A Self-Organization Perspective on the Impact of Local verses Global Assignment Strategies and Knowledge Building
Until recently the prototypical policy for staffing upper level management positions in local offices of multinationals was to assign personnel from headquarters. This strategy of 'expatriation' significantly enhanced the cultural diversity of local offices and sometimes — typically to a lesser degree — headquarters. A decade or so ago expatriation strategies began changing to emphasize filling local positions with local managers because local managers were more familiar with the local staff, clients, markets, and cultures, were less expensive to support, and doing so assuaged a variety of political, image and ethical concerns. Additionally there are more trained, experienced and competent local personnel available and/or local knowledge and skills are now more recognized and valued. While there may have been short-term increments in performance partially attributable to this change in expatriation strategy, there is the danger of some longer-term decrements. Although multinationals have recognized the problems "expats" have working and living abroad, they appear not to have been as attuned to the 'knowledge building' produced by shuffling them around from local office to local office to headquarters, and so forth. They were involved with both the creation and exchange of knowledge associated with a vastly expanded range of tools for dealing with organizational challenges locally and globally. This expansion in knowledge and associated skills is, of course, critical to prosperity, if not survival, in our rapidly evolving local and global worlds. Further, recent theoretical developments in the 'self-organization of biological systems' suggest that significantly altering the diversity of people interacting at the local level with specific knowledge and skills is likely to impact the building of this critical knowledge. This paper examines both theoretical and policy issues associated with this impact.
Keywords: Multinational Enterprises, Expatriation, Diversity, Knowledge Building, Self-organization
Dr. Gary Fontaine
Professor, School of Communications, University of Hawaii