Expanding abroad, a company inevitably faces the dilemma in human resource management. It can either hire local employees and train them in corporate culture and practices or rely on bringing expatriate workforce. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. Considering the sales workforce, the company will most probably recognize the need to offer cross-cultural training to expatriates to ensure that they can function adequately in a foreign landscape. This paper will consider the relative pros and cons of expatriates versus local hires and outline training and familiarisation procedures for home-based expatriates.
Home Based Expatriates versus Local Nationals
In conducting sales abroad, the company can choose two fundamental ways to sell its products:
- Using home-based salespeople who will function from the head office, reaching out to customers overseas;
- Using the workforce in the area, hiring local people.
The advantages of the locals are apparent: they have grown up in the culture in which they will be working and will find a common language with customers more efficiently. It means that they do not need the cultural adjustment that will include training for expatriates. Their interactions with customers will depend only on their qualities, and not on gaps in cultural knowledge.
Besides, experienced salespeople are more likely to have a developed network of contacts in an industry that will help them improve their sales. The importance of networking in sales can hardly be overrated, and it is imperative that the salesperson can either have it “ready-made” or can quickly develop it on the spot.
This is more difficult in the case of home-based expatriates who will have only sporadic contacts with their clients and limited opportunity to attend local events.
The downside of hiring local nationals is often lack of understanding of the culture of a specific corporation and the nation on which it is based. For example, a Japanese hire employed in a US company should have a clear understanding of American business culture to interact efficiently with superiors. For this reason, Gross & Hewes (1997) recommend American companies to look for motivated and educated employees on campuses of American universities. These people will be trained in American culture, at the same time preserving connections with their homeland. However, in Japan, for instance, “returnees,” many of whom are in their 30s, have, will have, or believe they will have, a difficult time readjusting to the highly formalized Japanese way of doing business” (Gross & Hewes, 1997). It is to be considered when hiring locals. In general, each nation will have its traditions to consider.
In the case of expatriates, it is easier to do internal recruiting, selecting people who are already familiar with the company, understand the product line, and have experience in the industry. However, cross-cultural barriers can become a problem. Expatriates should be given intensive cross-cultural training before their assignments, which in turn can create extra expenses for the company and add to the costs of the workforce. Besides, cross-cultural training may not solve the adjustment problem and takes time, which may reduce the flexibility of the workforce. The geographical location of expatriates in the home office will most certainly be a downside to business as these people will have to travel to reach their assignments. It also adds to the costs of doing business via expatriates since the company will incur costs related to business travel such as airfare, hotels, etc.
Overall, the company should strive to maintain an optimal employee mix, combining expatriates with local managers. A Global Human Resource Metrics model proposed by De Cieri and Boudreau (2003) may be of use when determining exact proportions.
Training and Familiarisation Procedures
Cross-cultural training can include a variety of various procedures aimed at familiarising employees with different aspects of the culture in which they are expected to function. In training, expatriates should acquire different competencies, including stable and dynamic ones, and obtain both factual and conceptual knowledge. Factual knowledge includes basic facts about the history and background of a certain country, its economic, political, and social life. Theoretical experience, in contrast, reflects “an understanding of how the particular country views and values central concerns such as appropriate forms of behaviors, individual rights, and group membership and its associated obligations, and obligations to the state” (Leiba-O’Sullivan, 1999, p.79). Competencies will include conflict resolution strategies, self-maintenance skills, cultural knowledge, and others.
The first procedure in cross-cultural training should be self-assessment. An employee should obtain adequate knowledge of his or her cross-cultural competence and ability to deal with foreign clientele. The managers in this process should get an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses when they interact with people of a different culture. In the process of self-assessment, “by identifying their attributes, managers can capitalize on their strengths and minimize their weaknesses” (Harrison, 1994, p.17). To learn about their attributes, managers can be required to do a variety of tests that will expose them to this knowledge. They can, for instance, be tested for the knowledge of factual information about a country or conceptual understanding of interaction mechanisms.
Training programs should include the information-oriented component that will increase expatriates’ factual knowledge about a nation. This component is “characterized by cognitive acquisition through lectures, videotapes, and reading materials” (York, 1994, p. 102). An employee in sales will undoubtedly benefit from the knowledge of a country’s economy, income levels, consumption patterns. B2B sales are difficult without the knowledge of legal business forms in the nation, corporate structures, and similar information that can be delivered in the form of lectures or online presentations. Information training is a useful prerequisite for the development of relevant skills; however, on its own, it does not produce skills in employees and should, therefore, be used only in combination with other methods.
No less important is training in cognitive-behavioral aspects of cross-cultural adjustments in which an individual learns “culturally conditioned systems of rewards and punishments that operate in the target culture” (York, 1994, p. 102). In cognitive- behavioral training, an employee can be given courses in conflict resolution that can be applied to foreign cultures. For this purpose, for instance, a cultural assimilator can be applied (Corhonen, 2003). This method involves an offer of several solutions to the same problem where only one answer is correct. For example, employees are given information about a corporate conflict that could have evolved in China or somewhere else and are asked to evaluate the options for dealing with this conflict. In the course of training, they have to select the correct solution out of the choices proposed. It is necessary in this case that the instructor provides explicit answers to the questions of trainees concerning the choice of an explanation.
Employees should also be given a chance to experience interactive training “intended to familiarize trainees with the target culture by using experienced sojourners or target culture representatives to teach from their perspectives” (York, 1994, p. 102). The trainers can bring people with the relevant cultural background into the training room to show employees the details of their cultures. They can recount episodes where culture is especially strongly manifested, encountered differences and answer trainees’ questions concerning possible problems. It is ideal when the person addressing the audience has experience studying both the learned culture and source culture of trainees. For example, a Japanese executive who has long interacted with Americans would be in the best position to address a group of US salespeople to tell them about mistakes frequently made by their American colleagues.
Finally, employees can go through experiential training that will probably be most effective as the final part of their assignment. This kind of training will include “interactive or immersion language training, role-playing techniques, cultural assimilators, and simulations, and site visits or training within the foreign setting” (Chadwin, Sum, Rogers, 1995, p. 517). Experiential training presupposes immersion in a foreign culture in which the person experiences it first-hand. It most closely resembles the real assignments that the person will conduct abroad. In the course of role plays, a person can train his or her skills in cross-cultural communication. A salesperson may find it useful to go through a role play that will replicate the sales negotiations with a foreign partner.
The importance of cultural adjustment to a new culture can hardly be overrated. The problems in this area frequently contribute to the failure of expatriate assignments in foreign nations. Employees working from a home-based office to conduct sales to foreign countries will also find themselves at a disadvantage compared to local nationals who are well aware of local cultural peculiarities. However, expatriates can often bring in many useful things in the functioning of the firm, having a thorough understanding of business and corporate policies. Therefore, they should be used in combination with local hires, maintaining an optimal mix between the two. In case of using expatriates, the company should provide extensive training to ensure their integration in society in which they will be working.
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