Hrmn 467 week 3 – expatriate adjustment and global compensation

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Please see the attached documents and let me know if you have any questions. Again, all the references MUST come from the class materials I provided. 

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Question 1

: Read the attached

chapter 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning which summarizes all three theories.  (Read only p. 7 – 26)

This week we learned that:

a. Expatriate adjustment to the cross-cultural environment can be viewed as having three primary dimensions: degree, mode, and facet.

b. The process of adaptation can be explained using the theory of the U-curve and social learning theory.

c. The factors that influence expatriate adjustment have four aspects: individual factors, job-related factors, organizational factors, and non-work factors.

YOUR TASK:

The management team at Holiday Villas is interested in understanding a bit more about the theoretical foundations behind international HR. 

Choose ONE of the three theories and explain it clearly and in detail, IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Make sure to reference the book chapter with page numbers as needed. Do NOT use outside sources,

Include at least 2 references and include in-text citations from the class materials ONLY


Question 2:
Read the attached file named Global Compensation

Companies can take one of four approaches to compensation. Which do you think is the best approach? Why?

Frame your post as an argument.

· The home-country-based approach. The objective of a home-based compensation program is to equalize the employee to a standard of living enjoyed in his or her home country. The 2016 Cartus Global Mobility Policy & Practices Survey found that 76 percent of long-term assignments and 75 percent of short-term assignments use a home country pay structure.1 Under this system, the employee’s base salary is broken down into four general categories: taxes, housing, goods and services, and discretionary income.

· The host-country-based approach. With this approach, the expatriate employee’s compensation is based on local national rates. Many companies continue to cover the employee in its defined contribution or defined benefit pension schemes and provide housing allowances. Only 14 percent of long-term assignments and 5 percent of short-term assignments base pay on local rates, according to the Cartus survey.2

· The headquarters-based approach. This approach assumes that all assignees, regardless of location, are in one country (i.e., a U.S. company pays all assignees a U.S.-based salary, regardless of geography). Cartus found that a small percentage of companies use headquarters-based approaches for long-term assignments (4 percent) and short-term assignments (5 percent).3

· Balance sheet approach. In this scenario, the compensation is calculated using the home-country-based approach with all allowances, deductions and reimbursements. After the net salary has been determined, it is then converted to the host country’s currency. Since one of the primary goals of an international compensation management program is to maintain the expatriate’s current standard of living, developing an equitable and functional compensation plan that combines balance and flexibility is extremely challenging for multinational companies. To this end, many companies adopt a balance sheet approach. This approach guarantees that employees in international assignments maintain the same standard of living they enjoyed in their home country. A worksheet lists the costs of major expenses in the home and host countries, and any differences are used to increase or decrease the compensation to keep it in balance.

·

Source:
 

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/designingglobalcompensation.aspx 
(Note that this source requires a paid subscription to SHRM to view the full article.)

Include at least 2 references and include in-text citations from the class materials ONLY

Chapter 2
Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate
Learning

2.1 International Assignments

2.1.1 Definition and Classification of International
Assignments

International work experience is one of the major requirements for promotion to
higher-level managerial positions. International assignments are a powerful mech-
anism through which managers acquire new business skill sets, international per-
spectives, and basic cross-cultural assumptions (Furuya et al. 2009). The topic of
international assignments (IAs) has an established pedigree in the international
management literature and has in particular dominated the research agenda of
international human resource management (IHRM) for over three decades (Collings
et al. 2007; Stahl and Bjorkman 2006). It has been argued that entrepreneurs have
recognised the importance of physically relocating managers to foreign locations
where business operations are based since approximately 1900 B.C. (Collings et al.
2007). Owners of international organisations realised the benefits of utilising people
known to them and socialised into the organisation in minimising the agency
problems associated with managing spatially diverse organisations from an early
stage. This is because these individuals had built a level of trust with their superiors
and thus were considered to be more likely to act in the best interests of the
organisation, relative to local managers from the host country who were largely an
unknown quantity. Thus, international assignments were used as a means of
addressing agency issues as a result of the separation of ownership and management
and their amplification through distance.

The most widely recognized and long-standing typology of international
assignments is that of Edstrom and Galbraith (1977). Edstrom and Galbraith (1977)
proposed a distinctive three-fold subdivision of international assignments based on
assignment purposes: fill positions, develop organization, and develop managers.

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2016
Y. Li, Expatriate Manager’s Adaption and Knowledge Acquisition,
DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-0053-9_2

7

Firstly, fill positions refers to when suitably qualified host country nationals were
not available. Secondly, as a means of organisational development, aim at
increasing knowledge transfer within the MNC and modifying and sustaining
organizational structure and decision processes. Thirdly, as a means of management
development, aim at developing the competence of the individual manager.
Although it is important to note that assignments generally have more than one
rationale (Sparrow et al. 2004), Edstrom and Galbraith’s (1977) typology provides a
useful point of departure for the consideration of why MNCs use international
assignments and expatriates. Hocking et al. (2004) argue that Edstrom and
Galbraith (1977)’ classification of international assignments lack a strong concep-
tual framework to explain the underlying strategic significance of the categories and
their relationships. They reclassify the principal strategic purpose of international
assignments and present the underlying relationships. According to Hocking et al.
(2004, 2007), international assignments’ principal purposes comprise three cate-
gories: business applications, organization applications, and expatriate learning. In
particular, expatriate learning refers to either business- or organization-related
knowledge acquisition by the expatriate, which equivalent to the two knowledge
application categories: business applications and organization applications.

Alongside the conventional international assignment (usually more than one year
and involving the relocation of the expatriate), there is the emergence of a portfolio
of alternatives to the traditional international assignment, referred to as a
non-standard international assignment including: short-term assignments (SIAs);
commuter assignments; international business travel; and virtual assignments
(Brookfield Global Relocation Trends 2005; Collings et al. 2007). Research sug-
gests there is little evidence of a significant decline in the use of long-term (tra-
ditional) international assignments but does identify the growing use of alternative
forms of international assignments (Collings et al. 2007). A recent survey by
Brookfield Global Relocation Trends (2005) reported that 62 % of respondents
suggested that their organizations were seeking alternatives to long-term assign-
ments. This suggests that what is happening is the emergence of a portfolio of
international assignments within the MNC (Roberts et al. 1998).

The most popular form of non-standard assignments appears to be the short-term
international assignment (SIA). Compared to traditional assignments, SIA has three
key advantages: flexibility; simplicity; and cost effectiveness. Long-term IAs had
uncertain benefits and potential drawbacks. Many expatriates felt that they had to
work harder to preserve the home network and their social capital suffered through
the traditional IAs. Short-term international assignment seems to be a better choice
(Tharenou and Harvey 2008). Managers can be assigned to some challenging tasks
in a foreign country. They are not away from the headquarters for a long period of
time and can be assigned to several different countries before they are appointed to
some important managerial position. Such an approach optimizes the economic
efficiency of human resources—providing required skills and developing interna-
tional capabilities simultaneously (Tharenou and Harvey 2008). However,
Yamazaki and Kayes (2007) claim that if MNCs expect their expatriates to perform
successfully within their assignment periods, they may need to provide the

8 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

expatriates with at least a three-year tenure. Therefore, this study adopts a pseudo
longitudinal research method that examines expatriates with different lengths of
assignment tenure to investigate whether short-term international assignments are as
effective for expatriate adjustment and learning as traditional long-term interna-
tional assignments.

2.1.2 Expatriates and International Assignments

An expatriate is the person that MNCs assign to an international assignment.
Expatriates usually are home country nationals or third country nationals. Edstrom
and Galbraith (1977) define expatriates as individuals who, irrespective of their
national origin, are transferred outside their native country to another country
specifically for employment purposes. Expatriates are usually classified into three
broad categories based on their national origin relative to that of the parent com-
pany (Shaffer et al. 1999). Parent country nationals (PCNs) are expatriates who are
from the home country of the MNC; third country nationals are non-PCN immi-
grants in the host country (e.g., those transferred between foreign subsidiaries);
inpatriates are employees from foreign subsidiaries who are assigned to work in the
parent country. There are several reasons why MNCs select various types of
expatriates. For example, parent country nationals facilitate communication
between corporate and foreign offices, while third country nationals tend to be more
sensitive to cultural and political issues.

Harzing (2001) identified three specific control roles of expatriates, namely: the
bear, the bumble-bee, and the spider. Bears act as a means of replacing the cen-
tralisation of decision-making in MNC and provide a direct means of surveillance
over subsidiary operations. The title highlights the degree of dominance these
assignees have over subsidiary operations. Bumble bees fly ‘from plant to plant’
and create cross-pollination between the various ‘offshoots’ (Harzing 2001:369).
These expatriates can be used to control subsidiaries through socialisation of host
employees and the development of informal communication networks. Finally
spiders, as the name suggests control through the weaving of informal communi-
cation networks within the MNC. Significantly, Harzing (2001) argues that
although expatriates generally appear to perform their role as bears regardless of the
situation, the study suggests that their roles as spiders and bumble bees tend to be
more contexts specific. Specifically, the bumble bee and spider roles appeared to be
more significant in longer established subsidiaries (longer than 50 years) while the
bumble bee role appeared to be important in newly established subsidiaries also.
Besides, the level of localization of subsidiary operations and further lower levels of
international integration (the subsidiary was not greatly reliant on the headquarters
for sales and purchases) were positively related to the likelihood of expatriates
performing the bumble bee and spider roles.

2.1 International Assignments 9

2.1.3 Cultural Differences Between Nations

2.1.3.1 High-Context Versus Low-Context Cultures

Hall (1977) claims a cultural classification of high-context culture and low-context
culture based on how, in each individual, identity rests on total communication
frameworks. In high-context cultures, surrounding situations, external physical
environments, and non-verbal behaviours are all important for its members to
determine the meanings of messages conveyed in communication. Covert clues in
these contexts make differences to the members and are used to search for a real
meaning beyond verbal messages. In a high-context culture, its members tend to be
related to each other in relatively long lasting relationships. For their effective
communications, high-context culture requires its members to become sensitive to
immediate environments through feelings. Yamazaki (2005) contends that the
communication patterns in high-context cultures are conceptually associated with
the Concrete Experience learning mode. Chinese, French, Japanese, and Arabic
countries are classified as high-context cultures (Hall 1977).

In a low-context culture, on the other hand, surrounding situations, external
physical environments, and non-verbal behaviours are relatively less important in
generating and interpreting meanings, whereas explicit verbal messages are crucial
in communication (Hall 1977). Most information is conveyed in explicit codes and
therefore, explicit communicative styles in logical forms are placed with high
importance. In low-context culture, interpersonal relationships last for a relatively
shorter period. The communication patterns of low-context cultures focus less on
interpersonal relationships while more on rationally detached analyses. Yamazaki
(2005) contends that the communicative traits of low-context culture are consonant
with the characteristics of the Abstract Conceptualization learning mode and
thereby, individuals in low-context culture are likely to learn by logical thinking and
analytical cognition. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia,
Germany, and Switzerland are classified as low-context cultures (Hall 1977). In the
present research, the sample of western expatriates constitutes: 35.5 % of the sample
comes from the United Kingdom, 29.8 % from the United States, 21.5 % from
Canada, 9.1 % from Australia, and 4.1 % from other countries. Basically, western
expatriate managers participated in this research are assigned from countries with
low-context cultures to a country with high-context culture, China.

2.1.3.2 Collectivism Versus Individualism Cultures

Hofstede (1997) proposes five dimensions of cultural differences: individualism
versus collectivism, masculinity versus feminity, long-term orientation versus
short-term orientation, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance (see Fig. 2.1).
This section begins with a discussion of the dimension collectivism versus
individualism.

10 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

Hofstede (1997) defines the collectivism and individualism cultural dimension as
‘the degree to which a society reinforces individual or collective achievement and
interpersonal relationships’. The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is
the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do
with whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of ‘I’ or ‘we’. A high score on
individualism indicates that individuality and individual rights are paramount
within the society. In individualistic cultures, individuals tend to form a large
number of looser relationships and they are supposed to look after themselves and
their direct family only (Hofstede 2010). On the other hand, a low score on indi-
vidualism, or a high score on collectivism, indicates that the society has a more
collectivist nature with close ties between individuals. In collectivist cultures, the
society reinforces extended families and collectives and everyone takes responsi-
bility for fellow members of their group. Markus and Kitayama (1991) examined
the culturally different self-construal and proposed two classifications:
interdependent-self and independent-self, each of whose attributes differs among
cultures. Interdependent-self is represented as the self-construal of people in Asian,
African, Latin American, and many southern European cultures, while
independent-self is exemplified as the self-construal of those in American culture as
well as many western European cultures (Markus and Kitayama 1991). Triandis
(1995) and Hofstede (1997) categorized this cultural dimension of
interdependent-self versus independent-self as analogous to that of collectivism
versus Individualism. Anderson (1988) supports this cultural dimension from a
cognitive perspective. He illustrates that Eastern cultures are holistic, relational, and
field-dependent, while Western cultures are analytical and field-independent.

People with collectivism cultures have the strong sense of belongingness to
social contexts and relationships (Hofstede 1997). Markus and Kitayama (1991)
claim that individuals with interdependent-self tend to base the relationship with
others as a crucial and functional unit of conscious reflection and, they have a
strong tendency to seek information about others’ perception about self in the
relationship. In contrast, independent-self, the American and western European

Cultural differences

Power distance

Uncertainty
avoidance

Individualism vs.
collectivism

Masculinity vs.
feminity

Long-term
orientation

Fig. 2.1 Hofstede’s 5 cultural dimension model

2.1 International Assignments 11

notion of self, is seen as separate from context (Markus and Kitayama 1991). There
is a widespread belief that people are inherently detached and distinct in individ-
ualistic cultures where the cultural norm is to become independent from others and
to express one’s uniqueness. Collectivistic cultures, such as the cultures of most
Asian countries, emphasize a communication style in which ‘most of the infor-
mation is either in the physical context or internalized in the person’ (Hall 1976:
79), whereas individualistic cultures, such as those of the United States, Germany,
and the United Kingdom, use a ‘low-context’ communication style (Hall 1976).
Chinese and Japanese are classified with high collectivist culture, while the North
American and most western European countries are classified with individualistic
cultures (Hofstede 2010). According to the national culture comparisons of
Hofstede (2010), China is a highly collectivist culture where people act in the
interest of the group and not necessarily of themselves. In-group considerations
affect hiring and promotions with closer in-groups (such as family) are getting
preferential treatment. Whereas relationships with colleagues are cooperative for
in-groups, they are cold or even hostile to out-groups. In China, personal rela-
tionships prevail over task and organization (Hofstede 2010).

In the present research, western expatriate managers are assigned from countries
with individualistic cultures to a country with a high collectivist culture, China. As
we can see, the collectivists’ cultural characteristics of China may present a major
obstacle for western expatriates. The researcher suggests that an awareness of the
history, culture, and behaviour of Chinese people would reduce expatriates level of
frustration, anxiety, and concern.

2.1.3.3 Power Distance

Hofstede (1997) defines power distance as ‘the degree of equality, or inequality,
between people in the country’s society’. Power distance refers to ‘the extent to
which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country
expect and accept that power is distributed unequally’ (Hofstede 1997). High scores
on a Power distance index indicate that inequalities of power and wealth have been
allowed to grow within the society. These societies are more likely to follow a caste
system that does not allow significant upward mobility of its citizens. Low scores
on a Power distance index, on the other hand, indicate that the society deempha-
sizes the differences between citizen’s power and wealth. In these societies, equality
and opportunity for everyone is stressed.

According to the national culture comparisons in Hofstede centre (Hofstede
2010), China sits in the higher rankings of his Power Distance Index, i.e. a society
that believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable. The
subordinate-superior relationship tends to be polarized and there is no defense
against power abuse by superiors. Individuals are influenced by formal authority
and sanctions and are in general optimistic about people’s capacity for leadership
and initiative. People should not have aspirations beyond their rank. On the other
hand, the United State, the United Kingdom, and most western European countries

12 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

are classified with low power distance cultures (Hofstede 2010). Within organi-
zations in low power distance societies, hierarchy is established for convenience,
superiors are always accessible and managers rely on individual employees and
teams for their expertise. Both managers and employees expect to be consulted and
information is shared frequently. At the same time, the communication is informal,
direct, and participative. In the present research, western expatriate managers are
assigned from countries with lower power distance cultures to a country with a high
power distance culture, China.

2.1.3.4 Strong Uncertainty Avoidance Versus Weak Uncertainty
Avoidance Cultures

Hofstede (1997) defines uncertainty avoidance as ‘the extent to which the members
of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations’. Furthermore,
uncertainty avoidance index refers to the level of tolerance for uncertainty and
ambiguity. High scores on uncertainty avoidance index indicates that the country
has a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity and is a rule-oriented society that
institutes laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of
uncertainty. On the other hand, a low score on the uncertainty avoidance index
indicates that the country has less concern about ambiguity and uncertainty and has
more tolerance for a variety of opinions. A society with weak uncertainty avoidance
culture is less rule-oriented and more readily accepts change. The characteristics of
strong uncertainty avoidance are reflected in Chinese culture (Hoppe 1990). The
main concern of the society is to control everything in order to eliminate or avoid
the unexpected. As a result, the society does not readily accept change and is risk
adverse.

Organizational members in strong uncertainty avoidance countries have a feeling
of anxiety or fear when encountering unfamiliar risks, deviant ideas, or conflicts in
their work place. Those members need to take time for action until they acquire
enough knowledge and information to reduce or resolve unclear and unstructured
situations. In contrast, organizational members in weak uncertainty avoidance
countries tend to feel less uncomfortable in unclear and unstructured circumstances
and are more likely to take risks in unfamiliar situations when encountering deviant
or innovative ideas and behaviours (Hofstede 1997). Self-actualization in a weak
uncertainty-avoidance work place functions as a great motivational factor, while no
failure is the main concern in a strong uncertainty-avoidance work place. Hoppe
(1990) tested the relationship between the strong/weak uncertainty avoidance cul-
tural dimension and Kolb’s (1986) learning styles. He examined a sample of 1544
adults from 19 countries: 17 European countries (Great Britain, Germany, France,
Italy, and so on), the US, and Turkey. His results showed that people from strong
uncertainty avoidance cultures tend to learn through the reflective observation
learning mode, while those from weak uncertainty-avoidance cultures tend to learn
through the active experimentation learning mode.

2.1 International Assignments 13

Japanese, South Korea, and Germany are classified with strong uncertainty
avoidance cultures; Chinese is classified with medium to strong uncertainty
avoidance culture; the United State, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Denmark
are classified with weak uncertainty avoidance cultures (Hofstede 2010). In the
present research, western expatriate managers are assigned from countries with
weak uncertainty avoidance cultures to a country with a medium to strong uncer-
tainty avoidance culture, China.

2.1.3.5 Long-Term Orientation

Hofstede (1997) defines Long-term orientation as ‘the degree to which a society
embraces, or does not embrace, long-term devotion to traditional, forward thinking
values’. High scores on a Long-term orientation index indicate that the country
prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition. This is
thought to support a strong work ethic where long-term rewards are expected as a
result of today’s hard work. In a society with a long-term orientation, businesses
may take longer to develop, particularly for an ‘outsider’. Low scores on a
Long-term orientation index, on the other hand, indicate that the country does not
reinforce the concept of long-term, traditional orientation. In a society with this
culture, change can occur more rapidly as long-term traditions and commitments do
not become impediments to change.

According to the national culture comparisons in Hofstede centre (Hofstede
2010), China is a highly long-term oriented society in which persistence and per-
severance are normal. Resources and investment tend to be in long-term projects,
such as real estate. The United States, on the other hand, is classified as a short-term
culture. American businesses tend to measure their performance on a short-term
basis, with profit and loss statements being issued on a quarterly basis. This also
drives its people to strive for quick results within the work place. In the present
research, western expatriate managers are assigned from countries with relatively
short-term orientation cultures to a country with a highly long-term oriented culture,
China.

2.1.3.6 Masculinity Versus Feminity

Hofstede (1997) defines the Masculinity/Feminity cultural dimension as ‘the degree
to which a society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work
role model of male achievement, control, and power’. High scores on the
Masculinity index indicate that the country experiences a high degree of gender
differentiation. Males dominate a significant portion of the society and power
structure, with females being controlled by male domination. On the other hand,
low scores on the Masculinity index indicate that the country has a low level of
differentiation and discrimination between genders. Females are treated equally to
males in all aspects of the society. In the present research, western expatriate

14 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

managers are assigned to a country with a slight Masculinity oriented culture,
China.

In summary, Chinese culture is highly contrasted with western (American and
Western Europe) cultures. China is distinct different from most other countries.
From a western perspective, China ‘is seen as the most foreign of all foreign places.
Its culture, institutions, and people appear completely baffling—a matter of absolute
difference’ (Chen 2001: 17). Also, companies in different cultures have different
ways of conducting business. There is a wealth of evidence that cultural differences
can act as important barriers for business expatriates. According to Torbiorn (1988),
the more dissimilar, foreign, or strange a situation appears, the more negative the
expatriates’ attitudes towards those situations. Psychological cultural barriers are
typically associated with negative reactions towards another culture, norms of the
other culture appear as less familiar, less normal, less good, and so forth than those
to which the individual is acculturated (Selmer 2004). A psychological cultural
barrier is said to be more obvious when two cultures are different in terms of
language and other cultural norms (Selmer 2004).

2.2 Expatriate Adjustment

International assignments involve significant changes in the job the individual
performs and the corporate culture in which responsibilities are executed. It also
involves dealing with unfamiliar norms related to the general culture, living con-
ditions, weather, food, health care, daily customs, and political systems. It is esti-
mated that 20–40 % of all expatriates sent on foreign assignments return home
prematurely. McGinley (2008) suggests that expatriate failure rates vary from
country to country. National Foreign Trade Council (2006) demonstrates that the
rate of early return from expatriate assignment was approximately 21 %. However,
failure rates are said to increase further when repatriation failure (expatriates who
return from overseas assignments but then leave their firms within one year) rates
are considered (McGinley 2008). Expatriate failure is a significant issue for MNCs
due to the high costs of expatriate failure which are both direct (e.g. salary, training
costs, travel and relocation expenses) and indirect (damaged relations with host
country organizations and loss of market share). Research suggests that the latter
should be considered as the most significant costs by MNCs, as damage to repu-
tation in key strategic foreign markets could be highly detrimental to the prospects
of successfully developing international business in particular regions. Expatriate
failure also bears considerable costs for managers themselves, including loss of
self-esteem, self-confidence, and reputation. In summary, the literature indicates
that the failure rate of expatriates has been reported to range from 10 to 80 %,
costing MNCs from $40,000 to $1million for each failed assignment. The inability
of expatriates to successfully adjust to foreign environments has been cited as one
of the most frequent reasons for unsuccessful international assignments (Black et al.
1991; Shaffer et al. 1999; Takeuchi et al. 2005; Okpara and Kabongo 2010).

2.1 International Assignments 15

Liu and Lee (2008) contend that management researchers have largely failed to
study systematically the psychological, social and behavioural concerns of
managing overseas operations. In order to advance the research on expatriate failure
and increase our understanding on expatriate adjustment, additional research is
needed, particularly from a non-western context like China, because the majority of
the researches conducted on these issues have been done in the west (Black et al.
1991; Grainger and Nankervis 2001; Selmer 2004).

Expatriate adjustment is generally described as a process where a manager
leaves a familiar cultural environment and enters an unfamiliar one. It is the per-
ceived degree of psychological comfort and familiarity an expatriate has working
with the new culture (Black et al. 1991). Scholars have only focused their research
efforts on the problem of expatriate adjustment and effectiveness since the late
1970s (Black et al. 1991). Previous to that time, some research had been conducted
on Peace Corps volunteers and foreign exchange students, but little work was done
on expatriate managers (Church 1982, cited in Black et al. 1991). Selmer (2004)
contends that psychological adjustment is a main component of expatriate adjust-
ment. Psychological adjustment connotes subjective well-being or mood states (e.g.
depression, anxiety, tension, and fatigue), emphasizing attitudinal factors of the
process of adjustment. The theoretical concept of subjective well-being is associ-
ated with the psychological aspects of international adjustment (Selmer 2004).

The concept of socio-cultural adjustment has been proposed and defined in the
literature on international adjustment (Searle and Ward 1990; Ward and Searle
1991). Research on international assignments highlights psychological or
socio-cultural adjustment as the vital construct underlying the rewards and costs of
expatriate experiences to individuals, their families, and their firms
(Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al. 2005). Socio-cultural adjustment relates to the ability to
‘fit in’ or effectively interact with members of the host culture (Ward and Kennedy
1992). Socio-cultural adjustment has been associated with variables that promote
and facilitate culture learning and acquisition of social skills in the host culture
(Selmer 2006). The socio-cultural notion of adjustment is based on cultural learning
theory and highlights social behaviours and practical social skills underlying atti-
tudinal factors (Black and Mendenhall 1991). Selmer (2006) claims that Black
et al.’s (1991) theoretical framework of international adjustment covers
socio-cultural aspects of international adjustment. A significant amount of existent
empirical research supports a positive correlation between expatriates’ international
adjustment and their work performance (Caligiuri 1997; Selmer 2006).

2.2.1 Expatriate Adjustment Dimensions and Process

Black (1988) contends that expatriate adjustment to the cross-cultural environment
can be viewed as having three primary dimensions: degree, mode, and facet.
Degree of adjustment can be viewed as both a subjective and objective concept.
Subjectively, it is the degree of comfort the expatriate feels in the new role and the

16 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

degree to which he/she feels adjusted to the role requirements. Objectively, on the
other hand, it is the degree to which the expatriate has mastered the role require-
ments and is able to demonstrate that adjustment via his/her performance (Black
1988). Mode of adjustment refers to the manner in which the expatriate adjust to the
new role, i.e. expatriates can adjust by altering the new role to match better
themselves or by altering their own attitudes and behaviours to match better the role
expectations or altering both to compromise. Black (1988) proposes that there are at
least two facets of expatriate adjustment: work adjustment and general adjustment.
Black and Stephens (1989) further extended this framework and suggest that there
are three specific facets of expatriate adjustment: adjustment to work, which
encompasses supervision, responsibilities, and performances; adjustment to inter-
acting with host nationals; adjustment to the general environment, which encom-
passes life conditions in the foreign country. Several researchers have confirmed
this typology (Black and Gregersen 1991; Shaffer et al. 1999; Okpara and Kabongo
2010).

Expatriate adjustment is the process of adaptation to living and working in a
foreign culture. Torbion (1988) proposed that cross-cultural adjustment occurred in
four phases which is often referred to the U-curve. It depicts a progression of
adjustment through four sequential stages: honeymoon, culture shock, adjustment,
and mastery. The trajectory of adjustment over time resembles a U-curve: initially
rising during the honeymoon, falling when culture shock occurs, recovering as
adjustment take place, and stabilizing during mastery.

Black and Mendenhall (1991) explained the U-curve in terms of social learning
theory. The first phase occurs during the first few weeks after arrival. At this time,
the new arrival is fascinated with the new and different aspects of the foreign culture
and country (Torbion 1988). During the initial stage, the person has not had suf-
ficient time and experience in the new country to discover that many of his/her past
habits and behaviours are inappropriate in the new culture. This lack of negative
feedback and the newness of the foreign culture combine to produce the ‘honey-
moon’ effect. Once the newcomer begins to cope seriously with the real conditions
of everyday life, the second phase of cross-cultural adjustment begins. This stage is
characterized by frustrations and hostility toward the host country and its people
(Torbion 1988). This is because the person discovers that his/her past behaviours
are inappropriate in the new culture but as yet has not learned what to substitute.
Torbion (1988) argues that culture shock generally occurs at the transition between
phase two and phase three when the person has received the maximum amount of
negative feedback but as yet has very little idea about what the appropriate beha-
viours are. The third stage begins as the person acquires some language skills and
adaptive ability to move around on his/her own. In the third phase, the person
begins to learn not only how to get around but also some new appropriate beha-
viours. By the third phase, the person also has developed some proficiency in
performing the new set of behaviours (Black 1988). In the fourth phase, the per-
son’s adjustment is generally complete and the incremental degree of adjustment is
minimal. In this stage, the person now knows and can properly perform the nec-
essary behaviours to function effectively and without anxiety to cultural differences

2.2 Expatriate Adjustment 17

(Black 1988). Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al.’s (2005) Meta-analyses, using data from
8474 expatriates in 66 studies, provided support for the U-curve, or sideways
S-shape, to expatriate adjustment’s trajectory.

Integrating the international and domestic adjustment literatures, Black et al.
(1991) propose two major components (including seven dimensions) of the expa-
triate adjustment process. Figure 2.2 presents Black et al.’s (1991) International
adjustment model. The first component, anticipatory adjustment, describes issues
that exist before expatriates leave their home countries; the second component,
in-country adjustment, deals with issues that become relevant after the expatriates
arrive at their foreign assignments. Anticipatory adjustment includes three dimen-
sions: pre-departure training, previous overseas experience, and organizational
selection mechanisms. In-country adjustment, on the other hand, includes four
dimensions: individual skills, job-related factors, organizational factors, and
non-work factors. Shaffer and Harrison (2001) propose that an expatriate’s language
skills should also be considered in anticipatory adjustment. Black (1988) explains
that in both domestic and international adjustment literatures, an individual leaves a
familiar setting and enters an unfamiliar one. However, because international
adjustment usually entails greater disruptions of old routines than domestic adjust-
ment, the magnitude of uncertainty is usually higher in international versus domestic
adjustment. In general, the domestic adjustment literature has focused on pre- and
post-entry adjustment variables, especially those related to the job and the organi-
zation, whereas the international adjustment literature has focused on individual and

Anticipatory
adjustment

Previous
international
experience

Cross-cultural
training

Selection
mechanism and

criteria

In-country adjustment

Individual







Self-efficacy

Relation skills

Perception skills

Job

Role clarity

Role discretion

Role novelty

Role conflict

Organization

Organization culture
novelty
Social support

Logistic support

Non–work

Family adjustment

Culture novelty

Expatriate adjustment

Work adjustment

Interaction adjustment

General adjustment



Fig. 2.2 Black et al.’s (1991) International adjustment model

18 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

non-job variables and on degree of adjustment (Black et al. 1991). Black et al. (1991)
further suggest that general adjustment and interaction adjustment may be much
stronger predictors of organizational commitment, intent to leave, or turnover in the
case of international adjustment versus domestic adjustment. Hechanova et al.
(2003) argue that the adjustment model proposed by Black et al.’s (1991) has
instigated and galvanized a large body of evidence. While Tan et al. (2005) argue
that Black et al.’s (1991) cross-cultural adjustment model is mainly descriptive and
needs to be more prescriptive, Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al. (2005) produced evidence
that strongly supported the model, through meta-analyses using data from 8474
expatriates in 66 studies. They contend that Black et al.’s (1991) model is the most
influential and often-cited theoretical treatment of expatriate experiences.

2.2.2 Factors Influencing Expatriate Adjustment

The present research will discuss the factors that influence expatriate adjustment
from four aspects: individual factors, job-related factors, organizational factors, and
non-work factors based on Black et al.’s (1991) International adjustment model (see
Fig. 2.2). It should also be noted that different adjustment influencing factors may
have different impacts on each facet of expatriate adjustment (general adjustment,
work adjustment, and interaction adjustment).

2.2.2.1 Individual Factors

The present research will discuss the individual factors that influence expatriate
adjustment from two aspects: individual characteristics (including self-efficacy and
interpersonal skills) and previous international experience.

1. Individual characteristics

Black (1988) reviewed the individual factors that were hypothesized to facilitate
expatriate adjustment and reported a summary of these which includes: (1) the
individual’s desire to adjust; (2) technical or managerial competence (Hays 1971,
cited in Black 1988); (3) a person’s social relation skills orientation (Ratiu 1983);
(4) an individual’s tolerance for ambiguity or open mindedness (Ratiu 1983); (5) an
individual’s self-confidence. Mendenhall and Oddou (1985) reviewed the individ-
ual skills necessary for a manager to be effective in a cross-cultural setting. They
categorized all these skills into three dimensions: the self-dimension, which
encompasses skills that enable the expatriate to maintain mental health, psycho-
logical well-being, self-efficacy, and effective stress management; the relationship
dimension, which constitutes the array of skills necessary for the fostering of
relationships with host nationals; and the perception dimension, which entails the
cognitive abilities that allow the expatriate to correctly perceive and evaluate the
host environment and its actors (Mendenhall and Oddou 1985). Ones and

2.2 Expatriate Adjustment 19

Viswesvaran (1997) confirmed the appropriateness of using individual traits and
temperaments for understanding differences in how managers respond to expatriate
and repatriate experiences. More recently, Mol et al. (2005) conducted a quanti-
tative review of the Big Five personality factors and found that they were as
predictive of expatriate performance. However, Tan et al. (2005) contend that
expatriates’ emotions should also be considered as an important individual factor in
the international adjustment model. They claim that expatriates’ emotions play a
major role in cross-cultural success, especially for individualists working in col-
lectivistic culture for long periods of time. They further suggest that emotional
demands caused by cultural differences in expatriate encounters impact negatively
on their experience. Klein and Lee (2006) found that certain personality traits, such
as openness, increased expatriate adjustment and their learning. Despite criticisms
such as these, Okpara and Kabongo (2010) contend that Black et al.’s (1991)
international adjustment model is a well-established theoretical model and allows
for further inclusion of related factors on each level.

‘Self-efficacy’ was initially conceptualized as a belief in a person’s ability to
succeed in the enactment of a specific task (Bandura 1977). Sherer et al. (1982,
cited in Shaffer et al. 1999) explored the concept of general ‘self-efficacy’ and
defined it as ‘an individual’s past experiences with success and failure in a variety
of situations which should result in a general set of expectations that the individual
carries into new situations’. In case of expatriate adjustment, ‘self-efficacy’ refers to
the ability to believe in one self and one’s ability to deal effectively with the foreign
surroundings, even in the face of great uncertainty (Mendenhall and Oddou 1985).
Bandura (1977) first explored the impact of the concept ‘self-efficacy’ in social
learning. Bandura (1977) suggests that individuals with higher levels of
self-efficacy tend to persist in exhibiting new behaviours that are being learned
longer than do individuals with less self-efficacy. Based on this, Black et al. (1991)
propose that high level of self-efficacy would drive the expatriate to persist in
exhibiting new behaviours which, in turn, would facilitate his/her degree of
adjustment. They contend that expatriates with high overall self-efficacy persist in
exhibiting newly learned behaviours despite negative feedback; they use the
resulting learning to improve their adjustment.

Relational skills, or interpersonal skills, refer to a repertoire of tools and tech-
niques that facilitate the formation of one’s interpersonal ties. Through those ties,
expatriates obtain necessary information and behaviour-relevant feedback in host
cultures (Black et al. 1991). Interaction with host nationals is another important
adjustment facilitating factor. Because interaction with host nationals can provide
cues concerning appropriate behaviour in the new culture, greater interaction with
host nationals would reduce novelty and positively affect adjustment.

Black et al. (1991) propose that the accuracy of the expectations held by
expatriates is a key to effective international adjustment. The more accurate
expectations expatriates can form, the more uncertainty they will reduce and the
better their adaptation will be. Relational skills, or interpersonal skills, provide an
important means of increasing the cues expatriates receive about what is expected
and how they are doing regarding the expectations. In summary, interpersonal skills

20 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

have two main beneficial impacts on expatriate adjustment. First, the greater
expatriates’ interpersonal skills, the easier it is for them to interact with host
nationals (Mendenhall and Oddou 1985). Second, the more expatriates interact with
host nationals, the more information they can receive about what is and what isn’t
appropriate in the host culture and how they are doing. Black (1988) found a
significant positive relationship between percentage of time spent with host
nationals and general international adjustment. Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al. (2005)
claim that relational skills allow the expatriates to gain familiarity with what is
acceptable and/or unacceptable in the host cultures.

2. Prior international experience

Prior international experience refers to individuals’ prior experience in living and/or
working abroad. Prior international (working and/or non-work) experience that
expatriates possess is likely to influence their adjustment to a host country (Okpara
and Kabongo 2010). Previous international non-work experiences, such as travel-
ling and studying, are likely to be associated with the extent to which expatriates
adjust to foreign cultures (Okpara and Kabongo 2010). When people travel to
foreign countries, they learn the behaviors, customs, and norms of those cultures
through direct experience or through observation of the host nationals’ behaviours
(Bandura 1977). Past international experience provides expatriates with direct
opportunities to learn a variety of skills. Intercultural communication, relocation,
and adaptive skills will be gained, all of which should have a positive influence on
the expatriates’ cross-cultural adjustment (Black et al. 1991; Selmer 2002, 2004;
Shaffer et al. 1999). Black (1988) suggests that the experience of a prior expatri-
ation lowers the difficulties related to work adjustment. Black et al. (1991) suggest
that previous international experience is an important source of information from
which accurate expectations can be formed and the accuracy of the expectations
held by expatriates is a key to effective international adjustment. Yamazaki (2005)
argue that previous experience may change how expatriates adjust by allowing
them to ignore what had not worked for them in the past and to concentrate on what
did work. Research examining the extent of prior international working experience
(Black 1988; Okpara and Kabongo 2010) has generally indicated a slightly positive
association with adjustment, especially with work adjustment. However, Torbiorn
(1988) found that specific length of previous overseas experience was not related to
higher levels of adjustment. Therefore, quantity of prior international experience
does not seem to necessarily relate to current international adjustment. These
inconsistent findings indicate that exactly how previous international experience
influences expatriate adjustment and what factors inhibit or magnify the impact of
previous experience needs to be comprehensively investigated.

Selmer (2002) explored the possibility that prior international experience mod-
erated the relationship between current assignment tenure and adjustment, studying
western expatriates in Hong Kong. His results showed that the impact of prior
Asian experience on the novice group (less than one year on an international
assignment) was significant, but prior international experience outside Asia was not
significant for either group. In the light of Selmer’s (2002) research results,

2.2 Expatriate Adjustment 21

Takeuchi et al. (2005) organized previous international experience along two
dimensions (domain (work/non-work) and cultural specificity) and examined the
effects of expatriates’ current past international experience on their cross-cultural
adjustment. They targeted 243 Japanese expatriates working in the United States
and their results indicate that past international experience moderates the relation-
ship between current assignment tenure and both general and work adjustment.
Takeuchi et al. (2005) made explanations to previous inconsistent research findings
regarding the impact of prior international experience: the interaction effects of
previous international experience differed depending on the measurement mode
being used. The interaction figures for the length-based measures of prior inter-
national experience illustrated both direct and indirect effects, while the
number-based measure of prior international experience only exhibited the medi-
ating effects. Takeuchi et al. (2005) further conclude that previous international
experience acts as a moderator rather than as an antecedent to expatriates’
cross-cultural adjustment. Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al. (2005) also examined the
mediating influences of prior overseas assignments. They suggest that time spent on
current assignment may enhance the effect of previous international experience on
work adjustment and expatriates may leverage past experiences better as they stay
on assignments longer. As their assignments progress, expatriates may be better
able to pick out the experiences that best enable them to adjust to their work
surroundings.

2.2.2.2 Job-Related Factors

Black (1988) reviewed the job-related factors that were hypothesized to influence
(facilitate or inhibit) expatriate adjustment based on both international adjustment
and domestic adjustment literature and proposes four job-related factors that can
increase the uncertainty, uncontrollability, unfamiliarity, or unpredictability of the
new work role and consequently inhibit the adjustment. These four adjustment
inhibiting job-related factors are: role novelty (role novelty involves the difference
between the past role and the new role), role ambiguity, role conflict, and role
overload. Moreover, he proposed three job-related factors that have the potential for
reducing the uncertainty and facilitating expatriate adjustment: role discretion,
previous transfer or previous overseas work experience, and pre-departure
knowledge.

International assignments are often associated with policy and procedural con-
flicts with parent companies (Gregersen and Black 1992). Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al.
(2005) further explain that role clarity refers to exact understanding of position
requirements; role discretion refers to decision-making autonomy; role novelty
refers to differences between host and native country work roles; and role conflict
refers to incompatible cues regarding job expectations. These four job-related
factors are likely to influence expatriates’ ability to adjust to the new environment.
For example, role clarity may reduce the ambiguity associated with foreign work
surroundings, whereas role discretion may enable expatriates to use previously

22 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

employed behavioural mechanisms to minimize that ambiguity. Bhaskar-Shrinivas
et al.’s (2005) meta-analyses using data from 8474 expatriates in 66 studies pro-
vided support for a significant correlation between job role clarity and work
adjustment. Obviously, the uncertainty regarding objectives and role requirements
are the strongest stressors in expatriates’ overseas work environments.

(a) Current assignment tenure

Black (1988) also found a significantly positive relationship between the length of
current assignment tenure and work adjustment. It is reasonable to argue for a
positive relationship between the length of time in a current work assignment
(current international assignment tenure) and expatriate adjustment. When expa-
triates initially arrive in the host country, they face considerable uncertainty about
many different aspects of both life and work. However, over time, they are likely to
acquire information that enables them to function more effectively in the new
environment. With prolonged exposure to the differences of the host culture,
expatriates are likely to become more familiar with the general surroundings and
find more suitable standards and become better adjusted (Takeuchi et al. 2005).

Takeuchi et al. (2005) examined the effects of current assignment tenure on
expatriate adjustment, studying 243 Japanese expatriates working in the United
States. Their results showed that current assignment tenure had significant rela-
tionships with expatriates’ general and work adjustment. Takeuchi et al. (2005)
propose that the time spent in an international assignment is very important for
expatriates’ work adjustment and suggest researchers adopt a time perspective for
understanding expatriate adjustment. Longer tenure increases opportunities for
expatriates to learn appropriate work behaviours through direct as well as vicarious
modelling (Bandura 1977). In addition, an extended period of time is also required
before expatriates are fully accepted by their peers and develop work relationship
with their peers. Accordingly, the length of current assignment tenure is related to
an enhanced understanding of the culture of a host country and an increased ability
to adapt to the host country (Takeuchi et al. 2005). Black and Mendenhall (1991)
define ‘time to proficiency’ as the period it takes an employee in a new job to reach
an acceptable performance level. The time expatriates take to become proficient
after transfers may have several important implications both for themselves and
their organizations. Typically, the total costs for an organization of an international
assignment will exceed the total contribution an expatriate makes for some time
during a post-entry period of settling-in. Hence, the longer the time to proficiency,
the greater the balance of costs will be to the organization. It would be in the
interest of both the expatriate and the assigning organization to keep the time to
proficiency as short as possible.

2.2.2.3 Organizational Factors

Organizations’ selection criteria and mechanisms are also important expatriate
adjustment influencing factors. Black et al. (1991) claim that the closer the selected

2.2 Expatriate Adjustment 23

expatriate matches the needs of the organization, the easier the expatriate’s
adjustment after entering the international assignment. Also, the greater the dif-
ference between the organizational culture of the subsidiary organization in the
foreign country compared to the organization in the home country (i.e. high
organizational culture novelty) the more difficult the expatriate adjustment would be
(Black et al. 1991).

Moreover, logistical support from the organization, parent firm assistance with
day-to-day living, such as help with housing, schools, grocery stores, and so on,
could potentially reduce uncertainty associated with international assignments and
therefore facilitate expatriate adjustment (Black et al. 1991). Social support from
co-workers and logistical support from the parent company can play important roles
in easing adjustment. By providing expatriates with information about culturally
suitable norms and behaviours in their work context, social support from
co-workers reduces uncertainty emanating from an expatriate’s new circumstances.
Logistical support, on the other hand, could assist adjustment by making critical
resources available to the expatriate at times of necessity and thus, meeting the
demands of the new environment. In a study by Guzzo et al. (1994), expatriates’
judgments of sufficiency of employer benefits and their perceptions of support were
significant predictors of organizational commitment and intention to leave.
Organization’s social support, defined in terms of the sources and quality of helping
relationships, acts as a stress buffer and has an indirect effect on strains such as job
dissatisfaction.

2.2.2.4 Non-work Factors

The present research will also discuss the non-work factors that influence expatriate
adjustment from two aspects: expatriate’s family’s adjustment and host culture
novelty.

(a) Expatriate’s family’s adjustment

Poor cross-cultural adjustment of a spouse is likely to inhibit an expatriate’s
adjustment. In Tung’s (1982) survey of American MNC executives, she found that
these executives believed that a spouse’s inability to adjust to the foreign host
culture was the number one reason for expatriate failures. Tung (1982) further
claims that an expatriate’s family’s inability to adjust is the biggest reason for the
expatriate’s inability to make the transition. Black (1988) contends that the expa-
triate’s family’s ability to adjust to the new culture/country has a significant impact
on the expatriate’s transition at work and adjustment. Black and Stephens (1989)
investigated a large sample of American expatriates on assignment in several dif-
ferent countries and their spouses. They found positive and significant relationships
between expatriates and spouse cross-cultural adjustment. In a recent study by
Black and Stephens (1989), family situation was rated by expatriates as the most
important contributor to successful international assignments. Bhaskar-Shrinivas

24 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

et al.’s (2005) meta-analyses using data from 8474 expatriates in 66 studies pro-
vided support for the idea that there is a strong correlation between spouse and
expatriate adjustment.

(b) Culture novelty

There is a wealth of evidence that cultural differences can act as important barriers
for business expatriates. As we discussed in Sect. 2.1.3 (‘cultural differences
between nations’), Chinese culture is highly contrasted with western (American and
Western Europe) cultures. Western expatriate managers experience high culture
novelty when they work in China. Mendenhall and Oddou (1985) refer to culture
novelty as culture toughness and suggest that some countries, like China, seem to
be more difficult to adapt to than others. They claim that the greater the difference
between the cultures of the host country compared to the home country, i.e. high
culture novelty, the more difficult would be the expatriate adjustment. Torbiorn
(1988) noted that culture novelty has its largest impact on expatriates during the
first two years of their assignments. After that, the impact of culture novelty
diminishes somewhat. Some authors such as Pires and Stanton (2005) question the
efficacy of culture immersion strategies. They contend that cultural values and
norms in the individual typically are not changed by simply living in, or learning
the language of another culture.

According to Selmer’s (2002) study of 36 UK-based companies, he found that
respondents from similar cultures (e.g., USA) were as likely to report adjustment
problems as expatriates assigned to more dissimilar cultures like China. He con-
cluded that the degree of cultural novelty of the country does not seem to have any
correlation with the outcome of the international assignment. Based on in-depth
interviews of ethnic Hong Kong Chinese business managers assigned to China,
Selmer and Shiu (1999) found that the perceived cultural closeness seemed to build
up expectations of easy and quick adjustment, which could, if it was not accom-
plished, result in frustration and withdrawal. Furthermore, comparing the adjust-
ment of western and overseas Chinese business expatriates in China, Selmer (2002)
found that although the westerners perceived a higher degree of culture novelty than
the overseas Chinese, they were better adjusted in work environment. More
recently, Selmer (2006) examined 165 western business expatriates assigned by
western firms to China to find out whether the culture novelty is a relevant factor in
assessing the adjustment of business expatriates. Their results showed that there
was no significant relationship between culture novelty and expatriate adjustment.

A possible explanation for this is that an expatriate from a very different culture,
may be tolerated and given the benefit of the doubt going through the process of
trying to adjust to a new culture. An expatriate from a similar or presumed identical
culture, on the other hand, could be treated with less patience and given less latitude
for culturally deviant behaviours (Selmer 2006). Expatriates, overlooking any
possible cultural differences that may exist in foreign locations with a similar
culture, exhibiting even minor inappropriate behaviours, will most probably be
unfavourably assessed. Hung (1994) argues that in China, Hong Kong Chinese may

2.2 Expatriate Adjustment 25

be judged by different standards and more harshly than a westerner for any mistake
made because he/she is presumably knowledgeable about Chinese etiquette and
manners and would be expected to fully understand the appropriate social protocol
and behave accordingly.

2.2.3 Adjustment of Expatriates in China

Since the introduction of the ‘Open Door’ policy in the late 1970s, China has
undergone enormous social and economic transformations. In 1979, when China
opened up for foreign investment, foreign businesses started to move into claim a
share of the country’s vast markets. China continues to attract more foreign direct
investment than any other developing country. However, many parts of the Chinese
mainland still have the character of a developing country. China has enjoyed an
average annual growth rate of 9 per cent since 1980, partly because of a huge inflow
of foreign direct investment (FDI). The country’s entry into the World Trade
Organization has accentuated its importance as a current and potential market for
Western and other international business firms. China has emerged as the world’s
most desirable market (Selmer 2006).

Selmer (2006) indicate that wholly owned subsidiaries in mainland China per-
form better if the companies have subsidiaries elsewhere in Greater China. The area
‘Greater China’ encompasses mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan
(Selmer 2006). In doing so, business firms may accumulate substantial benefits in
terms of enhanced experience of their expatriate staff that may facilitate their
eventual entry into mainland China. Selmer (2006) examined the comparative
adjustment of expatriates in Greater China and their empirical findings suggest that
adjustment of business expatriates is better elsewhere in Greater China than in
mainland China. He further proposed an expansion strategy for the international-
ization of an organization that using other Greater China locations, like Singapore
or Hong Kong, as a stepping-stone and source of experience in the ultimate quest to
enter mainland China.

Obviously, interpersonal interactions are relatively difficult in China in the
absence of a common language. The official language of China is Mandarin, but,
beside that, local dialects are spoken in different regions. Business expatriates in
China tend to see language differences as a fundamental obstacle to interaction
adjustment. The language barrier is substantial, despite the fact that the level of
English proficiency is generally rising in China. Accordingly, there is reason to
believe that western expatriate managers in China have a lower degree of inter-
action adjustment than their general adjustment. Many western business expatriates
found their assignment in China frustrating (Selmer 2006). General adjustment for
western expatriates in Beijing and Shanghai, China should be relatively easy. Both
Beijing and Shanghai are highly dynamic cities with a good provision of modern
conveniences. Living conditions in general are good, with ample supply of Western
and Asian food, excellent shopping, good housing conditions, good health care

26 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

facilities as well as modern entertainment facilities and opportunities. With regard
to anticipatory adjustment, it has been argued that previous international experience
may be an important source from which accurate expectations can be formed
(Church 1982) and that ‘several previous international adjustment experiences
would provide more information from which uncertainties could be reduced and
accurate expectation formed’ (Black et al. 1991, p. 306). Empirical evidence has
also shown that prior international experience facilitates an individual’s ability to
function and work effectively (Takeuchi et al. 2005; Selmer 2002) and the more
contact assignees have had with the host culture, the greater their cross-cultural
adjustment. This leads to the present research’s first hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1 Duration of managers’ international experiences in the host culture
will positively influence their adjustment to the current international assignment.

2.3 Experiential Learning Theory

Experiential learning theory (ELT) is a learning theory that is characterized by six
basic propositions (Kolb 1984).

1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes (p. 26).
2. Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience (p. 27).
3. The process of learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically

opposed modes of adaptation to the world (p. 29).
4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world (p. 31).
5. Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment (p. 34).
6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge (p. 36).

Despite the wide acceptance of Kolb’s experiential learning theory, there are
salient issues concerning the structure and validity of its use. Kolb’s theory has
been criticized for logical inconsistencies in theory construction and for the psy-
chometric properties of the learning style inventory. In the 1970s, critical analysis
began to emerge regarding the theoretical limitations of Kolb’s theory. Critics
mainly questioned the psychometric properties of its measure. In response to these
criticisms, Kolb redesigned the inventory in 1986 (Mainemelis et al. 2002).
Research results indicated that the updated versions largely addressed earlier con-
cerns related to measurement validity (Mainemelis et al. 2002). However,
researchers still pointed out several issues concerning data validity and ipsative
measurement of the revised model of the learning style inventory. Reynolds (1997)
claim that Kolb’s experiential learning theory is in decontextualizing learning the
concept of style which may provide a discriminatory basis for dealing with dif-
ference in gender or race. DeCiantis and Kirton (1996) argue that Kolb’s theory
conflated three unrelated elements (cognitive style, cognitive level and cognitive
process) and attempted to measure all three using a single instrument. They further
contend that the experiential learning model is unrelated to style but rather is a

2.2 Expatriate Adjustment 27

‘map’ of the learning process (DeCiantis and Kirton 1996). De vita (2001) claims
that the cognitive nature of Kolb’s theory over-emphasizes the role of the individual
and dedecontextualizes the learning process. Kolb (1999) responded to this critique
by saying that this critique has been more focused on the theory than the instrument
examining the underlying assumptions of the experiential learning theory; however,
if the role of the learner is disproportionate to the process, results from the measure
instrument would not have consistency and validity. Kolb’s experiential learning
theory emphasizes the central role of the experiences and the individual. Since the
experiential learning theory (ELT)’s first statement in 1971 (Kolb 1971, cited in
Kolb 1986), there have been many studies using ELT to advance the theory and
practice of experiential learning. The July 2005 update of the Experiential Learning
Theory Bibliography (Kolb and Kolb 2005) includes 1876 studies. Because
Experiential Learning Theory is a holistic theory of learning that identifies learning
style differences among different academic specialties, it is not surprising to see that
ELT research is highly interdisciplinary, addressing learning and educational issues
in many areas. An analysis of the 1004 entries in the 1999 ELT bibliography (Kolb
et al. 2001) shows that 207 studies in management, 430 in education, 104 in
information science, 101 in psychology, 72 in medicine, 63 in nursing, 22 in
accounting, and 5 in law. About 55 % of this research has appeared in refereed
journal articles, 20 % in doctoral dissertations, and 10 % in books and book
chapters.

2.3.1 Experiential Learning Process and Cycle

Kolb (1984) defines learning as ‘the process whereby knowledge is created through
the transformation of experiences’. According to ELT, learning requires people to
resolve a dialectic confrontation both when they grasp experience and when they
transform experience. The learning processes lie in the bases of four adaptive
learning modes that create the experiential learning cycle (Mainemelis et al. 2002).
These four adaptive learning modes are concrete experience, reflective observation,
abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation respectively. Zull (2002)
supported ELT’s learning cycle from a biological perspective of human brain
mechanisms, based on the examination of left-brain functions that correspond to the
four adaptive learning modes.

2.3.2 Learning Style

According to ELT, an effective learner is required to use each of the four funda-
mental learning abilities at the base of these four adaptive modes (Kolb 1984).
Kolb’s learning style that he proposed in his Experiential Learning Theory (1984) is
influential in explaining aspects of individual differences in modes of adaptation

28 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

and adjustment in learning. Yamazaki (2005) illustrates that learning styles refer to
cognitive, affective, and physiological behaviours that perform as relatively stable
indicators of how people perceive, interplay with, and respond to their outside
environment in learning situations. In Kolb’s learning model, concrete experience
(CE) abilities call for being involved in experiences and dealing with immediate
human situations in a subjective manner; in contrast, abstract conceptualization
(AC) abilities require using logic, ideas, and concepts. Reflective observation
(RO) abilities require understanding the meaning of thoughts and situations by
carefully watching and listening; in contrast, active experimentation (AE) abilities
demand actively influencing people and changing situations.

A combination of two learning abilities constitutes an associated learning style
(Kolb 1984; Kolb and Fry 1975). Learning style denotes an individual’s general
preference for using two sets of learning abilities over other two. The diverging
learning style specializes in the two modes CE (feeling) and RO (reflecting), while
the converging learning style specializes in AC (thinking) and AE (acting). The
assimilating learning style specializes in AC and RO, whereas the accommodating
learning style specializes in CE and AE. It should be noted that the names quoted to
these learning styles were originally diverger, converger, assimilator, and accom-
modator. To emphasize the dynamic nature of learning style, the latest version of
the learning style inventory has changed the style names from diverger to diverging,
from converger to converging, from assimilator to assimilating, and from accom-
modator to accommodating accordingly (Kolb and Kolb 2005).

Individuals with diverging learning styles are best at viewing concrete situations
from many different points of view (Kolb 1984). The style is labelled ‘diverging’
because a person with it performs better in situations that call for generation of ideas,
such as a ‘brainstorming’ session. People with diverging learning styles have broad
cultural interests and like to gather information. They are interested in people and tend
to be imaginative and emotional. On the other hand, an individual with a converging
learning style is best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories (Kolb 1984). They
have the ability to solve problems and make decisions based on finding solutions to
questions or problems. People with converging learning styles prefer to deal with
technical tasks and problems rather than with social and interpersonal issues.

Individuals with assimilating learning styles are best at understanding a wide
range of information and putting it into concise, logical form (Kolb 1984). People
with assimilating learning styles are less focused on people and more interested in
ideas and abstract concepts. An individual with an accommodating learning style is
best at doing things, carrying out plans and tasks, and getting involved in new
experiences. They prefer to solve problems in a trial-and-error manner, relying on
their own intuition or other people for information, rather than their own analytic
ability. People with accommodating learning styles are inclined to learn from pri-
marily “hands-on” experience. Accommodating learning style is important for
effectiveness in action-oriented careers where one must adapt oneself to changing
circumstances (Armstrong and Mahmud 2008). People with accommodating
learning styles tend to pursue careers in organizations and businesses where they
can bring to bear their competencies in acting skills: Leadership, Initiative, and

2.3 Experiential Learning Theory 29

Action (Kolb et al. 2001). Diverging, assimilating, converging, and accommodating
learning styles are the four fundamental learning styles in experiential learning
theory. Figure 2.3 describes Kolb’s experiential learning style model.

Recent theoretical and empirical work shows that the original four learning
styles can be expanded to nine distinct styles (Kolb and Kolb 2005). Learning styles
appear as an individual’s preference for a particular region of the learning space that
enables us to discriminate the individual preference in more detail. Kolb (1984)
identified four additional learning styles, which they identified as Northerner,
Easterner, Southerner, and Westerner. Kolb and Kolb (2005) describe and develop
these styles in more detail based on Hunt’s analysis, which emphasizes the impact
of the style’s weakest learning mode on the learner’s learning process.

The Northerner specializes in CE while balancing AE and RO, in which feeling
serves as an integrative link between acting and reflecting dialectic modes. People
with northern learning styles learn by involving themselves in new and challenging
situations while being comfortable in the outer world of action and the inner world
of reflection. The Easterner specializes in RO while balancing CE and AC, in which
reflection and observation serve as an integrative link between feeling and thinking
dialectic modes. People with eastern learning styles learn by deep reflection as well
as the ability to be both feeling oriented and conceptual. The Southerner specializes
in AC while balancing AE and RO, in which thinking serves as an integrative link
between acting and reflecting dialectic modes. People with southern learning styles
excel in inductively developing a particular concept or idea and deductively eval-
uating the validity and practicality of that concept or idea by testing them in the real
world. The Westerner specializes in AE while balancing CE and AC, in which
acting serves as an integrative link between feeling and thinking dialectic modes.
People with western learning styles combine the ability of finding solutions to
questions or problems based on their technical analysis as well as by relying on
people and immediate concrete situations as sources of information. The balancing
learning style (Mainemelis et al. 2002) refers to individuals who position

Fig. 2.3 Kolb’s learning styles

30 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

themselves in the central region. People with balancing learning style integrate CE
and AC and RO and AE. They are equally comfortable in moving across two
dialectic modes in a balanced manner. Overall, Fig. 2.4 describes Kolb’s
Nine-Region Learning Style Type Grid.

2.3.2.1 Influence of Culture on Learning Style

Among learning theories, Kolb’s experiential learning model has received special
attention to the examination of cross-cultural activities (Hoppe 1990). In examining
cross-cultural differences in learning styles and other learning programs, Kolb’s
learning model has been extensively applied in the field of cross-cultural and
international studies (e.g., Katz 1988; Hoppe 1990; Yuen and Lee 1994; Jackson
1995; Auyeung and Sands 1996; Fridland 2002; Barmeyer 2004; Yamazaki and
Kayes 2007, etc.). Learning styles are determined by the interplay between people
and their environment (Kolb 1984). Kolb (2001) further explains that such interplay
shapes learning styles at five levels (Kolb et al. 2001): psychological type, edu-
cational specialization, professional career, current job, and adaptive competencies.
In addition to these five levels, Yamazaki and Kayes (2004) indicate that the culture
of the country around people is the sixth level of interplay that shapes learning
styles. The continuity and development of a certain learning situation fitted to each
country relates to the way in which learning styles vary among cultures. Culture as
an environmental characteristic has a great influence on learning styles. Certain
learning styles within one country tend to developed in learning environments that
are influenced by its particular culture. Many researchers have examined the
interplay between the person and the environment at the cultural level. Hayes and
Allinson (1988) suggest that the culture of a country may be one of the powerful

NW

Feeling-Acting

Accommodating

N

Feeling

Acting-Reflecting

Northerner

NE

Feeling-Reflecting

Diverging

W

Acting

Feeling-Thinking

Westerner

C

Feeling

Acting + Reflecting

Thinking

Balancing

E

Reflecting

Feeling-Thinking

Easterner

SW

Thinking-Acting

Converging

S

Thinking

Acting-Reflecting

Southerner

SE

Thinking-Reflecting

Assimilating

REFLECTIVE
OBSERVATION

CONCRETE EXPERIENCE

ABSTRACT CONCEPTUALIZATION

ACTIVE

EXPERIMENTATION

Fig. 2.4 Kolb’s nine-region learning style type grid

2.3 Experiential Learning Theory 31

socialization agents that have a great impact upon the development of individuals’
learning styles. Hofstede (1997) contends that a country’s culture shapes its peo-
ples’ preferred modes of learning through their socialization experiences. Pratt
(1991) also argues that learning styles may be distinguishable across cultures
according to his comparative study of self-conceptions between China and the
United States. Furthermore, Yamazaki (2005) conducted a comprehensive analysis
on which culture is related to which learning style or learning ability. He con-
centrated on a theoretical and empirical comparative analysis between Kolb’s
learning styles and six cultural typologies (high context vs. low context cultures,
shame vs. guilt cultures, strong uncertainty avoidance vs. weak uncertainty
avoidance cultures, M-type organizations vs. O-type organizations,
interdependent-self vs. independent-self, and field-dependent vs. field-independent
cultures) in three research areas: Anthropology, Cross-cultural management, and
Cross-cultural psychology. Yamazaki (2005) proposes a close examination between
the cultural component and the other five levels of factors (i.e. psychological type,
educational specialization, professional career, current job, and adaptive compe-
tencies) to further explore how individual learning styles are shaped and developed
in a particular culture.

Kaze (1988, cited in Yamazaki 2005) examined the learning styles of 821 Israeli
undergraduates with different majors by using Kolb’s original 9-item learning style
inventory. She suggests that the interplay between the typical Israeli culture and
learning style is evident in the orientation toward the AE mode. She also made the
cross-cultural comparison of learning styles between Israel and the US revealed that
the Israeli are far more orientated toward the active mode than the American. Smith
and Kolb (1985) examined 1446 American samples and suggest that the overall
American subjects are shifted more toward the AC and AE mode. Therefore, they
concluded that the converging learning style may be a typical learning style of the
American samples as a whole. Yuen and Lee (1994) investigated 1032 Singapore
undergraduates with eight different majors and compared the learning styles of
Singapore students with those of the American undergraduate students in Ruble’s
research (Yuen and Lee 1994). Their study reveals that the Singapore students are
more abstract and reflective than the American students are. McMurray (1998)
investigated the learning styles of 160 Japanese undergraduates with economics and
science majors. He found that the learning preferences of Japanese subjects were
stable during two consecutive semesters and were orientated toward the CE and RO
modes, which is different from the American subjects that are orientated toward AC
and AE modes (Kolb 1984; Smith and Kolb 1985). Barmeyer (2004) examined
learning styles of 132 French students, 98 German students, and 123 Quebecois
students in business administration and found that French and Quebecois students
are significantly more concrete than German students; German students are sig-
nificantly more abstract and active than French and Quebecois students. French
students are significantly skewed toward the reflective observation learning mode.
Focusing on the learning style distribution of these students, the dominant learning
styles of French students and Quebecois students are both Assimilating and
Diverging, while that of German students are Assimilating and Converging.

32 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

More recently, Yamazaki (2005) summarized five research studies about
learning styles on American subjects: Smith and Kolb (1985), Kolb and Fry (1975),
Geiger and Pinto (1991), and Boyatzis and Mainemelis (2000) and concluded that
American subjects possess more abstract and active learning modes and tend to
prefer the converging learning style. Pratt (1991) conducted a comparative study of
self-conceptions between Chinese and Western societies and claimed that learning
styles are distinguishable across these two cultures. Therefore, there is a variation of
learning styles among different countries and societies. The relationship between
the learning style and countries and societies suggest that a dominant learning style
in one country will be indicative of learning characteristics in that country at a
macro environmental level. Existing research has demonstrated cultural distinctions
between Western countries and China on several important dimensions. As we have
discussed in the section ‘cultural differences western expatriates experienced in
China’, Chinese culture tends to be a high-context culture whereas Western
countries tend to toward a low-context culture (Hall 1976). Chinese culture is more
collective and the Western culture is more individualistic (Hofstede 1997).

2.3.2.2 Chinese Learning Style Versus Western Learning Style

Auyeung and Sands (1996) examined the relationship between the
Individualistic-Collective cultural dimension and Kolb’s (1984) learning style.
They analyzed learning styles from a total of 303 Australian accounting students,
whose country is representative of Individualism culture, and 172 accounting stu-
dents from Hong Kong and 157 accounting students from Taiwan, whose country is
representative of Collective culture. Their results illustrated that Individualistic
culture is more linked with the Active learning mode, while Collective culture is
more associated with the reflective learning mode. Students from Chinese cultures
are significantly more reflective and abstract and less active and concrete than are
the Australian students. Fridland (2002) examined learning style difference between
Chinese teachers (N = 100) of English as a foreign language and American teachers
(N = 105) of English as a second language and reported that Chinese learning styles
were distributed more at the diverging learning style (42 % of the Chinese teachers
is the diverging learning style, 28 % is the assimilating style, 18 % is the con-
verging style, and 12 % is the accommodating style), while American learning
styles stayed more at the accommodating learning style. With regard to the dif-
ferences in learning abilities, Fridland (2002) contends that Chinese are oriented
more toward the reflective observation and less toward the active experimentation,
while Americans’ learning orientations are quite opposite to Chinese ones.

Japanese culture derives from Chinese culture and Confucian ethics is rooted
into both of them. It is reasonable to agree that Chinese and Japanese have similar
learning preferences. Considering Japanese learning style also supports the present
research’s main hypothesis that Chinese learning preferences are oriented toward
the concrete experience and the reflective observation learning modes. McMurray

2.3 Experiential Learning Theory 33

(1998 cited by Yamazaki 2005) investigated the learning styles of 160 Japanese
undergraduate students with economic and science majors and found that the
learning preferences of Japanese participants were highly skewed toward the con-
crete experience and the reflective observation learning modes.

In light of American learning style, several studies in the field of management
learning are harmonized with their results, which indicate that American managers
are inclined toward the abstract conceptualization and the active experimentation
learning modes (Boyatzis and Mainemelis 2000). Boyatzis and Mainemelis (2000)
claim that American managers’ learning styles are mostly associated with the
Converging and the Assimilating learning styles. Yamazaki and Kayes (2007)
examined cultural differences in learning styles between Japanese managers
(N = 267) and American mangers (N = 126) within the same Japanese MNCs
operated in the US. They concluded that Japanese managers are more concrete and
reflective, whereas American managers are more abstract and active. They proposed
that the dominant learning style of Japanese managers is the diverging learning
style and that of American managers is the converging learning style.

Learning styles are affected by the interplay between people and their envi-
ronment (Kolb 1984) and according to Kolb et al. (2001) such interplay shapes
learning styles at five levels: psychological type, educational specialization, pro-
fessional career, current job, and adaptive competencies (Kolb 1984; Kolb et al.
2001). Yamazaki and Kayes (2004) later extended Kolb’s model to account for
cultural influences on the process of learning and learning styles. Previous
researchers have also argued that cultures have an influence on how people learn
(e.g. Hayes and Allinson 1988). With regard to cultural differences in learning
styles, Smith and Kolb (1985), Kolb and Fry (1975), Geiger and Pinto (1991), and
Yamazaki and Kayes (2007) all concluded that American subjects possess more
abstract and active learning modes and therefore tend to adopt a converging
learning style. Research has also demonstrated cultural distinctions between
Western countries and China with regard to preferred ways of grasping experience.
For example, Hall (1976) claimed that Chinese culture tends to be a high-context
culture whereas Western countries such as the USA tend to toward a low-context
culture. The former requires its members to be sensitive to immediate environments
through feelings, and long lasting interpersonal relationships are crucial for deter-
mining the meanings of messages conveyed in communication. Yamazaki (2005)
reasoned that these high context cultures (e.g. China) are associated with the CE
learning mode where members tend to grasp experience through feeling in proxi-
mate contexts. Conversely, in low context cultures, the immediate environment and
non-verbal behaviours are less crucial in generating and interpreting meanings,
whereas explicit verbal messages are more important in communications (Hall
1976). Yamazaki (2005) reasoned that these low context cultures (e.g. USA) are
conceptually associated with the AC mode where abstract and symbolic presenta-
tion in a logical manner forms the central method of communicating with others.

Other comparative studies of Chinese and American societies also demonstrated
that learning styles are distinguishable across these two cultures (Pratt 1991). In

34 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

particular, Yamazaki (2005) re-analysed the data from a number of previous studies
of learning styles across cultures to determine which country or culture is related to
which learning style. With regard to transforming experience during the learning
process (AC-RO), he concluded that Chinese culture is highly contrasted with
American culture reporting that ‘Chinese are oriented more toward reflective
observation and less toward active experimentation, while Americans’ learning
orientations are quite the opposite to Chinese ones’ (pp. 538).

Summarising the literature reviewed above, it can be concluded that Chinese are
generally oriented more toward RO than AE and more toward CE than AC.
Conversely, Westerners’ learning orientations are generally more toward AE than
RO and more toward AC than CE. This leads to one exploratory question regarding
the influence of culture on learning styles.

Exploratory Question 1: To what extent do Western expatriate managers differ from
host Chinese managers with regard to learning styles?

2.3.2.3 Influence of Environmental Change on Learning Style

The change of environmental demands also accrues the shift of learning style. The
longer the exposure of the environmental demands, the greater the tendency for a
person to specialize more in the learning style that is matched with such demands.
This is similar as a socialization process in which individual learning style as a
personal attribute grow to more closely match the environmental demands (Kolb
1984). Zhang (2001) contends that styles can change with situations, time, and
demands and therefore, it is possible to provide avenues for change to match needs
or effectiveness.

Gyen (1980, cited in Kolb, 1984) examined learning style transitions/adaptations
in two professional careers: engineers and social workers. His study illustrated that
a change of job demands directs the orientation of learning styles over their career
paths. The engineers’ dominant learning style was the converging orientation, but
they developed concrete experience and reflective observation learning modes after
they participated in managerial jobs. On the other hand, the diverging learning style
was the typical learning style of social workers, but they developed abstract con-
ceptualization and active experimentation learning modes after they held respon-
sibilities for management and administration. The study of Gyen (1980) illustrated
the influence of changing environmental demands upon learning styles: learning
styles will change according to changes in the environment.

It could be inferred that expatriates’ learning styles may change according to the
learning orientation that is demanded by the host country. Environmental change
may also cause expatriates’ learning styles to be shifted towards the ones matched
with the demands produced by new environments in the host country. The transi-
tion of learning styles is likely to occur in accordance with the amount of contin-
uous time the expatriates have spent in the host country. Expatriates’ learning styles

2.3 Experiential Learning Theory 35

may evolve from one place to another in keeping with the consistency of their
environmental change direction (Yamazaki and Kayes 2004). In this study, the
researcher will examine western expatriate managers’ learning style transitions over
time when they working in China.

2.3.3 Learning Skills

While learning styles involve four learning abilities and refer to generic adaptive
competencies to the environment, learning skills reflect more situational, specific
competencies required for effective performance on a variety of tasks (Kolb 1984).
Because of the more explicit form of adaptive competencies in response to job
demands in more confined environmental boundaries, learning skills may be easily
discernible and detectable. The concrete experience (CE) mode encompasses three
interpersonal skills: relationship building, leadership, and helping and under-
standing people. The reflective observation (RO) mode involves three perceptual
skills: sense making, information gathering, and information analysis. The abstract
conceptualization (AC) mode involves three analytical skills: theory integration,
quantitative, and technology skills. Finally, the active experimentation (AE) mode
includes three behavioural skills: goal setting, action, and initiative taking.
Figure 2.5 presents the relationship between the four experiential learning modes
and learning skills.

Yamazaki (2005) outlines a taxonomy of skills necessary for cross-cultural
learning based on Kolb’s experiential learning theory (1984). He identifies 73
learning skills that cluster into 10 thematic cross-cultural learning competencies. He
also suggested that the difference between expatriates’ cultural backgrounds may be
reflected in the variation of expatriate adaptation strategies: which specific inter-
cultural skills based on the ELT need to be developed for their intercultural
adaptation.

2.3.3.1 The Relationship Between Learning Skills and Learning Styles

In terms of understanding the relationship between learning styles and learning
skills, Curry’s (1983) three layer onion model which is built upon her study of 21
cognitive and learning style instruments provides us with a useful heuristic (see
Fig. 2.6). Curry (1983) proposes a heuristic model to organize the theory, resem-
bling layers of an onion in which she places individual difference constructs. In the
outer layer, Curry (1983) places what has been labelled as ‘Instructional Preference’
which refers to the individual’s choice of environment in which to learn. She
explains that the outer layer of the onion model is the most observable and interacts
most directly with outward learning environments. This layer seems to be most
related to the concept of the learning skills of experiential learning theory because

36 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

interplay between individuals and their situational environments makes a direct
difference to the outer layer. Such interplay produces specific skills that can be
greatly observed on the external surface where people perform in order to meet
particular demands derived from their environments.

The middle layer of the onion model, labelled as ‘Information Processing Style’,
is regarded as an individual’s approach to assimilating information. Due to its
relative de-coupling from the environment, it is believed to be more stable than the
outer layer, though it can still be modified to a degree by learning strategies. The
second layer represents information processing dimensions as a set of processes that
function at the intersection between fundamental personality levels/individual dif-
ferences and environmentally provided learning format choices. Experiential
learning styles would be managed within this middle layer (Curry 1983, p. 11). The
innermost layer of the model is labelled as ‘Cognitive Personality Style’, defined as
an individual’s approach to adapting and assimilating information, which does not
interact directly with the environment and is believed to be a relatively permanent
personality dimension. The innermost layer of the onion model concerns cognitive
personality dimensions (such as cognitive style) that are characterized as reflective
of the underlying and relatively permanent personality (Curry 1983, p. 14).

Concrete experience

Abstract conceptualization

R
eflective

observation
A

ct
iv

e

ex
pe

ri
m

en
ta

ti
on

Interpersonal skills

Analytical skills

Inform
ation skills

A
ction skills

Relationships

Help

Sense making

Info. Gathering

Info. analysis

Theory

Quantitative
Technology

Goal setting

Action

Initiative

Leadership

Fig. 2.5 Experiential learning modes and learning skills

2.3 Experiential Learning Theory 37

2.3.4 Adaptive Flexibility

Based on the work of Piaget et al. (1984) in experiential learning theory suggests
that adaptive flexibility is related to the degree that one integrates the dual dialectics
of the learning process—conceptualizing/experiencing and acting/reflecting. Unlike
learning style, which refers to more generic adaptive competencies to the world,
and learning skill, which refers to more specific and situational competencies,
adaptive flexibility describes the relatively stable changes that occur as individuals
learn to adapt to changing circumstances over time. Adaptive flexibility describes
how an individual learns to manage competing demands and deal with environ-
mental complexity.

Kolb (1984), Boyatzis and Kolb (1993) suggest several strategies to increase
adaptive flexibility. First, increase our ability to ‘read’ the situations and to use
various learning styles in response. This can be accomplished through practice.
When confronted with a situation, try to envision different approaches, i.e. learning
styles, and the possible advantages of each. Second, strengthen our association with
others who have a facility with the styles we are ‘weakest’ in. Including these
people in our development process and utilizing their skills in dealing with unclear
situations. Moreover, use our strengths to develop our weak areas. For example, a
person can use his/her Active Experimentation style to set a priority to develop
Reflective Observation skills; use his/her Concrete Experience style to solicit input
from people high in Abstract Conceptualization.

2.3.4.1 The Relationship Between Adaptive Flexibility
and Self-development

Individual self-development is the dialectic process that is reaching toward a
higher-level synthesis between social specialization and individual integrative ful-
filment. It is attained through a dialectic process of adaptation to the world.
Adaptive flexibility and the mobility it provides are the primary vehicles of indi-
vidual self-development (Kolb 1984).

Learning strategies

(Learning skills)

Cognitive styles

personalities
Learning

styles

Fig. 2.6 Curry’s three layer onion model

38 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

There have been many empirical studies about the relationship between adaptive
flexibility and self-development. Kolb (1984) investigated the relationship between
adaptive flexibility as measured by the Adaptive Style Inventory (ASI) and the level
of ego development as measured by Loevinger’s sentence completion instrument.
In his study, there was a significant positive relationship between total adaptive
flexibility and ego development level. Moreover, most of this co-variation in
adaptive flexibility occurred in reflective observation and abstract conceptualiza-
tion. Kolb (1984) also examined the relationship between adaptive flexibility as
measured by the ASI and the level of self-direction as measured in a self-assessment
workshop. The relationship between total adaptive flexibility and the person’s
degree of self-directedness was significantly positive in this study. In this research,
the co-variation in adaptive flexibility was determined primarily in active experi-
mentation. This suggests that those at higher levels of adaptive flexibility are more
self-directed and display that directedness through wide variation of their active
behaviour in different situations.

The development in experiential learning theory describes affective development
in concrete experience as a process of increasing complexity in one’s conception of
personal relationships, resulting from integration of the four learning modes. As a
result, experiential learning theory (1984) predicts that increasing adaptive flexi-
bility, particularly in the realm of concrete experience, would be associated with
increased richness in construing one’s interpersonal world. A major component of
internal structural complexity is the constructions which can be called upon to
describe and manipulate one’s thoughts and interactions with the interpersonal
environment (Kolb 1984, p. 220). Kolb (1984) examined the relationship between
adaptive flexibility as measured by the ASI and the level of cognitive complexity in
relationships as measured by the total number of constructs a person used to
describe his or her interpersonal world, which is also known as a cognitive mapping
method. The result showed that total adaptive flexibility is positively correlated
with individual cognitive complexity in relationships, especially in the area of
concrete experience adaptive flexibility. Taken together, Kolb’s results (1984,
1975) above suggest that overall adaptive flexibility and adaptive flexibility in the
four adaptive modes are meaningful indicators of self-development. Total adaptive
flexibility is significantly related to the level of ego development, to self-direction,
and to the level of cognitive complexity in relationships.

Mainemelis et al. (2002) adds further construct validity for the hypothesis that
individual adaptive flexibility is predictive of highly integrated and complex levels
of adult development in their study through testing the relationship between
balanced/specialized learning styles and adaptive flexibility. Their study also sug-
gests that learning style that balances experiencing and conceptualizing shows
greater adaptive flexibility in responding to experiencing and conceptualizing
learning contexts. In this study, the researcher will examine the influence of
international assignment experiences on the development of western expatriate
managers’ adaptive flexibility as well as the beneficial effects of adaptive flexibility.

2.3 Experiential Learning Theory 39

2.4 Managerial Tacit Knowledge

As discussed in Sect. 2.2, learning is the process of creating knowledge (Kolb
1984). Formal learning alone is insufficient for the development of managers. What
matters is the learning that takes place on the job (Wagner and Sternberg 1987).
Practical intelligence is related more to managerial success than academic intelli-
gence is, and therefore, the ability to learn informally on the job is a critical
determinant of managerial success. The need to participate in informal forms of
learning, such as expatriate learning, is linked to a form of knowledge mostly
associated with experts and successful people: tacit knowledge. Oxford English
Dictionary (1933) described tacit knowledge as the knowledge that usually is not
openly expressed or stated. Tacit knowledge is believed to be one essential factor
that distinguishes successful managers from others (Armstrong and Mahmud 2008).
The ability to acquire tacit knowledge informally on the job is a hallmark of
managerial success (Wagner and Sternberg 1987).

2.4.1 Nature and Characteristics of Tacit Knowledge

The term ‘tacit knowledge’ evolved from multi-disciplinary studies such as the
philosophy of science by Polanyi (1966), ecological psychology, and organisational
behaviour (Schon 1983). It has been utilised to describe knowledge that is obtained
from daily experience which has an implicit and un-codified quality. The origin of
tacit knowledge is often attributed to Michael Polanyi who described it in his
famous quote, ‘we can know more than we can tell’ (1966: 4). In Polanyi’s (1966)
book, he classified two types of knowledge: tacit knowledge and explicit knowl-
edge. Anderson (1983) distinguished between procedural knowledge and declara-
tive knowledge by referring to the former as knowledge about how to do
something, and to the latter as knowledge about something. Declarative knowledge
is consciously formed, controlled, and articulable, while procedural knowledge is
identified as unconscious with automatic learning, which guides actions and deci-
sions without being in our field of consciousness (Anderson 1983). Based on
Anderson’s work, Sternberg and Horvath (1999) defined tacit knowledge as
‘knowledge that is grounded in personal experience, and is procedural rather than
declarative in structure’. Wagner further defined tacit knowledge as ‘Work-related
practical know-how that usually is not openly expressed or stated, and that usually
is not directly taught’ (1993, p. 19). Sternberg and Grigorenko (2001) argued that
all tacit knowledge is a subset of procedural knowledge.

Nonaka (1994) holds that there are two types of tacit knowledge: technical tacit
knowledge and cognitive tacit knowledge. Technical tacit knowledge is created
through actions and needs to be experienced to be learned and therefore, does not
need language as the intermediary. In the technical dimension, the term
‘know-how’ is commonly used to describe the skills and crafts acquired in relation

40 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

to mastery of work (Nonaka 1994). Expertise is associated with this technical tacit
knowledge: the ability to demonstrate flawless execution of tasks yet finding dif-
ficulty in articulating the principles behind it (Baumard 1999). On the other hand,
mental models, perspectives, and beliefs make up the cognitive tacit knowledge and
are deeply ingrained in the mind to the extent that they exist at the subconscious
level and affect how individuals perceives the world. These pre-established cog-
nitive patterns will act as a filter to incoming information, resulting in the formation
of knowledge that is unique to an individual (Baumard 1999). Cognitive tacit
knowledge can be transmitted through interaction or socialization involving the use
of language. Beside these two types, Baumard (1999) suggests that implicit
knowledge is another form of tacit knowledge. He claims that implicit knowledge is
known and can be explicated, but rarely occurs because the knowledge often lies
deep in our mind.

Choo (1998), along the same line as Nonaka, classifies tacit knowledge into
cognitive and technical components. Moreover, he included the individual and
collective perspectives in his stance on tacit knowledge. Individual tacit knowledge
is knowledge that is acquired through experience, context-specific, and action
oriented. Choo, however, contended that there is also another form of tacit
knowledge which he called ‘collective tacit knowledge’, accrued by virtue of shared
practices and tacit understandings in groups that work together (pp. 118–119).
Collins (2001) contends that tacit knowledge is more diverse by indicating five
different tacit knowledge types: concealed knowledge, mismatched knowledge,
ostensive knowledge, unrecognised knowledge, and uncognized/uncognizable
knowledge. Concealed knowledge refers to knowledge that is obscured either
intentionally as a secret or unintentionally when the individual did not notice the
existence of it. Mismatched knowledge refers to the group level, as it occurs when
different groups focus on different problems, because the groups are not observing
each other’s work. Ostensive knowledge is knowledge that is inexpressible through
verbal language. However, it can be articulated through pointing and showing.
Unrecognisable knowledge is generated through imitating critical behaviour with-
out noticing the importance. Uncognizable knowledge is typical in language, such
as human’s ability to speak in their native language without awareness of how they
do it.

According to Sternberg and his colleagues (Sternberg 1997; Sternberg and
Horvath 1999; Sternberg et al. 2000), the concept of tacit knowledge comprises
three main features: procedural, practically useful, and without others’ direct
assistance. Firstly, tacit knowledge is procedural. Tacit knowledge is closely con-
nected to action. It takes the form of ‘knowing-how’ as opposed to ‘knowing-what’.
This kind of ‘knowing how’ is called procedural knowledge: it is the knowledge
that has a precise application (Winograd 1975, cited in Sternberg et al. 2000) or it
can be stated that it is condition-action pairs of a general form (Nonaka 1994;
Sternberg et al. 2000). Anderson (1983) suggests that tacit knowledge is a subset of
life relevant procedures found in individual experience. This type of knowledge
provides guidance for individual action and behaviour even though it is hard to
transfer. Second, tacit knowledge is practically useful. Tacit knowledge is a

2.4 Managerial Tacit Knowledge 41

‘vehicle’ that enables people to achieve valued objectives. A highly valued
objective requires a higher level of knowledge for it to be successfully achieved,
hence this knowledge becomes very valuable (Sternberg 1997). Third, tacit
knowledge is generated without direct assistance from others. Basically, tacit
knowledge is attained personally by the individual when they are able to sort out the
key lessons from their experiential learning and be able to identify crucial
knowledge (Sternberg et al. 2000). Normally, individuals accumulate their tacit
knowledge by means of personal experience of certain circumstances, or by trial
and error, and it will gradually become their own unique knowledge that cannot be
imitated by others. Individuals who learn knowledge formally do not accumulate
levels of knowledge that are equivalent to the levels of knowledge accumulated by
individuals who learn through experience or experiential learning. For the purpose
of this research, the definition of tacit knowledge will be taken to be ‘knowledge
that is grounded in personal experience, and is procedural rather than declarative in
structure’ (Sternberg and Horvath 1999; Armstrong and Mahmud 2008).

2.4.2 Tacit Knowledge and Practical Intelligence

Practical intelligence is one of the concepts that have been researched as an
alternative to traditional views of intelligence. Traditional views suggest that the
variety of competencies required for achievement can be integrated as general
intelligence. Recently, however, several researchers contend that general intelli-
gence presents a limited perspective of an individual’s ability to thrive in a suc-
cessful life. For instance, Goleman (1995) and Mayer et al. (2000) propose
emotional intelligence. Sternberg (1985, 1997) indicates a concept of creative and
practical intelligence.

The concept of practical intelligence emerged from the tests traditionally used to
measure intelligence. These measures were essentially related to academic rather
than practical ability (Wagner and Sternberg 1986). Practical intelligence refers to
the individual ability to identify optimal fit between themselves and needs of
environment via adapting to the situation, or choosing a new environment in the
quest of personally-valued goals (Sternberg et al. 2000). It is different from other
kinds of intelligence. Practical intelligence involves not just adapting to environ-
ments, but also the shaping and selection of environments. The workplace is the
best place to see practical intelligence in action. Most of the crucial rules of the
workplace are unspoken. A few people excel at acquiring this type of knowledge.

Sternberg and colleagues (Sternberg 1985; Wagner and Sternberg 1986)
extended the distinction in order to determine which attributes would differentiate
academic and practical issues. Academic issues were identified by the following
attributes: (1) formulated by others, (2) well-defined, (3) providing complete
information, (4) characterised by having only one correct answer, (5) characterised
by having one approach to the correct answer, (6) disembodied from ordinary
experience, and (7) lacking or without intrinsic interest. Conversely, practical issues

42 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

(occurring with work-related problems) were identified by the following attributes:
(1) unformulated or required reformulation, (2) inadequate information required for
solution, (3) linked to daily experience, (4) weakly defined, (5) characterised by a
variety of correct answers, each with liabilities as well as assets, (6) of personal
interest, and (7) characterised by a variety of approaches for choosing problem
solutions. It is logical to assume that the differences between academic and practical
environments will mean that someone who is proficient in finding solutions to
problems in one environment may not be able to transfer these skills to problem
solving in the other environment. In addition, Sternberg and Wagner (1993) note
that academic intelligence is accessed via conventional tests. In contrast to this
approach, practical intelligence tests look at the relevant norms involved in the
process of knowledge acquisition: informal context, commonly tacit, learned
through observation and modelling, and not necessarily recognised at school.

The present study focuses on the concept of practical intelligence as it underlies
the acquisition and utilisation of tacit knowledge (Wagner and Sternberg 1986;
Sternberg and Horvath 1999; Sternberg et al. 2000). Tacit knowledge is one of the
tools that can be used to measure the ability to learn from experience. Tacit
knowledge reveals what individuals learn in everyday life that cannot be formally
taught or conveyed. Scores that measure levels of practical intelligence are pre-
dictive of an ability to learn to solve practical problems at work. Nevertheless, they
are less predictive of an ability to solve academic problems at school (Wagner and
Sternberg 1986).

2.4.3 The Structure of Managerial Tacit Knowledge

A substantial amount of research has been undertaken into the nature of tacit
knowledge in a variety of professions, such as nursing, education, medicine,
accounting, law, management and so on (Armstrong and Mahmud 2008). These
studies provide a valuable insight into the working of tacit knowledge in these
various professions. Sternberg’s work into the nature of tacit knowledge in various
professions is particularly noteworthy (e.g., Sternberg et al. 1993; Sternberg et al.
2000; Sternberg and Grigorenko 2001; Sternberg and Wagner 1993; Wagner and
Sternberg 1986, 1987) because it provides a framework and a sound method-
ological basis from which tacit knowledge can be studied.

In the business and management domain, the difference between academic and
practical approaches can be clearly demonstrated. Existent research has revealed
that successful managers hardly ever refer to specific rules of thought in their
approaches to problem solving (McCall and Kaplan 1985). They substituted this
with an action-oriented approach at the initial problem solving stage by utilising
analyses and action based on personal experience. Schon (1983) suggests that a
significant amount of competent managerial behaviour appears as action that is
almost spontaneous, based on intuition rather than rationality. It is ‘ordinarily tacit,
implicit in our patterns of action’ (Schon 1983). In Wagner and Sternberg’s (1987)

2.4 Managerial Tacit Knowledge 43

study of the role of tacit knowledge in the domain of business management, it
became clear that there were significant variations in the level and content of tacit
knowledge within business managers. These variations are believed to exist because
the managers go through their experiences differently, and at different points in time
and context. Wagner (1987) described tacit knowledge as having particular
importance for managerial success and broke it down into three categories based on
the content of managerial tacit knowledge:

• managing self: tacit knowledge about managing self refers to knowledge about
self-motivational and self-organizational aspects of managerial performance;

• managing others: tacit knowledge about managing others refers to knowledge
about managing one’s subordinates and how to interact with one’s peers and
superiors;

• managing tasks: tacit knowledge about managing tasks refers to knowledge
about how to do specific tasks well.

Managing self, others, and tasks defines the scope of managerial tacit knowledge
based on the content of a situation. Managerial tacit knowledge in managing self
concerns self-motivation as well as the self-organisational aspects of managerial
performance. For example, what is the best way to handle a problem caused by
procrastination? In this case, individuals need time management skills in order to
organise, prioritise, and complete their workloads. This will minimize the problems
caused by procrastination. Self-management can be perceived as the ability to
increase productivity on a daily basis. Effective managing-self individuals are able
to set a priority of a numbers of tasks and as a result, their time is allocated
accordingly. Sometimes this means that deadlines for low-priority tasks are missed
or that extra responsibility is delegated to subordinates (Sternberg et al. 2000).
Managerial tacit knowledge in managing others resides in people management
skills: the skills to manage subordinates, co-workers, and superiors. An example of
this type of tacit knowledge can be seen in the art of persuasion: the power to
convince a doubtful superior to accept a good idea. Another example is knowledge
about how to assign tasks that will utilise the capabilities of a subordinate whilst
downplaying their weaknesses (Wagner and Sternberg 1986). Managing others is
the key to remaining on the executive fast track, because an inability to manage
others is the main reason for derailment. To act openly to the ideas and opinions in
a particular task is also considered highly important in managing others (Sternberg
et al. 2000). Managerial tacit knowledge in managing tasks concerns performing
specific managerial tasks successfully. An example of managing tasks is knowing
how to communicate to others the main point in a presentation (Wagner 1987).

Wagner (1987) extended the scope of managerial tacit knowledge to also include
the context and the orientation of tacit knowledge. The context of managerial tacit
knowledge refers to whether the knowledge concerns short-term or long-term
accomplishments; while the orientation of managerial tacit knowledge refers to
whether the knowledge concerns the ideal quality or practicality. A local context is
regarding a concern with the short-term accomplishment of a given task, which is
limited to the task at hand; a global context, on the other hand, is regarding a

44 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

concern with long-term accomplishment, which focuses on how the present situa-
tion fits into the bigger picture. Managerial tacit knowledge with an idealistic
orientation refers to a focus on the ideal quality of an idea; on the other hand,
managerial tacit knowledge with a pragmatic orientation refers to a focus on how
workable an idea is without regard to its ideal quality. This allows the managerial
tacit knowledge framework to be constructed on a three-dimensional basis as
illustrated in Fig. 2.7.

2.4.4 Acquisition of Managerial Tacit Knowledge

Wagner and Sternberg (1987) contend that there are three mental processes
instrumental in the acquisition of managerial tacit knowledge: selective encoding,
selective combination, and selective comparison. Selective encoding is the first
process. It is used to filter information from the environment. In particular, selective
encoding involves separating relevant information in one’s experience from
information that is irrelevant to one’s purposes; selective combination is the second
process. It is used to put together the information that is selectively encoded as
relevant for one’s purposes. This process involves understanding how relevant
information interrelates and forms a pattern; the third process is selective com-
parison. It is used to relate previously known information to new information. This
process involves drawing upon one’s existing knowledge in order to incorporate
new knowledge. Wagner and Sternberg (1987) propose that these three mental
processes of acquisition of managerial tacit knowledge should be used interactively
in order to maximize one’s learning on the job. Managers need to make fairly
continual use of all three processes in order to make sense of a new situation and to
re-evaluate old situations.

Baumard (1999) holds that managerial tacit knowledge is generated in the
intimacy of lived experience. The major source of tacit knowledge is experience
and there exist differences between individuals in the level and content of tacit
knowledge acquired (Wagner and Sternberg 1987). The differences in the level and
content of managerial tacit knowledge can largely be attributed to the different ways
in which people learn from experience. This is affected by both the context of the
learning environment and the differences in the way individuals prefer to engage in

Content (self, others, tasks)

Context (local, global)
Orientation (idealistic, pragmatic)

Fig. 2.7 Wagner’s three-dimensional framework of managerial tacit knowledge

2.4 Managerial Tacit Knowledge 45

the learning process. The present study will then investigate the source of differ-
ences in the levels of accumulated managerial tacit knowledge from these two
perspectives: learning environment and individual learning preferences.

2.4.4.1 Learning Context in the Acquisition of Managerial Tacit
Knowledge

Nonaka (1994) argues that the generation and accumulation of tacit knowledge is
determined by the ‘variety’ of an individual’s experience and the individual’s
commitment and involvement in the ‘context’ of the situation. Lots of existent
research studies point out the differences in learning as the source of differences in
the level and content of tacit knowledge. Experience alone, despite exhibiting
prominence in relation to the acquisition of tacit knowledge, would not suffice. First
of all, the learning process has been highlighted as one important reason why some
people are less adept at acquiring knowledge from experience than others and an
important part of a learning process is the learning environment. Compared with
formal learning environments, Sternberg and Grigorenko (2001) suggest that
informal or implicit learning environments, such as learning on an International
Assignment, do not adequately support the knowledge acquisition process for some
individuals. In informal learning environments, learners have to rely on their own
capability to acquire knowledge from experience. Sternberg (1988) contends that
formal learning environments support knowledge acquisition by facilitating the
process of selective encoding, selective combination, and selective comparison,
which are essential features of the learning process for many people. Informal
learning environments, on the other hand, often fail to provide these features.
Sternberg and Grigorenko (2001) contend that tacit knowledge is context-specific
knowledge about what to do in a given situation or class of situations. Tacit
knowledge is gained primarily from working on practical problems that are specific
to their particular domain. The consequence of drawing on or using one’s tacit
knowledge is also likely to be context-dependent because tacit knowledge does not
always transfer effectively from one professional context to another (Choo 1998).
Tacit knowledge needs to be relevant to be useful.

Moreover, different learning contexts contain different supportive ways for
individuals to acquire knowledge. To match the preferred ways of learning
demanded by an external environment with that of the individual is likely to
improve the acquisition of managerial tacit knowledge (Sternberg et al. 2000;
Armstrong and Mahmud 2008). There is widespread evidence to suggest that when
learners are involved in environments that are matched with their unique learning
styles, they achieve significantly higher learning outcomes (Kolb and Kolb 2005;
Armstrong and Mahmud 2008). Conversely, a mismatch between learning style and
learning context is likely to impede the process of learning and knowledge
acquisition. An individual with a strong orientation toward the converging learning
style, for example, would tend to be less focused on people and more concerned
with technology and problem solving. They would therefore be less suited to an

46 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

interdependent context, such as Chinese business environment, because learning
opportunities in an interdependent context would be congruent with the diverging
learning style.

2.4.4.2 Individual Learning Preferences in the Acquisition
of Managerial Tacit Knowledge

In addition to the context of the learning environment, individual differences in
preferred ways of organizing and processing information and experience are likely
to have a profound effect on the acquisition of tacit knowledge. A person’s aptitude
to learn is another differentiating factor (Wagner and Sternberg 1987). Sternberg
et al. (2000) regard tacit knowledge as a subset of procedural knowledge depicted
as paths ‘Episodic Memory-Procedural Memory’ and ‘Personal Experience—
Procedural Memory’. This knowledge, unsupported by direct instruction, may well
lead to a performance advantage for the individual because ‘it is likely that some
individuals will fail to acquire it’ (Sternberg et al. 2000: 117). Individuals differ in
the way they perceive, conceptualise, organise, and process information and these
differences depend on several attributes unique to the individual. People tend to
learn in different ways from their experiences as a result of their pre-established
learning structures, which influence the way they perceive, conceptualise, organise,
and process information (Zhang 2001). In explaining the differences in the level and
content of tacit knowledge across individuals who appear to show similar abilities
and experiences, Kolb (1984) and Kolb and Kolb (2005) suggest that it is due to the
different learning styles of individuals. Unique attributes of an individual, such as
learning style, may account for these differences and this may contribute to the
variations in tacit knowledge between different people.

Furthermore, all tacit knowledge is a subset of procedural knowledge and it is,
therefore, unconsciously formed with automatic learning outside our field of con-
sciousness. Being automatic and outside the field of consciousness, the acquisition
of tacit knowledge depends largely on a person’s preferred way of learning. People
will usually learn, especially without formal instructions, in their preferred mode of
learning, expressed in the notion of learning style. Learning style is believed to
represent the interface between cognitive style and the external learning environ-
ment, and hence contextualizes individual differences in learning. The concept of
style is used as a construct in psychology and is used for studying individual
differences in learning and behaviour. Style is believed to constitute a preference to
do things, irrespective of their ability to do it (Zhang 2001). Several researchers
have explored the role of style in affecting learning outcomes (Zhang 2001). Zhang
(2001) contend that styles can change with situations, time, and demands and
therefore, it is possible to provide avenues for change to match needs or effec-
tiveness. Therefore, we can propose that differences in learning styles will result in
differences in learning outcomes, and consequently in the level of accumulated
managerial tacit knowledge. In this study, the researcher will investigate the rela-
tionship between western expatriate managers’ learning styles and their levels of

2.4 Managerial Tacit Knowledge 47

accumulated managerial tacit knowledge as well as the effects of learning style
transitions on the accumulation of managerial tacit knowledge.

2.4.5 Managerial Tacit Knowledge and Performance

Tacit knowledge tests have been found to predict performance and utilise a number
of criteria in various domains. Tacit knowledge scores are found to be significantly
associated with salary increases (Wagner and Sternberg 1985; Wagner 1987),
performance ratings of bank managers (Wagner and Sternberg 1985). Research on
tacit knowledge associated with auditors revealed that senior staff had higher levels
of managerial tacit knowledge than the novice staff, and the managers with higher
levels of tacit knowledge received higher performance evaluations (Tan and Libby
1997). In comparing the predictive validity of tacit knowledge tests and conven-
tional ability tests, Wagner and Sternberg (1990) found that tacit knowledge scores
of business executives explained 32 % of the variance in performance on man-
agerial simulation beyond scores on traditional IQ test. In the case of military
leaders, tacit knowledge scores accounted for 4–6 % of significance variance in
leadership effectiveness beyond scores on tests of verbal intelligence. These studies
provided evidence that tacit knowledge caters for variance in performance that is
not accounted by traditional tests of abstract, academic intelligence. Similarly, a
study conducted by Colonia-Willner (1998) found that bank managers’ levels of
managerial tacit knowledge significantly predicted an index of managerial skills,
whereas psychometric and verbal reasoning did not. In a study conducted by
Armstrong and Mahmud (2008), it was found that there is a significant association
between tacit knowledge and the innovative performance of a firm.

An important criterion for evaluating the validity of managerial tacit knowledge
is an ability to explain individual differences in work performance. In other words,
individuals who learn successfully from personal experience will be more likely to
be excellent at their work. Furthermore, managerial tacit knowledge as a component
of practical intelligence should explain work performance. Sternberg and Wagner
(1993) outline several major research findings on the role of managerial tacit
knowledge in job performance research. Firstly, managerial tacit knowledge will
increase when job experience increases provided that the person uses the experience
to acquire and use tacit knowledge. Secondly, managerial tacit knowledge is not
significantly correlated to IQ. Thirdly, tacit knowledge was the best single predictor
in performance simulations. Sternberg and Wagner (1985) provide three samples of
evidence regarding tacit knowledge and real world pursuits: (1) academic psy-
chologists versus graduate and undergraduate students with a major in psychology;
(2) business managers versus graduate and undergraduate students with a major in
business; (3) local bank managers. They found that tacit knowledge moderately
predicts job performance such as salary, performance appraisal ratings, and number
of publications in the research.

48 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

Moreover, tacit knowledge is difficult to imitate, communicate, and transfer;
therefore, it becomes the asset that underlies sustainable competitive advantage.
This is because tacit knowledge can become the asset that enables an organisation
to remain superior to its competitors. Tacit knowledge is a ‘differential ability’ that
is diverse across organisations, exclusive, and imperfectly imitable (Conner 1994).
Baumard (1999) argues that organisations normally neglect tacit knowledge. As a
result of recognising that tacit knowledge is the source of competitive advantage,
the organisation should retain the tacit knowledge of its own employees.
Knowledge in the organisation should be readily transferred within the organisation
in order for the organisation to be competitive. Knowledge that cannot be spread
will remain the property of employees and this will restrict the benefit or value
gained by the organisation. However, knowledge that is spread inter-organisation is
not regarded as the source of competitive advantage. As a result, the underlying
core competency of the firm, organizational tacit knowledge, is the key to com-
petitive advantage and requires effective transmission within the organisation.

2.4.6 Measuring Managerial Tacit Knowledge

The three categories of managing self, others, and tasks has become the core feature
in the development of the Tacit Knowledge Inventory for Managers (TKIM).
Wagner and Sternberg (1986) combined two research methods: the critical-incident
technique and the simulation approach, and developed the tacit knowledge inven-
tory for managers. The critical-incident technique requires asking participants to
describe several incidents they handled particularly well and several they handled
particularly poorly. The simulation approach requires observing participants when
they handle tasks that simulate job performance. Wagner and Sternberg’s (1986)
approach of developing TKIM differs from one based on the critical-incident
technique in that they do not assume that participants can and will relate incidents
that are in some way critical. Rather than that, Wagner and Sternberg (1986) asked
participants to describe typical situations and possible responses to them, and then
adopt a variety of item-discrimination procedures to identify important items sta-
tistically. One characteristic that Wagner and Sternberg (1986) shared with the
simulation approach is that they resemble the tasks encountered on the job.

Wagner and Sternberg (1985) describe their approach in developing the tacit
knowledge inventory for managers (TKIM) as follows. First, they interviewed
experienced and highly successful managers by asking them to describe
work-related situations/incidents, which they had experienced and had handled
either particularly well or poorly (Wagner and Sternberg 1985), incidents that can
influence a task’s success or failure allowing identification of competencies
required by a particular job. Critical incident technique and work on managerial job
competency formed the basis for elicitation of these incidents and identification of
work-related situations to use as scenarios (Wagner 1987).

2.4 Managerial Tacit Knowledge 49

These successful managers or managerial experts were also asked about their
responses to the incidents. Wagner and Stemberg (1985) then carefully identified
these incidents to determine which of the responses were based on knowledge that
was tacit in nature and learned from personal experience, which could not be
formally acquired (Sternberg and Grigorenko 2001). Key responses were then
identified through item discrimination procedures. They then assembled these
scenarios, with each scenario associated with alternative possible responses for
dealing with that problem. The situations simulate specific incidents in the work-
place, incidents that require use of tacit knowledge in order to solve (Sternberg and
Grigorenko 2001). Acting as observable indicators of tacit knowledge, these inci-
dents can help mitigate the problems of articulating tacit knowledge in the
respondents. The methodology does not require that individuals articulate their
decision processes; it only requires that they rate possible actions to scenarios. The
measures developed using this method define and investigate tacit knowledge
unique to the management domain. A list of sub-construct and details of the Tacit
Knowledge Inventory for Managers (TKIM) are shown in Table 2.1.

2.5 Expatriate Learning

Expatriate learning refers to how expatriates learn and develop based on their
international assignments. Since international assignments provide intensive envi-
ronmental change and intercultural experiences, expatriate learning on international
assignments becomes an important approach and organizational intervention for
manager development, especially in the area of global management ability. This
study draws on Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning theory (ELT) and cross-cultural
research to illustrate a process model of how expatriates learn and develop based on
their international assignment experiences.

The research adopts the ELT framework as the basis of an expatriate learning
model for three reasons. First, ELT is an adult learning theory which highlights the
critical role experience plays in affecting learning and change. This fits quite well
with the main characteristic of expatriate learning. Expatriates work and live in an
environment that ‘forces’ them to experience various uncertainties and complexi-
ties. These intensive international experiences are expatriates’ learning sources and

Table 2.1 List of constructs in TKIM

Question Construct Definition Items

Part A Managing
oneself

Knowledge about self-motivation and self-organizational
aspects of performance in work related situation

30

Part B Managing
tasks

Knowledge of how to do specific work related tasks well 30

Part C Managing
others

Knowledge about managing supervision, subordinates or
interactions with peers

31

50 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

wealth. Second, ELT emphasizes learning is the interaction between individuals
and their environments. This is consistent with the context of expatriate learning.
Expatriate learning is built on the interaction between the expatriate and the outside
environment during his/her international assignment. Third, ELT emphasizes
changes in learning. This fits well with the developmental objective of expatriate
assignments. Expatriates learn from their international assignment experiences to
develop global management ability and become qualified global managers. They
recreate themselves in response to external changes to gain a new appreciation of
the world. Therefore, this research proposes that experiential learning theory
(ELT) is a robust and effective lens through which to view expatriate learning and
development.

2.5.1 Expatriate Learning Process

Expatriate learning is a continuous process in a dynamic cycle, which consists of
every learning experience during the international assignment. This study integrates
four streams of research: international assignment and cross-cultural research,
cognitive dissonance studies, knowledge acquisition and management research, and
experiential learning theory (ELT), to propose that expatriate learning processes can
be portrayed as four learning phases in a dynamic learning cycle based on ELT.
These four learning phases are (1) exposure to diversity and dissonance experience
(concrete experience), (2) self-reflection (reflective observation), (3) integration
across diverse cultures and markets (abstract conceptualization), and (4) modifica-
tion and self-development (active experimentation). The researcher will now
elaborate further on these four phases.

2.5.1.1 Exposure to Diversity and Dissonance Experience

Exposure to diversity and dissonance experience is the first phase on the expatriate
learning cycle. Expatriates work and live in cross-cultural environments that are full
of novelties and diversities (Mendenhall and Oddou 1985; Shaffer et al. 2006). In
order to successfully complete their international assignments, they need to actively
learn different cultural and business norms as well as develop positive contacts with
host nationals in the host country. They have to learn and execute local appropriate
behaviours to reduce adaptive stress. As a result, expatriates will experience several
cross-cultural and global-local dissonances. Some negative arousal and discomfort
feelings will then arise during international assignments (Maertz Jr. et al. 2004).

Scher and Cooper (1989) describe that dissonance is aroused whenever beha-
viour is inconsistent with societal normative standards for competent or moral
behaviour, creating aversive consequences. In their model, these societal standards
are internalized or otherwise used as evaluative standards in judging one’s own
behaviour. Further, the dissonance is motivational in that it impels the individual to

2.5 Expatriate Learning 51

attempt to reduce and eliminate it (Maertz Jr. et al. 2004). During international
assignments, expatriates undergo two primary kinds of dissonance: one is cultural
dissonance due to cultural and national diversity and the other is strategic disso-
nance due to global integration and local responsiveness. Maertz Jr. et al. (2004)
defined cultural dissonance as: anticipating or currently perceiving inconsistencies
between one’s behaviours, executed or condoned in order to conform to the host
culture situation, and one’s VABNs (values, attitudes, beliefs, and behavioural
norms). On the other hand, strategic dissonance refers to: managing complex
operations and integrating geographically distant and strategically diverse busi-
nesses while simultaneously responding to local conditions.

2.5.1.2 Self-reflection

After expatriates seek and grasp every concrete international experience, they move
on to the second phase of the expatriate learning cycle: self-reflection or articulation
of current mindsets. Our current mindsets shape our observations and interpreta-
tions of the world around us, which in turn affect whether or not our mindsets
change or remain unaltered. Unless this iterative process allows for new learning, it
is easy to get trapped in our old mental models (Nonaka 1998). A powerful way to
reduce the likelihood of this entrapment is to articulate one’s current mindsets.

Reflective observation is the process that helps people to describe the situation
objectively and cultivate an articulation of own current mindsets (Kolb 1984). This
phase of expatriate learning cycle occurs when expatriates think about experiences
and reflect critically on their assumptions and beliefs. Doing so requires accepting
the possibility that our view of the world is just one of many alternative interpre-
tations of reality and allows us to consider different perspectives or views of the
situation. When expatriates reflect on their international experiences by gathering
and analyzing information, it becomes possible to change the mindsets that guide
their future actions. Maertz Jr. et al. (2004) support this phase of expatriate learning
from a cognitive perspective. They claimed that expatriates will use different kinds
of cognitive dissonance reduction methods to maintain the self-concept against
threat from cognitive dissonance experiences during international assignments.
Expatriates who regularly adopt perceptual modification, which search for and
reflect on the deeper attribution and empathetic understanding, as the method of
cognitive dissonance reduction are supposed to be better at achieving integrative
development.

2.5.1.3 Integration Across Diverse Cultures and Markets

After expatriates reflect on their international experiences by gathering and ana-
lyzing information, they move on to the third phase of the expatriate learning cycle:
integration across diverse cultures and markets. The third stage emphasizes the
importance of building general theories using scientific, as opposed to intuitive,

52 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

approaches. This stage requires learners to distil their reflections into more general
concepts that can guide their future actions, and emphasizes thinking, rather than
feeling (Kolb 1984). Research in cognitive psychology has shown that experts
conceptualize problems more efficiently and effectively because they have more
organized knowledge structures with stronger linkages among domain-related
concepts. In contrast, novices are less efficient because their knowledge represen-
tations tend to be based on salient surface elements. In addition, novices are often
less effective in their knowledge acquisition because of their lack of pre-organized
schemas that provides efficient classification of knowledge. Integration across
diverse cultures and markets enable expatriates to translate their insights from a
particular experience into more general concepts and interpretations that can be
applied to future challenges and other cultural and business contexts. Integrating
across diverse cultures and markets, expatriates will have more organized and
elaborated knowledge structures that facilitate their information processing as well
as identification of relevant principles.

Hocking et al. (2007) proposed that expatriates can develop integrative capacity
to become qualified global managers through a cumulative understanding of both
corporate practice and local environment contexts during international assignments.
They claimed that integrative capacity can be cultivated through a two-phase
process of cross-border knowledge adaptation. The first phase requires that expa-
triate managers funnel corporate knowledge gained from their former experience
and modify it to fit their specific host-country environment; the second phase
involves a reinterpretation of locally accessed knowledge and its subsequent
expansion to fit a broader corporate contextual framework. In other words, the
conversion of context-specific knowledge into context-generic knowledge enriches
expatriates’ integrative capacity, which can enable expatriates’ next international
assignment experience to be more readily understood and assimilated. Levy et al.
(2007) argued that expatriates with higher cognitive complexity will be more
accurate and effective in developing general ideas and conceptual interpretations of
culture based on their international assignments.

2.5.1.4 Modification and Self-development

After expatriates integrate reflections into more general concepts and interpretations
across diverse cultures and markets, they move on to the fourth phase of the
expatriate learning cycle: test and modification of changed mindsets and further
development of self. This stage both completes the cycle of expatriate learning and
ensures that the cycle begins anew by assisting the creation of new experiences.
During this phase of the expatriate learning cycle, expatriates may consciously plan
for opportunities to verify their insights (for example, whether an authoritarian
leadership style or a participative leadership style is more effective in this new
environment) and then carry out their plan (give different directions to subordi-
nates). Expatriates therefore gain experiences based on real interactions with others

2.5 Expatriate Learning 53

and then gather self-correcting and self-development. Ng et al. (2009) claimed that
active experimentation facilitates development of a wide range of flexible leadership
behaviours for expatriate managers. Figure 2.8 illustrates the expatriate learning
process model. In Fig. 2.8, expatriates learn in a dynamic cycle based on their
international assignment experiences and then obtain several learning outcomes.
Expatriate learning outcomes will be discussed respectively in Sect. 2.5.2.

2.5.2 Expatriate Learning Outcomes

Learning, defined as the process of creating knowledge based on the transformation
of experience, is a multifaceted construct with implications for multiple learning
outcomes. In thinking about implications of international assignment experiences
on expatriate learning, this study identifies expatriate learning outcomes in four
aspects: learning style transition, managerial tacit knowledge, adaptive flexibility,
and global mindsets.

2.5.2.1 Learning Style Transition

(a) Concrete experience as primary learning mode for expatriate learning

Kolb (1984) proposed that individuals with an orientation toward concrete expe-
rience learning mode are open to new experiences, emphasize feeling rather than

Expatriate learning
outcomes:

Learning style
transition;

Adaptive flexibility;
Global mindsets;
Managerial tacit

knowledge

Concrete experience

A
ctive experim

entation

M
odification and self-

developm
ent

Integration across diverse
cultures and markets

Exposure to diversity

R
eflective observation

Abstract conceptualization

Self-reflection
International
Assignment
Experiences

Fig. 2.8 Expatriate learning process model

54 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

thinking, and function well in unstructured situations. Yamazaki and Kayes (2004)
conducted a literature review on expatriate adaptation and suggested that concrete
experience is a primary learning skill for successful expatriation because it is related
to valuing another culture and to developing positive interactions with the host
nationals. Yamazaki and Kayes (2007) conducted an exploratory study of how
Japanese expatriates adapt to working in the United States over time. Their research
suggested that Japanese managers become more concrete in their learning styles
over time spent in the USA. They also suggested that expatriate adaptation requires
learning in the concrete mode above the other three learning modes and expatriates
as foreign nationals in the host country require more concrete learning than the host
nationals. Ng et al. (2009) proposed that expatriates with a preference for concrete
experience learning mode will actively seek cross-cultural experiences during their
international assignments, which is important for leaders to translate their inter-
national assignment experiences into learning outcomes that are critical for global
leadership development. Shaffer et al. (2006) suggested that expatriates with a
learning goal orientation will actively seek intercultural experiences during their
international assignments.

Western expatriates confront huge cultural and business differences in China. It
is important for them to value Chinese culture and actively build up positive
contacts with local Chinese people (colleagues inside their organization, colleagues
outside their organization, friends in their daily life and so on) to gain successful
expatriation. Expatriates with longer international assignment tenures have greater
degrees of cross-cultural involvement, thus improving the amount and quality of
concrete international experiences they could learn from. Li and Scullion (2010)
argued that local knowledge in emerging markets, such as China, has a significant
special nature: undiffused, highly tacit, and fast-changing, and that very nature
determines the need for intensive socialized activities in these markets. Hocking
et al. (2007) emphasize that local knowledge access is a significant contributor to
expatriate learning. Therefore, this study proposes a second hypothesis that the
concrete experience mode of western expatriate learning is positively related to the
length of international assignment tenure in China.

Hypothesis 2a The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the more they will show their learning pref-
erences for concrete experience over abstract conceptualization.

(b) Cross-cultural impacts on learning styles

As discussed in section in 2.2.2, culture is an important environmental characteristic
that has a great influence on learning styles and learning styles will change
according to the environmental change. Moreover, the longer the time that indi-
viduals have spent in a certain environment that accentuates a particular learning
style, the more they tend to specialize even more in this learning style (Kolb 1984;
Hayes and Allinson 1988).

2.5 Expatriate Learning 55

This study is based on the assumption that typical Chinese learning styles have a
preference for reflective observation over active experimentation, which is different
from Westerners (as discussed in 2.2.2). Auyeung and Sands (1996) postulated that
students from Chinese cultures are significantly more reflective than are Western
students based on their research of testing the relationship between individualism
and collectivism, RO and AE learning modes. Western expatriates tend to differ in
the degree of learning orientation that is accentuated in China. The environmental
differences may cause Western expatriates’ learning styles to be shifted towards the
ones matched with the demands produced by Chinese business environments. The
transition of learning styles will occur in accordance with the amount of continuous
time the Western expatriates have spent in China. Therefore, this study proposes the
second hypothesis that the reflective observation mode of Western expatriate
learning is positively related to the length of international assignment tenure in
China.

Hypothesis 2b The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the more they will show their learning pref-
erences for reflective observation over active experimentation.

Hypothesis 2c The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the more balancing their learning styles will be.

2.5.2.2 Managerial Tacit Knowledge

Nonaka (1994) argues that the generation and accumulation of tacit knowledge is
determined by the ‘variety’ of an individual’s experiences and the individual’s
commitment and involvement in the ‘context’ of the situation (pp. 21–22).
Sternberg et al. (2000) refer to tacit knowledge as experience based on the
knowledge required for solving practical problems (pp. 104–105). Baumard (1999)
argues that managerial tacit knowledge is generated in the intimacy of lived
experience.

The growing emphasis on international assignment experiential approaches to
manager development can be attributed to the importance accrued to international
experience. Existent research demonstrates that firms led by CEOs with interna-
tional experience perform better financially. In addition, global managers them-
selves find international assignments beneficial for their personal and professional
development. In research conducted by Dickmann and Doherty (2008), most
managers reported that living and working abroad was the most powerful experi-
ence in developing their career capital. The role of experience in the acquisition of
tacit knowledge has been widely acknowledged within the literature on tacit
knowledge. However, previous studies have revealed mixed results on the rela-
tionship between length of experience and tacit knowledge (Armstrong and
Mahmud 2008; Colonia-Willner 1998; Wagner 1987; Wagner and Sternberg 1985,

56 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

1986). It has been argued that learning from experience results in a form of
knowledge that is tacit in nature (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995; Nonaka 1994). If
learning from experience should lead to the accumulation of tacit knowledge,
therefore, it follows that the longer the length of experience a person has, the more
the opportunity they have to learn from it, resulting in a higher level of tacit
knowledge acquired. This gives rise to the following hypotheses that there is a
significant relationship between the lengths of western expatriate managers’ inter-
national assignment experience and their levels of accumulated managerial tacit
knowledge. In this study, the researcher investigates western expatriate managers’
accumulation of managerial tacit knowledge in two aspects: managing self and
managing others. The study proposes the hypotheses regarding how Western
expatriate managers accumulate managerial tacit knowledge during their interna-
tional assignments.

Hypothesis 3a The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the greater their levels of accumulated man-
agerial tacit knowledge in managing self.

Hypothesis 3b The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the greater their levels of accumulated man-
agerial tacit knowledge in managing others.

2.5.2.3 Adaptive Flexibility

As discussed in Sect. 2.3.4, adaptive flexibility describes how an individual learns
to adapt to changing circumstances over time and it is an indicator of the level of
individual development. Thus, if individuals show systematic variability in their
response to different environmental demands, we can infer they own higher levels
of adaptive flexibility and individual development. Yamazaki and Kayes (2007)
proposed that expatriates use different modes of adaptation and develop greater
adaptive flexibility to adapt to a new culture. International assignments are full of
challenges and uncertainties, especially in a host country with significant diversi-
ties. The complex and ever-changing global environment requires international
managers to be flexible. As a result, expatriates need, and are forced, to develop
their adaptive flexibility to obtain successful expatriation. Therefore, this study
proposes the hypothesis that expatriate’s adaptive flexibility is positively related to
the length of international assignment tenure.

Hypothesis 4 Duration of western expatriate managers’ engagement in interna-
tional assignments in China will positively influence their adjustment to the host
culture via adaptive flexibility.

2.5 Expatriate Learning 57

2.5.2.4 Global Mindsets

Expatriates on international assignments are expected to broaden the horizon and
foster global mindsets through working and living in a distinct culture and system.
A number of disciplines have attempted to define global mindset, resulting in lots of
definitions, which is the mark of a relatively young research field. The vast majority
of existent studies conceptualize global mindsets in relation to two salient aspects of
the global environment: (1) cultural and national diversity and/or (2) strategic
variety and complexity associated with globalization (Levy et al. 2007).

(a) The definition of global mindset

The core properties of global mindsets are described in three relatively distinct
perspectives: attitudinal perspective, behavioural perspective, and cognitive per-
spective (Levy et al. 2007). Studies within the attitudinal perspective describe
global mindsets using terms such as ‘attitude’, ‘state of mind’, and ‘orientation’.
Perlmutter’s (1969) ground-breaking tripartite typology of managerial mindsets in
MNCs serves as a conceptual anchor for the attitudinal perspective. Perlmutter and
his colleagues (1969) offer a typology of MNCs that is explicitly based on the
mindsets of senior executives. He originally distinguished among three primary
attitudes or states of mind toward managing a multinational enterprise: ethnocentric,
polycentric, and geocentric. Perlmutter’s notion of geocentrism serves as an
underlying construct for many of the contemporary conceptualizations of global
mindsets that focus on the challenge of overcoming ingrained ethnocentrism and
transcending nationally entrenched perceptions (Maznevski and Lane 2004). For
example, Bouquet (2005) defines global mindsets as attention to global strategic
issues, arguing that attention is the core element and a primary manifestation of
global mindsets. He finds empirical support for the hypothesized relationships that
the firm’s decision environment influences attention structures, which, in turn, affect
top management team (TMT) attention to global strategic issues. Studies within the
behavioural perspective define global mindsets in behavioural or
competency-related ability. Beechler and Javidan (2007) defined the critical com-
ponents of global mindsets as intellectual capital, psychological capital, and social
capital. Even though all of these three capitals are regarding ability and competence,
Beechler and Javidan (2007) mentioned that cognitive attributes are also in the
properties of global mindsets.

Studies within the cognitive perspective define the core properties of global
mindsets in cognitive structure and cognitive complexity. Most of them concep-
tualize global mindsets both in the context of cultural and strategic diversity (Levy
et al. 2007). Rhinesmith (1992) described global mindsets as entailing high levels of
cognitive capabilities, especially scanning and information-processing capabilities,
as well as the ability to balance competing realities and demands and to appreciate
cultural diversity. Govindarajan and Gupta (2001) conceptualized global mindsets
as a knowledge structure characterized by both high differentiation and high inte-
gration. Arora et al. (2004) described global mindsets as the tension between
‘thinking globally’ and ‘acting locally’. Arora et al. (2004) found in their empirical

58 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

study of 65 managers in the textile industry that managers are better in conceptu-
alization (thinking globally) than in contextualization (acting locally). Levy et al.
(2007) emphasized that cognitive properties are the most fundamental building
blocks of global mindsets. Elaborating on their definition, global mindsets are
characterized by three complementary aspects: an openness to and awareness of
multiple spheres of meaning and action, complex representation and articulation of
cultural and strategic dynamics, and mediation and integration of ideals and actions
oriented both to the global and local.

Obviously, this diversity of terms and perspectives on global mindsets presents a
considerable challenge for theoretical integration in this field. This study agrees
with Levy et al.’s (2007) perspective that cognitive properties are the most fun-
damental components of global mindsets, and emphasizes that cognitive properties
of global mindsets refer to individual higher level of cognitive structure and cog-
nitive complexity.

(b) Expatriates cultivate global mindsets during international assignments

Expatriate assignments are the most common ways that MNCs adopt to develop
managers’ global mindsets (Govindarajan and Gupta 2001; Gupta and
Govindarajan 2002; Levy et al. 2007). Govindarajan and Gupta (2001) proposed
that expatriation can be used to cultivate managers’ global mindsets. Arora et al.
(2004) presented evidence to suggest that international assignment experience has a
statistically significant impact on managers’ global mindsets. Nummela et al. (2004)
through their empirical findings offer tangential evidence on the hypothesis that top
management team’s (TMT) international work experience is positively related to
global mindsets.

2.5.2.5 The Relationships Among Expatriate Learning Outcomes

(a) Learning style and managerial tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is believed to be a product of learning from experience that affects
performance in real-world settings (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). It is recognised as
an essential element of expertise and has been shown to be important for success of
individuals (Nestor-Baker 1999) and for competitive advantage in organisations
(Prahalad and Hamel 1990). Previous authors (e.g. Baumard 1999) attribute the
origin of the construct to the science philosopher Polanyi who captured the meaning
of tacit knowledge in his famous remark “we can know more than we can tell”
(1966, p. 4). Managerial tacit knowledge is believed to be generated in the intimacy
of lived personal experience (Baumard 1999; Sternberg and Horvath 1999), guides
actions and decisions without being in our field of consciousness (Anderson 1983)
and is believed to be an essential factor that distinguishes successful managers from
others (Armstrong and Mahmud 2008; Argyris 1999; Wager and Sternberg 1987).
Whilst studies have consistently demonstrated differences in level and content of
tacit knowledge between expert and novice groups (Wagner et al. 1999; Patel et al.

2.5 Expatriate Learning 59

1999; Tan and Libby 1997; Nestor-Baker 1999; Williams 1991), few have
accounted for why or how these differences occur. We are informed, however, that
differences can be attributed to the context of the learning environment and dif-
ferences in the way individuals prefer to engage in the learning process (Sternberg
et al. 2000).

Peoples national culture (Yamazaki 2005; Yamazaki and Kayes 2004), work
environment (Choo 1998; Sternberg and Grigorenko 2001) and individual learning
styles (Kolb and Kolb 2005; Armstrong and Mahmud 2008) have all been shown to
influence the acquisition of tacit knowledge. When peoples learning styles are
matched with their work environment it has been demonstrated that they achieve
significantly more learning outcomes in an educational context (Dunn and Griggs
2003) and higher levels of managerial tacit knowledge in a management context
(Armstrong and Mahmud 2008). Conversely, a mismatch between learning style
and work context is likely to impede the process of learning and knowledge
acquisition. Elaborating further on this person-culture congruence theory, individ-
uals with a strong orientation toward the converging learning style would rather
deal with technical tasks and problems than with social and interpersonal issues
(Kolb 1984). This style is more suited to Yamazaki’s (2005) definition of a low
context culture (e.g. USA). This is opposite to the diverging learning style asso-
ciated with a preference for working in groups to gather information, listening with
an open mind, and receiving personalised feedback (Kolb 1984). This style is more
suited to Yamazaki’s (2005) definition of a high context culture (e.g. China). This
leads to the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 5a Western expatriate managers’ learning styles will differentiate
between levels of managerial tacit knowledge accumulated during their interna-
tional assignments in China.

The category of managerial tacit knowledge labelled managing others (Wagner
1987) refers to knowledge about interacting and communicating effectively with
one’s subordinates, peers and superiors. Success in interpersonal interactions and
communications of this nature is consistent with characteristics associated with the
CE mode of grasping experience according to Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning
theory (ELT). ELT suggests that people with CE learning preferences: have broad
cultural interests; are interested in people; rely heavily on people for information
rather than on their own technical abilities to solve problems. They have also been
described as being more adept at establishing personal relationships, communi-
cating effectively, and helping others (Kolb et al. 2001). Yamazaki (2005) contends
that in high context cultures (e.g. China) people rely on CE abilities to acquire tacit
knowledge that serves to distinguish covert cues for effective communication and
successful interpersonal relationships. This leads to the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 5b Western expatriate managers with learning preferences for concrete
experience over abstract conceptualisation accumulate higher levels of managerial
tacit knowledge related to managing others during their international assignments in
China.

60 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

The category of managerial tacit knowledge labelled managing self (Wagner
1987) refers to knowledge about self-motivational and self-organisational aspects of
managerial performance. Acquisition of tacit knowledge associated with self
depends on the ability to reflect on one’s own behaviours in order to understand a
wide range of information, see things from different perspectives, and develop an
understanding of internal incompatibilities between specific behaviours and
expected performance (Sternberg and Grigorenko 2001; Sternberg et al. 2000).
Success in reflecting on one’s own behaviours of this nature is consistent with
characteristics associated with the RO mode of transforming experience according
to Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning theory. ELT suggests that people with RO
learning preferences: learn by reflecting, making careful observations before
making judgements; look inward for meaning and view things from different per-
spectives. In Yamazaki’s (2005) definition of high context cultures (e.g. China), it
has been suggested that people rely on Reflective Observation abilities for trans-
forming experiences (Kolb and Kolb 2005; Yamazaki 2005; Fridland 2002). This
leads to the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 5c Western expatriate managers with learning preferences for reflective
observation over active experimentation accumulate higher levels of managerial
tacit knowledge related to managing self during their international assignments in
China.

2. Learning style and adaptive flexibility

Kolb (1984) hypothesised that learning styles are determined by the interplay
between people and their environments. As a consequence learning styles have
been shown to differ from one culture to another (Yamazaki 2005), and expatriate
managers’ learning styles have been shown to change over a period of time in
response to cultural demands (Yamazaki and Kayes 2007). Propensity for changes
of this nature, however, will depend on the extent to which individuals are able to
learn to adapt to changing circumstances over time-otherwise known as ‘adaptive
flexibility’ (Boyatzis and Kolb 1993; Kolb 1984).

Flexibility of a person’s learning style is related to the degree to which one
integrates the dual dialectics of the learning process—conceptualizing/experiencing
(AC-CE) and acting/reflecting (AE-OR) (Kolb 1984). Kolb (1984) hypothesised
that individuals with balanced learning profiles on these dimensions will be more
sophisticated (adaptively flexible) learners than those with specialised learning
styles. Mainemelis et al. (2002) provided empirical evidence of this and concluded
that ‘the more balanced individuals are on the dual dialectics of learning, the more
they will show adaptive flexibility’ (p3). Whilst they confirmed this for both
dimensions of the learning process, their results were stronger for the
conceptualizing/experiencing dimension than the acting/reflecting dimension.
Adaptive flexibility then, refers to the degree to which one changes learning style to
manage competing demands and deal with environmental complexity. This leads to
the following hypotheses:

2.5 Expatriate Learning 61

Hypothesis 6a Western expatriate managers with learning preference for concrete
experience over abstract conceptualization develop higher levels of adaptive flex-
ibility during their International assignments in China.

Hypothesis 6b Western expatriate managers with learning preference for reflective
observation over active experimentation develop higher levels of adaptive flexi-
bility during their International assignments in China.

Hypothesis 6c Western expatriate managers with balanced learning styles
demonstrate higher levels of adaptive flexibility during their International assign-
ments in China.

2.5.3 Expatriate Learning and Expatriate Adjustment

Understanding how expatriates adapt to new cultural circumstances appears to be
very important for MNCs and their expatriates. This study will contribute to such
understanding in light of learning perspectives. The successful adaptation of
expatriates hinges on how well they learn from experiences in foreign operations
(Ratiu 1983; Ng et al. 2009). Expatriates’ learning from experience produces
acquisition of essential skills and knowledge demanded for effective managerial
behaviour in numerous transitional situations. According to the qualitative study of
Ratiu (1983), expatriates’ way of learning from cross-cultural experiences results in
discrimination between ordinary managers and outstanding managers who perform
well in intercultural environments. Shaffer et al. (2003) contend that well-adjusted
expatriates will have greater reserves of personal resources (like time, effort, and
emotional investment) available to spend on the behaviours that facilitate their job
performance and learning. Selmer (2006) contends that there is a positive rela-
tionship between an expatriate’s learning ability and his/her extent of adjustment. If
an individual cannot learn how to adjust in a novel cultural context, relevant pieces
of information are likely to be unidentified or their importance overlooked. On the
other hand, well-adjusted expatriates, attuned to the local socio-cultural environ-
ment, may be able to identify relevant knowledge and correctly assess its impor-
tance for various business decisions (Selmer 2006). Furuya et al. (2009) contend
that learning on international assignments is influenced directly by three antecedent
factors: organizational support from the firm, intercultural personality characteris-
tics of the expatriate, and the self-adjustment encountered by the expatriate during
the overseas experience. They propose that international assignments provide great
opportunity for expatriate learning and the nature of the assignment given and how
it is framed within the organization context will affect what is learned. The orga-
nization’s attitude toward its international operations (e.g., the company maintains a
positive attitude about being a global company; the company emphasizes the

62 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

importance of global work experience) may broadly frame how managers view the
expatriate assignment and what they are expected to take away from such assign-
ments. Furuya et al. (2009) examined 305 repatriates, who had been recently
repatriated to the home office after a 1 to 2 year first-time overseas assignment, and
they found a positive relationship between expatriate self-adjustment and their
global management competency learning. They further propose that expatriate
learning would lead to heightened employee job motivation and to higher levels of
general work performance.

Yamazaki’s (2005) recent theoretical study about expatriate adaptation argues
that there may be different learning strategies for effective adaptation in accordance
with their home countries. Hocking et al. (2004)’ empirical studies regarding the
differentials between assignment purposes and assignment outcomes argues that
expatriate learning is an inevitable emergent outcome of the expatriate knowledge
transfer process, which indicates that expatriates place a greater emphasis than the
company on the relevance of their self-learning as an assignment purpose. These
studies have directed our attention to the importance of experiential learning for the
successful adaptation and high performance of expatriates. While the great
importance of this area of expatriate study is beginning to be understood, we do not
know empirically much about what kinds of learning strategies expatriates tend to
adopt for cross-cultural adaptation in intercultural business contexts. Though it is
commonly held that expatriates engage in extensive learning while on assignment,
there is scant empirical research on what they have learned or on what factors may
affect their learning (Furuya et al. 2009).

From the preceding discussions, it can be postulated that western expatriate
managers with learning preferences that matched with the host culture will adapt
better in the host country; adaptive flexibility will be an important component of
successful cross- cultural adjustment; and levels of managerial tacit knowledge
accumulated in the host culture will positively influence their adjustment to inter-
national assignments in the host culture, which points to a mediation effect of
managerial tacit knowledge. Thus, the present research hypothesises the following:

Hypothesis 7a Western expatriate managers with strong learning preferences for
concrete experience will adjust better to their international assignment in China than
those with a strong learning preference for abstract conceptualization.

Hypothesis 7b Western expatriate managers with strong learning preferences for
reflective observation will adjust better to their international assignment in China
than those with a strong learning preference for active experimentation.

Hypothesis 8 Western expatriate managers’ who arrive with higher levels of
adaptive flexibility will adjust better to their international assignment in China.

Hypothesis 9 Learning styles will positively influence expatriate managers’
adjustment to the host culture via levels of accumulated managerial tacit knowledge.

2.5 Expatriate Learning 63

2.6 Research Framework and Hypotheses

This section integrates all the hypotheses and the exploratory question derived from
the above literature review. Whole seventeen research hypotheses concern five
components as follows: the length of international assignment tenure in the host
country, learning style, adaptive flexibility, managerial tacit knowledge, and
expatriate adjustment in the host country. Theoretical connections among these five
components are organized structurally in a model as depicted in Fig. 2.9. In this
model, the arrow shows the influential direction between the components.

All seventeen research hypotheses are integrated below:

• Hypothesis 1: Duration of expatriate managers’ international experiences in the
host culture will positively influence their adjustment to the current international
assignment.

• Hypothesis 2a: The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the more they will show their learning
preferences for concrete experience over abstract conceptualization.

• Hypothesis 2b: The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the more they will show their learning
preferences for reflective observation over active experimentation.

• Hypothesis 2c: The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the more balancing their learning styles will
be.

• Hypothesis 3a: The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the greater their levels of accumulated
managerial tacit knowledge in managing self.

2c

H9H3a, 3b

H8
H4 H6a, 6b, 6c

H5a, 5b, 5c

H2a, 2b H7a, 7bAssignment tenure Learning style
Expatriate

adjustment in the
host country

Managerial tacit
knowledge

Adaptive flexibility

H1

Fig. 2.9 Research framework

64 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

• Hypothesis 3b: The longer western expatriate managers have engaged in their
International assignments in China, the greater their levels of accumulated
managerial tacit knowledge in managing others.

• Hypothesis 4: Duration of western expatriate managers’ engagement in inter-
national assignments in China will positively influence their adjustment to the
host culture via adaptive flexibility.

• Hypothesis 5a: Western expatriate managers’ learning styles will differentiate
between levels of managerial tacit knowledge accumulated during their inter-
national assignments in China.

• Hypothesis 5b: Western expatriate managers with learning preference for
reflective observation over active experimentation accumulate greater levels of
managerial tacit knowledge related to managing self during their International
assignments in China.

• Hypothesis 5c: Western expatriate managers with learning preference for con-
crete experience over abstract conceptualization accumulate greater levels of
managerial tacit knowledge related to managing others during their International
assignments in China.

• Hypothesis 6a: Western expatriate managers with learning preference for con-
crete experience over abstract conceptualization develop higher levels of
adaptive flexibility during their International assignments in China.

• Hypothesis 6b: Western expatriate managers with learning preference for
reflective observation over active experimentation develop higher levels of
adaptive flexibility during their International assignments in China.

• Hypothesis 6c: Western expatriate managers with balanced learning styles
demonstrate higher levels of adaptive flexibility during their International
assignments in China.

• Hypothesis 7a: Western expatriate managers with strong learning preferences
for concrete experience will adjust better to their international assignment in
China than those with a strong learning preference for abstract
conceptualization.

• Hypothesis 7b: Western expatriate managers with strong learning preferences
for reflective observation will adjust better to their international assignment in
China than those with a strong learning preference for active experimentation.

• Hypothesis 8: Western expatriate managers’ who arrive with higher levels of
adaptive flexibility will adjust better to their international assignment in China.

• Hypothesis 9: Learning styles will positively influence expatriate managers’
adjustment to the host culture via levels of accumulated managerial tacit
knowledge.

One exploratory question is described as follows:

Exploratory Question 1: To what extent do Western expatriate managers differ from
host Chinese managers with regard to learning styles and levels of accumulated
managerial tacit knowledge?

2.6 Research Framework and Hypotheses 65

These hypotheses and the exploratory question are designed to answer the three
research questions discussed in Chap. 1: (1) How do Western expatriate managers
adapt when working in China? (2) What do Western expatriate managers learn from
their international assignments in China? (3) How do Western expatriate managers
learn from their international assignments in China? Table 2.2 depicts the paral-
lelisms between research questions and hypotheses.

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Table 2.2 Depiction of these
parallelisms between research
questions and hypotheses

Hypotheses Research question Derived section

H1 Research question (1) 2.2.3

H2a, H2b, H2c Research question (2) 2.5.2.1

H3a, H3b Research question (2) 2.5.2.2

H4 Research question (2) 2.5.2.3

H5a, H5b, H5c Research question (3) 2.5.2.5

H6a, H6b, H6c Research question (3) 2.5.2.5

H7a, H7b Research question (1) 2.5.3

H8 Research question (1) 2.5.3

H9 Research question (1) 2.5.3

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72 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning

http://www.springer.com/978-981-10-0052-2

  • 2 Expatriate Adjustment and Expatriate Learning
    • 2.1 International Assignments
      • 2.1.1 Definition and Classification of International Assignments
      • 2.1.2 Expatriates and International Assignments
      • 2.1.3 Cultural Differences Between Nations
        • 2.1.3.1 High-Context Versus Low-Context Cultures
        • 2.1.3.2 Collectivism Versus Individualism Cultures
        • 2.1.3.3 Power Distance
        • 2.1.3.4 Strong Uncertainty Avoidance Versus Weak Uncertainty Avoidance Cultures
        • 2.1.3.5 Long-Term Orientation
        • 2.1.3.6 Masculinity Versus Feminity
    • 2.2 Expatriate Adjustment
      • 2.2.1 Expatriate Adjustment Dimensions and Process
      • 2.2.2 Factors Influencing Expatriate Adjustment
        • 2.2.2.1 Individual Factors
        • 2.2.2.2 Job-Related Factors
        • 2.2.2.3 Organizational Factors
        • 2.2.2.4 Non-work Factors
      • 2.2.3 Adjustment of Expatriates in China
    • 2.3 Experiential Learning Theory
      • 2.3.1 Experiential Learning Process and Cycle
      • 2.3.2 Learning Style
        • 2.3.2.1 Influence of Culture on Learning Style
        • 2.3.2.2 Chinese Learning Style Versus Western Learning Style
        • 2.3.2.3 Influence of Environmental Change on Learning Style
      • 2.3.3 Learning Skills
        • 2.3.3.1 The Relationship Between Learning Skills and Learning Styles
      • 2.3.4 Adaptive Flexibility
        • 2.3.4.1 The Relationship Between Adaptive Flexibility and Self-development
    • 2.4 Managerial Tacit Knowledge
      • 2.4.1 Nature and Characteristics of Tacit Knowledge
      • 2.4.2 Tacit Knowledge and Practical Intelligence
      • 2.4.3 The Structure of Managerial Tacit Knowledge
      • 2.4.4 Acquisition of Managerial Tacit Knowledge
        • 2.4.4.1 Learning Context in the Acquisition of Managerial Tacit Knowledge
        • 2.4.4.2 Individual Learning Preferences in the Acquisition of Managerial Tacit Knowledge
      • 2.4.5 Managerial Tacit Knowledge and Performance
      • 2.4.6 Measuring Managerial Tacit Knowledge
    • 2.5 Expatriate Learning
      • 2.5.1 Expatriate Learning Process
        • 2.5.1.1 Exposure to Diversity and Dissonance Experience
        • 2.5.1.2 Self-reflection
        • 2.5.1.3 Integration Across Diverse Cultures and Markets
        • 2.5.1.4 Modification and Self-development
      • 2.5.2 Expatriate Learning Outcomes
        • 2.5.2.1 Learning Style Transition
        • 2.5.2.2 Managerial Tacit Knowledge
        • 2.5.2.3 Adaptive Flexibility
        • 2.5.2.4 Global Mindsets
        • 2.5.2.5 The Relationships Among Expatriate Learning Outcomes
      • 2.5.3 Expatriate Learning and Expatriate Adjustment
    • 2.6 Research Framework and Hypotheses
    • References

Compensation and Rewards

There are a few options when choosing compensation for a global business. The first option is to

maintain companywide pay scales and policies, so for example, all sales staff are paid the same no

matter what country they are in. This can reduce inequalities and simplify recording keeping, but it

does not address some key issues. First, this compensation policy does not address that it can be much

more expensive to live in one place versus another. A salesperson working in Japan has much higher

living expenses than a salesperson working in Peru, for example. As a result, the majority of

organizations thus choose to use a pay banding system based on regions, such as South America,

Europe, and North America. This is called a localized compensation strategy. Microsoft and Kraft Foods

both use this approach. This method provides the best balance of cost-of-living considerations.

However, regional pay banding is not necessarily the ideal solution if the goal is to motivate expatriates

to move. For example, if the employee has been asked to move from Japan to Peru and the salary is

different, by half, for example, there is little motivation for that employee to want to take an assignment

in Peru, thus limiting the potential benefits of mobility for employees and for the company.

One possible option is to pay a similar base salary companywide or regionwide and offer expatriates an

allowance based on specific market conditions in each country. [9]This is called the balance sheet

approach. With this compensation approach, the idea is that the expatriate should have the same

standard of living that he or she would have had at home. Four groups of expenses are looked at in this

approach:

1. Income taxes

2. Housing

3. Goods and services

4. Base salary

5. Overseas premium

The HR professional would estimate these expenses within the home country and costs for the same items in

the host country. The employer then pays differences. In addition, the base salary will normally be in the same

range as the home-country salary, and an overseas premium might be paid owing to the challenge of an

overseas assignment. An overseas premium is an additional bonus for agreeing to take an overseas assignment.

The Balance Sheet Approach to Compensation

Chicago, IL Tokyo Allowance

Tax rate 30% 35% 5% or
$288/month

Housing $1250 $1800 $550

Base salary $5400 $5,750 $350

Overseas premium 15% $810

Total allowance $1998

Total salary and
allowance

$5400 $7748

Other compensation issues, which will vary greatly from country to country, might include the
following:

1. The cost of benefits in another country. Many countries offer universal health care (offset by higher

taxes), and therefore the employee would have health benefits covered while working and paying taxes

in that country. Canada, Finland, and Japan are examples of countries that have this type of coverage. In

countries such as Singapore, all residents receive a catastrophic policy from the government, but they

need to purchase additional insurance for routine care. A number of organizations offer health care for

expatriates relocating to another country in which health care is not already provided.

2. Legally mandated (or culturally accepted) amount of vacation days. For example, in Australia twenty

paid vacation days are required, ten in Canada, thirty in Finland, and five in the Philippines. The average

number of US worker vacation days is fifteen, although the number of days is not federally mandated by

the government, as with the other examples.

3. Legal requirements of profit sharing. For example, in France, the government heavily regulates

profit sharing programs.

4. Pay system that works with the country culture, such as pay systems based on seniority. For

example, Chinese culture focuses heavily on seniority, and pay scales should be developed

according to seniority.

5. Thirteenth month (bonus) structures and expected (sometimes mandated) annual lump-sum

payments. Compensation issues are a major consideration in motivating overseas employees.

A systematic system should be in place to ensure fairness in compensation for all expatriates.

See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234021358

Toward a Comprehensive Model

of International Adjustment: An

Integration of Multiple

Theoretical Perspective

Article in The Academy of Management Review · April 1991

DOI: 10.2307/258863

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Work Role Transitions: A Study of American Expatriate Managers in Japan
Author(s): J. Stewart Black
Source: Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 1988), pp. 277-
294
Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/155026
Accessed: 21-09-2017 23:52 UTC

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WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS: A STUDY OF AMERICAN
EXPATRIATE MANAGERS IN JAPAN

J. Stewart Black*

University of California, Irvine

Abstract. Throughout the course of a career, an individual must

make numerous role transitions, instigated through such events
as overseas transfers, domestic transfers, promotions, company
reorganizations, and inter-company job changes. This paper
examines the relationships between several variables and work

role transition in the case of an overseas assignment to Japan.
Role ambiguity and role discretion were found to influence work

adjustment, while predeparture knowledge, association with local
nationals, and family’s adjustment were found to correlate with

general adjustment of American expatriate managers in Japan.

Although the topics of roles and role adjustment have been investigated for
several years, only recently has a theory of work role transitions been presented
[Nicholson 1984]. Work role transitions can be instigated through overseas
transfers, domestic transfers, promotions, company reorganizations, and inter-
company job changes. This study investigates work role transitions brought
on by foreign assignments. This particular type of work role transition was
selected because the growing internationalization of business requires increasing
amounts of interaction between companies and business people of different
countries and cultures. To implement this internationalization, often nationals
of one country are sent to subsidiaries in foreign countries. Studies [Baker
and Ivancevich 1971; Tung 1981] have found that between 20 to 40% of the
expatriate managers (EXM) do not successfully make the transition and return
early. These figures become larger if one includes the “brownouts” [Lanier
1979] or those who may not return early but perform at a decreased capacity
by not being able to adjust adequately to their new work roles. In addition,
of EXMs sent to Japan in the past, one source [Seward 1975] found that 90%
of the EXMs were significantly less successful in Japan than they were in
their previous assignment in their home countries. Another source [Adams
and Kobayashi 1969] found that 80% of the EXMs in Japan were considered
failures by their headquarters. These problems are significant to corporations
because the associated costs are high, ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 per

* J. Stewart Black is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine,
in the Graduate School of Management. While there, he was awarded a Regent’s
Fellowship for 1985-1986. He received his B.S. and Master of Organizational Behavior
degrees from Brigham Young University, where he graduated with University Honors
and Distinction, respectively.

Received: July 1987; Revised: October & December 1987; Accepted: December 1987.

277

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278 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STUDIES, SUMMER 1988

person if the EXM returns from the international assignment early (Harris
1979). For companies with hundreds of expatriates, the total costs can easily
reach several million dollars. Given the importance of such assignments, it is

useful to try to gain an understanding of how these types of work role transitions

are made and what factors influence their success and failure.

This study begins with an examination of the relevant theoretical and empirical
literature. Based on this material, several hypotheses are presented and the

results of a survey of American expatriate managers making transitions to their

overseas assignments in Japan are presented. Finally, the theoretical and
managerial implications are explored.

DIMENSIONS OF ADJUSTMENT IN WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS

Adjustment to the new work role can be viewed as having three primary
dimensions: degree, mode, and facet. Each of these dimensions are briefly
discussed.

Degree of Adjustment

Degree of adjustment can be viewed as both a subjective and objective concept.

Subjectively, it is the degree of comfort the incumbent feels in the new role

and the degree to which he or she feels adjusted to the role requirements.

Objectively, it is the degree to which the person has mastered the role

requirements and is able to demonstrate that adjustment via his or her

performance. In the past, scholars have largely relied on self-report responses
to measure degree of felt adjustment [Torbion 1982] or to measure other degree

indicators such as time to proficiency [Pinder and Schroeder 1987].

In the case of managers sent on foreign assignments, degree of adjustment

has been measured through self-reports of adjustment to the new country and

culture [Gullahorn and Gullahorn 1962; Abe and Wiseman 1983; Torbion
1982]. An important aspect of the degree of adjustment to the culture is the
stage of adjustment. Scholars [Lysgaad 1955; Oberg 1960; Torbion 1982]
have argued that adjustment occurred in four phases often referred to as the

U-curve. The first phase occurs during the first few weeks after arrival. At
this time the new arrival is fascinated with the new and different aspects of
the foreign culture and country. Some have referred to this as the “honeymoon
stage.” Torbion [1982] adds that during the initial stage, the person has not
had sufficient time and experience in the new country to discover that many
of his or her past habits and behaviors are inappropriate in the new culture.
This lack of negative feedback and the newness of the foreign culture combine
to produce the honeymoon effect.

Once the newcomer begins to cope seriously with the real conditions of everyday
life, the second stage begins. This stage is characterized by frustration and
hostility toward the host country and its people. This is because the person
discovers that her or his past behaviors are inappropriate in the new culture
but as yet has not learned what to substitute in their stead [Torbion 1982]. In
general, culture shock occurs at the transition between stage two and three

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WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS 279

when the person has received the maximum amount of negative feedback but
as yet has very little idea as to what the appropriate behaviors are.

The third stage begins as the individual acquires some language skills and

ability to move around on his or her own. In the third stage the person begins
to learn not only how to “get around” but also some new appropriate behaviors.
By the third stage the individual also has developed some proficiency in
performing the new set of behaviors.

In the fourth stage, the individual’s adjustment is generally complete and the
incremental degree of adjustment is minimal. In this stage, the individual now
knows and can properly perform the necessary behaviors to function effectively
and without anxiety due to cultural differences.

Mode of Adjustment

Mode of adjustment involves the manner in which the individual adjusts to
the new role. Several scholars [Dawis and Lofquist 1984; Feldman and Brett
1983; Nicholson 1984; Van Maanen and Schein 1979] have essentially argued
that the individuals can adjust by altering the new role to match better themselves
or by altering their own attitudes and behaviors to match better the role
expectations. Nicholson [1984] expands these two dimensions into a four cell
matrix, which includes all the combinations of the two basic modes of adjustment.
The first mode of adjustment Nicholson calls replication. When confronted
with a new work role, a person using this adjustment strategy would make
few adjustments in his or her identity or behaviors in order to fit into the new
role. Also, the person would make few changes in the role. The second mode
of adjustment is termed absorption. When confronted with a new role, a person
using this adjustment strategy would make very few if any modifications in
the role and would instead modify his or her own behavior and attitudes to fit
the role requirements. The third mode of adjustment is termed determination.
According to Nicholson, this mode of adjustment represents those instances
in which the incumbent’s adjustment to the demands of the role transition
leaves the person relatively unaffected but alters the new role. The fourth
mode of transition is termed exploration. This mode of transition represents
those cases in which the person makes adjustments in his or herself and in the
new role.

Facet of Adjustment

Although the primary focus of the literature on work role adjustment concerns
adjustment to the “work role,” in the case of overseas transfers, another facet
of adjustment involves the manager’s adjustment to the new customs and
culture of the host country [Hawes and Kealey 1981; Ross 1985; Torbion
1982]. Even in the case of domestic transfers, there exists some theoretical
and empirical support for the inclusion of adjustment to outside work factors
as another facet of adjustment [Feldman 1976]. Thus, it seems that at a minimum
there are at least two facets of adjustment: work adjustment and general
adjustment.

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280 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STUDIES, SUMMER 1988

FACTORS HYPOTHESIZED TO INFLUENCE ADJUSTMENT

Because much of the theoretical writing on work role transitions is fairly recent
(for example, see Nicholson 1984), much of the empirical literature in the
next section has been approached from somewhat of an atheoretical perspective.

However, using the theoretical frameworks of Nicholson [1984], Dawis &

Lofquist [1984] and Feldman [1976], the empirical literature has been organized
into two broad categories: adjustment inhibiting and adjustment facilitating

factors. These are then subdivided into three subcategories: individual factors,
job-related factors, and outside factors.

Adjustment Facilitating Individual Factors

Several individual factors have been hypothesized and found to be important
in expatriates’ adjustment to new work roles during overseas assignments. In

formulating the hypotheses for this cross-sectional study, individual factors
were not included. They were excluded because theoretically it is just as likely

that adjustment causes changes in the individual as it is that individual differences

influence adjustment. Although studies have found correlations between various
individual factors and adjustment, a longitudinal design would be needed to
provide a meaningful contribution to understanding the causal relationship

between any of the individual variables identified and adjustment. Consequently,
they are not discussed in detail (for a review see Mendenhall and Oddou 1985).
A summary of the individual factors that seem to facilitate adjustment includes

(1) the individual’s desire to adjust [Brim 1966; Cogswell 1968; Howard 1974;
Mortimer and Simmons 1978; Tung 1981], (2) technical or managerial
competence [Bardo and Bardo 1980; Brim 1966; Harris 1973; Hawes and
Kealey 1981; Hays 1971; Tung 1981], (3) a person’s social relation skills
orientation [Abe and Wiseman 1983; Hammer, Gudykunst and Wiseman 1978;
Harris 1973; Hawes and Kealey 1981; Hays 1971; Louis, Posner and Powell
1983; Ratiu 1983; Ross 1985], (4) an individual’s tolerance for ambiguity or
“open mindedness” [Detweiler 1975; Gudykunst; Wiseman and Hammer 1977;
Kahn 1964; Ratiu 1983; Ruben 1976; Ruben and Kealey 1979], (5) an
individual’s self-confidence [Kahn 1964; Fisher 1982; and Jones 1986], (6)
met expectations [Dunnette, Arvey, and Banas 1973; Feldman 1976; Ilgen
1975; Toffler 1981], and (7) reinforcement substitution [Bren and David,
1971; David 1976; Mumford 1975; Tung 1981].

Adjustment Inhibiting Job Factors

Several job-related factors have been found to increase the uncertainty,
unfamiliarity, unpredictability, or uncontrollability of the new work role and
consequently inhibit the adjustment. These include role novelty, role ambiguity,
role conflict, and role overload.

Role novelty really involves the difference between the past role and the new
one. Role novelty essentially increases the degree of unfamiliarity with the
new role, which likely decreases the degree of predictability. Pinder and
Schroeder [1987] have found the greater the difference, the longer it takes the

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WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS 281

person to reach a level of proficiency after a domestic transfer. Other researchers

have found a similar relationship between role novelty and adjustment [Burr
1972; George 1980; Minkler and Biller 1979; Pinder and Schroeder 1987;
Sarbin and Allen 1968].

Hl: The higher the role novelty, the lower the adjustment to work
responsibilities.

Most major role transitions have some associated role ambiguity. The greater
the role ambiguity, the less the individual is able to predict the outcome of

various behaviors and the less the individual is able to utilize past successful

or determine appropriate new behaviors. Several studies have found the higher
the associated ambiguity, the more difficult the transition [Harvey 1982; Misa
and Fabricatore 1979; Pinder and Schroeder 1987].

H2: The greater the role ambiguity, the less the degree of adjustment to the
specific job responsibilities.

Additionally, often individuals in new roles experience conflicting signals
about what is expected of them. When an individual experiences conflicting
messages about expected behaviors, he or she is less able to determine which
messages to ignore and which to follow and thereby execute the appropriate
behaviors. Not surprisingly, researchers have found the greater the role conflict,

the greater the difficulty of the role transition (Kahn et al. 1964).

H3: The greater the role conflict, the less the degree of adjustment to the
specific job responsibilities.

If managers have too many demands placed upon them, they will be less able
to respond adequately to the demands. Thus, role overload will have a negative
influence on work role adjustment. Role overload has been found to be negatively
associated with successful role transitions [Kahn 1964; Karasek 1979; Tung
1982].

H4: The greater the role overload, the less the degree of adjustment to the

specific job responsibilities.

Adjustment Facilitating Job Factors

In addition to job factors that increase uncertainty, several job-related factors
have the potential for reducing it and facilitating adjustment. These include
the role discretion, previous transfers, and pre-departure knowledge.

Nicholson [1984] along with Dawis and Lofquist [1984] includes the notion
that the greater the role flexibility or role discretion, the easier the adjustment.
Some studies have found that role discretion enables individuals to more easily
utilize successful past behaviors in the new role by having the freedom to
modify the role to fit their abilities and habits and thus makes the role more
familiar, predictable, and controllable and make the transition easier [Karasek
1979; Kahn et al. 1964].

H5: The greater the increase in role discretion, the greater the adjustment.

In the case of domestic or international transfers and the resulting role transitions,
individuals with previous transfer experiences might be able to extrapolate

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282 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STUDIES, SUMMER 1988

from these transfers and thus be more familiar with aspects of the new situation

and be better at predicting what to expect with the transfer [Louis 1980].

Despite the theoretical appeal of this variable, it has yet to be supported

empirically [Pinder and Das 1979; Pinder and Schroeder 1987].

H6: The greater the previous overseas work experience, the greater the

adjustment.

Because pre-departure knowledge has the potential of providing the individual
with information about the impending transition, it can reduce the uncertainty

by increasing the predictability of the new situation as well as by increasing
at least the individual’s anticipatory familiarity. The fact that a majority of
firms do not provide any training to facilitate pre-departure knowledge of the

target country perhaps indicates that they believe it does not facilitate adjustment
[Baker and Ivancevich 1971; Tung 1981]. Some empirical work supports the
assertion that pre-departure knowledge does facilitate adjustment [Tung 1984].

H7: The more knowledge the manager has about the target country of the
overseas assignment prior to departure, the better will be the manager’s

adjustment.

Adjustment Facilitating Outside Factors

When the work role transition requires a major change for the individual’s

family, the family’s ability to adjust to the changes has a significant impact
on the individual’s transition at work. Especially in the case of overseas
assignments, an individual’s family’s inability to adjust is the biggest reason
for the individual’s inability to make the transition [Hays 1971; Misa and
Fabricatore 1979; Torbion 1982; Tung 1981; Tung 1982]. However, it is
possible that the causal direction is revised. It is possible that the EXM’s
adjustment has an influence on the family’s adjustment. Consequently, only
a correlation hypothesis can be made.

H8: The family’s general adjustment will be positively correlated with the
expatriate’s adjustment.

Because association with host nationals can provide cues concerning appropriate
behavior in the new situation, greater association with host nationals would
reduce novelty and positively affect adjustment. However, greater association
with host nationals will not necessarily provide information of how to perform
specific job responsibilities. Thus, while association with host nationals likely
will be associated with general adjustment, it likely is not associated with
work adjustment. Unfortunately, in a non-longitudinal study, it is impossible
to determine whether the greater interaction with host nationals leads to greater

adjustment or whether greater adjustment leads to increased association with
host nationals. Thus, only a correlation hypothesis can be made. Nevertheless,
this source of novelty reduction has been under-addressed and is worth examining
even in a correlation context.

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WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS 283

H9: Interaction with host nationals will be positively correlated with

general adjustment.

METHODOLOGY

Sample

The sample for this study was drawn from those Americans registered with
the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Although this registry is not
exhaustive, the directory contains over 1,400 names and represents virtually
all American companies operating in Japan. A sample of 195 individuals was
randomly drawn by selecting every seventh individual in the alphabetized
listing.

Of the 195 questionnaires sent, 77 were returned for a response rate of 40%.
Sixty-seven of the returned questionnaires were usable. Given that limited
funds prevented the sending of followup letters or questionnaires, the response
rate was typical [Dillman 1978]. The respondents represented 25 of 33 different
industries and were an adequate representation of the sample. All of the
respondents were male and 80% were married. On average the respondents
were 46 years old and had been in the firm for 14.5 years. In addition, 33.8%
of the respondents held top management positions, 49.2% were department
heads, 15.4% were middle managers, and 1.5% were technical specialists.

Definition and Operationalization of Variables

As discussed earlier, two methods can be utilized to measure adjustment. The
first is the individual’s assessment of how comfortable or adjusted he or she

feels. The second is an independent measure of the individual’s adjustment or
performance. Because response rates to mailed questionnaires which ask for

an independent measure of adjustment such as supervisor rating are usually
unacceptably low [Dillman 1978] and lack of resources prohibited more direct
methods of obtaining an independent measure of adjustment such as supervisor
evaluation, only self-reported adjustment was measured.

For expatriate managers, it is hypothesized that there are three facets of

adjustment. It seems, expatriate managers adjust to (1) work roles, (2) interacting
with host nationals (Japanese nationals in this study), and (3) the general
culture and everyday life. An eleven-item scale was developed to measure
these three facets of adjustment. The six items measuring adjustment to everyday
life were based on the scales developed by Torbion [1982]. To measure work
adjustment, respondents were asked to indicate the degree of adjustment they
felt with their job and responsibilities, with interacting with Japanese peers
and subordinates. (Adjustment to Japanese superiors was not included because
preliminary interviews suggested that very few American expatriate managers
had Japanese superiors.) To measure adjustment to interacting with Japanese
in general, respondents were asked to indicate their degree of adjustment to

working with Japanese outside their company and to interacting with Japanese
in general, everyday situations.

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284 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STUDIES, SUMMER 1988

TABLE 1
Factor Analysis of Adjustment

ITEM General Interaction Work

General living .90
Transportation .76
Food .75
Shopping .65
Weather .57
Entertainment .55

Working with
Japanese outside .89
Interacting with
Japanese general .38 .84
Job responsibility .77
Japanese co-workers .37 .47 .63
Japanese subordinate .32 .61

Only loadings greater than .30 are reported.

The eleven-item scale was factor analyzed using a principal component factor
analysis procedure with a varimax rotation of factors. It was hypothesized that
there were three factors within these eleven items, and three factors emerged
with eigen values greater than one (see Table 1). These three factors explained
62.9% of the variance in the eleven-item set.

All the items in Factor 1 loaded strongly (above .50) on the first factor and
below .30 on the other two factors. A reliability test of these six items in
Factor 1 produced an alpha of .80, which is generally considered acceptable
(Churchill and Peter 1984). This first factor of adjustment included adjustment
to general living conditions, transportation system, food, shopping, weather,
and entertainment and was termed general adjustment or adjustment to general
living conditions and everyday life.

The two items of working with Japanese outside the company and interacting
with Japanese in general loaded very strongly on the second factor (above
.80). The items in this second factor had a relatively high reliability coefficient
(alpha = .83). The factor essentially involved adjustment to interacting with
Japanese.

The three remaining items of adjustment to interacting with Japanese peers
and with Japanese subordinates, and to job responsibilities loaded on Factor
3. However, these three items had an unacceptably low reliability coefficient
(alpha = .30). The items of interacting with Japanese peers and subordinates
had complex loadings. They loaded above .30 on the second factor (interacting
with Japanese) and above .60 on the third factor (adjustment to work). The
item of adjustment to job responsibilities loaded negatively on the first and
second factor and strongly (.77) on the third factor. The primary component
of the third factor seemed to be adjustment to work responsibilities. Removing
the items of adjustment to interacting with Japanese peers and subordinates
from the third factor left a one-item measure of adjustment to work.

This procedure produced three factors or facets of adjustment. The first two
factors (adjustment to general conditions, and adjustment to interacting with

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WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS 285

Japanese in general) were very clear and strong; however, the two factors
were significantly correlated (.47, p < .01). Therefore, they were not considered
to be independent facets of adjustment. The eight items relating to these two
factors were combined to form a scale of general adjustment (alpha = .83) The
third factor (adjustment to job responsibilities) was conceptually different from
and not significantly related to the factor of general adjustment (see Table 3).

Role novelty was defined as the degree to which the expected patterns of
behaviors in the new role were different from those of past roles. Based on
Stewart’s [1982] categories of managerial demands and constraints, eleven
items were used to measure role novelty. Respondents were asked to indicate

how similar or different each of the items was compared to their previous
domestic assignment. A factor analysis of these eleven items produced four
factors that accounted for 66.9% of the variance in the eleven-item set. Factor
1 involved the novelty of performance standards, degree of involvement in
work unit, and outside work responsibilities. The second factor involved the
novelty of the type of people in the work unit, the legal and governmental
regulations, and employees resistance to change. The third factor consisted of
the novelty of bureaucratic procedures and mandatory meetings. The fourth
factor consisted of novelty of work relations, resource limitations, and technical
limitations. Although the factor analysis produced four factors of role novelty,
the four factors were highly intercorrelated (approximately r = .50, p < .001).
Consequently, all eleven items were combined into one scale of role novelty
which had an acceptable reliability (alpha = .78).

Role ambiguity was defined in terms of the existence or clarity of behavioral
requirements [Rizzo, House and Lirtzman 1970]. The scale for measuring role
ambiguity was taken from Rizzo, House and Lirtzman [1970], which has been
used in other similar studies [Jones 1986], because of the objective wording
of the items (for example, “clear, planned goals exist for my job”). The
reliability of this scale was adequate (alpha = .76).

Role conflict is the congruency-incongruency or compatibility-incompatibility
in the requirements of the role, where congruency or compatibility is judged
relative to a set of standards or conditions which impinge upon role performance.

This scale was also taken from Rizzo, House and Lirtzman [1970]. This scale
had moderately high reliability (alpha = .82).

Role overload was defined as the excessive demands placed upon the occupant
of a particular role. The scale for measuring role overload was based on Kahn’s
[1964] description of role overload and included three items: (1) excessive
work load, (2) excessive time demands, and (3) insufficient time to complete
work. These three items had adequate reliability (alpha = .81).

Role discretion was defined as the individual’s opportunities to alter the
components and relationships of role demands. As a means of approximating
this variable and assessing its impact on work role adjustment, respondents
were asked on a one-item, Likert-type scale whether the degree of autonomy
they currently had was more or less than that which they had in their previous
assignment.

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286 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STUDIES, SUMMER 1988

TABLE 2
Factor Analysis of Family Adjustment

Item Factor 1 Factor 2

Schools .92
Transportation .66 .44

Shopping .82
Weather .43
Interacting w/Japanese .87
Entertainment .79

Only loadings greater than .30 are reported.

Respondents indicated on a five-point Likert scale the degree of knowledge
they had of Japan (language, culture, customs, political system, etc.) before
the transfer. A factor analysis of this five-item scale was conducted and produced

one factor with moderately high loadings (above .80). The inter-item reliability
of this scale of knowledge before departure was very high (alpha = .91).

Previous international transfers were operationalized as the number of years

the respondent had worked in overseas or foreign assignments.

Outside Factors

The outside factor measured in this study was family adjustment. Using a
Likert-type scale, respondents were asked to rate their family’s adjustment to
schools, transportation system, shopping, weather, interacting with Japanese
in general, and entertainment. A factor analysis of these items produced two
factors (see Table 2). The first factor consisted of adjustment to schools and
the transportation system and had an unacceptably low reliability (.40). The
second factor included adjustment to shopping, weather, entertainment, and
interacting with Japanese in general and had an adequate reliability coefficient
(.75). Thus, only the items in the second factor were used as the scale of

measuring family adjustment.

Association with host nationals was operationalized as the percent of time
during work and non-work hours that the expatriate manager spent with host
nationals.

RESULTS

Adjustment Inhibiting Job Factors

Hypotheses 1 through 4 predicted that role novelty, role ambiguity, role conflict,
and role overload would have a negative impact on work adjustment. The
formulation of these hypotheses assumes that these four job factors will not
have any significant relationship with general adjustment. This assumption
was supported by the data (see Table 3). To test the influence of these job
factors on work adjustment, a multiple regression was run by regressing work
adjustment on role novelty, role ambiguity, role conflict, and role overload.
Although the independent variables accounted for a significant amount of the

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WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS 287

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288 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STUDIES, SUMMER 1988

TABLE 4

Results of Multiple Regression Adjustment Facilitating Job Factors

Independent Variables Betas Values for t

Previous Overseas Experience .33 2.86*
Pre-departure Knowledge -.31 -2.69*
Role Discretion .31 2.62*

R square = .27; F = 7.14; p < .001; Dependent Variable: Work Adjustment

* p <.01

Independent Variables Betas Values for t

Previous Overseas Experience .18 1.50
Pre-departure Knowledge .38 3.14*
Role Discretion -.01 -.07

R square = .15; F = 3.29; p<.05; Dependent Variable: General Adjustment

*p<.01

variance in work adjustment (R square = .19, F = 2.94, p < .05), only role
ambiguity had a significant impact on work adjustment (beta .44, p < .005).

Adjustment Facilitating Job Factors

Hypotheses 5 through 7 predicted that role discretion, previous overseas transfers,
and pre-departure knowledge would facilitate adjustment. In general, it remained
an empirical question as to whether the three factors would have a positive
influence on both facets of adjustment. To test the impact of these variables

on adjustment, two separate multiple regression equations were conducted. In
the first equation, work adjustment was regressed on role discretion, pre-
departure knowledge, and previous work experience. These three factors
explained a significant amount of the variance in work adjustment (see Table

4). As predicted both role discretion and previous overseas work experience
had a significant and positive impact on work adjustment. However, pre-

departure knowledge had a significant and negative impact on work adjustment.
This unexpected finding is discussed later.

The second regression equation examined the impact of these same three
independent variables on general adjustment. Again the three independent
variables accounted for a significant portion of the variance in general adjustment

(see Table 4). However, in the case of this facet of adjustment, only pre-
departure knowledge had a significant impact.

Adjustment Facilitating Outside Factors

Hypotheses 8 and 9 asserted a positive correlation between family’s adjustment,
association with host nationals and the EXM’s adjustment. Although researchers
[Hays 1971; Tung 1981] have found the family’s inability to adjust as well
as the EXM’s inability to adjust were related to early returns, it remained an
empirical question of how family adjustment related to different facets of EXM
adjustment. In testing these hypotheses, only correlational analysis was used.
Theoretically it is just as likely that adjustment of the EXM leads to family

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WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS 289

adjustment as the reverse. Likewise, it is equally possible that adjustment
leads to greater association with host nationals or that association with host
nationals facilitates adjustment. Torbion [1982] has argued that both family
adjustment and association with host nationals leads to adjustment; however,
neither the design of his study nor this study provide the means of testing the
causal relationship. Hypothesis 8 asserted that association with host nationals
during work and non-work hours would be positively correlated with adjustment.
Time spent with host nationals during work and non-work hours was positively,
and significantly correlated with general adjustment (see Table 3) but not with
work adjustment. Likewise, hypothesis 9 predicted that family adjustment
would be positively correlated with EXM adjustment. Family’s adjustment
was positively and significantly correlated with general adjustment (.85, p <
.001) but not with work adjustment.

DISCUSSION

The results of this study lend some support to the theoretical argument that
there are at least two distinct facets of adjustment. This is further supported
by the fact that work adjustment is related to role ambiguity and role discretion,
while general adjustment is related to pre-departure knowledge, to association
with host nationals, and to family’s adjustment. This study indicates that past
practices of thinking and measuring adjustment particularly in overseas
assignment as a generic or unitary phenomenon perhaps masks the different
impacts of variables on adjustment. Much more research needs to take place
to examine the various dimensions of the work roles, related outside roles and
the adjustment process.

This study found no relationship between role novelty and work adjustment.
In their study of domestic transfers, Pinder and Schroeder [1987] did find a
relationship between role novelty and self-reported time to proficiency. Two
methodological considerations may account for the different findings. First,
Pinder and Schroeder measured work adjustment by asking respondents to
indicate how many months after the transfer it took them to become effective
in their job. This study asked respondents to indicate the degree of adjustment
they felt concerning their job responsibilities. Second, Pinder and Schroeder
used a one-item measure of role novelty (“overall how similar is your current
job to the one before the transfer”). This study used an eleven-item scale to
measure role novelty. It may be that when asked to rate role novelty overall
managers incorporate aspects and weightings not included in the multiple
measure. The nature of the work role transitions may also be an important
explanation. It may be that in an international transfer so much is novel (the
job, the people, the culture, etc.) that the impact of role novelty is diluted.
Future studies might address both role novelty and culture novelty to test this
possibility. In addition, future studies might rely less on subjective measures
of role novelty. Possible method covariation problems could be reduced in
future studies by using objective proxies of role novelty such as actual changes
in functional area (for example moving from sales to production).

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290 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STUDIES, SUMMER 1988

In addition to limitations concerning conclusions about role novelty, some

limitations exist regarding conclusions about role ambiguity as well. Although
effort was made to use objectively worded items to measure role ambiguity,

the relationship found between role ambiguity and work adjustment might be

the result of method covariation. However, items relating to role ambiguity

and work adjustment were placed in separate parts of the questionnaire in

order to reduce this limitation. In summary, of the adjustment inhibiting job
factors, only role ambiguity was significantly related to work adjustment, and
though steps were taken to reduce method covariation problems, this finding
should be viewed with some caution.

Concerning adjustment facilitating job factors, as hypothesized, previous overseas
work experience and role discretion were related to work adjustment. However,

neither were related to general adjustment. The lack of significant relationship

between previous overseas work experience and general adjustment conditions

and to interacting with host nationals perhaps suggests that many aspects of

overseas assignments are not readily generalizable from one overseas assignment
to another or that EXMs are not able to transfer or extrapolate their learnings
concerning adjustment in one country to another.

Pre-departure knowledge did have the expected significant and positive
relationship with general adjustment, but it had an unexpected significant and

negative relationship with work adjustment. Recent follow-up interviews suggest

one possible explanation for this unexpected relationship. Several EXMs in

Japan suggested that even though they believed pre-departure knowledge
facilitated work adjustment, those that had pre-departure knowledge concerning
the country and culture would report a lower level of work adjustment because

they were more aware of the cultural elements in the job responsibilities than
those who had a low level of pre-departure knowledge. In other words, they
suggested that those with little knowledge could not ignore and had to be
aware of the negative impact of lack of knowledge on general adjustment (i.e.,
living in Japan and interacting with Japanese), but because certain elements
of the job were similar to those in the U.S., they could pay attention to more
familiar aspects and ignore or just not be aware of those aspects in which
culture had an impact on job responsibilities. Consequently, they would report
higher levels of work adjustment than those made more aware because of their
pre-departure knowledge.

Although not investigated at the time, another possible explanation for the
positive relationship between pre-departure knowledge and general adjustment
and the negative relationship between pre-departure knowledge and work
adjustment is that the pre-departure knowledge was more accurate and relevant
to living in Japan and was less accurate and relevant to working in Japan.
This possibility would suggest that future research might explore the exact
content of the pre-departure knowledge EXMs have to determine relevant
information concerning living in Japan versus working in Japan. Since this
study suggests that adjustment to living versus working in Japan is different,
it may be that some pre-departure knowledge facilitates adjustment to living

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WORK ROLE TRANSITIONS 291

in Japan while other pre-departure knowledge facilitates adjustment to working
in Japan.

In terms of adjustment facilitating outside factors, general support was found
for the hypotheses that family adjustment and association with host nationals
were correlated with EXM general adjustment. A non-significant relationship
was found between these two variables and EXM work adjustment. As argued
earlier, it is unlikely that association with host nationals would provide cues
to facilitate work adjustment or that work adjustment would lead one to associate
more with host nationals. However, an explanation for the lack of correlation
between family adjustment and EXM work adjustment is not as obvious. It
may be that the significant correlation between family adjustment and EXM
general adjustment conditions and interacting with host nationals is due to
their similar nature-adjustment to weather, shopping, interpersonal interactions,
etc. The lack of a significant correlation between family adjustment and EXM
work adjustment may be because the nature of work adjustment is different
from general adjustment. Therefore, even if the family does not adjust to living
in the foreign country, the EXM can still adjust to the job because it to some
degree is similar to responsibilities held prior to the transfer and therefore
independent of its current foreign context.

However, an important limitation should be noted. The EXMs gave the scores
for the adjustment of their families. Even though items referring to family
adjustment were placed in a separate portion of the questionnaire to avoid
response set bias, the association between EXM general adjustment conditions
and to interacting with host nationals may be a function of response set bias.
Future research might test this by obtaining family self-reports and comparing
them with EXM reports to see if EXM reports of the family’s adjustment are
similar to those provided by the family members (primarily the spouse).

In considering the findings and suggestions of this study, two sampling problems
should be considered. Because of the logistics of updating the large registry
from which this sample was drawn, only those individuals that had been in
the country more than six to eight months were listed in the directory. Thus,
the first six months of adjustment were not directly measured. This is important

because respondents indicated that the low point for their adjustment occurred
approximately six months after their arrival. If those who had trouble making
the transitions returned to the U.S. at this average low point, then the sample
would be overly represented by relatively adjusted managers. Second, even
though the directory had multiple names for a given company, the names
listed for a given company were not exhaustive, and the names listed tended
to be the higher level executives. Thus, the sample, while representing a large
number of companies and industries, was overly represented by higher level
executives and may not be generalizable to lower level expatriates such as
technical specialists.

In conclusion, it seems firms might facilitate international transfers and
adjustments by providing overlap time between the returning manager and the
new replacement as well as providing clear job descriptions in order to reduce

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292 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STUDIES, SUMMER 1988

role ambiguity. Also, firms not providing training to facilitate pre-departure

knowledge of the country and culture might facilitate adjustment by changing
this practice, especially if the manager is expected to regularly interact with
host nationals. Several research issues have been mentioned, but it seems
particularly important to investigate the causal relationship between family
adjustment and EXM adjustment and between association with host nationals
and EXM adjustment. The increased internationalization of business makes
the more precise understanding of all the dimensions of adjustment to international
transfers increasingly important.

APPENDIX

Respondents were asked to indicate on a scale from 1 to 7 (1= Not Adjusted
At All; 7 = Very Well Adjusted) the degree to which they are adjusted or not
on the following eleven items.

1. How adjusted are you to your job and responsibilities?

2. How adjusted are you to working with Japanese co-workers?

3. How adjusted are you to the transportation system in Japan?

4. How adjusted are you to working with Japanese outside your company?

5. How adjusted are you to the food in Japan?

6. How adjusted are you to the weather in Japan?

7. How adjusted are you to interacting with Japanese in general?

8. How adjusted are you to shopping in Japan?

9. How adjusted are you to supervising Japanese subordinates?

10. How adjusted are you to generally living in Japan?

11. How adjusted are you to the entertainment available in Japan?

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  • Contents
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  • Issue Table of Contents
    • Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, Summer, 1988
      • Front Matter [pp. iii – iv]
      • Letter from the Editor-in-Chief
      • The Limits of Explanation: Testing the Internalization Theory of the Multinationial Enterprise [pp. 181 – 193]
      • Multinational Corporations vs. Domestic Corporations: International Environmental Factors and Determinants of Capital Structure [pp. 195 – 217]
      • Home Country Political Risk and Foreign Direct Investment in the United States [pp. 219 – 234]
      • Country-of-Origin Effects for Uni-National and Bi-National Products [pp. 235 – 255]
      • Assessing Foreign Subsidiary Performance: The Currency Choice of U.K. MNCs [pp. 257 – 275]
      • Work Role Transitions: A Study of American Expatriate Managers in Japan [pp. 277 – 294]
      • Notes
        • International Business Education Programs in American and Non-American Schools: How They Are Ranked by the Academy of International Business [pp. 295 – 299]
      • Book Reviews
        • untitled [pp. 301 – 304]
        • untitled [pp. 304 – 306]
        • untitled [pp. 306 – 307]
        • untitled [pp. 307 – 309]
        • untitled [pp. 309 – 312]
        • untitled [pp. 312 – 314]
      • Dissertation Abstracts [pp. 315 – 336]
      • International Business Books/Publications Received as of March 31, 1988 [pp. 337 – 340]
      • Back Matter
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