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Balancing Global and Local Strategic Contexts: Expatriate Knowledge Transfer, Applications and Learning within a Transnational Organization

J. Barry Hocking Michelle Brown Anne-Wil Harzing Version January 2007

Accepted for Human Resource Management

Copyright © 2003-2007 Barry Hocking, Michelle Brown and Anne-Wil Harzing. All rights reserved. Dr. Anne-Wil Harzing University of Melbourne Department of Management Faculty of Economics & Commerce Parkville Campus Melbourne, VIC 3010 Australia Email: anne-wil@harzing.com Web: www.harzing.com

Balancing Global and Local Strategic Contexts: Expatriate Knowledge Transfer, Applications and Learning within a Transnational Organization

Abstract

In this paper we investigate how expatriates contribute to the transnational firm’s strategic objectives of global efficiency, national (‘local’) responsiveness, and worldwide learning. We focus on their knowledge applications and experiential learning, two assignment-based outcomes of potential strategic value to the firm. We assess how these outcomes are impacted by the expatriate’s everyday knowledge access and communication activities, measured by their frequency and geographic extent. Within our case organization, a prototype transnational firm, we find that the expatriates’ knowledge applications result from their frequent knowledge access and communication with the corporate headquarters and other global units of the firm. In contrast, their experiential learning derives from a frequent access to host country (local) knowledge that is subsequently adapted to the global corporate context. From a practical perspective we view the knowledge gained through experiential learning as an invaluable resource for both present and future corporate assignments.

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In their analysis of global business strategy and organizational design, Bartlett and Ghoshal (1988, 1989)...

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