Sunday, 8 August 2010

Just How Important is National Culture in Explaining the Effectiveness and Transfer of HR Practices in Multinationals?

The second of these two quick posts reflects on some excellent work in the Handbook of Research on Comparative Human Research Management edited by Chris Brewster and Wolfgang Mayerhofer and to be published by Edward Elgar in April 2011.  Those HR readers who are involved in managing in multinationals should read this book if you are concerned about the global-local problems. and developing employer brands. 

The chapter by Barry Gerhart looks like being a standout in this respect.  We've been trained as scholars and practitioners to emphasise national cultural differences as a constraint on transferring practices across cultures, in part because of the influence of work by Hosftede, Trompenaars and others on dimensions of national culture.  These ideas have been at the core of teaching on international management courses, as most MBA students would know.  Barry has spent a number of years re-examining the evidence produced by Hofstede in particular and reflecting on the messages this work has sent out.  He does not deny that national cultural differences exist, but argues (1) that you cannot equate culture with nation states and (2) that it is not national dimensions of culture that are the major constraints in transferring practices but organizational cultures, or industry cultures.  According to Gerhart, Hofstede used poor standards of proof and over-interpreted the importance of national cultural variables to the point that they seem to play less and less importance in constraining the ability of corporate HR departments to develop corporate identities and employer brands.  Instead he proposed that those firms which buck the shibboleths associated with transferring invidualist HR practices such as performance related pay, performance appraisal, etc, will actually gain a competitive advantage over those firms which follow the received wisdom in this field.

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