Technology, Intellectual Capital, Dissatisfaction with the Traditional Management Paradigm, Nature of Global Business, Executive Challenge of Multinational Assignments, Learning Imperatives in Dynamic Multinational Environments.

Research implications — The research spanned 18 years and has relevance for all organisations irrespective of size operating in culturally diverse environments or simply planning to expand their operations.

Social implications — Are many and varied; however, this chapter, due to word constraints, only examines nine key attributes from the 35 identified. Nevertheless, every one of them will resonate to a greater or lesser extent with leaders from every walk of life.

Originality — The research work outlined in this chapter constituted an important element of the author's doctoral thesis, and its primary value is in the manner in which it simplifies complex issues that consciously or unconsciously affect groups or individuals in their respective working environments.

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Cover of The Role of Expatriates in MNCs Knowledge Mobilization
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International Business and Management
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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