Linking expats and their local colleagues: the Host Country National Liaison model

Expats are often seen as important links between headquarters and the local subsidiary in terms of knowledge transfer, especially if the expat is sent abroad to head the local operation. For this reason, much attention has been given to recruitment, selection and training of expats to ensure that they are as successful as possible.

Neglecting the local workforce

One major group has been largely overlooked in all this: the local workforce. Local colleagues can play crucial roles linking between the expatriate and the local workforce or environment. Spotting this gap, my colleagues Vance, Vaiman and Andersen developed a model of the Host Country National Liaison (HCNLinkL) (1 and 2), which highlights various ways in which host country national colleagues can contribute. For example, a local colleague can explain to the expat how things are done in the local subsidiary, clarify what another local colleague meant, or offer all kinds of local information that is important for the expat to know. It also works in the other direction: the HCNL can also pass information from the expat on to the local workforce, or help the local workforce understand the behavior of the expat him/herself. This can result in more efficient knowledge flows which ultimately impacts on firm performance, but also in better expatriate adjustment and performance.

How can a host country national (HCN) help?

Vance and his colleagues have defined five major components of the Host Country National Liaison role in their model:

  1. Cultural Interpreter: When a HCN helps to promote cross-cultural understanding associated with cultural differences between the expatriate and the local workforce.
  2. Communication Manager: When a HCN deals with individual and institutional communication issues and needs among local employees, expats, and the external marketplace (e.g., local recruitment or regulatory agencies).
  3. Information Resource Broker: When a HCN is a source of many forms of information for both HCN employees and the expatriate.
  4. Talent Manager: When a HCN facilitates acquisition, development and retention of human talent.
  5. Internal Change Agent: When a HCN works with the expatriate to effectively manage processes of change within the host country workforce.

How relevant is the HCNL role?

Based on our own observations and discussions with many expats and locals, we think a HCNL can contribute greatly to the success of the local subsidiary. We now would like to make sure that this is indeed the case, so we have developed a questionnaire which we will soon offer to expats to test this. Keep an eye on this blog for future posts about this!

Sources

  • Vance, C. M., et al. (2009). “The vital liaison role of host country nationals in MNC knowledge management.” Human Resource Management 48(4): 649-659
  • Vance, C. M., et al. (2014). “A Taxonomy of Potential Contributions of the Host Country National Local Liaison Role in Global Knowledge Management.” Thunderbird International Business Review 56(2): 173-191.

Photo by Ruby Gold via Flickr

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About Marian van Bakel

I graduated in International Business Communication at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. After my studies I was a Visiting Study Fellow at University of Oxford where I conducted a research on the adjustment of Dutch diplomats and their partners in London. In February 2012 I successfully defended my PhD thesis ‘In Touch with the Dutch’, in which I put expatriates in touch with a Dutch host to examine the effect of this contact on the success of the international assignment. During my PhD research I also worked as in house communication consultant at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. I am currently a postdoc at the Department of Leadership and Corporate Strategy at the University of Southern Denmark (www.sdu.dk/en). Since 2004 I have done extensive voluntary work in the intercultural field for the Young Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research (Young SIETAR). One of my projects was to co-edit and co-author A Suitcase Full of Discoveries (2008), an intercultural storybook for children.
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