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Expatriation: Connecting Core and Periphery

Talent mobility seems a logical response for the MNC; however, the nature and purpose of mobility is mediated by the prevalent HR philosophies about talent and its management. Cerdin and Brewster [67] observe that there are two streams of thought as follows: ‘(1) the elitist, or talent segmentation, approach focused on a few chosen individuals, often termed “high potentials”, in whom the organization invests, and (2) a broad aspect of Human Resource Management where all employees are considered as talent’ (p. 245). Following the first stream of thought, intrafirm mobility via expatriation—that is moving employees from the MNC’s headquarters, or core, outwards to ‘peripheral’ units—is seen as providing a few high-value individuals with experiences that will be beneficial for the long-term strategic goals of the organization.

Under the second broader understanding of inclusive talent, expatriation is regarded [67] ‘as an invaluable developmental experience offered to employees being assigned abroad, rather than restricted to just the declared “developmental” assignments, and is seen as an additional “weapon” in the “armory” of talent-management specialists’ (p. 247). Using this approach, mobility seeks to promote a more diffuse experiential richness for individuals and for the organization as a whole, rather than to limit it to those that have been identified as having high talent, potential, or power. Further, initiating and promoting the transfer of MNC participants demonstrates an organizational desire to integrate HR practice and to further internationalize the existing organization [68, 69].

Reviewing the global mobility literature, Caligiuri and Bonache [70] identify three main reasons for expatriation prior to the 1990s: (a) exercising of control over units of the MNC; (b) filling existing positions; and (c) providing management development. Since the late 1990s, organizations have increasingly been confronted with the reluctance of organizational participants to commit to long-term stays abroad, the recognition that expatriates may experience transcultural difficulties, and the growing appreciation of the significant expenses, direct and indirect, of traditional expatriate arrangements. All of these factors have influenced the traditional concept of the expatriation and have forced a re-evaluation of the benefits and value added to the organization by this kind of mobility [71].

In the last twenty-five years, there has been a growing trend for expatriate placement to be of shorter durations, revolving around a specific project, and with the expatriate not to be accompanied by family or significant others [72-75]. In economic environments that have become more challenging and competitive, employees have become more aware of their career vulnerability, of their own mobility, and of the developmental advantages that mobility offers. This has resulted in a greater employee interest in accepting short-term assignments abroad, leading PricewaterhouseCooper [76] to suggest that firms and their participants should view talent redistribution as ‘a more fluid concept, driven by strategic need but also by the desire to optimise the investment in a mobility programme’ (p. 11).

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