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Role of cultural self-knowledge in successful expatriation.


Culture plays a major role in the success of expatriate managers. If companies can identify the crucial cultural variables associated with success, they will be able to select and train expatriate managers more effectively and increase the success of their expatriation process. In this article, we argue that conscious cultural self-knowledge is a crucial variable in adapting to other cultures; yet the development of self-knowledge is typically not part of expatriate training. The article analyses and synthesises research and theories from the literature and presents an integrated four-stage plan for preparing expatriates, using cultural self-knowledge to improve the success of cultural adaptation. The discussion demonstrates the impact of self-knowledge on business behaviour and advances eight propositions about specific cultural variables and how they relate to expatriate behaviour. The focus is on the role of the individual, the importance of hierarchy, the importance of context in communication, and attitudes towards time and change. The article closes with discussing four stages in the expatriation process. In stage 1, potential expatriates are screened for personality characteristics that have been identified in the literature as contributing to expatriate success. In stage 2, expatriates focus on developing a conscious self-awareness including their preferences, likes, and dislikes. During stage 3, potential expatriates study the other culture and their reaction to it. In this process they are developing a cognitive map of their own and the other behaviours. In the final stage, expatriates explore adaptation possibilities and strategies.


Culture has an impact on the way people communicate and do business with each other (Randolph and Sashkin, 2002; Beamer and Vamer, 2001; Hofstede, 1991; Hall, 1959 and 1960). It influences how we negotiate business contracts and organise our businesses. For this discussion, culture is defined as socially transmitted beliefs, behaviour patterns and values that are shared by a group of people (Cai et al, 2000; Trompenaars, 1993; Salacuse, 1991; Hofstede, 1980).

International business, by its very nature, brings people of various cultures together. As a result, multinational firms face intercultural communication and management issues dally. To ensure that the voice of headquarters is heard and implemented, most international firms use expatriates in at least some of their global business positions and may use more in the early stages of new ventures (Yah et al, 2002; Halcrow, 1999). In 1997, American multinationals had 150,000 expatriates stationed abroad, and 83,000 employees of foreign companies worked in the United States (Andersen Consulting, 1997). With the growth in global business, the success of business operations in all geographic spheres of operation has become more critical to the success of multinational firms. The success of international business operations is frequently tied to the success of the expatriates sent by headquarters in maintaining essential communications between headquarters and international operations (Harzing, 2001).

However, the research literature and the anecdotal evidence have consistently demonstrated that the failure rate of expatriates is high enough for concern. For American expatriates the percentage of failure is estimated at 30 to 40 per cent; for Europeans and Japanese expatriates the failure rate is listed at about 20 per cent (Tung, 1981 and 1998; Forster, 1992). We will focus on how inherent cultural values influence the effectiveness of expatriates.

Significance of Study

Much of the literature on expatriation discusses issues relating to selection and training, performance during expatriation, and repatriation (Kealey and Prothero, 1996; Deshpande and Viswesvaran, 1992; Black and Mendenhall, 1990; Tung, 1982). The study of the host culture can be a part of any of these stages. Typically, studies that examine the cultural influences on expatriate success discuss the need to understand the host culture of the target country and ways to adapt to that culture (Randolph and Sashkin, 2002; Selmer, 2001; Osman-Gani, 2000; Black et al, 1999; Fenwick et al, 1999; Katz and Seifer, 1996; Black, 1992). Clearly, these studies have made a major contribution to our knowledge about how the understanding of other cultures affects success or failure. To know and understand how the Japanese or Chinese negotiate contracts or how business people from Latin America view the enforcement of meeting times can help one to do business successfully in those countries. Hofstede's study of IBM managers (1980), for example, can prepare an expatriate in approaching business with foreign managers. The assumption underlying these studies is that knowledge of the host culture will contribute to success.

While we agree with that viewpoint, we maintain, however, that these studies neglect a crucial variable contributing to success and failure: cultural self-knowledge. Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist over 2,000 years ago, recognised the importance of serf-knowledge in being successful when he said: "Know thyself, know thy enemy and you cannot be defeated in a hundred battles" (Gresser, 1992).

Lee (1966) described this self-awareness or self-knowledge as self-reference criterion. All people have a self-reference criterion (SRC). The SRC assumes that one's own behaviour is natural, logical, and correct. Different behaviour is typically judged to be inappropriate, inferior, and ineffective. For example, a person from a monochronic time orientation, where time is seen as a limited commodity and being on time is valued, will view a person from a polychronic time orientation, where time is seen as cyclical and unlimited, as uncaring, inefficient, or even lazy.

Gupta and Govindarajan (2002) discuss a similar phenomenon and label it "mindset." They refer to cognitive filters that can prevent the development of a global mindset and maintain that international success requires a change of our mindsets. The success of this process "depends largely on how explicitly conscious we are of our current mindsets: the more hidden and subconscious our cognitive filters, the greater the likelihood of rigidity" and likelihood of failure.

Fisher (2001) refers to our mental maps and argues that these maps dictate how we react to events and people around us. In order to understand others, people need to "explore their own cultural stereotypical thinking". Only after they have gained this self-awareness can they develop a solid basis for cooperation.

Clashes in cultural orientation can have a major influence on the success or failure of an expatriate, but understanding the host culture is only one piece in the puzzle. As one of the first steps in preparing to function effectively in another culture, expatriates need to understand their own cultural orientation and how they influence "acceptable" behaviour within that cultural context. The next step is to learn to overcome the belief that one's own self reference criterion or mindset is universal and avoid judging culturally different behaviour negatively. The problem is that most people are not consciously aware of their own SRC or mindset. We typically do not reflect on our own cultural behaviour but rather consider our culture "natural" because we have absorbed it from birth without conscious effort. We don't reflect on it or study it, and we seldom contemplate how others view us. We think we know our culture, but acting instinctively is not enough and may send the wrong message (Guptara, 1992).

Negotiators, for example, may be more successful if they know why they feel what they feel (George et al, 1998). Likewise, lack of awareness is a contributing factor to unsuccessful negotiations (Paik and Tung, 1999). As Cai et al (2000) point out, "participants' views of their own behaviour often are not shared by others". Knowing oneself can contribute to success by being more realistic about how others see us. Furthermore, an expatriate needs to not only know his priorities but also be familiar with the company's priorities (Gresser, 1992).

The role of knowledge of one's cultural background is implied in many studies (Osman-Gani, 2000; Mendenhall and Wiley, 1994) rather than specifically examined. To the best of our knowledge, no studies concentrate on the influence of one's own cultural priorities on success or failure of expatriation. We believe, however, that such analytical self-knowledge is crucial and that cultural training for expatriates needs to start with an assessment of one's own culture. Intuitive feelings about one's own cultural priorities are not sufficient; what is needed is a systematic analysis. The influence of one's own culture in affecting the successful adaptation to the host culture is at the centre of our discussion.

Research Question

What are the implications of one's own culture for expatriate success? How can self-knowledge and awareness contribute to expatriate success?

Expatriate Success and Failure

Success in expatriation is the goal of all businesses because it contributes to the success of the firm in the global environment. The literature consistently ties the ability to function in the host culture to the success or failure of the expatriate assignment.

During the past 20 years, many articles have been published on the success and failure of expatriates (Tung, 1998; Caligiuri, 1997; Shay and Tracey, 1997; Harzing, 1995; Forster, 1992; Tung, 1981, 1982, and 1988; Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985; Torbiorn, 1982). The majority of these have focused on expatriates from the United States (Harzing, 1995). This is due, at least partially, to the fact that historically, American multinationals were dominant in international business. As a result, the American viewpoint has been publicised more. Whatever the reasons, the expatriate literature is heavily weighted with data from American expatriates. This approach creates a certain bias in definitions and in published statistics on success and failure. Over the last few years there have been some changes, and several studies have been published on expatriates from other countries (Harzing, 2001; Osman-Gani, 2000).

For many years the literature listed failure rates of expatriates from between 20 to 70 per cent (Shay and Tracey, 1997; Black and Mendenhall, 1990; Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985). Even though the studies tended to be of primarily American expatriates, results were frequently extrapolated to expatriates from other countries despite evidence that the failure rates for non-American expatriates were lower. Harzing (1995) took issue with these traditional figures. She was the first to question the basis of many of the published figures. She reviewed the literature on expatriate failure rates and identified only three data-based studies that specifically examined expatriate failure rates: Mendenhall and Oddou in 1985, Tung in 1981, and Misa and Fabricatore in 1979. Harzing concluded that, based on actual analysis of survey data by these researchers, the failure rate is lower than usually stated, probably 7 to 10 per cent. Those three studies also supported the notion that failure rates are somewhat lower for non-American expatriates (Tung, 1998). While Harzing (1995) clearly addressed some basic issues in the research on expatriates, there is no doubt that expatriates frequently fail or do not perform optimally. She did not, however, address a fundamental concern: the definition of success and failure.

A crucial issue in the consideration of the relationship between culture and expatriate success/failure is the definition of success and failure. Success is not the same as happiness. Japanese expatriates are not "happier" than American expatriates. In fact, in many ways they may be more isolated and lonely. However, based on cultural expectations, they cannot give up because that would make them and the firm lose face. Frequently the families of Japanese expatriates stay in Japan. The Japanese expatriate may live in a hotel or dormitory with other Japanese expatriates. In essence, he stays in a Japanese environment, and therefore, the Japanese may remain more embedded in the Japanese culture and accepting of Japanese cultural expectations. American expatriates tend to believe that they have a right to happiness as individuals and that they are entitled to self-fulfillment. If the job does not provide what they are looking for, they are more likely to leave a foreign assignment.

When is an expatriate successful, and when does an expatriate fail? Typically, the American studies have equated a premature return of an expatriate (for example, one year rather than the scheduled three or four) with failure. On the other hand, an expatriate who stayed the scheduled length of time was considered successful (Briody and Chrisman, 1991). However, premature return is only one measure of failure (Tung, 1998; Forster, 1994). One might even argue that under certain circumstances a premature return could be seen as success, whereas completing the scheduled stay might be a failure (Palmer and Vamer, 2002). In this argument the important thing is not the length of stay, but rather:
 * How effective is the expatriate during his/her stay (Jones, 2000;
 Tung, 1998; Caligiuri, 1997; Inkson et al, 1997; Shay and
 Tracey, 1997; Nicholson et al, 1990)?

 * What knowledge has the expatriate gained, and how is the company
 institutionalising and using that knowledge (Palmer and Vamer,
 2000; Torraco, 2000; Sarvary, 1999; Lank, 1997)?

 * How long does the expatriate stay with the company after
 repatriation? If the expatriate leaves the firm within a short time
 of completing the assignment, one could argue that the assignment
 was not successful because the company might lose the knowledge
 (human capital) that the expatriate gained at the company's
 expense (Torraco, 2000; Drucker, 1999; Allen, 1998;
 Forster, 1994; Becker, 1993; Schultz, 1961).

Ideally, measures of success and failure would take into account all of these factors and operationalise them. Thus, the success and failure would be measured as the contribution of the expatriate to the mission of the firm and the long-term operations/bottom line of the firm (Palmer and Vamer, 2000; Caligiuri, 1997).

In the following discussion we use the more comprehensive definition of success and failure rather than just premature return or the completion of the time planned and examine success and failure in view of cultural influences.

Since expatriate failure is costly, there has been an increasing attempt to isolate criteria that can contribute to success and select employees for expatriation who meet these criteria. Caligiuri and Di Santo (2001) identified three areas that determine expatriate competence: ability, knowledge, and personality. Results of their study indicate that ability and knowledge can be trained; however, personality is more innate and, therefore, more difficult to manipulate. The developmental goals for the expatriate focus on learning about international business, increasing one's ability to function in another culture, increasing one's openness and flexibility, and decreasing one's ethnocentrism. The conscious learning of one's own culture is not stated as a specific goal.

George et al (1998) discuss a Five-Factor Model of personality including: extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience. These characteristics will determine basic personality traits, such as optimism and pessimism which impact international success (Church and Burke, 1994).

Cultural Factors in Expatriate Success and Failure

While governmental regulations, tax laws, and work permits are grounded in a country's culture and have an effect on the success of expatriates, we will focus on specific cultural dimensions and their effect on expatriate behaviour. We use Japanese, and American culture to illustrate the importance of understanding one's own cultural foundation before dealing with someone from a different culture. These two cultures were chosen because they are very different in their orientations (Adair et al, 2001, Gresser, 1992). The further apart cultures are on the cultural distance index, the more apparent will be the need for cultural adjustment (Xu and Shenkar, 2002). The cultural distance index is a measure for national differences based on Hofstede's classification of culture (Kogut and Singh, 1988; Hofstede, 1980).

If we can isolate the important cultural variables shaping an expatriate's cultural priorities and make the person see his mindset and SRC, a business can, through the intervening variable of cultural adjustment, improve the selection and training of expatriates and thereby improve the success rates in terms of expatriate effectiveness (Caligiuri, 1997; Tung, 1988). In this process managers need to be aware of issues arising from oversimplifications of the cultural variables and overgeneralisations. Osland and Bird (2000) label this oversimplification "sophisticated stereotyping." Ultimately, this approach is dysfunctional because it does not recognise that expatriates are frequently dealing with cultural paradoxes that do not fit into the sophisticated stereotyping of their own or the host culture.

On the relationship between one's own cultural self-awareness and the success and failure in expatriation, we are focusing on cultural constructs identified by Hall (1964), Hofstede (1991), and Trompenaars (1993):
 Group vs individual
 Hierarchy vs Egalitarian
 High context vs low context
 Polychronic time orientation vs monochronic time orientation
 Reliance on fate vs being in charge of one's destiny, including
 attitudes towards change

This is not a comprehensive list, but it illustrates the differences of these cultures clearly (Adair, 2001). Many other factors can also contribute to success and failure, among them, family status, previous experience, technological adaptability and skill. While these are important, they are not the focus of our discussion. We have selected the stated cultural variables because they have been the subject of numerous studies and debates.

The discussion of each of the cultural categories involves three parts: We offer one or more propositions, discuss how the consciously-aware expatriate can use self-knowledge to his advantage, and contrast the typical American and the Japanese cultural behaviour.

Group vs Individual

Proposition 1

Expatriates from group-oriented cultures will focus more on reaching company/group objectives than individual gains and accept and complete expatriate assignments even if they do not bring personal gain.

Proposition 2

Expatriates from individualistically-oriented cultures will weigh company goals against individual goals and opportunities. If there is a conflict, they are likely to decide for reaching individual goals and may leave an expatriate assignment.

If an expatriate consciously knows his approach to negotiations, for example, he is in a better position to clarify goals and the role of the group in negotiations (Arunchalam et al, 1998). In addition, the culturally conscious expatriate can play through several scenarios and examine possible reactions. By understanding preferences, he can identify different approaches and answers of the other side. Self-knowledge in that case contributes to flexibility and anticipation of actions (Caligiuri and Di Santo, 2001).

Hofstede (1991) classifies the United States as one of the most individualistically oriented countries in the world. Most Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American countries are more group oriented. Hayashida (1996) conwasts American individual orientation with Japanese group orientation. He lists four areas that contrast individual and group orientation in the two countries: modesty, work relationships, apologies, and vacations. In his opinion, individuality is not a significant factor in Japan but a way of life in the United States. For example, Japanese tend to view vacations as taking advantage of the company, ff an employee takes a vacation, others must do his work. Americans, on the other hand, consider vacation as essential for rejuvenation. The length of the official vacation time in Japan and the United States may not be that different--in most cases about two weeks--the attitude towards taking the vacation is different.

Japanese avoid being singled out for praise, and boasting is not acceptable, whereas Americans let everyone know what successes they have. What effect does this have on the success of expatriates (Mendenhall et al, 1987)?

For example, American employees generally expect advancement based on merit and achievement (Hofstede, 2001). This attitude is based on deeply-held beliefs about egalitarianism and the importance of self-reliance and is reflected in the increasing popularity of fast track promotions and performance-based compensation. Nakane (1967), a Japanese sociologist, calls this merit and achievement orientation "organisation based on attributes". The employee brings certain attributes to the job and expects that advancement and recognition will be based on the evaluation of these attributes. Among these are performance, education, and experience. The employee is willing to work hard, but he also weighs whether his effort is worth it. For example, will the hard work result in advancement and recognition? If the employee judges that the gain is not high enough to warrant the hard work and dedication, then he may leave the firm. The group/individual orientation has implications for hiring, training, and promotion (Tung, 1998; Pascale, 1978).

In the context of expatriation, the American employee will examine the possibilities for personal career advancement, monetary gain, and personal recognition in order to judge whether a difficult international assignment is worth the pain. Black et al (1999) found that an international assignment is a good move for a manager if the firm has clear international strategic goals. The potential expatriate should, therefore, ask if the foreign assignment will meet both personal advancement and strategic career goals.

Employees in group-oriented societies, such as Japan, are also interested in advancement, but typically, the individual success is subordinated to the obligations to the work group, the company, and the family (Adair et al, 2001). To only focus on individual gains is considered selfish. The reward for accepting the dominance of the group is the support system that the group provides (Tung, 1998; Pascale, 1978; Nakane, 1967). The employee is tied into a network that helps the expatriate to feel less isolated. In Japanese international firms, promising employees are typically rotated through an international assignment. The international tour is not something out of the ordinary, but rather part of the normal career progression. As a result, the employee does not have to worry about his job after coming back from abroad. At the same time, the employee is not expecting great individual gain in recognition and compensation as a result of an international assignment (Tung, 1998).

For example, at Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America (MMMA), Japanese employees are assigned to the plant in Normal, Illinois for three to five years. After their tour of duty they return to Nagoya. The assignment in Normal is considered a regular stage in the employee's working life. It is not seen as an extraordinary experience that is worthy of special treatment or compensation. At Mitsui Trading Co about one-third of all employees above the clerical level work as expatriates at any given time. Their assignment typically lasts for three years, and the assignment is not considered as anything extraordinary; it is part of the job.

Employees from group-oriented cultures like Japan will be less concerned with personal career advancement opportunities. They will accept international assignments as part of the job. An international assignment does not carry much risk for the individual (Forster, 1994). A Japanese expatriate knows there is a job for him when he returns. He does not have to sweat about his return. In the United States, on the other hand, expatriates frequently need to find a place in the company after they return. The re-integration into headquarters is not automatic.


Proposition 3

Expatriates from hierarchical cultures will be more successful than expatriates from egalitarian cultures when success is measured solely as staying the scheduled length of time.

Proposition 4

Expatriates from egalitarian cultures will be more successful than expatriates from hierarchical cultures if success is measured as effective contribution towards necessary changes in organisational objectives.

The consciously aware expatriate can identify where he/she is in the hierarchy of his/her own organisation. He can determine how important the standing in the organisation is. As a result, he will be better able to develop responses and recognise hierarchical patterns in the other organisation. The expatriate will also be able to identify whether his particular attitudes towards hierarchy are shaped by culture or his specific personality.

In hierarchical cultures, employees are more willing to accept their place in the organisation, whereas employees in egalitarian cultures are more prone to expect equal opportunities. The emphasis in the hierarchy is on duty and obligations; in egalitarian cultures it is on rights and opportunities (Hofstede, 2001).

Since the employee in a hierarchical culture, such as Japan, is more closely tied into the organisation, the employee has a greater feeling of loyalty to the organisation. Basically, the company is the reference point for the employee. It provides him with orientation for society as a whole and for his position in the society. If the hierarchy is abusive or experiences significant changes, he may ultimately rebel and leave. However, if the hierarchy takes care of the employee and gives him security, as in a traditional paternalistic system, the employee will repay the organisation with loyalty and hard work (Woodwoah and Nelson, 1980; Pascale, 1978; Nakane, 1972). The employee is willing to accept his place in the hierarchy in return for security. Nevertheless, organisational changes in Japan over the past few years in lifetime employment systems and corporate structures may influence employee behaviour and loyalty in the future. Young Japanese people increasingly are looking for opportunities for their own advancement rather than fitting into the traditional system.

If we define expatriate success as completing the scheduled length of time at a foreign assignment, employees from hierarchical societies may appear more successful than employees from egalitarian societies. The former will simply not question that it is their duty to stay as expected. They and their families might lose face if they return early. In egalitarian societies, on the other hand, the employee will weigh whether his needs are met through an assignment. If the decision is "no," then he may rethink his career decisions and options and return early. The employee will be less willing to be a mere cog in the hierarchy to meet corporate goals.

For example, families of MMMA employees often feel isolated, and particularly the wives fined adjustment difficult. Their husbands spend most of the day at work and interact with other Japanese and Americans at the workplace. The wives' frequently limited English makes it more difficult to meet other Americans and participate in the community. As a result, they may feel isolated. This isolation is faced by many expatriate families (Prud'homme van Reine and Trompenaars, 2000; Briody and Chrisman, 1991; Torbiorn, 1982). Yet, family complaints and unhappiness are not considered reasons to leave an assignment. Such a move would shame the family and bring disgrace to the employee. For American expatriates, on the other hand, the adjustment difficulties for the family are frequently the reason for returning prematurely (Shay and Tracey, 1997). The importance of the family in the success of expatriate assignments is well documented in the literature (Dowling et al, 1999; Black and Stephens, 1989).

If we define success, however, as the contribution to the long-term competitiveness of the firm, the picture may change somewhat. The employee from the hierarchical background may go along with company decisions without questioning the wisdom of the decision. By accepting his place in the hierarchy and not objecting to poor decisions or plans, he may jeopardise the well-being of a project or even the organisation. The employee from a more egalitarian culture, on the other hand, may encourage top executives to explore new approaches by challenging the old ways of doing business. In the process, an employee may return early, not because he was not successful, but because the stay no longer contributed to the goals and mission, at least not in its current form.

High Context Cultures-Low Context Cultures

Proposition 5

Expatriates function more effectively in cultures that are similar to their own in the continuum of low context to high context.

Low context cultures spell things out. They are precise and leave nothing to chance. High context cultures, on the other hand, derive meaning from the context rather than the actual words. The consciously aware expatriate will be aware of the differences between high and low context cultures and ask a number of questions that can contribute to more effective communication. What expectations do I have as to the specificity of communication? How well do I deal with ambiguity? How do I react in the face of Japanese ambiguity? If the expatriate knows her reaction, she may be better prepared to understand and accept differences in communication behaviour.

The perception of similarities and differences of cultures and the perceptions of superiority and inferiority of cultural behaviour also play a role in the adjustment to different cultures. The awareness of one's own self-reference criterion (SRC) and mindset can contribute to a better understanding of the other side's cultural priorities and values.

Hall (1976) arranges cultures on a continuum from low context to high context. In low context cultures, contracts, and precise words are important, whereas high-context cultures focus on the building of relationship, face, and belonging. Because of this, high context cultures tend to be more group oriented and hierarchical.

To maintain harmonious relationships, members of high-context cultures tend to emphasise non-verbal and indirect communication. By the standards of low context cultures, communication in high-context cultures is more ambiguous and vague. Expatriates from low context cultures get easily frustrated with what they perceive to be "circuitous" communication that does not get any where. Expatriates from high-context cultures, on the other hand, feel just as frustrated in low-context cultures with the emphasis on rules and procedures (Hall, 1976). The stress associated with the need to cope with different communication patterns can also lead to frustration and burnout. Stress can be further heightened by a lack of awareness and consciousness of one's own cultural communication patterns and preferences.

Since employees from low-context cultures also tend to be more individualistic and egalitarian (Hofstede, 1991), they may decide that it is not worth staying in an expatriate assignment that is no longer satisfying and meeting their own goals and objectives. Furthermore, since the security of the group-oriented environment may be missing, the employee from a low-context culture may very well feel even more isolated and alone. Arguably, the expatriate from the high-context environment has the support system of the work group and the firm behind him.

Increasingly, firms use host-country nationals or third-country nationals to staff managerial positions in their international subsidiaries (Harzing, 2001; Kobrin, 1988). As a result, the support group for the expatriate is smaller. For example, American firms have cut back considerably on the numbers of expatriate positions they staff. The reduced numbers of expatriates who remain are more isolated and confronted with cultural differences in communicating than in the past when companies had a greater number of expatriates. Japanese firms, on the other hand, have continued to use expatriates to a much greater extent (Harzing, 2001). For example, MMMA has up to 100 Japanese expatriates at any given time. The size of the expatriate community within the firm provides a "safe" zone. The expatriate can regularly retreat to familiar communication patterns.

Polychronic Time--Monochronic Time

Proposition 6

A greater ability to adapt to different time orientations affects the success of expatriates positively. Nevertheless, the greater the difference in time orientation, the more difficult the adjustment will be.

The consciously aware expatriate will use self-knowledge to plan itineraries and ask questions such as: What is my time orientation? How important are deadlines? How urgent is a certain meeting? What is crucial and where can I give? What impact will my time orientation have on company goals and profitability? By knowing his own priorities, likes and dislikes, the expatriate can plan better and deal with different perceptions of time.

American culture places great value on efficient use of time. Time is money. We can make time, save time, waste time. In many ways Americans are obsessed with time measurement (Hall, 1976). Punctuality is a crucial characteristic of the successful business person.

People from polychronic environments do not live as much by the clock. Things have a natural schedule and calendar. They get done when the time is ready, when the need arises.

The self-reference criterion may lead people from monochronic backgrounds to describe people from polychronic backgrounds as lazy, lying, and not trust-worthy. On the other hand, it may lead people from polychronic backgrounds to describe employees from monochronic backgrounds as cold, pushy and unrealistic. The adjustment is a problem for both sides, and differences have to be worked through (Osman-Gani, 2000; Reynolds, 1978; Lee, 1966). Japanese culture lies somewhere between polychronic and monochronic orientation. Traditional Japanese businesspeople place high value on the development of relationships, a time-consuming activity. Japanese businesspeople who are working globally are more adapted to the monochronic orientation of American society, at least when it comes to the scheduling and starting times of meetings. This may be due to systematic gaining for expatriates (Nakasako, 2002; Yamamoto, 2002).

We would argue that the adjustment to polychronic orientation is more difficult than the other way around. However, it is possible that this simply shows the preponderance of the authors' own western, monochronic time orientation.

American expatriates find it difficult to adjust to the time it takes to build relationships in high-context cultures like Japan that are means rather than ends oriented (Zhao, 2000). Even if American expatriates are adjusting to a different time orientation, they still face the problem of communicating with headquarters back home. Usually, managers at headquarters have no or little tolerance for different ways of getting things done. They may push for deadlines where a more relaxed approach might be more productive. The expatriate may feel squeezed in the middle.

Belief in Fate vs Being in Charge of Own Destiny

Proposition 7

The expatriate who believes in fate will be more likely to remain with the company regardless of concerns about career development.

Proposition 8

The expatriate who believes that he/she is in charge of his/her own destiny (strong internal locus of control) is more likely to leave the company during or after an expatriate assignment if it fails to fulfill career expectations.

The consciously aware expatriate can determine how much control over the situation he/she has. He/she can also ask how important that control is and how control can contribute to emotional well-being. As a result, he/she can determine what safeguards to implement to deal with lack of control (George et al, 1998).

Americans tend to believe that they are in charge of their destiny as is illustrated by the numerous "rags-to-riches stories". With hard work, anything is possible and should be possible. The reality may be slightly different, but the belief is deeply held. That means each employee is responsible for career development, advancement, and opportunities. With such a strong internal locus of control, one cannot wait for someone else to take care of one's career path. Therefore, Americans build their resumes and acquire portable credentials, such as an MBA.

If, however, one believes that fate rules one's life, the individual can do little to influence fate, in fact, such an attempt would be seen as foolish. That means the employee is more likely to take his place and not to challenge superiors.

In the context of expatriation this would mean that the expatriate who feels in charge of his/her destiny will do everything possible to affect the outcome in his/ her favour and challenge the status quo if necessary. In the short run, such an employee may appear less successful from the viewpoint of the company because he/she may be more outspoken on problems and be more likely to return home early. In the long run, however, he/she may be more successful at the personal as well as the organisational level. Furthermore, the persistent challenging of the company's way of doing business may also propel the company forward even if in the short run the employee leaves the firm.

American employees return from expatriate assignments with certain expectations for their post-expatriate career development, and frequently they are disappointed when expected promotions do not materialise (Tung, 1998; Forster, 1994; Guzzo et al, 1994). This is in contrast to Japanese expatriates for whom expatriation is simply part of one's job. In those cases the career path is clearer. Based on the Japanese corporate model in which the role of the employee is more assured, Japanese employees are not making demands when they return from foreign assignments and don't expect separate treatment. Americans, on the other hand, typically expect that they will advance their careers and that the foreign assignment will boost their careers (Tung, 1998). If those expectations are not met, they are likely to leave. If the expatriate leaves, the company will lose much of its investment unless the company has been able to institutionalise the knowledge gained during the assignment (Palmer and Vamer, 2002).

Role of Self-Knowledge in Development of Expatriates

The cultural orientation of expatriates does affect how people will react in various expatriate situations. In order to effectively deal with these different orientations, the expatriate needs to know her own cultural priorities and their effects on business actions and behaviours. As we have pointed out earlier, some aspects are determined by culture, some by personality. Traits that are shaped by personality are more difficult to influence, but self-knowledge and serf-awareness can contribute to changes in behaviours, and company actions can support their development. An awareness of one's own culture and personality does have implications both for the selection and the training of expatriates.

We propose a series of four stages in using cultural awareness to achieve expatriate success. Both the individual and the company need to be involved in all four stages. The process is recursive; for example, an employee who is in Stage 4 will also continuously reassess his own cultural orientation and self-awareness and make necessary adjustments. Figure 1 illustrates the connection between the cultural propositions and the stages of development of successful expatriates.


Stage 1

In this stage the company screens for personality characteristics. The research shows that certain personality traits such as flexibility, sense of adventure, and openness are more innate and difficult to change (Caligiuri and Di Santo, 2001). These are also personality traits that contribute to success in expatriation (Nicholson et al, 1990). Therefore, the question arises how employees without these traits can be trained to acquire them or whether it makes sense to screen them out of the selection process. There is support in the literature for considering personality variables as selection criteria for expatriate assignments (Selmer, 2001; Goldberg, 1992). For example, employees who recognise the behaviours that can contribute to success will be better able to link their personal behaviour to possible outcomes of interactions and, therefore adapt their behaviour to the cultural priorities of foreign business partners. Stage 1 would be a first hurdle in expatriate selection, but it would not necessarily exclude a person. While lower levels of serf-awareness may be indicators of potential problems during expatriation, there is evidence that training can contribute to the development of conscious self-awareness (Porter and Tansky, 1996).

Stage 2

During this stage, the employee concentrates on studying her personal and cultural preferences. The employee will determine likes and dislikes. This self-discovery will include personal aspects but also concentrate on knowledge of and attitudes towards corporate goals (Piske, 2002). The company will provide training opportunities to help the employee in this self-discovery process. The training can take place in a variety of ways, through classroom instructions, readings, and experiential learning, such as visits to foreign branches (Kealey and Protheroe, 1996). The crucial aspect is that it is consciousness raising and increases awareness of self. The employee at the end of this stage should be able to clearly identify her priorities and the foundations for these priorities. The success of this stage depends on the honesty of the self-appraisal. In addition, the employee is consciously storing this knowledge and awareness for later recall. In the long run that "knowledge settles into memory and spurs reactions in social and business situations naturally and unconsciously" (Black et al, 1999). Research questions for this stage include: Are successful expatriates, by nature, more aware of their own cultural orientation than less successful expatriates? Do successful expatriates develop a more conscious self-awareness than less successful expatriates while they are on foreign assignment?

Stage 3

In this stage, the expatriate studies the other culture, both the visible culture (what) and the underlying reasons (why) of the culture. He will also study his reactions to it and his level of tolerance for differences. Black et al (1999) discuss three phases for this stage. First, the manager needs to become aware of the differences between his own and the other culture; he needs to observe what the natives do. For example, the manager becomes aware of the other culture's attitude towards change, authority, and commitment to business objectives (Alas and Sharifi, 2002). Then he can work on retaining this knowledge by creating a cognitive map of the observed behaviour. He begins to understand what behaviour is acceptable under what circumstances. In the later parts of this stage, the manager fries out the new behaviour. He experiments with the new-found knowledge.

Research indicates that expatriates can also learn effective coping strategies for other cultures through training (Selmer, 2001); however, the more different the host culture is from the home culture, the more challenging this process is (Porter and Tansky, 1999). An expatriate who acquires culture-specific skills, intercultural competency, and the ability to negotiate the host culture will gain emotional satisfaction and, therefore, be able to adjust more successfully to the host culture (Ward and Chang, 1997; Ward and Kennedy, 1996).

Stage 4

During this stage the expatriate will explore possible adaptation strategies to the other culture. He will also look at the implications for doing business in that culture. The level of adaptation by both sides will be influenced by their own cultural backgrounds and expectations; the optimal adaptation needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. As Hetrick (2002) discusses, policies rarely can be applied globally; they need to be adapted to the local culture. Alas and Sharifi (2002) identify several barriers to the adaptation process, among them resistance to change and uncritical clinging to traditions. Successful adaptation may require the unlearning of old practices (Senge, 1997; Nystrom and Starbuck, 1984). One of the questions for this stage is: To what extent does self-awareness contribute to meaningful adaptation? How far should adaptation go? Porter and Tansky (1999) argue that self-awareness contributes to an active learning orientation. People who have a learning orientation believe that personal characteristics are malleable. In order to change, however, people need to be knowledgeable of their preferences, meaning they have to develop self-awareness (Porter and Tansky, 1999). Training can contribute to the consciousness of behaviour and then contribute to the change of behaviour (Decker and Nathan, 1985).

This stage is somewhat consistent with Osland and Bird's (2000) fifth stage in teaching about cultural understanding in which learners focus on learning schemas from other contexts. Cultural mentors, who may be experienced expatriates, help learners test their hypothesised solutions to problems as a way of developing more complex understanding of the other culture.

In all four stages, training plays a crucial role. At a minimum, it seems, training can articulate an organised framework of one's own culture that the expatriate can draw on when confronted with different cultural priorities. Such a framework can serve as a baseline or reference point, like a cultural compass.

Training focused on familiarisation with the foreign culture is important for expatriates from all cultures because businesses will function more smoothly if the expatriates know the cultural implications for communicating and working with employees from different backgrounds. Just as important, however, is the systematic knowledge of their own cultural value structure and its effect on the interface with the target culture. Such training is typically not taking place because it is assumed that employees are familiar with their own cultural orientations and biases. However, awareness of cultural priorities does not come automatically; rather it needs to be developed explicitly. Conscious self-awareness contributes to the likelihood of success in expatriation; therefore, companies should include it in the preparation of their expatriates. This seems particularly important for American firms since unsuccessful American expatriates are more likely to leave their firms after repatriation than Japanese expatriates. Training in self-awareness, therefore, would be cost-effective if it leads to greater success and retention of expatriates. Yet, research indicates that American expatriates receive much less training than their Japanese counterparts (Tung, 1998). For long-range effectiveness, training needs to be complemented with the employee's willingness and ability to use the training in the new environment. This willingness may be affected by the length of the assignment and the level of cultural difference (Dowling et al, 1999).

Training in cultural awareness needs to be an ongoing process because the employees, their companies, and the environment in which they operate all change. For example, many Japanese multinationals are retreating from the guarantee of lifetime employment and are embracing pay and advancement based on merit. Toyota, for example has had huge layoffs and a change in company policy. Daimler/ Chrysler, which bought a controlling share of Mitsubishi Motors, drastically changed the composition of the board of Mitsubishi Motors and restructured operations in view of huge losses (Dawson et al, 2001). In both cases younger and more personally ambitious people have been promoted over more senior employees (Landers, 2000). If such changes take hold, attitudes of expatriates from Japan will most likely change. As a result, they may also become more individualistic and begin to place greater priority on their own career development over quiet and dedicated service to the company. Therefore, changes from lifetime employment to merit may narrow the differences between American and Japanese expatriate characteristics.

American companies are changing as well. Increasingly, American companies employ host country nationals to fill managerial positions and cut back on the number of expatriates. As a result, more American managers are going for shorter time periods to foreign subsidiaries (Jones, 2000). These short term foreign assignments and visits should be systematically studied to determine what kind of cultural preparation and cultural self-awareness can contribute to success.

In summary, an expatriate's own cultural background greatly influences how successful he/she will be in a foreign assignment. Therefore, self awareness, analysis of one's own values, and their effects on behaviour need to be an integral part of expatriate training both before and during the foreign assignment. Once the expatriate understands his/her own cultural orientation, he/she can much better focus on relevant elements in the target culture and make the changes in strategy necessary to achieve organisational goals.

Clearly, the role of self-knowledge has been largely overlooked in the literature and in the process of expatriation by firms. More careful study of the role of the self-reference criterion in cultural adaptation has the potential of providing knowledge that can help firms improve the success of expatriation.


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