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Intercultural Communication Studies XX: 1 (2011)

Ko & Yang

The Effects of Cross-Cultural Training on Expatriate Assignments Hsiu-Ching Ko & Mu-Li Yang
Chang Jung Christian University, Taiwan
The demands of market globalization find many business managers operating in countries other than their own. These expatriate managers face many challenges which they can only meet successfully if they are properly prepared through sound cross-cultural training (CCT). The literature dealing with CCT expounds on the various methods being used, including the cognitive, the affective, the experiential approach, and the language training. This study follows the qualitative in-depth interview approach with a specific protocol that looks into the effectiveness of CCT in terms of language training and post-arrival cross-cultural training. It also puts forth specific recommendations regarding CCT programs, their impact upon cross-cultural competence, upon the skills needed for effective cross-cultural communication, and for the best possible performance on the job.

Keywords: expatriate management, cross-cultural training, cross-cultural competence, language training, job performance, qualitative methodology
Increasing economic globalization has spurred the expansion of multinational corporations (MNCs) and has multiplied the numbers of the human capital moving across the globe. In order to maintain and enhance their global competitiveness, the MNCs rely on finding the right people who can effectively manage and operate their overseas businesses (Dowling & Welch, 2005). However, expatriate assignments are not always successful, and failure ranges from 16% to 40% (Tung, 1981, Black, 1988; Employee Benefit Plan Review, 2001). Although Dowling and Welch (2005) suggest that expatriate failure is declining and some alternate research argues that it might not be as high as the literature indicates (Osman-Gani & Rockstuhl, 2009; Forster, 1997; Harzing & Christensen, 2004), studies conducted by Black and Gregerson (2007) confirm that nearly one-third of the expatriates who complete their overseas assignments did not perform up to the expectations of their superiors. Moreover, the financial cost of expatriate failure and their underperformance are usually very high (Scullion, 2005; Harzing & Christensen, 2004). All of these factors point to the fact that expatriate failure is a serious matter for the MNCs (Black & Gregerson, 2007; Tung, 1981), one that requires them to find effective ways to deal with it. Working in a culturally different environment is always a challenge, so it is not surprising that the lack of cultural knowledge and language ability, as well as a difficulty to adjust to the local culture, are major factors contributing to expatriate failure (Briscoe & Schuler; 2004; Dowling & Welch, 2005). Consequently, learning about cultures, becoming aware of cultural differences, and having competence in cross-cultural communication are a must for expatriate


Intercultural Communication Studies XX: 1 (2011)

Ko & Yang

managers so that they can adjust to a new cultural environment and carry out a successful overseas assignment. However, these competencies are not acquired overnight. Aware of these realities, an increasing number of MNCs endeavor to equip their expatriates with competencies necessary for effectively working overseas through cross-cultural training (Ashamalla, 1998; Caligiuri, Phillips, Lazarova, Tarique, & Burgi, 2001) in spite of the fact that the effectiveness of cross-cultural training on overseas assignments is not strongly asserted in the literature (Black & Mendenhall, 1990; Litlrell & Salas, 2005; Selmer, 2005). Our contemporary world is one of cultural diversity and the MNCs normally operate within diverse cultural environments. For the expatriates, then, cultural issues of all sorts, whether at home or in the host country, become basic concerns. Culture is what makes us what we are and our cultural backgrounds influence everything we do at all times and in all places (Boakari, 2004). We learn about and live our local cultures through the processes of socialization and acculturation that begin in childhood. Now, in order to be functional in a different culture, we need to appreciate its values, norms, beliefs, and behavior patterns and learn to adjust to them as much as possible. Proficiency in the language of the host country goes a long way to provide someone with the tools of cultural competence. The more the expatriate knows about the host culture (including speaking the local language), about its values and expectations, and the more proficient he/she is in the local language, the greater his/her chances of a successful job performance. All of this adds to a cross-cultural learning that will greatly facilitate his/her professional life while managing the business of the organization within the parameters of a different culture.

To respond to the calls for context-specific research in MNCs (Luo & Shenkar, 2006) and for using qualitative research method in the effectiveness of CCT learning (Oman-Gani & Rockstuhl, 2009), thus, this study contributes to expatriate management literature on the knowledge, usefulness, understanding, and effectiveness of CCT through adopting a qualitative in-depth interview approach designed to gauge the impact of CCT upon expatriates’ crosscultural adjustment and job-related performance with participants of Taiwanese expatriates relocated in the United States.

We begin the review of the literature with a brief discussion of the objectives of crosscultural training. Next, we review the cross-cultural training methods. Finally, we look into the effectiveness of CCT in relation to expatriate assignments.

Literature Review
Objectives of Cross-cultural Training
Caligiuri, Lazarova, and Tarique (2005) point out that cross-cultural training aims at helping employees feel comfortable living and working in a host country, thus enhancing their cross-cultural adjustment and strengthening their ability to understand and appreciate multiple cultural perspectives.

Given the concerns about the high ratio of expatriate failure, the high cost of these failures, and how they impact upon the MNCs, Bennett, Aston, and Colquhoun (2000) put forth specific recommendations designed to enhance the success of expatriate assignments and minimize


Intercultural Communication Studies XX: 1 (2011)

Ko & Yang

failure. They contend that cross-cultural training programs should be crafted in such a way that objectives will help assignees do three things: (1) manage change in terms of personal and professional transition; (2) manage cultural differences; and (3) manage their responsibilities within a different cultural environment.

The Methodology of Cross-cultural Training
Many researchers have outlined a number of CCT methodologies. Major studies were made by Tung (1981, 1982), Brislin, Landis, and Brandt (1983), Mendenhall, Dunbar, and Oddou (1987), and Black and Mendenhall (1989). They note that skills and abilities required of the expatriates are, indeed, highly demanding, and these authors use different approaches to integrate them into training programs, which are briefly discussed in this section: the cognitive, the affective, the experiential, and the language-learning approach. The Cognitive Approach.

The cognitive or information-acquiring approach deals with “the learning of information or skills from a lecture-type orientation” (Mendenhall et al., 1987, p. 339). Its basic assumption is that “knowledge will increase empathy, and empathy will modify behavior in such a way as to improve intercultural relationships” (Campbell, 1969, p. 3). Tung’s Area Studies and Brislin, Landis, and Brandt’s (1983) fact-orientation training fit into this category. The fact-orientation, advocated by Brislin et al. (1983), resembles Tung’s Area Studies (1981, 1982) in that it includes environmental briefing and culture-orientation programs designed to provide trainees with information regarding the history, the geography, the religion, the people, the economy, and the way of life of the target culture. Although the cognitive method was the most popular in CCT during the 1960s, and it remains popular (Bhawuk & Brislin, 2000), Harrison and Hopkins (1967) found that the informationacquiring approach was not very effective. They recommend the experiential method as better, and this led to the multiplication of experiential exercises and cultural assimilators (Bhawuk & Brislin, 2000).

The Affective Approach.
“The learning of information or skills via techniques that raise affective responses on the part of the trainee, which results in cultural insights,” defines the affective approach (Mendenhall et al., 1987, p. 339). Tung’s (1981) cultural assimilation and sensitivity training as well as Brislin et al.’s (1983) attribution training and cultural awareness are also grouped together with the affective approach in CCT.

While cultural assimilation training assists members of one culture to interact and adjust successfully with members of another culture (Fiedler, Mitchell, & Triandis, 1971), attribution training enables trainees to make isomorphic attribution and to handle discomfort expectation as well as possible, in order to internalize the values and standards of the host country (Eschbach, Parker, & Stoeberl, 2001; Littrell & Salas, 2005). Overseas assignments require


Intercultural Communication Studies XX: 1 (2011)

Ko & Yang

that the expatriates establish extensive contact with the nationals of the host country (Tung, 1981), which suggests that cultural assimilation training should be supplemented by language, sensitivity, and field training.

Moreover, while cultural awareness training is “the study of the trainee’s home culture and its effect on his/her behavior to enable the trainee to understand the nature of cultural differences” (Eschbach et al., 2001), sensitivity training leads the trainees to understand their own values and culture and to be aware of cultural differences by demonstrating a behavior that may be completely different from that of their own culture (Tung, 1981). The strength of cultural awareness training co...

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