According to Briscoe and Schuler (2004:114) ‘the most important issue in the successful conduct of both international business and international HRM is: culture’. There are many different views on culture, which will be developed later in this paper. However, one view is that culture is something an organisation has, which implies it can be manipulated and utilised as a tool to develop, motivate and engage employees through effective culture management. As a result, this can enhance an organisation’s performance, create competitive strategic advantage, and act as a differentiator. On an international level, this has stimulated Multinational Corporations (MNC’s) in their desire to create a corporate culture across borders.
Leat (1999:96 cited in Leat 2001) describes MNC’s as ‘enterprises which own or control production or service facilities in more than one country’. The vital element in becoming an MNC is in establishing a presence in a foreign country by way of purchasing a business – making a foreign investment. MNC’s distinguish themselves from businesses that simply trade on an international level. It has been important to define the nature of MNC’s, before undertaking a more detailed discussion on culture in the context of managing human resources in different national environments, as it is within this area of organisational life this essay will be focused.
The challenge of managing human resources and employee relations when operating internationally presents a significant range of areas for discussion. Many MNC’s fail to appreciate the complexities involved in international human resource management (IHRM); and there is some evidence that suggests poor IHRM may be linked to the failure of an organisation when operating in the international arena. (Desatnick & Bennett, 1978).
The focus of this paper will concentrate on the concept and practice of employee ‘voice’. Lucas et al, (2006:229) generally defines ‘voice’ ‘as the ability for employees to have an input into decisions that are made in organisations’. However, various countries of origin influences the form employee ‘voice’ takes, and the extent to which employees have influence over its level, depth and scope in the management decision process. This can have considerable implications for MNC’s, since they cannot assume that employee ‘voice’ structures in one culture can automatically or successfully be transferred into other cultures. As what is acceptable in one national location may be wholly unacceptable or even offensive in another.
This essay will critically evaluate the effect between culture and employee voice from the standpoint of MNC’s operating as employers. Culture will be discussed, providing different definitions and discussions, followed by an explanation and debate on employee voice. Furthermore, some empirical examples will be used from Royle (1992 and 2002) thus highlighting the areas of tension between culture and employee voice at McDonalds.
Whilst it can be difficult to define national culture in its entirety, due to its varying and comprehensive characteristics, for the purpose of this essay an example from Schell and Solomon (1999) is provided. They state that culture is
Learned and absorbed during the earliest stages of childhood, reinforced by literature, history, and religion, embodied by ….. heroes, and expressed in ….. instinctive values and views, culture is a powerful force that shapes our thoughts and perceptions (Schell and Solomon 1999:9).
This implies that a person is not born with a predetermined culture, but it is obtained through the process of socialisation from birth. As a result, national cultural values are learned early and held deeply. It may therefore, be reasonable to suggest that our cultural values and beliefs are embedded within us to the extent that our daily actions reflect this subconsciously, which is why culture is difficult to change.
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