An integrated approach to exploring cross-cultural competence: empirical evidence from expatriates of Chinese MNEs

2017-02-03T04:46:09Z (GMT) by Wang, Dan
With the emergence of multinational enterprises (MNEs) from the People’s Republic of China, Chinese expatriates are increasingly being posted overseas to manage international assignments. It has been reported that expatriates often face significant challenges in understanding the host culture, which negatively impact on their performance overseas. Thus the importance of cross-cultural competence (CCC) has been emphasized as it may assist expatriates to successfully manage the local workforce. The theoretical underpinnings of CCC are socio-analytic theory and social learning theory. Socio-analytic theory explains the role personality plays in leading to discrepant performance on international assignments, whilst social learning theory emphasizes the role of learning in developing cross-cultural skills. However, both theories are developed from a developed country context, and the transferability of those theories to emerging markets has not been examined. In order to address the theoretical deficiencies of CCC, this study explores expatriates from a large and significant emerging economy, namely, China. The broad research problem addressed is “how to develop CCC of Chinese expatriate managers in Chinese MNEs’ overseas operations”. In particular, this study investigates antecedents of CCC including personal attributes (Research question 1a) and personal skills (Research question 2a), as well as how these antecedents contribute to CCC (Research question 1b, 2b). A qualitative research design was adopted due to the exploratory nature of the study, and 50 in-depth interviews were conducted to gather information. The sample comprised 25 Chinese expatriate managers, 15 foreign colleagues, and 10 expatriate supervisors or cross-cultural consultants. The respondents selected were based on criteria for each group. For instance, the criteria for expatriate managers include working experience (i.e., working on overseas assignments for at least six months) and location (i.e., working in both developed and developing countries). The snowballing techniques were used to recruit appropriate respondents. The findings of this study lead to the development of a theoretical model of CCC, which highlights the cultural-embedded factors as important antecedents. In addition to confirming CCC antecedents of Chinese expatriates that are similar to those for Western expatriates (i.e., openness, communication skills, interpersonal skills, perceptual skills), two new cultural-embedded factors were also identified, including endurance and coordination skills. More importantly, the findings demonstrate that cross-cultural contexts play an important role in how certain antecedents function in different situations. A range of institutional factors have been identified which are able to influence perceptions of expatriates and local employees on CCC antecedents, including ambiguous or sophisticated regulation systems, relationship-based or rule-based corporate governance, supervisor-subordinate relationships and work-life relationships. This study advances the theoretical development of CCC by integrating institutional theory with socio-analytic theory and social learning theory, which leads to a more comprehensive explanation of CCC. It also highlights significant methodological and practical implications for future expatriate studies and international human resource management in Chinese MNEs.