Globalizing Actors in Multinational Companies: The Creation, Diffusion, Implementation and Contestation of Global Norms

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Loughborough University in London

Abstract

In a globalised economic and business context, the norms that shape human resource management travel internationally. This is particularly the case within the multinational company, where individuals are responsible for the creation, diffusion, interpretation and negotiation of norms - which may be rules, principles or guidelines - across international operations. We refer to such individuals as "globalizing actors". The aim of our research is to identify the resources mobilized by globalizing actors in the creation, diffusion, interpretation and negotiation of norms concerning the global coordination of human resources (see 'Objectives' for more detail).

Previous research has examined individuals in important international positions, focusing on their orientations and values (e.g. whether they possess 'global mindsets'), the management of international assignments and the characteristics of members of the international business elite. However, these literatures have not systematically examined the actual roles of globalizing actors within firms, and precisely how they create, diffuse, and manage international norms.

We examine what such actors actually do within a theoretical framework that sees the behaviour of globalizing actors as shaped by institutions: the institutions in the country in which they originated affect their competencies; they must be sensitive to a variety of host national institutions; and they must navigate their way through a growing range of transnational institutions. Their role is also shaped by organizational context, particularly how the firm derives synergies from integrating their operations internationally, which influences the types of global norms required.

However, globalizing actors are not prisoners of institutional and organizational contexts. They can create new norms, develop strategies that help shape the 'rules of the game' and attempt to exploit institutional contradictions and ambiguities. We will explore the individual level resources of these actors to deal with these contexts, such as their skills and knowledge - 'human capital' - the relationship these actors have to others in terms of power, position and trust - their 'social capital' - and their transnational experiences or exposure.

We will examine UK MNCs, both at home and across subsidiaries in Europe, North America and East Asia. The research will use multiple methods, consisting of five steps:
1. Pilot Work. Using seed-corn funding, we have tested key concepts and generated contacts for twelve full case studies in subsequent stages of the research.
2. UK interviews. These will focus on those charged with creating new norms, spreading them across international operations, or ensuring compliance.
3. Foreign Subsidiary Interviews. We will conduct interviews in the international operations of each firm, enabling us to understand frames of reference and actor choices in foreign subsidiaries.
4. Multi-level Survey. The survey of a set of globalizing actors will establish individual level capabilities associated with the establishment and diffusion of global norms.
5. Quantitative Diary Study. This methodological innovation allows us both to explore what globalizing actors actually do and to test predictors of behaviours and attitudes.

The research will make a substantial and distinctive contribution to understanding of the processes of international management, through focusing on individual "globalizing actors" within the contexts of the multiple institutional and organisational contexts within which they make decisions. Equally, through the development and communication of a strong evidence base on how firms build individual and organisational capabilities in international management, the research also aims to enable improvements in the economic effectiveness of UK firms with overseas operations, while acting in ways that respond to the need for social responsibility at local-host and global levels.

Planned Impact

This project examines the building of individual and organisational capabilities in international management, with a focus on UK-owned businesses. Through detailed research across a range of firms, we will identify what, in the specific national and market contexts of different firms, can be identified as good (or bad) practice in dealing with globalizing operations. Through the process of performing the fieldwork, and the impact strategy presented in the "Pathways to Impact" document, we aim to provide firms and other relevant stakeholders with an evidence base which targets both efficiency and effectiveness through better management practice. It also aims to mitigate the severe reputational risks that firms run when international management practices fail to ensure acceptable social outcomes in their international operations.

Specifically, the research targets impact in the following areas beyond the academic research community:

First, as the project consists of firm-level research into the organisation of international management, our research is intended to impact on participant firms. This will be done through the development of 'lessons learned' for the international coordination of business, and the identification and management of globalizing actors themselves, which are grounded in the specific circumstances of those firms.

Second, we envisage a wider impact on the UK's commercial private sector, through the development and communication of a strong evidence base on how firms build individual and organisational capabilities in international management. As our research will feature both large established multinational corporations, and smaller firms which have internationalised recently, this impact is expected to cover globalising SMEs as well as the leading British-owned firms. Both these groups are of crucial importance to UK economic growth and provision of quality jobs, while their ownership makes them additionally crucial to the UK tax base.

Third, we will target impact with professional bodies (such as the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development), and with sectoral associations such as the National Microelectronics Institute. We will engage with such associations to provide contextually relevant recommendations for the practice of international human resource management, in an area often dominated by recommendations of US-owned consultancies which show little context sensitivity.

Fourth, we anticipate that the outcomes of this research will usefully feed into the work of government agencies (e.g. UKTI, devolved administrations) which have as part of their remit, to support UK firms in their internationalisation processes. While UK government agencies generally refrain from involvement in firms' managerial processes, insights based on our research are particularly likely to be useful to the efforts of such bodies to promote new or expanding international firms. Further, the research will identify the transformative effect of globalising actors and thus feed into UK professional associations' efforts on training and developing capability to attract global talent and business.

The research is also likely to have lessons for broader management education in the UK and elsewhere. The educational resources available for those pursuing careers in international management often lack sensitivity to national institutional/cultural contexts, and/or to specific contextual factors such as sector, etc. The development of a stronger evidence base, centered on UK firms, therefore has the potential to create impact at the individual level for those interested in pursuing careers which involve management across borders.

Benefits to the general public we see in terms of creating wider awareness of the role of international firms and skills in the face of global labour market competition.

Details of the mechanisms by which we will seek to pursue impact is detailed in the Pathways to Impact.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/N007883/1 01/05/2016 31/05/2017 £523,274
ES/N007883/2 Transfer ES/N007883/1 01/06/2017 31/12/2019 £408,373
 
Description Multinational companies (MNCs) are increasingly integrated across borders in that there are multiple structural linkages and operational inter-dependencies across borders, yet are also increasingly dispersed across more geographies. This places a greater variety of people across the organizational hierarchy and across functions at the forefront of global issues. We embarked on this research project to open the 'black box' of how global integration occurs in modern MNCs. In researching the issue of 'global norms', we were guided by five goals.

First, we identified multiple types of 'globalizing actors' (GAs) who contribute to cross-border integration in British MNCs. They are a diverse group, differing in terms of the nature of their role, how they exert their influence, and the extent of their reach. Some GAs are well-documented 'high power' actors, such as company directors or people on international assignments, but others have been less considered previously. These 'forgotten' globalizing actors are crucial to the enactment of global strategies and can bring about 'bottom-up' norm formation.

The second goal was to detail the behaviours and routines in the international element of their work by building on a 'strategic action fields' framework. This framework sees global norms as clustering together into a 'multi-polar web' and establishes an approach to global norm-making that is contextualized, personalized and contested.

Our third goal was to analyse the strategies GAs use to create, disseminate, contest and subvert global organizational norms. Based on extensive fieldwork, we found that the creation of successful norms-those widely accepted and shaping behaviour-requires GAs to strike the right balance between formal and informal elements on four dimensions: the extent to which the norm is codified, the mechanisms for its enforcement, the organizational platforms used, and how the new norm aggregates with existing norms.

Our fourth goal was to identify the individual-level skills and capabilities associated with global norm-making. A multi-source survey across several large organizations allowed us to develop a skills framework comprising three core components: a set of relational behaviours concerning 'social skills' around how the globalizing actor manages the social context of their working environment in order to get things done; a set of network communication behaviours encapsulating ways in which globalizing actors gather information, expertise, and know-how in support of their global norming work; and performance of the norm-making behaviours themselves, including the extent to which globalizing actors engage in creating, disseminating, implementing or monitoring new global work practices or processes. s We found these three components to be closely related to each other.

Fifth, we sought to understand the relationship between competence-building on the individual level and global corporate strategy. Results from our quantitative multi-level analysis show that performing the GA role and the associated sets of skills furthers the organization's globalizing goals by positively influencing colleague understanding of global norms. This gives globalizing actors an important role in maintaining employee commitment, motivation and morale during times of change.
Exploitation Route We engaged participating companies as key stakeholders throughout our research, continuously feeding back emerging findings. One of our participating companies is using our skills framework to enhance their training provision for those in global roles. We have also developed a close relationship with the CIPD, who will publish a thought leadership piece on insights from the project in March 2020. This will be accompanied with materials (short articles and talking head videos) for a practitioner audience on the project website (globalizingactors.com).

Our work has also generated significant academic interest. In the proposal we indicated that there was a prospect of comparative studies, and these have been realised through collaboration with teams in Canada and Korea. We hosted an international conference on Globalizing Actors in 2019 to bring together researchers seeking to advance this work. The project is also producing new streams of research, notably a study of GAs in Chinese MNCs led by Dr Ling Zhang within Loughborough London. The PI, Professor Edwards, has recently been awarded another grant with Dr Luda Svystunova of Loughborough London under the TAP scheme for a project entitled 'Social Innovation Processes in and around Multinational Companies' which builds on the GAs project.
Sectors Chemicals,Construction,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Retail,Other

URL http://www.globalizingactors.com
 
Description Multinational firms are increasingly seeking cross-border integration of products and portfolio, as well as internal processes, policies, and ways of doing business. This is in recognition of a globalized world with increasingly homogenous consumer/client demand, but also to realize the economies of scale and greater managerial control that come with integration. Firms often take the creation, dissemination and implementation of such 'global norms' for granted, assuming that it is a straightforward process and that new norms will be readily accepted by those affected. However, multinationals are less hierarchical and more networked than in the past, placing a much wider range of people at the forefront of global issues-and tasking them with aspects of the global norm-making process. Many of these people will not have extensive experience in working across borders, nor will they have had training to help them succeed in doing so. Consequently, global norm-making is often a fraught and contested process that requires individuals with the right skills and foresight. Making firms aware of these potential pitfalls is one of the challenges we faced in this project. We spent considerable time and effort to meet with multinationals to highlight why it is worth paying closer attention to global norm-making processes. In many cases, these meetings led to further engagement with our research, either as participants or interested parties. In engaging with companies from early in our researcher, we also sought to ensure that our approach remains grounded in organizational reality and, crucially, that our findings are relevant and applicable. In one case in particular-a large British technology company-this led to a deep collaboration. The company made extensive staff resources available to participate in our study and helped shape our research instruments. We met with our key contacts and senior managers on a regular basis to share results as they emerged, which the company is seeking to draw on. The company is planning to implement the globalizing actors skill framework we developed to improve training for managers with global remit. We have made plans to discuss this further and anticipate impact in the form of changed practices and training in the company from our research. We are also sharing the results of our study with other participating companies and expect that some will engage in a conversation on how they might implement findings. We have also met with senior leadership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) to share the results of our research and discuss ways of engaging with CIPD members on the subject. CEO Peter Cheese and Head of Research and Thought Leadership Ed Houghton expressed great interest in our work and thought that it provided a new perspective on organizational development. We were invited to write a thought leadership article to highlight how firms need to recognize the challenges associated with global norm-making and support the wide variety of globalizing actors among their staff, not only relying on organizational development professionals. The article is due to be published in March 2020 and will be accompanied by practitioner-oriented materials on our project website. We are in conversation with the CIPD to further engage with their members in a way that is accessible and relevant.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Creative Economy,Other
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Experts in Social Dialogue and Working Life Developments, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2018-2022.
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Presentation given on "Managing Change and the importance of Social Skill" to NHS Leaders at James Pagett Hospital, Yarmouth.
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Educational programme incorporating conceptual ideas and evidence from the research for about 25 NHS leaders. Audience reported change in views, opinions or behaviours.
 
Description Professional Workshop to input to Scottish parliament cross party working group on workplace health in Scotland
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Workshop on Strategic HRM for Executives as part of an MBA educational programme
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The workshop was part of an MBA educational programme which included about 20 managers from 5 countries across the globe. Audience reported change in views, opinions or behaviours.
 
Description Workshop on Wellbeing Implementation and Socially skilled actors organized for the East of England Regional Wellbeing Task Force to engage with industry/business
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Title A survey instrument and a diary study instrument 
Description We have developed, tested and are now running a new survey instrument and a new diary study instrument. These will be lodged at the ESRC Data Archive in due course 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact It is too early to detect the impact 
 
Description Institutional Experimentation for Better Work (SSHRC Canada, $2.6 million, PI Gregor Murray), on which Edwards, Almond and Tregaskis are co-investigators. 
Organisation University of Montreal
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project is a component part of the Major Research Partnership on Institutional Experimentation for Better Work (SSHRC Canada, $2.6 million, PI Gregor Murray), on which Edwards, Almond and Tregaskis are co-investigators. All three regularly participate in conferences and project meetings related to this Partnership, which draws linkages between the ESRC project and a wide range of cross-disciplinary research from a network of over 150 researchers in 18 partner centres worldwide. The two researchers, Dr Kern and Dr Kim, are also now integrated into this network and benefitting from its activities.
Collaborator Contribution The involvement to this point has involved taking part in workshops and conferences and identifying elements of a long-term, collaborative research programme. We are also developing the globalizing actors work as a case, or set of cases, of institutional experimentation.
Impact There have not been outputs yet. The work is inter-disciplinary, bringing together researchers across management, sociology, political science, economics and law.
Start Year 2017
 
Description The UK team's collaboration with equivalent teams in Canada and Korea 
Organisation Seoul National University
Country Korea, Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In the proposal to ESRC we raised the possibility of the UK project being mirrored through parallel projects being created in other countries. These have come to fruition in Canada and Korea. In Canada, Professor Gregor Murray has led a team looking at globalizing actors in Canadian MNCs while in Korea Dr Hyunji Kwon has done the same looking at Korean MNCs. We have helped guide their research design and been involved in some of their fieldwork. Members of our team have also spent time in both Montreal and Seoul, assisting in the development of a coding frame in each case.
Collaborator Contribution The Canadian and Korean teams have made input into our research design and analytical framing. A number of individuals from the two research teams have spent time in the UK, updated us on their progress and fed into our combined thinking for comparative analysis of the data.
Impact None as yet. A conference is scheduled for April 2020 in which we will compare findings from the three national projects, though this may be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Start Year 2017
 
Description The UK team's collaboration with equivalent teams in Canada and Korea 
Organisation University of Montreal
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In the proposal to ESRC we raised the possibility of the UK project being mirrored through parallel projects being created in other countries. These have come to fruition in Canada and Korea. In Canada, Professor Gregor Murray has led a team looking at globalizing actors in Canadian MNCs while in Korea Dr Hyunji Kwon has done the same looking at Korean MNCs. We have helped guide their research design and been involved in some of their fieldwork. Members of our team have also spent time in both Montreal and Seoul, assisting in the development of a coding frame in each case.
Collaborator Contribution The Canadian and Korean teams have made input into our research design and analytical framing. A number of individuals from the two research teams have spent time in the UK, updated us on their progress and fed into our combined thinking for comparative analysis of the data.
Impact None as yet. A conference is scheduled for April 2020 in which we will compare findings from the three national projects, though this may be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Globalizing Actors Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We hosted an international conference on Globalizing Actors and related topics at LUL. This was mainly aimed at an academic audience, but also at participating and interested practitioners, and attracted 55 participants from the UK, Europe and overseas. The conference raised the profile of our research among the academic community--researchers at Glasgow university (Mehdi Boussebaa and colleagues) will organize a follow-on event in 2020 to take this strand of research forward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://globalizingactors.com/conference-about
 
Description Meeting to pitch the project and discuss research collaboration (Cosmetics Co) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Pitched purpose of our research project and how it can be beneficial to the company. Interviewed several key informants. Discussed additional research activity involving the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Meeting to pitch the project and discuss research collaboration (Pharma Co) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Pitched purpose of our research project and how it can be beneficial to the company. Interviewed several key informants. Discussed additional research activity involving the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting to pitch the project and discuss research collaboration (Professional Services Co 2) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Pitched purpose of our research project and how it can be beneficial to the company. Interviewed several key informants. Discussed additional research activity involving the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting to present and discuss emerging project results (Charity) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Feeding back early findings from fieldwork in the company and discussing potential next steps for additional research and engagement. Agreed additional research activity involving the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description Meeting to present and discuss emerging project results (Consultancy Co) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Feeding back findings from fieldwork in the company and discussing potential next steps for additional research and engagement. Agreed additional research activity involving the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
 
Description Meeting to present and discuss emerging project results (Finance Co) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Feeding back early findings from fieldwork in the company and discussing potential next steps for additional research and engagement. Discussed additional research activity involving the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting to present and discuss emerging project results (Professional Services Co) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Feeding back early findings from fieldwork in the company and discussing potential next steps for additional research and engagement. Agreed additional research activity involving the company
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Meeting to present and discuss emerging project results (Telecom Co) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Feeding back early findings from fieldwork in the company and discussing potential next steps for additional research and engagement. Agreed additional research activity involving the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
 
Description Meeting to present and discuss emerging project results (Tobacco Co) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Feeding back early findings from fieldwork in the company and discussing potential next steps for additional research and engagement. Agreed additional research activity involving the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Meeting with CIPD senior management 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with CIPD CEO Peter Cheese and Head of Research Ed Houghton. Presented and discussed project results to find ways to relay them effectively to CIPD members. Agreed to write a thought leadership piece for the CIPD journal as a first step.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Public lecture on "Multinational Companies and the Formation of Global Norms: The Role of Globalizing Actors" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture summarizing some of the core findings of the research project for a general audience. Attendants included senior managers from collaborating organizations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Steering Group Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The annual project steering group meeting brings together research team members and representatives from the organizations participating in the research. The meeting serves to take stock of where we are, seek advice from those in a range of firms and build the views of the participants into our plans for communication and engagement. We present our progress so far and thinking concerning next steps with a view to getting feedback from key stakeholders. With our participating organizations' involvement we seek to ensure our work is relevant and produces tangible benefits to them.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019