Different approaches to strategic international HRM

Managers are not aware of the severe consequences treating their employees like that? Is it because of a deficit in managing people within an opposed cultural working environment or is it because of an inconvenient HRM strategy? Skinner, B. (1971) argued, that people are simply a product of the stimuli they get from the external world. Interestingly, negative reinforcement causes behavioral change in undesirable ways, whereas positive reinforcement causes rather intended change. General management is therefore not only accountable for defining such stimuli according the corporate strategy, but also its degree of involvement is a prerequisite for a successful HRM (Baron, J. & Kreps, D., 1999).

Definition: International Human Resource Management

What difference does it actually make to augment the word international to HRM?

Needless to say, as corporations globalize, HRM activities like HR-planning, staffing, developing, and retaining employees goes far beyond a national scope. Thus, IHRM broadly covers all issues related to the management of people in an international context (Stahl, G. & Bj rkmann, I., 2007). Morgan (1986) developed a three-dimensional model of IHRM (Figure 1), which expose firstly the broad human resource activities of procurement, allocation and utilization, secondly the national or country categories involved in IHRM activities (host, home, other), and lastly three categories of employees of an international firm (HCNs, PCNs, TCNs). Morgan defines IHRM as the interplay among these three dimensions. Generally, IHRM involves the same activities as domestic HRM, for instance, procurement refers to HR planning and staffing; however, domestic HRM focuses only on activities within only one national boundary. Many firms underestimate the complexities involved in international operations, and there is some evidence to suggest that business failures internationally may often be due to poor management of HR (Desatnick, R. & Bennett, M., 1978).

Strategic International Human Resource Management in Multinationals Alfred Chandler highlighted once, structure follows strategy . Hence, a holistic

corporate strategy is not only based on a precise knowledge of internal and external factors

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or can be measured along financial and non-financial KPIs. In fact, a sustainable corporate strategy must be a reference point towards every part of the value chain. Thereby, the functional-level is typically concerned with maximizing efficiency; and particularly the HRfunction addresses the question, Are the current HRM policies sufficient enough to support the strategy? Schuler, R. & Jackson, S. (1987), took up Porter s framework of competitive strategies in order to develop a model of its idea in SIHRM (Figure 2). Their model concludes that business performance will increase, if HR policies mutually reinforce the firm s strategy.

According to Dowling, P. & Welch, D. (2005), MNEs operate in the context of worldwide conditions, including the external contexts of industry, nation, region and interorganizational networks and alliances. De Cieri and Dowling (1999) developed the model of strategic HRM in MNEs (Figure 3). The internal organizational factors are shown in order of most tangible to most intangible. Pointed out by Dowling, P. & Welch, D. (2005), following developments in the literature, such as that of Taylor et al. (1996), (…), the model suggests that there are reciprocal relationships between organizational factors, SHRM and multinational concerns and goals. For instance, HR activities such as expatriate management are influenced by both factors of procedures from in- and outside the company.

Contrasting Two Approaches of Strategic International Human Resource Management

Any convergence will be balanced by divergence (Harzing, A. & Ruysseveldt, J., 2004). Its sound so simple, however, since MNEs globalize and their structure change rapidly, managers should decide upon two major issues; firstly, to which extent key decisions have to be made at the parent-country HQ or at the subsidiary units and secondly, which type of management control system the parent could execute in the subsidiary unit. Thus, the main distinction is whether to standardize or customize SIHRM.

In case of standardizing SIHRM, the HQ decides upon HR policies and standards independently from their foreign subsidiaries. Forces towards standardization are mainly driven by the need for control and sustain of competitive advantage. Assuming that a generalized approach leads to conformity and unity among all employees, while neglecting

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cultural differences, the standardization may ensure adoption of corporate values und promotes the corporate strategy above national boundaries. However, the probability of a successful standardized approach depends very much on the openness of the foreign subsidiary to cohere, for instance, with the corporate work practices and cultural differences (Dowling, P. & Welch, D., 2005). Since a standardized SIHRM approach is not only influenced by cultural differences that may facilitate resistance of the foreign subsidiary, Bae, J. & Lawler, J. demonstrated (Figure 4) comprehensively which factors influence standardization of work practices (2000).

Discussing issues about customization, the statement `Think global and act local pops up frequently. As customization of SIHRM considers the specific demands of the hostcountry, the involvement of foreign subsidiaries in managerial decisions is in comparison to a standardized SIHRM very high. By involving host management, parent firms should do both, acknowledge different cultural attitudes and take actions in order to incorporate them when feasible. Obviously, there is more than one correct way to manage people; thus, the HQ and the foreign subsidiary can gain from customization due to knowledge-sharing, resulting in cross-cultural learning. Another interesting point is the implication of corporate language. Even though, within most MNEs English is the corporate language, Marschan-Piekkari et al. puts it, companies do not have languages, people do. Therefore, language standardization in contrast to customization increases burden on foreign subsidiaries since being competent in the corporate language is considered to be important for career development (Dowling, P. & Welch, D., 2005).


Effective ISHRM is expected to assist the firm in achieving its goals and objectives. The managerial challenge for HRM is thereby not only the implementation of the corporate strategy, but also to define a meaningful balance between standardization and customization of its activities and policies. Heading for sustainable corporate values, MNEs should focus on managerial consistency. However, due to thinking global and acting local, they should not deny regional and cultural differences; rather heading for knowledge-transfer in order to

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achieve a comparative advantage. Clearly, like Dowling, P. & Welch, D. argued, while the global nature of the business may call for increased consistency, the variety of cultural environments may be calling for differentiation (2005).

Reference List

Baron, J. & Kreps, D. (1999). Strategic Human Resources. John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken Bae, J. & Lawler, J. (2000). Organizational performance and HRM strategies in Korea. Academy of Management Journal, 43(3): 502-517.

Chandler, A. (1996). Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Clavell, J. (1983). The Art of War: Sun Tzu. New York: Dell Publishing.

Desatnick, R. & Bennett, M. (1978). Human Resource Management in the Multinational Company. New York: Nicholson.

Dowling, P. & Welch, D. (2005). International Human Resource Management: Managing

People in a Multinational Context. Toronto: Southwestern College Publishing.

Morgan, P. V., International Human Resource Management: Fact or Fiction. Personnel

Administrator, Vol. 31, No. 9 (1986) p. 44.

Skinner, B. (1971). Beyond Freedom and Dignity. New York: Knopf.

Stahl, G. & Bj rkmann, I. (2007). Handbook of Research in International Human Resource Management. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

Schuler, R., Dowling, P.J. & de Cieri, H. (1993). An Integrative Framework of Strategic International Human Resource Management. Journal of Management, 19(2): 419 60.

Schuler, R. & Jackson, S. (1987). Linking competitive strategies and human resource

management practices. Academy of Management Executive, 1(3): 207-9.

Taylor, S., Beechler, S. & Napier, N. (1996). Toward an Integrative Model of Strategic International Human Resource Management. Academy of Management Review, 21(4): 959 86.

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