Role of on-site cross-culture training

Published:

Title:

Exploring the role of on-site Cross-culture Training for expatriates and how it affects expatriate failure in international assignment.

Rationale:

The significance of using expatriate by multinationals (MNCs) for overseas assignment is now well known due to their major role as agent of direct control and socialization, network builders, boundary spanners, language nodes and transfer of competence and knowledge (Dowling, Festing and Engle, 2008). According to an international assignment survey in 2002 by PricewaterhouseCoopers; there are 273 companies from 17 countries expected that their number of expatriates would keep increasing (Dowling and Welch, 2004). Due to the reality of increasing globalisation it is more and more usual for business people to become expatriate managers as a career option (Suutari and Burch, 2001).

The topic of managing expatriates in international assignment has been researched for over 30 years and can be found from many literature where related to international human resource management (Collings, Scullion and Morely, 2007), from expatriates selection to repatriation, especially training scheme which including a wide range of contents such as language training, cross-culture training, intercultural self-adjustment and so on.

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Many previous studies have showed that expatriates training scheme is helpful in preparing employees for international assignment. Expatriates may face many issues in an unfamiliar culture therefore leading to poor performance in their assignments. Classic theories argued that cross-culture training (CCT) should be provided to make sure expatriate to improve communication and interpersonal skills within the overseas environment and to handle the possibly high degree of tension (Tung, 1982). In addition, It has been argued that cross-culture training for expatriates in international assignment is one way to reduce the expatriate failure rate therefore ensure the success of international assignment (Eastwood and Renard, 2008; Lang and Shen, 2009; Collings, Scullion and Morely, 2007; Harris, 2008). However, the content of cross-culture research may also widely and unable to standardised due to the vary culture backgrounds and culture's changing face. The specific content of training schemes depends on the needs of expatriates and the complexity of the international assignment (Li and Lee, 2008; Hodgetts and Luthans; 2000, Hutching, 2005).

Earlier theories (Edward and Allen, 1990) suggested that there are three program phases for expatriate training and development, including pre-departure training, on-site training and repatriation (p.47). The process of pre-departure training and repatriation both can be monitored much easier than on-site training as expatriates are more possible to be managed at home country. From the viewpoint of expatriate training, the training usually takes place before the international assignment starts (pre-departure training), it should not stop during expatriates stay at host country, several days of pre-departure training may not able to fully prepare expatriates for every intercultural events regarding to businesses (Suutari and Burch, 2001, Bjorkman and Gertsen, 1993, Schell and Solomon, 1997, Mead, 2005). CCT is a process, not a one-time work, companies need to keep provide training and support when expatriates arrived at host country units (Littrel et al, 2006).

In terms of expatriates training research, lots of literatures intended to suggest MNCs for preparing expatriates before they leave, in other words, the focus of expatriates training has been on pre-departure training in many research. While the on-site training and support provided by home company and host units has been covered less. In terms of CCT, as a part of expatriates training scheme, many literatures simply emphasise the role of pre-departure CCT and self adjustment at host country but the role of on-site CCT has been clearly covered less as well (Suutari and Burch, 2001). Furthermore, Tarique and Caligiuri (2004) have stated that despite there are increasingly companies aware that cross-culture adjustment is very important to improve expatriate's performance and provide pre-departure CCT, about 81% companies offer CCT to expatriates and their families members (Cardon and Bartlett, 2006), but the training during the actual assignment is still relatively seldom (Harzing and Christenson, 2004).

Another interesting topic comes from expatriate management is expatriate failure which usually takes place in the actual assignment where business expatriates encounter those cross-culture related stress (Harzing and Christensen, 2004, Hogan and Goodson, 1990, Collings, Scullion and Morely, 2007). The degree of expatriate failure in the assignment may affected by the effectiveness of CCT (Harzing and Christensen, 2004).

The purpose of this study was to explore the role of on-site CCT and how it affects expatriate failure in international assignment, mainly focus on the less covered points in most of literature about CCT. The research will cover the Hofstede's classic cultural dimensions to help the on-site support in terms of national culture background; the limitations of his research will also be discussed. The study will also discuss the ways host units support expatriates on CCT after arrival and how it positively affect expatriates in their assignment, also slightly linked with the relationship between pre-departure CCT and on-site CCT, the drawbacks of using such CCT programmes will also covered. The third part of main discussion is the relationship between on-site CCT and expatriates failure, mainly focus on culture shock which is the main reason that cause expatriate failure (Wu, 2008).

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Based on the rationale above, the research questions of this study are as follows:

  1. To what extent the Hofstede's classic cultural dimensions can support expatriates in terms of national culture background after arrival.
  2. How do the host units support on-site CCT in order to improve the performance of expatriates in international assignment?
  3. To what extent the on-site CCT can affects expatriates failure during the international assignment.

Literature Review

  1. How do the Hofstede's classic CCT theories support expatriates in terms of national culture background after arrival?
  2. Cross-culture training (CCT) has been defined as educative processes that improve intercultural learning via the development of cognitive, affective and behavioural competences needed for successful interactions in diverse cultures (Littrell et al, 2006, Shen and Long, 2009).

    Selmer (2005) stated that there are three dimensions of in-country adjustment found from several empirical studies: adjustment to work, adjustment to interacting with host nationals and adjustment to the non-work environment; all three dimensions are closely linked with national culture. However, there are many disadvantages when just emphasise the role of self-adjustment of expatriates. Some types of CCT are more effectively if they take place after the arrival of expatriates (Selmer, 2010).

    Li and Lee (2008) stated that different culture backgrounds between home country and host country should be recognised by expatriates, therefore knowing the national culture differences should be a part of training programme for expatriates. They also suggested that Hofstede's culture dimensions should seriously considered as one of the classic CCT theory when MNCs come to expatriates management and international assignment (P.603). It is a comprehensive way to analyses national culture background by using Hofstede's five culture dimensions (Gerhart, 2008). Although organisational culture may different from national culture therefore the dimensions may display low effects in host units, but expatriates need to adapt to the local culture to enable them have skills to deal with cultural issues (Hofstede, 2001).

    According to Hosfstede (2003, 1990), there are five dimensions based on national culture differences; power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity and long vs. short term orientation.

    Power distance focuses on whether the distributions of power are unequally within the society, the higher power distance, the more members tend to accept that power should distributed unequally and employees may following orders of supervisors willingly (Hofstede, 2003, 1990). For example, U.S is one of the relatively lower power distance nations, therefore, in the United States, there are more equal between employees and managers. Organisations in countries such as Japan with high degree of power distance will be centralized and viewed as pyramid structure, status symbols is very important as well as have the privilege as power holder (Li and Lee, 2008, Hodgetts and Luthans, 2000, Hofstede, 2001).

    Uncertainty avoidance focuses on the level of a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity (Hofstede, 2003, 1990, 1986). People in countries with low degree of uncertainty avoidance tend to accept each uncertainty and ambiguity and willingly to take risks in certain situation. By contrast, people in countries with high degree of uncertainty avoidance tend to create security and avoiding risks in order to reduce the anxiety of uncertainty and ambiguity (Hofstede, 2001, 1990, 1986). For example, Japanese have very limited tolerance for any sort of uncertainty and ambiguity, therefore Japanese are very detail focused (Katz, 2005, Hofstede, 2003).

    Individualism means a relatively loose structure of societal organisation in which people tend to care about only themselves and their close families and friends, generally have greater individual initiative (Hofstede, 2001, 1990, 1986). People from countries such as USA, UK, Canada, Australia and Denmark have high degree of individualism. By contrast, Collectivism refers to a relatively tight societal organisation in which people tend to expect to be a member of group and receive group care. In return, contribute absolutely loyalty to the organisation and maintain its harmonious, such countries as China, Japan, Pakistan and Colombia (Hofstede, 2003, 2010, Li and Lee, 2008).

    Masculinity and femininity focus on culture in which dominated by social values. In terms of masculinity, the dominate values are money, success and societal position. By contrast, the femininity refers to the completely in the opposite, such as friendly environment and employment security. The United States is a strong masculinity orientated country. Organisational decisions are usually made by high-level managers and employees do not usually actively involving in the management. China is a femininity orientated country, focusing on harmony and morality, advocating involvement in the world spirit (Hofstede, 1986, 2003, 2010, Li and Lee, 2008).

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    Long vs. short term orientation deals with moral rather than the truth. The values of the long-term orientation focus on conservation, thrift and perseverance. The values of short-term orientation are respect for the tradition, fulfilling their social responsibility, and love 'face'. Both positive and negative values can be found in the teachings of Confucius, he was the most influential Chinese philosopher, lived in 500 BC; However, this dimension also applies to the countries without Confucian traditions (Hofstede, 2010).

    By using Hofstede's five culture dimensions, expatriates may have a general understanding of cultural background of host country where the knowledge can be provided by home company in pre-departure training (Vance and Paik, 2002). After arrival of expatriates, an on-site CCT can be implemented after a while with a deeper guidance based on Hofstede's theory. In other words, the five culture dimensions can be used as guide when expatriates facing the real intricately cultural issues after abroad (Hofstede, 1994). For example, in Japan, business meetings must follow carefully designed procedures which often take a long time as Japanese pay a lot of attention to details. In the end of meeting, all parties signing detailed protocols to leave no room for misunderstandings (katz, 2005). This is because Japan is a high uncertainty avoidance orientated country where expatriates from low uncertainty avoidance home nation (such as UK) may face stress. In this case, the second dimension (Uncertainty Avoidance Index) shows the expatriates should adopt the control of details and risk reduction (Katz, 2005, 2009).

    However, Hofstede's classic culture research is critical. Søndergaard (2001) and McSweeney (2002) pointed out that there are five main criticisms about Hofstede's research. Hofstede also wrote an article in his later work as response to McSweeney. The contents of debate about the criticisms of Hofstede's five cultural dimensions are as follows: (Figure 1)

    McSweeney (2002) described the Hofstede's research as "A triumph of faith but a failure of analysis". He also pointed out that the research ignores the possible coexistence in each opposite dimensions (such as individualism and collectivism). He also argued that the research identified was not national culture, but an averaging of specific opinions dependent on different situations (McSweeney, 2002).

    In addition, it has been argued that culture is not static due to the development of globalisation which involved not only increased trading between countries, but also the changing of social values and human mind, therefore the research of Hofstede with over 30 years history may be unfashionable (Gooderham and Nordhaug, 2002).

  3. How do the host units support on-site CCT in order to improve the performance of expatriates in international assignment?
  4. There is a wide range of disadvantages that expatriates just receive pre-departure CCT from home units, for instance a general issue is that expatriates' cultural concepts and understanding are still naturally linked with home culture during the pre-departure CCT, therefore possibly end up with a series of stereotype opinions about the host culture (Selmer, 2000). Vance and Paik (2002) also pointed out that MNCs should not use "one size fits all" approaches to train expatriates. The on-site CCT can be implemented few months after arrival in the host country with a certain degree of flexibility therefore should take more time than pre-departure training (Selmer, 2010).

    It has been argued that the host country subsidiary partners are playing important role in on-site CCT (Suutari and Burch, 2001). Host units is key to deliver on-site CCT for expatriates, because host unites are familiar with everything related to local cultural environment and able to quick access to training resources therefore in the best position to train expatriates after arrival (Shen and Long, 2009). Despite CCT programme is usually provided by home units before expatriates go aboard, on-site CCT is also essential and as a matter of fact many expatriates prefer the on-site CCT (Shen and Long, 2009, Selmer, 2001). In addition, host units also play a role as a mentor (Selmer, 2001, Suutari and Burch, 2001, Vance and Paik, 2002). The on-site mentor not only helping expatriates to know their new organisational environment, but also help them in adjusting to the new cultural background (Selmer, 2001). Dickmann, Brewster and Sparrow (2008) stated that on-site mentoring is a problem focused strategy which has a positive effect on expatriate's cultural adjustment. In terms of large number of expatriates in a same international assignment, host units should develop a mentoring team in order to support new comers (Ivancevich, 2005).

    Shen and Long (2009) suggested that there is a high rigor CCT programme which should beginning at pre-departure training and continued intermittently through the assignment supported by host units. CCT rigorous has been defined as the degree of expatriates' cognitive involvement (Shen and Darby, 2005). The higher rigorous, the expatriates more able to practice appropriate learned behaviour from CCT programme (Shen and Long, 2009, Tung, 1982). They also suggested that there are three degrees of CCT rigorous: low rigorous CCT, moderately rigorous CCT and high rigorous CCT. The composition of each phases and suggested durations are as follows: (Figure 2)

    Dowling, Festing and Engle (2008) pointed out that CCT on expatriates should aim for lifelong learning rather than one shot work with limited cultural area focused. They also stated that both home units and host units should take expatriates' family into account within the scope of CCT, because families are able to involve in long term international assignment and can be a factor that cause expatriates failure (Dowling, Festing and Engle, 2008, 2004, Briscoe, Schuler and Claus, 2009, Osman-Gani and Rockstuhl, 2009).

    Selmer (2000) argued that some post arrival CCT trainings supported by host units do not even have to be a formal programme; they can be more effective if they taken place few weeks after arrival when expatriates have been experienced certain degree of culture shock. Training after arrival of expatriates can be seen as a more problem oriented approach with a certain range of flexibility (Dickmann, Brewster and Sparrow, 2008, Suutari and Burch, 2001). In addition, the successful on-site CCT should also including managing those employees in host units who will be working with foreign expatriates, because host unit employees may also unfamiliar with expatriates' home culture, and expatriates cannot finish the assignment without local employees (Ivancevich, 2005).

    However, it has been argued that high cost, low effectiveness and lack of time can be the main weaknesses of suitable programmes at host units (Shen and Darby, 2006, Dickmann, Brewster and Sparrow, 2008). In addition, such programmes require cooperation between home unit and host units, but host units may not able to contribute in certain situations (such as poor budget). Also, expatriates receive indirect training may feel isolated in his or her learning experience (Dickmann, Brewster and Sparrow, 2008). Also, the growing internet based CCT and development will weaken the role of host units on on-site CCT, because expatriates can easily access to the on-line information from home country (Mendenhall and Stahl 2000), unless the host units are located at poor internet countries. In addition, some researchers see some similarities between on-site CCT and cultural mentoring, as they both problem focused strategy; therefore may cause overlap works and waste (Mendenhall and Stahl, 2000, Dickmann, Brewster and Sparrow, 2008).

  5. To what extent the on-site CCT can affects expatriates failure during the international assignment.
  6. One of the main reasons why the on-site CCT is important to MNCs is the cost of expatriate failure (Littrel et al, 2006). The using of expatriates has its own risk. Unsuccessful management and adjustment may lead to high expatriate failure rate in international assignment. Expatriates failure rate has been defined as the number or percentage of expatriates who premature return from host country, before official end of an international assignment due to poor work performance or personal issues (Forster, 1997). The cost of expatriate failure can be very high. In an earlier study, Gary and Jane (1990) pointed out that up to 40% of U.S expatriate managers fail in their international assignment and usually with an average per failure cost of 55,000 to 150,000 dollars to the parent company; another research shows the expatriate failure rate in major European countries and Japan are 5% higher than U.S (Tung, 1982). While the expatriates failure also involve a set of indirect costs such as damaged relation with host country organisations and damaged reputation, which usually highly harmful to the company in a particular foreign region such as loss of market share (Collings, Scullion and Morley, 2007).

    However, there is an increasing argument on the reliability of the high rate of expatriate failure and its measurement. Harzing (2002) pointed out that Tung's research on high rate of expatriates failure in the U.S are lack of reliable empirical work in this area. The definition of expatriate failure also critical, Harzing and Christensen (2004) stated that in the most of literatures, the definition of expatriate failure regardless reasons that cause expatriates leave; some authors even suggest the concept should take repatriation turnover into account (expatriates leaving home company quick after repatriation). Accordingly, in the variety of literatures so far there has been missing a critical, systematic and reliable definition and measurement to evaluate expatriate failure (Harzing and Christensen, 2004, Collings, Scullion and Morley, 2007).

    There are many reasons that cause expatriates premature leave from host country and fail in their missions. Since the main reason that cause expatriates premature leave is culture shock (Wu, 2008), so on-site CCT may be an effective tool in this area to prevent and reduce its negative impact on expatriates' performance. According to Littrell et al (2006), culture shock has been defined as "a normal process of transition, adaptation, and adjustment in which an individual who enters a foreign environment for an extended time period experiences cultural stress involving some degree of anxiety, confusion, disruption helplessness, and irritability". In order to describe culture shock, there is a hypothetic curve can be considered (Figure 3).

    Based on the culture shock cycle, Mead (2005) stated that most of expatriates would have a certain degree of optimistic feeling to the foreign cultural environment at the beginning period, and then followed with a certain degree of frustration in a period of time. After that, expatriates may keep stable with successful adjustment and training, and finally, they begin to communicate effectively. Mead (2005) also pointed out that some expatriates may experience more than one culture shock cycle if there are too many unexpected events leads to new damages of self confidence, and the second cycle perhaps more harmful.

    Since some types of on-site CCT are more problem focused, therefore such on-site CCT are able to help expatriates deal with most of those issues which cause culture shock. In the second phase of culture shock, expatriates may need some proper adjustment in order to control the issues in new cultural environment. Despite expatriates are less possible to achieve a high activeness in the second phase of culture shock, they can still make their states controllable by adopting a valid on-site CCT and not to affect their performance in the assignment (Ivancevich, 2005).

In order to reduce the negative impact from culture shock, on-site CCT also should include a set of guidance in relation to daily life for expatriates. Ivancevich (2005) suggested expatriates should be encouraged to adapt to local life as soon as possible, the suggested activities are listed as follows:

  • Go around the town and meet surrounding neighbours just like at home.
  • Try not to spend too much time stay with natives (especially avoid those people who usually complain about the local cultural environment).
  • Learn to use local transportations (Taxi, bus, subway, train etc).
  • Go to some markets and try to communicate with shop assistant even the shopping is not necessary.
  • Learn to bargain in the markets if possible.
  • Stop thinking of convert local currency into home currency and learn to use local currency to pricing.
  • Visit museum, particular history and culture museum.
  • Try to talk to local people frequently if the conversation does not bother them.
  • Travel to somewhere and absorb information from guide.
  • Chat with others in the queue.
  • Go to universities and have meeting with teachers and students.
  • Do not reject invitation from local friends.
  • Take part in some social activities and business parties.
  • Try to read news and watch TV, pay attention to current affairs and scandals, show concerns about local events, but not including politics.
  • Open a bank account, confirm e-mail address and telephone number.
  • Participate in sports games and watch movies.
  • Go to hotel and have dinner in restaurant, learn to read menu, know different dishes.
  • Pay attention to slogans on the street.
  • Be familiar with local tags, national flag and logo, especially political parties' logo.
  • Try to familiar with the most popular sports and games at local.
  • Try to participate in some local religious activities.
  • Carry with a notebook and make notes about important things and questions.
  • Send family e-mail frequently, share interesting stories.
  • Just write down positive or neutral contents, try to avoid negative content in written documents.
  • Refrain from negative saying even with friends.

Due to the development of localization of human resource management in most of countries, many MNCs tend to reduce their amount of expatriates. Because traditionally there is a high costs reason of using expatriates and local managers are not only cheaper than expatriates, but also bring a long term benefits for companies (Ivancevich, 2005).

Conclusions of this study

  1. How do the Hofstede's classic CCT theories support expatriates in terms of national culture background after arrival?
  2. National culture differences between home country and host country should be recognised by expatriates because the differences are the main reasons that cause cultural issues. Hofstede's five culture dimensions can be used both before and after arrival of expatriates because it could help expatriates adopting to both work and live in the host culture. It could be a guide based on a deeper knowledge when expatriates facing the real intricately cultural issues after abroad. The five dimensions including Power distance, Uncertainty avoidance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity and long vs. short term orientation. Each dimension covers different aspects of national culture. Companies should seriously consider it.

    There are many criticism and debate about Hofstede's work. Some literature pointed out that the research using wrong measurement and may be on the wrong direction in the first place, but Hofstede also able to give responses and showing confidence to his work.

  3. How do the host units support on-site CCT in order to improve the performance of expatriates in international assignment?
  4. Host country subsidiary partners are playing important role in on-site CCT. They are in the best position to train expatriates after arrival because host unites are familiar with everything related to local cultural environment and able to quick access to training resources. On-site CCT supported by host units can be a continuation of pre-departure CCT if the training is based on a formal programme. Host units also play a role as mentors and more problems orientated with some flexibility therefore do not have to be a formal programme. In the long term international assignment, companies should also take expatriates' families into consideration as well as host unit employees.

    High cost, low effectiveness and lack of time can be the main weaknesses of using host units to improve on-site CCT. As well as cooperating difficulties between home unit and host units. Meanwhile, there are some similarities between on-site CCT and cultural mentoring, as they both problem focused strategy; therefore may cause overlap works and waste.

  5. To what extent the on-site CCT can affects expatriates failure during the international assignment.

Expatriates failure involve a set of direct and indirect costs such as damaged relation with host country organisations and damaged reputation, which usually highly harmful to the company in a particular foreign region such as loss of market share. Although the existing definition and measurement for expatriate rate are not reliable, but its impacts on international assignment are ignorable. On- site CCT can reduce the expatriate rate in terms of cultural issues; culture shock is a main one. By controlling the second phase of culture shock and using live guidance, expatriates may more effectively finish the assignment.

Limitations of this study

Although this study is interesting and effortful, there are few factors may affect the validity and reliability of research. Firstly, this study is purely based on secondary resources, and some of them even come from other secondary resources, therefore non-empirical research may less convincible. Especially when the research comes to the measurement of percentage of using expatriates by MNCs, some literature showing different data. Secondly, this research both involve classic and contemporary issues and theories and gaps do exist, therefore the research is not well integrated and may be unfashionable in some areas. Thirdly, some data and evidence are less credible because they came from debate, such as the definition of expatriate failure and its measurement.

Recommendations for future research

For future research direction, the recommendations are provided as follows. Firstly, since this research limited by both involve old and new topics and issues, the future research will mainly focus on contemporary issues and theories, such as the development of localization of human resource management. Secondly, the on-site expatriate training is essential, but still less literature concentrates on it. It is suggested more theories and programmes could established in this area. Thirdly, expatriate training is not only important on CCT approach, but also involves many other topics, such as the development and issues regarding to repatriation. Those are all worth to investigate.

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