Acculturation profiles of expatriate managers: Implications for cross-cultural training programs

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Content: Acculturation Profiles of Expatriate Managers: Implications for CrossCultural training programs
Mark Mendenhall Gary Oddou
A taxonomy of expatriate acculturation profiles is delineated and its implications for overseas personnel selection and training policies are examined.
THE NEED FOR multinational corporations (MNCs) to focus more concerted efforts into the design and implementation of their overseas personnel selection, training and support programs is well documented in the intemational human resource management literature (Casse, 1982; Harvey, 1983; Kohls, 1984; 1985; Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985; Schwind, 1985; Gary Oddou is an Associate Professor of Marketing and Management at the San Jose State University. He is currently involved in research on international human resources and the evaluation of unconventional management and organizational development programs. Mark Mendenhall is an Assistant Professor of International Management at Loyola Marymount University. His research and consulting interests are in the areas of international human resources, Japanese management practices, and expatriate acculturation.
Tung, 1981). One significant factor delaying human resource divisions of MNCs in addressing this issue is the belief among many personnel administrators that the acculturation process is not understood well enough to create valid selection and training programs. (Adler, 1983a; 1983b; Baker & Ivancevich, 1971; Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985; Schwind, 1985). This concern of human resource managers is not entirely unwarranted. Research in expatriate acculturation has tended to address the phenomenon in a one-dimensional fashion, often ignoring other variables that may affect acculturation (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985; Schwind, 1985). Indeed, most of the conceptual models created to explain and predict acculturation have themselves been narrow in scope, focusing on discrete aspects
of the acculturation process (e.g., "Culture Shock" (Hall, 1959; Oberg, 1960; Smalley, 1963), "Role Shock" (Byrnes, 1966; Higbee, 1969), "Culture Fatigue" (Guthrie, 1967), the "Blue Loop/Red Loop Leaming Cycle" (Ratiu, 1983) and the "Subjective Adjustment Model" (Torbiom, 1982)). To date, the research literature addresses expatriate acculturation in a post hoc manner; that is, behaviors that aid or hinder acculturation are observed in the field or derived after the fact via interviews, surveys, etc. While this approach has aided the field significantly by outlining the dimensions of acculturation (for a review see Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985; Oddou & Mendenhall, 1984), it does not address issues of causation (i.e., why the expatriate in question
behaves the way he/she does in spe- such an "individual-oriented" ap- more suited to certain types of cul-
cific situations).
proach to cross-cultural training, so tures/countries than others. The re-
The variation of behavioral patterns of expatriates--and the relationship of those patterns to subsequent accul-
trainers generally design programs that are aimed at teaching groups, not individuals.
search design permutations of such a taxonomy seem to be numerous. Such a taxonomy of behavioral pro-
turation, productivity and failure-- Third, a taxonomy of acculturation files can be based on Mendenhall &
has remained largely uncharted in the profiles would be of heuristic value to Oddou's 1985 review of the accul-
literature. The creation of a taxonomy researchers in the field as well as to turation literature. Based on their re-
of expatriate acculturation profiles, MNCs. By classifying expatriates view, a variety of variables (see Table
based upon inherent behavioral ten- into behavioral profiles before de- 1) were found to have significant
dencies of overseas candidates, would parture, a reference point exists by impact on the acculturation process.
aid the field in a number of ways. which subsequent measures can be They hypothesized that the variables
A taxonomy that links specific behavioral tendencies to probable level of overseas productivity would be a useful tool in validating the selection process of expatriate employees.
statistically compared. Thus, expatriates can be more easily tracked throughout their overseas stay in order to study how and in what areas they change, what causes significant change, what does not, and whether
given in Table 1 can be subsumed within three dimensions: the SelfOrientation dimension, the OthersOrientation dimensions and the Perceptual-Orientation dimension.
MNCs currently utilize narrow cri- continued cross-cultural training while teria in the selection of expatriate overseas has a positive impact (e.g., Self-Orientation
employees (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985; Tung, 1981). For additional valid criteria to begin to be seen as viable by top management, the implications of those criteria on the overseas productivity of specific expatriates need to be delineated. Thus, as instruments are developed to measure the behavioral factors that are important to acculturation and productivity, candidates with higher probabilities of overseas success (as defined by the taxonomy) can be found and expatriated. A taxonomic knowledge of how trainees rate on measures of acculturation would also allow cross-cul-
do their scores increase in all the behavioral factors, thus shifting them into a more favorable taxonomic cate-
The orientation refers to the degree to which the expatriate expresses an adaptive concern for self-preserva-
gorization or profile?). The taxonomic tion, self-enjoyment, and mental hy-
categories have been linked to subse- giene. An expatriate with a healthy
quent acculturation outcomes (this Self-Orientation (SO) tends to engage
will be discussed in more detail later in reinforcement substitution (replac-
in the paper); thus, the profiles can ing activities that bring pleasure in the
act as research hypotheses. The profiles posited to be more facilitative of acculturation can be empirically tested and compared to the other profiles to ascertain the validity of the taxonomy. Also, the relationship between specific acculturation profiles and specific countries/cultures can be investigated. It may be that some profiles are
home culture with similar--yet different--activities that exist in the host culture) in order to enjoy more fully his/her experience in the host culture. Also, expatriates with a strong SO consistently use specific stress reduction techniques in order to reduce the pressures that result from an overseas assignment. Expatriates with a high
tural trainers to significantly enhance
pre-departure cross-cultural training
programs for expatriates. Cross-
cultural training program design has tended to showcase methods that ad-
dress specific factors or skills while
A Three Dimensional Approach to Understanding
downplaying and/or ignoring others
Expatriate Acculturation
(Brislin, 1979; Gudykunst, Hammer & Wiseman, 1977; Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985; Sehwind, 1985). Know-
ing each trainee's strengths and weak-
nesses in behavioral tendencies critical Stress Reduction
Relationship Skills
Flexible Attributions
to overseas success would allow the Reinforcement
Willingness to
Broad Category Width
trainer to "individualize" the training program, developing skills trainees are deficient in and reinforcing existing strengths. Also, knowing specific weaknesses of trainees would allow
Substitution Physical Mobility Technical Competence Dealing with Alienation Dealing with Isolation Realistic Expectations
Communicate Non-verbal communication Respect for Others Empathy for Others
High Tolerance for Ambiguity Being Non-judgmental Being Open-Minded Field-Independence
the trainer to help the expatriate pre- prior to departure
pare to deal with specific kinds of
cross-cultural experiences most likely Note: For a more in-depth discussion of these variables, see Mendenhall & Oddou,
to cause them stress. Currently, there
(1985); Oddou & Mendenhall (1984).
is no conceptual guide that facilitates
s o also are self-confident about their The following taxonomy of ex- mentally healthy individual who is technical expertise in terms of the patriate acculturation styles categorize truly interested in doing a good job
primary task of their assignment. how expatriates with specific skill for his/her organization. However, These behavioral factors have as their combinations will fare in terms of due to a naivete concerning the host-
goal the preservation of the "self" and future acculturation. The levels of at- culture's values and norms, he/she its varied interests, which allows ex- tainment of the three dimensions of can often--despite good intentions--
patriates to feel secure as they go acculturation have been compart- snatch defeat out of the jaws of vic-
about their work overseas.
mentalized into two categories: strong tory by misinterpreting confusing
(-I-) and weak (--), reffecting levels situations.
Others-Orientation The Others-Orientation (OO) refers to the degree to which the expatriate is concerned about host-national co-workers and desires to affiliate with them. The factors of relationship development and willingness to communicate make up this orientation. The well-adjusted expatriate is not an iconoclast, but desires to help, teach, and learn from his/her hostnational counterparts.
of expertise that are above or below the norm; in reality, these dimensions are to be viewed as continuums of ability ranging from virtually nonexistant to very strong. They have been compartmentalized, at this point, for illustrative purposes. The delineation of the taxonomic behavioral profiles are given below: The "Ideal Expatriate" -f SO -I- OO -1- PO
This cluster is termed the "Wellintentioned Missionary" because it reffects behavior that is often exhibited by well-meaning "brand-new" missionaries when they first confront behavior that is acceptable in the host culture but violates their personal value and belief systems (e.g., spouseabuse, immorality, etc.). They truly want to be effective, yet they evaluate the host-nationals' behavior and beliefs from their own value systems and immediately take culturally inappro-
Perceptnal-Orientation This orientation refiects the expertise the expatriate possesses in accurately understanding why host-nationals engage in seemingly "inappropriate" or "strange" behaviors. The well-adjusted expatriate tends to be open-minded, more able and willing
An individual who is perceptive of the underlying reasons of hostnational behavior, who is genuinely concerned with helping develop hostnationals in an unassuming and natural way, and can relax and provide him-/herself with reinforcing outside activities. Such an individual is likely to be a well-adjusted expatriate.
priate actions to "correct" the problem. Such behavior often leads to alienation from the host-nationals. Similarly, until an expatriate manager with this cluster can become more sophisticated in his/her PO, the hostnational subordinates will likely not perform up to expectations at work.
to be non-judgemental in his/her
The "Type A Expatriate"
worldview, exhibits fiexible or "loose" attributions, and has a high tolerance
The "Academic Observer"
-- SO -1- OO + PO
for ambiguity.
-1- SO -- OO -f PO
This combination reveals a per-
ceptive and team-oriented expatriate
An expatriate with this combi- who possesses good intercultural
A TAXONOMY OF EXPATRIATE ACCULTURATION PROFILES Managers already possess distinct levels of expertise in acculturation skills--and it is likely that they already are skilled in at least one of the three general orientations of expatriate acculturation. An ideal candidate for overseas assignment would be strong in all three orientations and their attendant skills before relocating overseas; however, such individuals are the exception; most expatriates markedly differ in their degrees of ability in each orientation. The likelihood of successful acculturation can be predicted based on
nation is likely to be very perceptive and accurate in his/her understanding and appraisals of host-nationals' behavior and their culture. Also, he/she is able to find aspects of the hostculture rewarding, and deals with stress effectively. However, such an individual is somewhat detached from others--^both host-nationals and their fellow expatriates. They are in their own ivory-tower, happy and content, yet aloof. They enjoy their overseas stay and do fairly well in their assignment, yet they are not as effective as they could be due to their reticence in developing friendships and mentoring--or being mentored by--^hostnationals.
skills, yet either has low self-esteem or cannot deal with stress very well; the result: A potentially effective expatriate performing below capability. No matter how perceptive and caring an expatriate is, situations arise in a new culture that are emotionally, socially, and psychologically stressful. Individuals in this category also are less able to deal with homesickness and feelings of isolation than are other expatriates, as they do not have welldeveloped skills in dealing with stress and change. Until this type of individual can learn to deal with stress or feel more confident in his/her job, the extent of their acculturation and effectiveness is limited.
the degree to which the overseas can-
didate already possesses skills in the key factors that contribute to acculturation. Each overseas candidate has a unique "profile" of existing crosscultural skills.
The "Well-intentioned Missionary" -f SO -t- OO -- PO The expatriate with this combination is a sincere, responsible and
The "Introvert" + SO -- OO-H PO This combination is very similar to that of the "Academic Ob-
WlNTER 1986
server" except for a difference in the host-nationals who they perceive as skills are average to high and cultural
valence of the SO. Whereas the strong. They then depend on these toughness is low to moderate, the
"Academic Observer" has a strong individuals--not unlike a child de- expatriate can generally expect to ex-
and healthy ego and chooses not to pends on a parent--for direction and perience a successful and fulfilling
socialize and interact with others support. By doing this they can stay overseas. However, when exist-
more by choice, the "Introvert" can- maintain a form of control over the ing acculturation skills are low to
not interact with others effectively due alien environment. It is not a healthy average and cultural toughness is
to his/her insecurities. The fact that approach to the situation, however. high to moderate, it is likely the expa-
the person has a strong PO exacer- The person whom the "Dependent triate will exhibit poor performance
bates the problem, for the "Intro- Expatriate" clings to for help ulti- with the likelihood of premature re-
vert" perceives the potentials for mately begins to feel resentment patriation being high. The "survival"
acculturation but cannot realize the towards the "dependent expatriate" cells indicate expatriates who "get by"
opportunities due to fear or a self- for encroaching on his/her time, per- overseas, who "wait out their stay."
perceived social ineptness. The result sonal life, good will and job exper- Their performance is adequate, meet-
of this combination is intense feelings tise. This situation leads to a variety ing the minimum standards of the
of frustration, guilt, and a sense of of problems that often force an early firm, but does not reflect any creativ-
feeling socially hamstrung--which in return to the home country.
ity or initiative.
turn can lead to bitterness and/or
socially inappropriate behavior at
work and in the home.
It is important to note that these relationships portrayed in Chart 1 are not static and predetermined. Change can occur. With proper
The "Ugly American"
While the above taxonomies are training, potential expatriates can--
-)_SO --OO --PO
useful in delineating the diversity of and do--increase their acculturation
Characterized by a high degree of self-confidence and ego-strength yet low cross-cultural interpersonal and attributional skills, the "Ugly American" is maladjusted but does not know it. When host-nationals fail to "come-around" to this type of expatriate's point of view he/she attributes it to their backward culture, ignorance, or lack of desire to better themselves. It is beyond credulity to the "Ugly American" that the hostnationals would not desire to copy the American way of doing things, whether at work or in society generally, since it is obviously superior to the methods of the host-nationals. His/her tendency is to continue to force Western ways upon the hostnationals, which unfailingly produces resentment, silent resistance, sabotage, and/or physical confrontation.
acculturation readiness in potential expatriates, an important mediating variable to the above scheme is that of "cultural toughness." Research shows that acculturation is affected by the degree to which the culture of the host country is inconguent with that of the home country (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985). In other words, some countries' cultures are more difficult to adapt to than others. For example, it would be more difficult for an American expatriate to adjust to the culture of Kenya than to the culture of Australia. Both countries offer obstacles that must be surmounted before complete acculturation can be obtained, but it is more likely that effective acculturation can be attained in Australia than in Kenya for most American expatriates due to the greater "cultural overlap" between the US and Australia.
skills, thus increasing their likelihood for overseas success. Once overseas, expatriates may shift between the different cells depending upon their experiences: a mentor may crop up, a particularly unpleasant experience with a subordinate may occur, an unexpected family crisis may increase stress--^aU would impact on the expatriate's acculturation level of the moment. All else being equal, however, the expatriate who possesses expertise in acculturation skills can weather the unexpected storms more effectively than his/her less skilled counterparts. IMPLICATIONS FOR EXPATRIATE SELECTION AND TRAINING The model, and its applications toward the prediction of acculturative
The "Dependent Expatriate" -- SO + 00 --PO An expatriate with this configuration has good interpersonal skills and likes other people, but is insecure and confused with his/her environment. Feeling out of control, due to an inability to deal with stress and a lack of understanding of the host culture's norms and values, expatriates in this mode use their "people skills" to get close to a few, selected fellow expatriates or "Westernized"
This inserts a contingency factor into the relationship between existing expertise in overall acculturation skills and subsequent levels of acculturation. The effect of "cultural toughness" on this relationship is illustrated in Chart 1. The levels of predicted overseas effectiveness for each combination of "level of overall acculturation skills" and "level of cultural toughness of the host country" are given in the respective cells. As can be seen from Chart 2, when overall acculturation
success, carry a number of implications for MNC human resource staffs. Before managers are sent overseas it is vitally important that: 1) they receive an evaluation of their current expertise in skills/factors that are crucial to acculturation; 2) they receive training in the skills/factors that are crucial to acculturation--especially in those areas where they are most weak; 3) the training they receive must be multidimensional in nature (it must encompass all the skills and factors necessary to adapt to the overseas environment); 4) the
Relationship between Pre-departure Expertise in Overall Acculturation Skills, Cultural Toughness and Future Level of Acculturation Degree of Expertise in Acculturation Skills
High Highly Effective Effective Survival
Average Effective Survivai Poor Performance
Low Survival Poor Performance Failure
training they receive should be appro- preparatory training for managers and cross-cultural trainer, they can focus
priate to the necessary degree of in- employees destined to work abroad on the areas they are weak in during
tegration into the host culture by the (p. 7)." Schwind's observation is the training, so they can plan for
expatriate and his/her family; and consistent with other researchers' and thus prevent--to a large degree
that 5) they receive pre-departure findings that there is a marked defi- --specific negative experiences when
training from well-qualified trainers ciency on the part of US firms in overseas.
who possess a sound understanding offering comprehensive cross-cultural
of the acculturation process. A common practice in the selection procedure for expatriate managers is to use managerial and technical competence (a successful track record in
training to their employees who are assigned overseas (Dunbar & Ehrlich, 1986; Korn/Ferry International, 1981; Mendenhall, Dunbar & Oddou, 1986; Runzheimer, 1984; Tung, 1981).
Scope of training The scope of training must include all aspects of the acculturation process. Training that focuses on a
the US) as the sole criterion for When such training support is not limited number of dimensions is assignment overseas (Mendenhall & offered, the probability of failure in- unfair to the trainees, for the indi-
Oddou, 1985; Miller, 1972; 1973; creases dramatically, because the ini- vidual trainee might naturally be
Tung, 1981). The criteria for selec- tial months abroad are the hardest, skilled at the topics covered in the
tion for overseas assignments must yet it is in this time period that the training program and assume that
encompass all of the dimensions of Home Office often has the highest he/she has nothing to worry about
acculturation, not just the traditional expectations for performance. Yet while overseas. Unforeseen obstacles
one of technical competence. A without preparation in key cross- and challenges can cause deeper
battery of instruments can be utilized to measure the various dimensions (for a more complete discussion, see Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985); for example, psychological tests, interviews with significant others, crosscultural assessment centers and tests
cultural skills, that time period has the highest likelihood of producing the poorest performance during the interim of the overseas assignment and sets the tone for the rest of the overseas stay.
stress, because the expatriate has no idea how to handle "out-of-the-blue" threats to self-esteem and psychological balance. Similarly, focusing on dimensions that may happen to cover only an expatriate's weakness serve only to convey an overly de-
for personal stress tendencies can be Thus, predeparture training in ac- pressing picture to the trainee of what
used. MNC human resource staffs, culturation skills is a must for the it is like to live and work overseas.
after generating measures that would expatriate manager as well as for The trainee may, in reality, be fairly
accurately refiect degree of expertise his/her spouse and children (Gay- strong in some acculturation skills
in the key factors of acculturation, lord, 1979; Harvey, 1983; Menden- but will not be in touch with them
would be in a better position to hall & Oddou, 1985; Walker, 1976). in time to utilize them upon arriving
predict overseas success than they are Further, this training should be di- overseas. Not preparing expatriates
at present.
rectly tied to the acculturation skill with training that is comprehensive in
testing described above; that is, scope is not only illogical and a poor
Pre-departure training
trainees should have access to the business practice, it is unethical as evaluations of their degrees of strength well--poor adjustment overseas can
Schwind (1985) noted "that a ma- and weakness in acculturation-related lead to a variety of personal and jority of companies involved in inter- skills. If they have access to their interpersonal problems (e.g., alcoholnational trade do not provide any evaluations, with the aid of the ism, marital problems, stress, depres-
WlNTER 1986
CHART 2 Length of Training 1-2 Months -f-
1. Relationship between Degree of Integration into the Host Culture and Rigor of CrossCultural Training. 2. Relationship between Length of Overseas Stay and Length of Training and Training Approach.
IMPRESSION APPROACH Assessment Center Field Experiences Simulations Sensitivity Training Extensive Language Training
1-4 Weeks
AFFECTIVE APPROACH Cultural Assimilator Training Language Training Role-Playing critical incidents Cases Stress Reduction Training Moderate Language Training
Less than a Week
INFORMATION GIVING APPROACH Area Briefings Cultural Briefings Films/Books Use of Interpreters "Survival-level" Language Training
Length of Stay
1 Month or less
MODERATE 2-12 Months
HICH 1-3 Years
sion, alienated children, etc.). To a large degree, these problems can be avoided with proper selection and proper training--to neglect both is irresponsible. Depth of training Obviously, if an individual is going to be in a foreign country for two weeks to engage in business negotiations with representatives from a foreign firm, the type of training he/
she should receive should differ from that received by someone being assigned to a Third World country for three years. The depth of predeparture training should be a function of length of stay, type of involvement in the culture, marital status and number of children, cultural toughness of host-country, degree of interpersonal interaction with host-nationals that will be necessary, position of the expatriate in the subsidiary's hierarchy, type of inter-
action needed with host-nationals (government bureaucrats, managers, blue-collar workers, etc.) and likelihood of the manager needing crosscultural skills in his/her future career in the firm. As Chart 2 indicates, with an increased need for degree of integration with the host-culture, the type of training should increase in depth from being strictly "informationgiving" to being increasingly "affec-
tive" and "immersion-oriented" in nature. Also, as degree of integration increases, length of needed training time should increase. Qualifications for trainers Kohls (1984), a longtime crosscultural trainer, suggests that trainers should have the following characteristics and qualifications: 1) they should have had experience living abroad (minimum of two years); 2) they should have experienced culture shock personally; 3) they should have a comprehensive area knowledge of the host-country (religion, politics, cultural mores, accepted business practices, ethics, etc.); 4) they should have a clear understanding of American values and be able to differntiate between the two cultures on specific dimensions (e.g., leadership, motivation, time orientation, accepted
use of authority, etc.); and 5) they should have a positive attitude about experiencing new cultures, new interpersonal experiences and new value systems. In addition, added qualifications should include: a thorough understanding of the multidimensionality of the acculturation process, familiarity with both the empirical and theoretical literature on expatriate acculturation, and the ability to work with trainees one-on-one in skill-building (not being limited in ability to only giving seminars or speeches that entertain). CONCLUSION Tung (1981) found that of the MNCs in her study, 68% did not provide their expatriate employees with acculturation training; of those which did provide training, 60% of
the training was limited to the "information-giving" approach (e.g., area briefings, some language study and basic cultural overviews). The multidimensional approach to training and selection design provided in this paper, if utilized, forms a basis upon which MNC human resource staffs can begin to build valid, comprehensive expatriate acculturation training programs. Not only will such programs save the firm from financial costs by avoiding common overseas blunders (the voiding of business deals, loss of valuable local employees, break-up of joint ventures, poor relations with host governments, etc.) but will build the managerial expertise of its employees by providing them with the knowledge base necessary to be successful in their overseas assignments. It is time American MNCs start to invest in this cross-cultural training.
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