In the context of the globalization of business and of rapidity of economic development, companies tend to become more international. They are more than ever interested in understanding how they can operate more effectively in an increasingly competitive environment and an important role in this approach is played by the field of human resources. Over the past decades, a paradigm shift in the effective management of the human resources management and, in particular, in international human resources management has appeared, conferring to this area a major importance in the company's strategy.
International HRM: a practical approach
Stahl and Bjorkman refer to International HRM management to cover the complexity of issues that people face when working in an international context (Stahl and Björkman, 2006). Regarding this point of view from an organizational perspective, international human resource management defines the entire set of practices, policies and activities that a company can adopt in order to manage the possible issues that face the human resources and to make the workplace more effective.
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Reviewing the similar definitions about the nature of International HRM, we can position this field as representing a major component of the success of any organization operating in an international environment. Therefore, International HRM doesn't represent only a strategic component in developing the effectiveness of the employees in achieving their goals by making them to assume more responsibilities and tasks, but it also provides the employees the basis of a better understanding of cross-cultural differences and the needed knowledge in facing with challenging cultural situations (Brewster, Sparrow, Vernon and Houldsworth, 2011).
Under these circumstances, integrating into the new cultural environmental is becoming increasingly important for the employee, but also for his organization in order to make the international assignment effective. Given the cultural differences between nations, a person living in a foreign country (host nation) could create a different perception on others. In order to avoid this situation and not to experience the culture shock, company is concerned in helping the employee (through specific practices, policies and activities) in his attempt of adopting the "cultural baggage" of the country he now works.
The aim of this interview is assess from a double-side perspective (individual and organizational) what are the necessary aspects that need to be undertaken in order to ensure the success in an international career. The interview was structured into three sections (Origin/Preliminary information, Individual perspective and Organizational perspective) aimed to provide a better understanding of overall adjustment process. Each section, containing a set of specific questions, seeks to gather the personal experience and to identify what competencies, preparation and personal effort and investment were made by the expatriate in order to integrate into the new work environment. At the same time, the interview will identify and evaluate the options, policies and organizational activities that the company can implement in relation to managing an international workforce effectively.
A first important aspect collected through the interview was the staffing policy used by the international organization. Hiring the most competent individuals corresponds to the geocentric approach and it enhances the company performance.
The general perception gathered in our investigation is that living abroad drives, without doubt changes in the lifestyle of the expatriate. Hence, the person living in a foreign country is facing various cultural challenges which influence on the private life, but also on the job performance. All these aspects determine the person to make adjustments in order to overcome the multicultural transition. Making the adjustment a success is, however, determined by many factors.
One of the most important factors for the adjustment process is represented by the ability to communicate in the host nation's language. The interviewed expatriate pointed out that being able to speak the host nation and to understand the style of communication are of utmost importance when interacting with the local people and employees. Moreover, the fluent she was in host language, the easier became for her to adapt to the new environment and develop better interactions. This insight is consistent with (Takeuchi, Yun and Russell 2002) findings that show that the language abilities facilitate a better understanding of work instructions which can be translated into a growth in job performance and a positive work adjustment.
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During the learning process, an important role is played by the novelty of the language and the similarities between national cultures: "my previous interactions with this language/style of communication consisted in two visits in Italy. So, I had some issues in understanding the language, but Italian is very similar to Romanian, which helped me to register fast progresses in my attempt to communicate in their language". Furthermore, Livermore's investigation (2010) showed that it is difficult to interpret the local behaviour and events even if one is familiar with the cultural context.
Although the communication skills are a major component of the success of an international assignment, only being able to speak the language seems not to be sufficient. We observed that reaching a good level of the host language is a long-term process (involving personal interest and time and effort investment), but the analysis of the interviewee's experience outlines that it is essential "to ensure a good comprehension of the "cultural baggage" of local people". Hence, a better understanding of the communication style and local behaviour represents two of the most important elements of the adjustment process. According to the interviewee, being able to achieve an "effectively communication requires a lot of patience and also interest"
In order to undertake the cross-cultural challenges (identified as communication style, non-verbal communication, local behaviour and attitudes towards work/job values) and to integrate into the local new environment, it becomes important to adopt the local values and "act as a local: I use now the non-verbal communication and I gesticulate a lot more with my hands, than I was accustomed in Romania".
For this, a key role is also played by the support offered by a local employee and all these informal gatherings provide a solid basis of an in-depth understanding of the local culture: "I had the support of one of my work fellows and I communicated in English with him. It was a real help for me to understand the meaning of the Italian words, how to built the sentence and communicate the messages.
This insight is in line with Black and Porter's (1991) findings that underline the fact that the social support received from co-workers has a positive influence on the general adjustment.
From an organizational perspective, the support given to the international employees represents a strategic option that enables them a better integration in the new cultural workplace. Moreover, through this decision, the company focused part of its activities in dealing with different groups of foreign employees (Dowling, Festing and Engle, 2008, p.3) and help them to understand the cultural differences.
Having knowledge of the local community and its vision towards social and work values facilitates better interactions which, in the end, turn into job performance. Therefore, learning and knowledge acquisitions represent an important organizational practice that ensures the success of multinational companies, but achieving these goals requires time, energy and interest from both parts involved: employee "I am very interested in assessing the differences in cultural values and to understand the reasons that make the Italians to act in a certain manner in a particular situation) and company ("The organization didn't provide a cross-cultural training").
Although the international organization didn't provide a cross-cultural training, it can be noticed that she attained language courses that should help her to overcome the communication challenges.
Another interesting aspect related to the job adjustment is related to the role novelty and clarity in the new work environment. The expatriate has to face not only the cultural changes, but also he has to cope with the challenges imposed by the novelty of the job (Harris, Brewster and Sparrow, 2004). This is in accordance with the information collected through the interview. Similarities and differences in job conditions enhance an important influence on the general adjustment process: because of similar workflows and rules, similar required skills and similar procedures I was able to better understand the work requirements and better apply the instructions received from my direct superior.
The discussion with the expatriate also showed that HR department has an increasingly important role in the employee's personal lives. Moreover, we have noted that the organization created an internal platform in order to assist the employee. It provides general information regarding the extra-work activities and a guideline aiming to make the adjustment easier (information on living-cost, housing condition, system policies and so on). The interest shown in providing the employee the basis of a better understanding of all these aspects represents an important activity of the field of international human resources (Dowling, Festing and Engle, 2008, p.7).
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After analyzing the interview's findings, we can conclude the making the adjustment a success is a collective effort. From an individual perspective, undertaking an international assignment requires cultural intelligence, passion, interest and preparation in order to understand the new cultural environment. Having a good knowledge of the language and host nation values becomes essential in developing interactions which will lead to a better integration into the local community. The individual effort should be supported by a specific set of actions, activities and strategies that company can adopt in order to facilitate the social and work adjustment.