Beyond ethnocentrism: why do MNCs send their nationals to subsidiaries?
Reframing our perspectives on "ethnocentric" staffing: a new article in Organization Studies
Why do MNCs send parent country nationals (PCNs) to staff top-management teams in their foreign subsidiaries? This is a classic research topic in international business and human resource management. Many studies have indicated that subsidiary’s top-management staffing practices differ by the MNCs’ country of origin (COO). The predominant explanation for such differences has been the “ethnocentric” culture of the MNC home country. Thus such practice is usually labelled as “ethnocentric” staffing.
A fresh look at an old problem
In our recent paper, we questioned whether an “ethnocentric” culture - the predominant explanation for PCN staffing policies in the cross-cultural management literature - is sufficient to explain this practice. We turned to the comparative institutionalism literature which investigates the differences across countries’ institutional arrangements that shape and regulate firms’ available resources for an alternative explanation.
- Lee H-J, Yoshikawa K, Harzing A-W. Cultures and Institutions: Dispositional and contextual explanations for country-of-origin effects in MNC “ethnocentric” staffing practices. Organization Studies, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 497–519. Available online... - Publisher's version (free access) - Related blog post - Short video
Cultures and institutions are rarely studied together due to their distinct intellectual traditions. More importantly, they are empirically intertwined, thus making it challenging for researchers to disentangle the causality of and interrelations between them. Our view is that the cultural and institutional conditions are complementary in the explanation of country-of-origin effects, and specific conditions may manifest differently across countries.
Two mechanisms: dispositional and contextual
We therefore theorized a holistic framework that integrates the cultural and institutional mechanisms from a configurational perspective, and tested it with fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA).
Ethnocentric Cultures that Favor Nationals over Non-nationals
The first mechanism is the classic explanation for the COO effect, primarily drawn from cross-cultural management: MNCs send their nationals to foreign subsidiaries because their cultural dispositions favor nationals over non-nationals. We operationalize this mechanism by (strong) ingroup collectivism and a (large) trust gap between nationals and foreigners in the analysis.
Constraints in Translation across Borders due to Institutional Contexts
The second mechanism is drawn from the comparative institutionalism theory and focuses on context. We propose that COO’s institutional arrangements affect/constrain firms’ capabilities for cross-border translation: MNCs send their parent country nationals to subsidiaries when their translation capabilities are low, so that PCNs can function as a bridge between HQs and subsidiaries. We operationalize this mechanism by (low) English language proficiency and (low) interorganizational labour mobility.
Our findings: a plea for expanding our horizons
Overall, our analysis of multiple MNCs from ten large economies shows that 1) our integrated framework provides a good explanation; and 2) we need both mechanisms- cultural and institutional- to explain the country-of-origin effects of “ethnocentric” staffing.
We speculate that the prevalent usage of the term “ethnocentric” staffing, combined with the dominant cultural values framework, might have led to an over-emphasis of national cultural dispositions over institutional contexts in explaining country-of-origin effects in MNC global staffing practices. It therefore behooves us as scholars to expand our research horizons by re-examining the taken-for-granted intellectual styles and dominant paradigms.
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Copyright © 2022 Hyun-Jung Lee. All rights reserved. Page last modified on Sun 4 Sep 2022 14:43
Hyun-Jung LEE is Assistant Professor in OB and Cross-Cultural Management at London School of Economics. Trained as psychologist, she has taught in East Asia and Europe, and worked with private, public and non-government organizations including Samsung, LG, Rolls-Royce, HSBC, and OECD. She is an expert in cosmopolitanism and cross-cultural management and her research has been published in leading management journals including Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, Journal of Management Studies, and Organization Studies. Dr Lee received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Psychology at Seoul National University, and PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She was previously Assistant Professor in OB at KAIST Business School.