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Human resource management has become an important issue as more and more firms operating internationally are in need to develop an understanding on how to operate competitively in an international business environment (Dowling & Welch, 2005).
As the global playing field has become more competitive, international companies are forced to
adopt efficient HRM and give more focus to their international than their domestic operations. Due
to the sensitivity of the issue, the concerned HR must address the key issues such as the impact of
globalization, environmental influences, cultural differences, the domestic HRM policies in different
countries and the global workforce involved in the action (Armstrong, 2009).
The aim of this essay is to provide a clear overview of the main similarities and differences between
domestic and international Human resource management. The essay will to some extent discuss the
practice of Human resource management at domestic level and the factors that increase its
complexity at international level. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn with an analysis of the research
2. DEFINATIONS OF DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGMENT
The gradual development of management activity from administration of personnel to strategic
planning of human resource, has given a competitive advantage to international companies.
Personnel management focused more on administrative functions and how to control the
employee rather than commit the employee to the organization strategic planning process. But
the present Human resource management system is structured more on the commitment of the
staff and involves the employee in the strategic planning and development process of the
organization. It also stress that organizations should consider their employees as assets than
variable costs (Armstrong, 2009, Torrington et al, 2005).
It is not quite easy to provide a precise and exact definition of Human resource
management due to the varying and different activities it refers to. One attempt made by Storey
(1995) is "HRM is a distinctive approach to employment and management which seeks to
achieve competitive advantage through the strategic development of a highly committed and
capable workforce using an array of cultural, structural and personal techniques." On the other
hand, Human resource management is also defined as representing two activities. One is the
generic term concerned with the key objectives of human activity, which are the staffing,
performance, change management and administrative objectives, and the other activity is the
Human resource approach to carry out the activities stated above under the generic term one
(Torrington et al, 2005).
In order to clearly see the commonalities and differences shared by Domestic and International
human resource management, identifying the activities which change or evolve when HR goes
International is a vital point. To this effect, a module developed by Morgan (1986) is helpful. The
module presents three dimensions of International Human resource management with various
categories of HR activities, countries involved and employees in International activities. The first
dimension deals with the tasks of Human resource management; the procurement, allocation and
utilization of HR which goes further down to detailed activities mentioned earlier in this paper under
the 'generic term' explanation for HRM. The second dimension deals with three country categories;
the host country where the subsidiary is located, home country of the company's headquarter, other
countries which are source of manpower, finance and other inputs. The third dimension is
concerned with three category of employees; Host-country nationals, Parent-country nationals and
Third-country nationals. Thence, according to Morgan (1986), the"... interplay between these three
dimensions is what define international Human resource management" (p.5) .
At this point, it shows that the elements or issues related to International HRM practice are complex,
higher in number and have broader scope than those found in Domestic HRM practice. One sensitive
issue is the staffing policy at international level. There are three types of international managers,
depending on their nationalities, local (parent country nationals, PCN), Host country nationals (HCN),
third country nationals(TCN) and international companies would hire managers/employees choosing
from one or mixing from the groups depending on the company's business plan, technical
competence required for the position, availability of candidates or the company's staffing policy.
Mostly international companies have three staffing policies/strategies.
- Ethnocentric strategy- This approach is when companies use parent company nationals in high
management areas. Nowadays this approach is not much in practice as it is seen to limit the
opportunity of other nationalities.
- Polycentric strategy- This approach demands the use of host country nationals at the subsidiaries,
while at headquarter level parent company nationals hold the high posts. Companies with
Ethnocentric strategy may change to Polycentric strategy when faced with shortcomings of qualified
- Geocentric strategy- This approach has an open door policy, inviting competent managers
regardless of their nationality. Companies using this strategy have the advantage of wide selection
and at the same time create a sense of diversity and unity among employees (David & Hugh, 2007,
Beardwell & Claydon, 2010).
In the next section, the paper will discuss if the HR practices at the domestic level can be
implemented at international level and would try to identify the factors that may facilitate or
hamper this process in general.
3. THE PRACTICE OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGMENT AT INTERNATIONAL AND
The increasing business activity at international level has shown the importance of understanding
how Multinational companies can operate efficiently and effectively in the global dimension. In
general, International Human resource management involves the internationalizing company in
different practices such as diverse HR activities than found in the home country, greater involvement
in employees' private lives, greater risk of exposure to the human and finance involved, more
external influence from the host country and greater complexity than found at Domestic HRM level
(Dowling & Welch, 2005). An International HR manager also needs to address the challenges due to
cross cultural differences, global competition, language and political differences when posted at
international level. Apart from the different intensity level of HR activities and strategic coordination
of different business units, both Domestic and International HRM share same major activities of
HRM. In addition, an International Human resource manager also needs to understand the degree of
'soft or hard' HRM present in the home base and foreign subsidiaries. Companies with Hard HRM
policy are more business focused and apply cost minimization systems while companies that engage
the employee in participation have Soft HRM policy (Storey, 2007).
In a more detail and supported by a diagram Cavusgil et al. (2008,) explain the challenges an
international manger is "...to ensure that the right person is in the right position at the right location
with the right pay."(p.549) The factors that makes this activity more challenging is its complexity in
dealing with various aspects at international level. The diagram below details the different factors to
Fig 1. Adapted from: Cavusgil et al. (2008). International business, Strategy, Management and the new reality. P.550 5
The above mentioned six factors will be explained briefly below;
New human resource responsibility- Broader and diverse activities like International tax
regulation, international relocation and orientation services for expatriates and language
translation services are some of the activities at international level.
Need for broader international perspective in compensation policy- with a different mix of
international staff exercising a fair compensation policy is one of the challenges to be
Greater involvement in the employees personal lives- The company would have to deal with
the personal wellbeing of the expatriate or inpatriate serving out of their home country.
Their housing arrangement, children education, security, compensation, recreation and so
other needs needed to be followed up and arranged.
Managing the mix of expatriates versus locals- According to company's policy, subsidiaries
may be staffed with a mix of different nationalities and managing the balance based on the
required skill and availability of manpower is another big task in the international
Greater risk exposure- International staffs are exposed to political upheavals, kidnapping,
terrorism at foreign station and may demand compensation packages and security
arrangement. This would challenges companies financially and also in administration level.
External influence of the government and national culture- Local employment rules,
religious and cultural circumstances of the host country are also some factors needed to be
considered. (Cavusgil et al., 2008) 6
In another dimension, Dowling & Welch (2005) identified some factors that moderate the difference
between International and domestic Human resource management. According to Dowling, these
variables are cultural environment, the industry with which the Multinational is primarily involved,
the extent of reliance of the multinationals on its home country or domestic market and the
attitudes of senior management in international operation. Let us discuss to what extent these
variables would act as moderators between Domestic and International HRM practices.
3.1 INDUSTRY TYPE
One important variable that moderates International and Domestic Human resource management is
the type of industry an MNC is involved in and the international competition it faces.
Putting the business playing field in one straight line, let us say we have at one end of the
continuum a multi-domestic industry and the other end a global industry. The multi-domestic end
designates an industry operating in various countries but the completion in that industry type is
specific to the country. While at the other end, the global industry group is about an industry that
operates in different countries but interlinked with other industries in the same group (Dowling &
Industries that fall under the multi-domestic structure have a free reign and are not strictly
controlled by the Headquarter of the MNC. They exhibit a highly decentralized HR structure and play
a passive role in the transfer of HR practices outside their boarder. Examples for this category can be
distribution agents and insurance companies. The global industry represents a model whereby HR
management transfers management practices abroad and these practices are replicated and put in
use by the subsidiaries. Example for this group includes commercial aircraft companies and
computer manufacturing companies (Dowling & Welch, 2004, Beardwell & Claydon, 2010).
The other influential factor in the moderating International and domestic Human resource
management is culture. (Dowling & Welch, 2004)
Armstrong (2009) define organization culture as "the patterns of values, norms, beliefs, attitudes
and assumption that may not have been articulated but shape the way in which the people in the
organization behave and get things done. " (Armstrong, 2009, p384). Hofstede in his part put culture
as "the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or
category of people from another" (Hofstede, 2001, p9).
Other authors also have tried to define culture in different ways but in general it is expressed as a
process present in a social environment which holds the rules and regulations and the accepted
norms on how people are expected to behave. According to Hofstede (2001) there are five
independent dimensions of culture that explain the major difference between national groups. The
first is power distance. It is the degree to which members of an organization below the leadership
rank accept and expect the unequal distribution of power. High power distance shows an autocratic
leadership while low power distance denotes a democratic practice. Uncertainty avoidance refers to
the degree in which the people in a society feel uncomfortable for lack of structure and avoid
ambiguity. High uncertainty avoidance exist in countries having a strong rules and job scrutiny as
they try to avoid uncertainties and low uncertainty avoidance is registered in countries promoting
more lax and flexible social rules and regulations. Hofstede third dimension is the individualism
versus collectivism point. This dimension is concerned with the tendency of people's response to
identifying themselves either in larger groups or more to themselves. High individualism is scored in
countries like the USA where people mostly identify themselves in small family groups while in low
individualistic countries people prefer to co-habit together and form large social groups. Masculinity
or femininity is the fourth dimension which refers to emotional roles attributed to both genders. It
balances the 'tough' masculine virtue of assertion and aggressiveness with the softer 'feminine'
virtue of emotion and caring. Japan scores high on this regard while Norway is the lowest. The fifth
dimension is the long term versus short term orientation. This dimension deals with the recognition
of status in a society and perseverance. In general understanding the cultural norms of a foreign
country and adapting to the environment would benefit a company in an international level and
more importantly the HR policies of an organization are mostly influenced by the cultural practice
surrounding the organization. Human resource activities like hiring of staff, promoting, rewarding
and dismissal of employees are determined and affected by the cultural practice of the host country
(Dowling & Welch, 2005).
There is a school of thought that stresses the concept of Etics and Emics as an important aspect to
understanding culture in different settings. The Etic concept refers to the culture-common aspect
while the Emic approach deals with culture-specific concepts of behaviour. Understanding the
difference between the two concepts is helpful in cross-cultural business communication. To this
effect identifying which Human resource activity falls under Etic and which falls under Emic is also
crucial as it have an effect on the performance of companies outside their home country (Dowling &
As noted earlier Emic refers to practices specific to one culture and are not transferrable across
cultures and Etic refers to the common practices found in different cultures and are transferrable
across cultures. Other dimensions of culture that may affect Human resource practices are the
political condition of the country where MNC operate, its economic rank and development and its
legal position. The Multinational companies need to be careful in countries with strong religious
views as they may have both civil and religious laws in use (Dowling & Welch, 2005).
3.3 RELIANCE OF THE MNC ON ITS HOME COUNTRY DOMESTIC MARKET
The status of the organization's home domestic market is another moderator differentiating
International Human resource management and Domestic Human resource management.
One major factor pushing companies to go outside their home market is the small market demand in
their home country but also the international market may not be their target market for big
companies as they have high demand in their home country. Hence, when analysing company
performance, focusing only on the international market activity may not give the true stand or rank
of an international company. Some international companies originate from small countries with
small domestic demand or saturated domestic market and play a big role in the international
business activity. As an example ABB Company from Switzerland, INTERBREW from Belgium and we
can also mention PHILIPS Electronics originating from The Netherlands. United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) made an annual survey on foreign direct investment and with
some detailed analysis made, it published a list and it reveals that Coca cola and McDonalds are
ranked 27th and 39th respectively. As stated earlier the main reason for this situation is, these big
Multinational companies have high domestic demand in their home country; the USA. This may
influence to some extent on their international business practice as well as deprive their managers
an international management experience (Dowling & Welch, 2004).
3.4 MANAGMENT ORIENTATION
The last moderator presented by Dowling & Welch, (2004) is the level of orientation of senior
management. Managers from different cultures have different perceptions towards the overall
management system of a company. Lack of knowledge of competitive management skill on an
international level would lead to failure as it may fail to identify and address the issue differently
from the domestic management issue. 10
Beardwell and Claydon (2000) also observe the significance role Multinational companies play in the
world economy and with regard to the interrelation and restructuring of management issue at
international versus the national level wrote ' Management style, Strategies and policies are
shaped by home business system -the financial, institutional, legal and political framework - in
which they developed as domestic firms. Thus there is a persistent 'country of origin' effect in the
behaviour of MNCs whereby the country the MNC originates from, exerts a distinctive effect on the
management style, particularly the management of Human resource. ' (Beardwell and Claydon,
On the other hand Taylor et al (1996) presents the exportive, adaptive and integrative models and
explain why the international companies adopt different form of Strategic International Human
resource management. The adoptive models reflect that Human resource policies are designed to
match the local environment of the subsidiary. There would be less transfer of Human resource
practices from the parent company and use differentiation as a priority point. In the exportive
orientation the subsidiary copies Human resource management policies from the parent company.
This upholds the integration of global management system and is ethnocentric in nature. The
integrative orientation model is the selection of 'best HR practice' across the world and is more
liberal and flexible in allowing the subsidiary adopts local HR practices (Beardwell and Claydon,
2010). But each orientation requires different consideration in line with the HR policies practiced by
the parent organization.
One important point in International Human resource management is the movement of
employees across national boundaries to foreign country assignments. These employees are
termed as Expatriates while Employees transferred from subsidiary branch into Headquarters
are referred as Inpatriates (Dowling & Welch, 2005). As the global business activity of
International companies increased, it demanded high controlling system and follow up of the
subsidiaries business performance. To this effect, MNC have chosen the use of Expatriates,
Parent company nationals, as a controlling mechanism by assigning them in key management
positions in the subsidiary branches of the parent company (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 1989).
The efficiency of the deployed expatriate may also depend on the adaptability the expatriate on
his/her foreign assignment. A study conducted by Mark Mendenhall and Gary Oddor in 1985
suggests that expatriate success and adjustment depend on several dimensions. The first is self-
oriented dimension, which deals with the expat personal competence and adaptability to the
foreign environment. The second dimension is the others-oriented dimension, which consist of
relationship development and willingness to communicate in reference to the reluctance to
assimilate and learn the language of the foreign land. The Third dimension is the perceptual
dimension, which is concerned with the ability of expatriates to comprehend the behaviour of
foreign nationals and the fourth dimension is cultural toughness and this is to gauge how quickly
an expatriate adapts to a harsh environment (Brewster & Harris1999). Apart from parent
country nationals, Nationals from host country and third country are also considered as
expatriates. But this paper will focus only on expatriates from parent country nationals to
discuss the main reasons as to why an MNC send an employee on a foreign assignment.
Expatriates are assigned in a foreign country as,
An agent of direct control- The assigned expatriate is used to control the activities of the
subsidiary and ensure its compliance through supervision (Dowling & Welch, 2005, Bartlett
& Ghoshal, 1989)
An agent of socialization- The expatriate in question understands the companies values and
beliefs and acts as a medium to transfer these qualities of the parent company to the
subsidiaries (Dowling & Welch, 2005)
As network builder- An expatriate having a knowledge pertinent to his/her job qualification
will in due course bond with people in different key positions and together build a network
of interdependence (Dowling & Welch, 2005)
As boundary spanner- This refers to activities performed by the expatriate, such as gathering
information that bridge internal and external organizational context. It would be the
expatriates' duty to promote the company profile as well as gather information that may be
of use to the betterment of the company (Dowling & Welch, 2005)
As language nodes- Expatriates with foreign language background would eventually become
an asset especially when they repatriate to their home country (Dowling & Welch, 2005).
The advantages of using expatriates are mainly to maintain organizational control, international
work experience and follow up the fulfilment of the company's' objective by the subsidiary.
Whereas the disadvantage points are the problem with the adaptability of expatriates to the
foreign environment and the high cost incurred by the parent company to the selection and
training of expatriates (Dowling & Welch, 2005). The process of selecting the right person to the
right position is crucial to the success of the oversees mission and it is to noted that an
expatriates success in one environment does not imply that the same expatriate will fill gaps in
all circumstances (Brewster & Harris, 1999).
To this end, In order to select an expatriate for an international assignment, Dowling & Welch
(2005) have set six basic factors which may assist managers in the process. As an individual
Factors they have set Technical ability, cross cultural suitability and family requirements are
listed essential while in as situational factors country or cultural requirements, language and
MNE requirements need to be analysed and considered in the selection process. In another
perspective Schneider and Barsoux (1997) list nine point they believe are important for the
selection process. They are interpersonal skill, linguistic ability, ability to tolerance and cope up
with uncertainty, motivation to work and live abroad, flexibility, patience and respect, cultural
empathy, strong sense of self and sense of humour. (Dowling & Welch, 2005)
In general the extent of the selection criteria is wide and companies need to identify and
consider the most important and points pertinent to the position to be filled.
Various factors are discussed that differentiate International Human resource management from
Domestic human resource management. The complexity of international Human resource
management lies in the additional knowledge and responsibilities needed for operating at
international level, and this is reflected in all the activities such as staffing, training and
development, Human resource planning and compensation and benefits. As the global market
competition increases International companies are expected to be responsive, flexible and
creative of a suitable company strategy and Human resource management system in order to
survive the competition. The Globalization of world economies has forced international
companies to adjust and continuously change their company strategy and Human
management systems in order to survive the competition. To this, the function of Human
resource management has become an important subject as it has proved to be a vital point to
the success of International as well as Domestic companies. In this paper various perspectives
towards International Human resource management are discussed briefly. Authors in the field
are also quoted on how the present and future shape of Human resource management is and
would be. In summary, the paper has tried to identify the main differences and similarities
between domestic and international Human resource management. From the literature review
presented, different internal and external factors are discussed to the complexity of
International human resource management, presented the various interpretation of HRM and
have tried to show how management and the market would dictate the shape of Human
resource management in general.