- Handbooks of Research Methods in Management series
Edited by Keith Townsend, Rebecca Loudoun and David Lewin
Chapter 17: Cross-cultural HRM research: the potential of causal cognitive mapping
Historically, the important insights of cross-cultural research have come from the discipline of anthropology, with researchers conducting ethnographic studies across a range of geographical and social settings. Tales of bizarre or barbaric cultural rituals, such as Takuna girls having their hair plucked out or Luiseno initiates having to lie motionless while being bitten by angry ants (Sosis, 2004), are fascinating but, of course, it is likely that in the context of contemporary human resource management (HRM) the questions being posed will be rather less colourful. However, across all contexts it is notoriously difficult to bring about any forms of change that pose a challenge to the shared beliefs and values, rituals and cultural “norms” of a community. Problems are magnified in the context of large change initiatives such as those of organisational merger and/or acquisition, but even in small organisations and, seemingly, simple contexts, change is rarely devoid of complication. It is becoming increasingly clear that HRM researchers need to take additional account of worker perceptions of such change initiatives. For example, longitudinal research has provided evidence that merely the anticipation of job loss has a negative influence on health even before employment status has changed (Ferrie et al., 1995). Moreover, even when the objective data reveals that there is nothing of concern, heightened employee perceptions of job insecurity may cause organisations to suffer financially due to the associated costs of increased absenteeism and sickness resulting from lowered employee wellbeing. Many of the basic assumptions about how people think and of their self-perceptions and perceptions of others have been shown to be culturally bounded. Cognitive insight into cultural variation is viewed as being crucial to understanding (Fiske and Taylor, 2010). As revealed in the managerial and organisational cognition (MOC) literature, cognitive mapping has been used as a potentially powerful means of representing actors’ belief systems for many years (see, for example, Bougon et al., 1977; Fiol, 2001; Ford and Hegarty, 1984; Gioa and Thomas, 1996). Cognitive mapping procedures provide a way to structure and simplify thoughts and beliefs, to make sense of and communicate information about them. Cognitive mapping methods have been employed to advantage in the discipline of HRM (see Budhwar, 2000; Budhwar and Sparrow, 2002), and further application could hold considerable potential in the cross-cultural context. This includes the international operation of companies, where strategies may be to manage the human resource in a similar manner across all locations (as dictated by central headquarters), and alternative attempts to develop multi-national markets by the exploitation of the peculiarities of local or destination countries and to manage the human resource in a rather more localised context. In either strategy mistaken assumptions regarding cultural context can have negative and potentially dramatic consequences.
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