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Journal of World Business 48 (2013) 171–174

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Journal of World Business


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jwb

Managing people in global markets—The Asia Pacific perspective


Peter J. Dowling a,*, Noelle Donnelly b
a
Department of Management, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia
b
School of Management, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

A R T I C L E I N F O A B S T R A C T

Keywords: In this introductory note to the Special Issue, we examine the growing discourse surrounding the ‘Asia
Asia Pacific century Pacific century’. We outline the growth in importance of this region and the challenges that MNEs face in
IHRM, MNEs managing people within and from these increasingly diverse markets. The eight papers in this SI are
briefly summarized under four emerging themes: Increasing Competition for Skilled Workforces;
Managing International Assignments in the Asia Pacific; The Challenge of Integration and Alignment of
HR Practices; and HR Implications of a ‘New Competitive Order’.
ß 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Asia Pacific – ‘from the Atlantic to the Pacific century’ accounting for 61% of the world’s population. Reports also suggest
that the Asia Pacific region is host to 53 million migrants
In the 1980s, Adler, Doktor, and Redding (1986) proclaimed that highlighting that temporary labor migration is a prominent
the 21st Century would move from ‘‘the Atlantic to the Pacific feature of many countries in this region (United Nations ESAP,
Century’’ and called for greater contextualization of management 2011).
research. Nearly two decades later, amid reports of its rising Asia Pacific refers to a range of countries that, according to
economic power the ‘Asia Pacific century’ discourse has resurfaced some, have little more than a ‘passing family resemblance’ – in
but this time with less concern for the spatial aspects of the region others words, a region whose diverseness can be seen in terms of
and more attention centered on the temporal and ideological bases its geography, politics, cultural values, economic policies, employ-
of the discourse (Wilkins, 2010). ment systems and institutional frameworks (Warner, 2000).
‘Asia Pacific’ is a term increasingly being used to describe an ‘era Extending from India in the west, to China in the north, the
of development’ that captures the economic, political and social Pacific islands of the east, and Australia and New Zealand in the
changes taking place in this region (Budhwar & Debrah, 2009). south, the Asia Pacific region covers over one-third of the world’s
Trade in this region grew faster than the world average between total land mass. Economic development remains a distinguishing
2005 and 2010 and this has led many to note both the shift in feature of Asian countries with some authors categorizing Asian
economic activity from the ‘transatlantic to the transpacific’ and countries and their HR systems into developed, developing and
the rise in the economic and political power of China (United transitional countries (Rowley & Warner, 2007). Multinational
Nations, 2011). As the largest recipient and fifth largest source of enterprises (MNEs) need to understand these differences in terms
direct investment, China has contributed to predictions that a of implementing their international human resource management
‘‘new epoch of Pacific power and prosperity’’ will dominate the 21st (IHRM) policies and practices.
Century (Wilkins, 2010). Given the context-specific nature of this region, it is not
The economic rise of this region, and in particular the Chinese surprising that many have built on Adler et al.’s (1986) earlier call
economy, has led some to question the Anglo-Saxon model and to contextualize their research. One of the main limitations of
promote the Asia Pacific region as a ‘viable alternative’ (Warner, much of the research in the Asia Pacific region is that it is based on
2000, 2002). While western economies face financial and theories created in the U.S. or on Western-oriented research. In
demographic challenges including an ageing population and response, researchers have called for increased importance to be
falling birth rates, the United Nations Population Division reports placed on Asian perspectives. A number of writers adopt the
that in 2011, 4.2 billion people lived in the Asia Pacific region, position that theories developed in Western countries are not
easily adapted to Asia (Budhwar & Debrah, 2009; Meyer, 2006). In a
recent Special Issue of the journal Management and Organization
Review on Indigenous Chinese Management Research, Leung
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: p.dowling@latrobe.edu.au (P.J. Dowling),
(2012:2) notes that ‘‘given the trajectory of the Chinese economy,
noelle.donnelly@vuw.ac.nz (N. Donnelly). we are entering an era in which indigenous Chinese findings and

1090-9516/$ – see front matter ß 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2012.07.001
172 P.J. Dowling, N. Donnelly / Journal of World Business 48 (2013) 171–174

theories, regardless of whether they are cultural-general or not, are ‘new competitive order’ has presented MNEs with a new-found set
important in their own right’’. of international human resource challenges. It is against this
reshaping of the ‘global landscape’ that this Special Issue explores
2. HRM in an Asia Pacific context the IHRM challenges that MNEs face in the Asia-Pacific. We
received a total of 30 submissions for this Special Issue. After an
The study of ‘people issues’ in global markets is a relatively extensive review process involving a truly ‘global group of
well-established field of study (De Cieri & Dowling, 1997; De Cieri, reviewers’ the following eight papers were accepted for this
Hutchings, & Dowling, 2005; Donnelly & Dowling, 2010). Devel- Special Issue.
opments in the field are both indicative of the growing importance
that academics and practitioners alike place on the role of human 4. Emerging themes
resource management (HRM) in international performance and
greater awareness of the context-dependent nature of HRM There are four main themes or HR challenges that this Special
(Budhwar, 2004). While the field of IHRM has grown substantially, Issue speaks to. The first of these examines ‘Increasing Competition
little attention has focused on determining what HRM means from for Skilled Workforces’.
an Asia Pacific perspective (the exceptions of which will now be
outlined). 4.1. Increasing Competition for Skilled Workforces
Speculation on the emergence of an ‘Asia Pacific’ model of HRM
has largely dominated research on HRM in this region (Warner, One of the implications of the impact of economic globalization
2000). An emerging group of writers predict that a ‘hybrid’ model and the opening up of countries to foreign investment and foreign
of Asian HRM will emerge whereby Western practices are markets is the enhanced competition for skilled labor. Papers in
integrated in Asian countries, with traditional approaches remain- this Special Issue indicate that organizations are responding to that
ing (Benson & Rowley, 2003; Rowley & Warner, 2007). A related challenge. It is against this background of increasing competition
idea is that ‘bounded’ convergence will occur as globalization for skilled resources in global markets that Matthias Baum and
creates similarities, with national business systems continuing to Rüdiger Kabst explore the feasibility of MNEs adopting a global
shape HRM systems. As research builds towards convergence, positioning approach to employer branding. Testing the impact of
others strongly caution against formulating an ‘Asian model’ given facets of employer images on job applicant interests across
the diversity of this region. Studies show that diversity of HRM Germany, Hungary, China and India, the authors found that while
systems between countries in Asia remains considerable. The such facets of an employer image as career opportunity and
impact of differences in and interrelationship of cultures and working atmosphere demonstrated little cross-national variation;
institutions are often cited as factors that constrain convergence task attractiveness, work–life comfort and payment attractiveness
both within the region and with Western HRM practices. The were less suitable for an international employment branding
context-specific nature of HRM in Asia is therefore very important. position. Based on these findings, the authors build a case for the
Another emergent theme within the literature is the process of international co-ordination of employment branding activities.
change in Asian HRM. This comes as many Asian countries Highlighting one of the key strategic challenges that MNEs face
experiment with Western HRM practices and question the viability within emerging Asian economies, Peter Sheldon and Yiqiong Li
of traditional practices. External factors shaping this change examine the issue of employee poaching within China’s
include globalization, the Asian financial crisis and increased manufacturing hub – the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). Drawing
competition, while internal factors identified include the opening upon case and survey analysis of foreign-invested enterprise (FIE)
up of Asian economies to the global market and other government experiences, their findings reveal that employers with skill
policies that concentrate on developing the domestic labor market. shortages and a more highly skilled workforce are more likely
One issue that this literature raises is whether or not change is to engage in inter-firm constructive responses through enhanced
being accepted in Asian countries. It is clear that change is occurring training and remuneration provision. Finally, they find employer
and practices are being transferred. It is less clear whether or not responses to be dependent on local labor market conditions, their
these changes are accepted by the working population. In countries business strategies, their workforce skill levels and the role that
like Japan and South Korea, it is evident that attempts are being their HR departments play.
made to introduce more flexible and individual based employment
practices. However, it appears that these changes are not being 4.2. Managing International Assignments in the Asia Pacific
internalized because seniority and lifetime employment remain
distinguishing characteristics of their HRM systems. Managing international assignments across any region remains
A related issue is the recognition that change can occur at a dominant concern for many MNEs. Looking at international
different levels. Change can occur at the practice level, policy level or assignments from a volunteer perspective or examining the factors
at system architecture level. Many articles state that changes in that shape adjustment and performance represent new lines of
HRM are occurring at the practice level, but this is rarely reflected argument in this subject area. Three papers speak to this theme.
in any deeper changes to policy or system architecture. This How do expatriates learn? What features of an international
indicates that changes thus far may not have been internalized. At assignment contribute to their learning? Can these types of skills
this stage, change appears to be in an experimental phase where be codified and taught? The paper by Anthony Fee and Sidney
the final outcome is not known. Gray draws attention to these issues by providing insights into the
under-researched topic of international volunteer experiences.
3. The Special Issue Comparing the work-related experiences of ‘traditional’ expatri-
ates with that of international volunteers (IVs) deployed within a
In our call for papers for this Special Issue, we noted that while multinational NGO in the Asia Pacific region, the authors find the
managing people within diverse and dynamic global environments learning experiences of IVs to be more transformational than those
is critical for MNEs, it is the highly varied and variable context of of traditional expatriates and involve changes that were frequently
the Asia Pacific region that presents a set of unique challenges that triggered by cultural differences. Building on their results, the
are largely under-researched. This special issue seeks to address authors present a framework that embodies the key characteristics
this significant new set of challenges. This transformation of the of the learning process experienced by IVs.
P.J. Dowling, N. Donnelly / Journal of World Business 48 (2013) 171–174 173

At a time when MNEs are exploring alternatives to traditional 4.4. HR Implications of a ‘New Competitive Order’
global staffing approaches, the paper by Yvonne McNulty, Helen
De Cieri and Kate Hutchings looks for the first time at what In this final paper of the Special Issue, Nigel Haworth takes an
expatriates themselves gain from an international assignment. innovative macro approach to the topic of the Special Issue and
Employing psychological contract theory to a sample of long-term charts the shift in ‘competitive orders’ from one based on a
expatriate managers across 10 Asian countries, the authors traditional late development model to one that promotes a
compare individual ROI to that of corporate ROI and show how compressed development approach. This paper provides an eth-
patterns of global mobility are changing in the Asia Pacific. In nographical account of developments in an important political and
contrast to corporate ROI, their research found individual ROI for economic grouping of Asia Pacific nations known as APEC (Asia
expatriates in the Asia Pacific to be based on career development – Pacific Economic Cooperation; www.apec.org). By examining
i.e. non-financial, value-based returns. Rather strikingly, they also changes in the approach of APEC to human resource development,
found parent country national managers (PCNs) were typically Haworth looks at the HRD consequences of the more compressed
employed on third country national (TCN)-like employment terms development approach in the Asia Pacific region.
that included ‘‘local-plus’’ contracts and little HR support or long-
term career support. These findings indicate potentially significant 5. Future challenges and research agenda
challenges for the future role of international assignments in the
Asia Pacific. We noted in our Introduction to this Special Issue that there is
In a similar vein, Marlin Abdul Malek and Pawan Budhwar clear evidence of a reshaping of the global business landscape
examine the influence of cultural intelligence on expatriate towards a focus on the Asia Pacific region. This trend is not only
adjustment and performance. Drawing from a sample of 134 apparent in business and economics, it is also apparent in a geo-
expatriate managers working in Malaysian-based MNEs, the political sense with developments such as the emergence of the
authors find cultural intelligence to facilitate cross-cultural G20 (www.g20.org) with strong Asia Pacific representation and
interaction and adjustment in host environments. By reducing President Obama’s announcement in 2012 that the United States
the uncertainty and anxiety that is associated with culturally would switch its foreign policy and military focus to the Asia
diverse environments, their results show positive contextual and Pacific region. Management scholars may need to take a stronger
task performance outcomes. In highly diverse environments like interest in both the geo-political environment and the interna-
the Asia Pacific region, this paper highlights the importance of tional business environment to better understand the context for
cultural awareness and intelligence in the improvement of the four trends identified in this Special Issue.
expatriate performance.
6. Reviewers for this Special Issue
4.3. The Challenge of Integration and Alignment of HR Practices
Special Issues rely heavily on the goodwill and efforts of
One of the key strategic challenges for MNEs operating in both reviewers. We would like to thank the following scholars who
geographically and culturally distant environments is the global generously gave of their time and expertise to review manuscripts
or regional integration of practices – particularly in host for this Special Issue:
environments. Based on an analysis of 76 European subsidiaries
operating in China, Adam Smale, Ingmar Björkman and Jennie Torben Andersen, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark.
Sumelius analyze the mechanisms that MNEs employ to globally Jim Arrowsmith, Massey University, New Zealand.
integrate HRM practices across their foreign subsidiaries. Tim Bartram, La Trobe University, Australia.
Drawing on control and institutional theory, their findings Ishaq Bhatti, La Trobe University, Australia.
reveal that MNEs are more likely to use centralization mecha- Rozhan Bin Othman, Universiti Kebangsaon Malaysia.
nisms for the integration of financial compensation, formaliza- Stephen Blumenfeld, Victoria University of Wellington, New
tion mechanisms for the integration of performance appraisal Zealand.
practices and people-based integration mechanisms across all John Boudreau, University of Southern California, USA.
HRM practices. In effect, their findings reveal the use of Brendan Boyle, University of Newcastle, Australia.
integrative mechanisms to be dependent on the global integra- Sue Bruning, University of Manitoba, Canada.
tion/local adaptation aim of each individual HRM practice. In Jane Bryson, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
conclusion, they call for greater examination of the purpose of Jillian Cavanagh, La Trobe University, Australia.
integration in relation to each HRM practice and the internal Mei-Tai Chu, La Trobe University, Australia.
congruence of the HRM system. Stephen Cummings, Victoria University of Wellington, New
Similarly, Cherrie Zhu, Brian Cooper, Di Fan and Helen De Zealand.
Cieri explore the appropriateness and effectiveness of Western Allen Engle, Eastern Kentucky University, USA.
HRM policies and practices in China. The authors note from the Majella Fahy, University College Dublin, Ireland.
outset that the gaps that might exist between intended, actual and Anthony Ferner, De Montford University, UK.
perceived effectiveness of HR practices will inform the HRM- Greg Fisher, Flinders University, Australia.
Performance relationship. Based on qualitative and quantitative Hongzhi Gao, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
sampling, their findings identified a lack of alignment between John Geary, University College Dublin, Ireland.
managers and their employees in terms of their knowledge, Barry Gerhart, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.
experiences with and perceptions of effectiveness across a range of Hosein Gharavi, La Trobe University, Australia.
HR practices. These reflect the transitionary stage of development Mark Gilman, University of Kent, UK.
that the HRM model is currently undergoing in China. Their Sid Gray, University of Sydney, Australia.
findings demonstrate the diffusion of indigenous practices on HR Pashaar Halteh, La Trobe University, Australia.
policies and the possible role of geopolitical factors in determining Andres Hatum, IAE Argentina.
the effectiveness of HRM practices. Having revealed differences Peter Holland, Monash University, Australia.
between the perception of managers and employees, the authors Rob Jack, Macquarie University, Australia.
call for further research to address these challenges. Boris Kabanoff, Queensland University of Technology, Australia.
174 P.J. Dowling, N. Donnelly / Journal of World Business 48 (2013) 171–174

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