International HRM – A more critical approach

I’m currently working on the second edition of my 2002 book International HRM: A  Cross-cultural Approach. I’m not sure that in ten years anything drastic has happened in international HRM. I really didn’t want to use the term HRM when I wrote the original book, but my publisher was keen to align it with courses being taught. ‘People management’ seemed a bit wishy-washy, although this term had some currency in, for example South Africa. My favoured title was Managing People in International Organizations, as this was the title I gave to the course I was teaching at ESCP-EAP at the time. My point was, and still is, that human beings are not universally regarded as resources. This ‘locus of human value’ appears legitimate in western organizations, but not so in many non-western countries and communities. Hence the responses I got from a number of interviewees in my African study that  ‘when I go into work in the morning I step outside my culture, when I go home in the evening I step back inside my culture’. The term HRM is still almost universally employed, even though it might not mean exactly the same thing. What does appear to be happening, with its pace hotting up over the last few years, that may substantially influence the way people are managed internationally is the rising influence of emerging economies in the world – particularly China. The dominance of western (mainly American) ideas of ‘effective’ management may be less and less sustainable. This leads to the necessity for scholars to be more critical in their study of international HRM. The complication is that western management methods have gained some currency in China, but this has always been interpreted in China with Chinese characteristics. It is then more complex to understand what happens when Chinese organizations go abroad. What do they actually take with them to Africa, for example? The problem for (western) researchers is through what lens do they view this and interpret it – at the moment this appears to be a fairly pejorative lens.

The upshot of all this is that international HRM, and the way we think about this and research it is changing because geopolitical dynamics are changing. Knowledge doesn’t simply appear from nowhere. Global-local interactions shape and reshape knowledge, and changing geopolitical dynamics change the way this is happening, and influence the content of our knowledge. This is what I am looking at differently in this new edition of International HRM.

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