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International Collaboration: Unraveling the Dynamics of Modern Globalized Organizations

Introduction

Background of the study

Over the recent past, the world as experienced a dramatically increasing pace of globalisation resulting in organisations and businesses being characterised by the creation of international mergers, joint ventures, collaborations, alliances, and inter-organisational partnerships (Sambasivan et al. 2017). According to Pudelko et al. (2015), the industrialised societies of Japan, Anglo-America, and Europe are coming together. Following this converging, leaders and managers are progressively getting exposed to international missions and new cultural environments (Shen et al. 2015). For many years, reflections on how organisation managed their international employees were minimal establishing that most of the multinational corporations combined their global activities in a single division that was tasked with controlling foreign subsidiaries (Fontinha et al. 2018). In those days, subsidiaries were run by expatriates. As a result, the major focus of international human resource management (IHRM)was very much on expatriation.

Most of the early IHRM research was carried out by researchers who had a wide understanding of HR practices. Boundaries were defined regarding the areas of home HRM and comparative HRM although attention was also paid to cross-cultural management (Sambasivan et al. 2017). Additionally, most of the IHRM research was conducted in the United States giving a clear understanding of expats in the US, Anglo and the Western Corporations (Wood et al. 2018). These studies were almost exclusively quantitative cross-sectional, and hypothesis-testing (Wood et al. 2018). Further, most of the early IHRM studies were conducted at the meso and organisational level but the comparative studies were conducted at the macro level (Sambasivan et al. 2017).

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Over the years, research on IHRM has included more details other than expatriation. Although some studies still focus on parent-country expatriates, focus now extends to cover more actors like repatriates, inpatriates, local employees in host countries, third-country national, and self-initiated expatriates (Okpara and Kabongo 2017). Over the last decade, researchers have shifted attention to the discipline of global leadership as part of international human resource management. Further, IHRM research is no longer reduced to how international actors are managed but considers more aspects such as knowledge management, management of multinational teams, and change management among others are also considered (Fontinha et al. 2018). Other studies also consider how the post-merger and post-acquisition processes are managed while others focus on how different global corporations manage their human resources and the strategy they use. This wide, dynamic, and complex range of topics in IHRM research has resulted in a better understanding of IHRM and its key concepts.

Although research on expatriates and the challenges facing them has been widespread, a new focus had been introduced in the recent past following the globalisation of the business world and work environment (Fontinha et al. 2018). Pudelko et al. (2015) note that the current demographic changes have resulted in increased need for expatriates for many multinational corporations. Following this reality, Pudelko et al. (2015) state that global organisations are facing the problem of managing an intercultural and mobile workforce. On the other hand, Okpara and Kabongo (2017) note that expatriates or these global human resources are valuable assets to multinational corporations given their international experience and the global skills they have acquired thus their management cannot be overlooked.

Recent research on the management of expatriates has revealed that the success or failure of international assignments is determined and influenced by an individual’s ability to adapt to the new culture (Fontinha et al. 2018) and by the integration processes (Okpara and Kabongo 2017). The integration processes focus on cross-cultural adaptation, lifestyles, social expectations, and new professional standards thus effectives adjustment has been challenging for many expatriates (Rizwan 2018). Sousa et al. (2017) note that expatriates go through a three-level adjustment process, which includes general adjustment, interaction adjustment, and work adjustment thus making expatriate adjustment a more complex process. However, Okpara and Kabongo (2017) state that the adjustment process can be made easier if an organisation takes into account several factors before and during the expatriation process. Such factors include a rigorous selection process, training, expat personality, individual factors, social networks, organisational support, mentoring, and repatriation (Okpara and Kabongo 2017). The adjustment process is also affected by other factors such as social orientation, cultural flexibility, the expatriate’s host country language and his/her personality traits (Rizwan 2018). If an organisation is able to identify and address these factors, it will be able to identify and distinguish the best practices that should be implemented for success management of international human resources (Rizwan 2018). On the contrary, if these factors are ignored, the organisation will experience failure in its international mission resulting to premature return of expatriates.

In order to ease the challenges experienced by expatriates, it is fundamental for multinational corporations to promote and implement adjustment practices that will help expatriates to successfully adapt to new cultural environments (Rizwan 2018). This study aims at identifying the adjustment practices promoted by Vodafone in the expatriation process and assessing the effectiveness of these practices in facilitating the expatriation process.

Significance of the study

This research aims to provide insights into the practices that organisations can adopt in order to facilitate the expatriation process while establishing the most effective practices. By so doing, the study will contribute to IHRM research in that it extends expatriation research into organisational aspects and initiatives. According to Rizwan (2018), research on the challenges and difficulties faced by expatriates in the adjustment process are yet to be clearly understood thus this study a response to the call for more studies on this topic but provides more insights on organisational role in the adjustment process. On the other hand, Zhou (2015) note that some international missions fail for lack of organisational understanding of how their practices affect the expatriation process; hence, this study offers insight to such organisations in that it assesses the results to organisational practices to facilitate the expatriation process. Further, the study can provide guidelines to organisations seeking to operate in international markets in that it provides insights on the practices these organisations can adopt to effectively manage the expatriates. This is ensured by assessing the effectiveness of the practices adopted by Vodafone in facilitating the expatriation process.

Aims and Objectives

The primary aim of this study is to explore the practices that organisations can adopt in order to ease the challenges and difficulties experienced by expatriates during the expatriation process. To attain this aim, the following objectives will guide the study:

To explore the concepts of expatriation and expatriate adjustment

To identify the adjustment practices promoted and financed by organisations in order to facilitate the expatriation process

To assess the effectiveness of organisational practices in easing the adjustment of expatriates

Literature Review

Expatriation and expatriate adjustment

The definitions of expatriate vary across studies depending on the authors but the main concept is found on movement from parent-country to another. Regardless of these controversies in the definition of expatriate, this study defines as expatriate as an employee who is tasked to work in a subsidiary or a foreign branch of his/her organisation (Sinangil and Ones 2001) to pursue a job-related goal (Siers 2007), and one that returns to the home country after the international mission has been completed (Foyle et al. 1998). The international mission in this case can be short-term, which refers to a temporary international transfer to a foreign country for a duration of between 1 and 12 months (Collings et al. 2007) or long-term in nature. IHRM literature reveals that there is minimal support to expatriates (Collings et al. 2007) thus suggesting that leaders and managersshould continually train and develop employees for international assignments (Mayerhofer et al. 2004), which informs the focus of this study.

Expatriate adjustment refers to the adaptation, acculturation, and assimilation of international assignees (Hippler et al. 2014) although it has experienced lack of consensus among researchers in expatriation studies. (Halim et al. 2014) describes expatriate adjustment as a point when an international assignee gets comfortable to operate in a new cultural environment, thus gains the ability to be productive in that new work environment. This adjustment involves behavioural and cognitive changes (Selmer et al, 2015) and can be seen as the extent of adaptation required for an expat to get familiar or psychologically comfortable with the aspects of the new culture (Harrison et al 2004).

Over the years, the basic concept on expatriate adjustment has been the multidimensional social cultural concept (Halim et al 2014). The expatriate adjustment is seen in three dimensions namely general, work, and interaction (Selmer et al. 2015). General adjustment can be defined as the psychological comfort that an expatriate acquired being in the cultural environment of the foreign country (Selmer et al. 2015). The work adjustment is the psychological comfort that an international assignee acquires in relation to difference in norms, values, and expectations of work (Selmer et al. 2015). The interaction adjustment is the psychological comfort that an expat acquires in relation to difference in communication styles and differences in characteristics of employees and citizens in the host country (Selmer et al. 2015).

Authors on the topic of expatriation have highlighted three forms of adjustment namely psychological, sociocultural, and professional adjustment. Sociocultural adjustment is defined as an individual’s social skills that affect his/her attitude and which include an ability to adjustment to the new culture (Hassan and Diallo 2013). Sociocultural adjustment is founded on the cultural learning theory and focuses on social behaviours and skills that motivate the attitudinal factors of an employee (Jonasson et al. 2017). Psychological adjustment highlights the attitudes of the expat and majorly corresponds to the subjective wellbeing and satisfaction theoretical concept (Nardon et al. 2015). Professional adjustment is defined as the expatriates’ attitudes in relation to their work and how they perform the assigned tasks (Koveshnikov et al. 2015). Previous literature has emphasised the role of cross-cultural training in the adjustment process in that it is depicted as the tool that facilitates cultural interactions (Downes et al. 2010). Nonetheless, Selmer and Lauring (2015) note that cross-cultural training practices and programmes are rarely implemented by organisations, which renders international assignments ineffective.

Practices that facilitate expatriate adjustment

Numerous but different studies have been conducted on the topic of expatriate adjustment. Internationally, expatriate adjustment has been recognised as an integral element for success of corporations in that adjustment is positively correlated to performance and job satisfaction (Selmer and Lauring 2015), and reflected by an increase in organisational competitive advantage (Nardon et al. 2015). Previous research underscores the importance of IHRM in defining the strategies that organisations should adopt to promote success in international missions but it is still unclear which expatriate adjustment practices that organisations should develop to facilitate the expatriation process (Hassan and Diallo 2013). Previous literature identifies some practices to facilitate expatriate adjustment including family support, mentoring, social support systems, healthcare and home set-up support, initiating language courses, and cross-cultural training (Sousa et al. 2017). Such practices have proved effective as they help international assignees to align themselves according to the cultural differences, values, norms, rules, behaviour, business etiquette, way of life, language, and cultural specificities of the host country (Hassan and Diallo 2013). Such practices have also been effective at decreasing the difficulties arising from multiculturalism in the labour market (Sousa et al. 2017).

Despite the numerous studies on expatriation and expatriate adjustment, there remains several questions including what practices are adopted by organisations to facilitate expatriate adjustment? Which among these practices are the most effective and which work and under which conditions? Numerous studies have established that international assignees with cross-cultural training are a better fit in new cultural environments (Sousa et al. 2017). In this case, cross-cultural training is seen to be an educational process which facilitates learning of new cultures through development of affective, cognitive, and behavioural competences thus integral to effective interaction with different cultures (Hassan and Diallo 2013). Nonetheless, Jonasson et al. (2017) note that different types of training programmes are only effective in some situations and ineffective in others yet the most effective training programme should be adopted for better adjustment of an expatriate. On the other hand, Nardon et al. (2015) write that most of the expatriate adjustment practices are alluded as positive in promoting the expatriation process but little is known on how such practices affect the actual expatriate adjustment. This study bridges these gaps by identifying the practices that organisations adopt to facilitate expatriate adjustment and assessing the effectiveness of such practices.

Practices promoted by organisations

Most organisations depend on recruitment and selection processes Sousa et al. (2017) and provision of relevant information and knowledge to acquaint expatriates with behaviours and norms of the host country (Wang and Tran 2012). The most common types of offer initiated by organisations to expatriates are pre-departure and post arrival cross-cultural training, direct and indirect support, family support, language training, career support, financial support, and general support (Sousa et al. 2017). Other organisations offer family packages such as spouse’s company, children’s education and financial provision (Wang and Tran 2012) while other organisations offer an employee the option of free choice, that is, the decision to undertake international assignment or not (Rizwan 2018).

In the pre-departure training, most organisations organise various activities that help employees to develop clear understanding of the host culture acquire the skills they require to be productive in such a culture (Feitosa et al. 2014). The main focus of pre-departure training is helping the expat find a positive direction within the new cultural environment (Feitosa et al. 2014). On the other hand, post-arrival training offers different features such as mentoring and social support in order to minimise the problems associated with cultural adaptation (Okparaand Kabongo 2017). Post-arrival training also helps an expatriate combine the information received with explicit knowledge so they arrive in the host country with actual knowledge (Sousa et al. 2017).

Despite the numerous practices promotes by organisations to facilitate expatriate adjustment, Sousa et al. (2017) note that the probability of adjustment occurring without considerable difficulties is far greater in that training increases an expatriate’s confidence to associate with locals hence increasing his/her potential to achieve the set goals. This study will identify and evaluate the practices promoted by Vodafone to facilitate expatriate adjustment.

Methodology

Research philosophy

Research philosophy considers assumptions and beliefs about the development of knowledge (Saunders et al. 2015). There are five major research philosophies namely positivism, interpretivism, critical realism, pragmatism, and postmodernism (Saunders et al. 2015). This study adopts the interpretivism philosophy, which emphasises that humans are different from physical phenomena as they create meanings (Chowdhury 2014). Interpretivists do not define universal laws as they believe that different people from different cultural backgrounds under different circumstances and at different times make different meanings (Potrac et al.2014). With such a foundation, this research seeks to create new and richer understandings of expatriations contexts by looking at expatriate adjustment from the perspective of organisational promotes practices.

Research strategy

The strategies to business and management research include experiment, survey, case study, archival research, action research, ethnography, and grounded theory (Saunders et al. 2015). This research will adopt the survey research strategy. According to Rahi (2017), the survey research strategy allows a researcher to gather information that is not available from other sources, allows unbiased representation of the population, helps in standardisation of measurement, and the findings can be used to complement the existing. For these advantages, the survey strategy is selected for this study.

Sampling

Purposive sampling will be adopted for this study. According to Etikan et al. (2016), purposive sampling is a deliberate choice of a respondent due to the qualities that the respondent possesses. In the purposive sampling technique, the researcher determines what should be established and identifies the people that are knowledgeable enough to offer expected insights (Etikan and Bala 2017). In this study, IHRM managers will be the most preferred respondents as they have a deeper understanding of the practices that the organisation uses to facilitate expatriate adjustment. In addition, the researcher will select some employees who have successfully completed international assignments and collects information on the effectiveness of organisational practices by virtue of experience. A sample of 6 participants will be selected: 3 international human resource managers and 3 employees that have successfully completed international assignments and returned back to the home country.

Data collection methods

Semi-structured interviews will be used to collect qualitative data from the study participants. The researcher will develop a list of questions based on the study objectives and ask them to the selected participants. The order in which the questions will be asked will differ based on the rapport established with different respondents. Each interview session is scheduled to last between 30 and 40 minutes. Full notes will be taken during the interviews sessions and each session audio recorded but based on the respondent’s consent.

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Data analysis

The collected data will the qualitatively analysed. Descriptive analysis will be adopted in that the study seeks to provide insights into organisational practices to facilitate expatriate adjustment. Data will be analysed in two major themes – practices promoted by the organisation and the effectiveness of these practices in preparing expatriates for their international assignments.

References

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Collings, D.G., Scullion, H. and Morley, M.J., 2007. Changing patterns of global staffing in the multinational enterprise: Challenges to the conventional expatriate assignment and emerging alternatives. Journal of World Business, 42(2), pp.198-213.

Downes, M., Varner, I.I. and Hemmasi, M., 2010. Individual profiles as predictors of expatriate effectiveness. Competitiveness Review: An International Business Journal, 20(3), pp.235-247.

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Etikan, I., Musa, S.A. and Alkassim, R.S., 2016. Comparison of convenience sampling and purposive sampling. American journal of theoretical and applied statistics, 5(1), pp.1-4.

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