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The transfer of organisational practices: a diachronic perspective

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2009
JournalThe International Journal of Human Resource Management
Journal number8
Volume20
Number of pages21
Pages1683-1703
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Extensive research has been undertaken on the transfer of organizational practices by multinational firms (e.g. Morgan, Kristensen and Whitley 2001; Ferner, Quintanilla, and Sánchez-Runde 2006). However, little investigation has assessed the role that time plays in this process. The commonplace theoretical assumption is that as their overseas subsidiaries become more embedded in the local environment they increasingly take on the practices that prevail locally (Rosenzweig and Nohria 1994; Farley, Hoenig and Yang 2004). There have, though, been few longitudinal studies that would allow the veracity of this assumption or its implications to be assessed; most studies provide one-off, synchronic ‘snapshots’ of organizations. Drawing upon research conducted at a UK-owned retail firm in China between 1999 and 2005, this paper provides a diachronic perspective that can trace emergent trends. Data are derived from mixed methods: 140 interviews with expatriate managers and local staff from all levels of the hierarchy, a three month period of ethnographic research and a total of 305 survey questionnaires. Comparison between findings from the more recent research and those based upon the earlier research suggests that time does play a role in affecting transplanted organizational practices. We report that in some respects the organizational practices of the firm in question increasingly took on more of the ‘colour’ of those that prevailed in the host environment. However, convergence with local practices was far from total, some practices bear increasing resemblance to the firm's parent country operation. We also caution that it is difficult to disentangle the isomorphic influence of the passage of time from factors such as the rapid withdrawal of expatriate managers from the operational level and the impact of the firm's rapid expansion across China. Moreover, we suggest that the local–global dichotomy, upon which much of the convergence–divergence debate rests, is perhaps increasingly problematic.