CALL FOR PAPERS
Special Issue of the Journal of International Business Studies
GLOBAL MOBILITY OF PEOPLE: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS
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Special Issue Editors:
Submission window: January 7-21, 2022
Tentative publication date: Summer 2023
Globalization involves the increasing international interdependence of individuals, firms and countries through the movement of goods, services, capital, and people across national borders. The multinational enterprise (MNE) is closely implicated in facilitating this growing interdependence through its inter-firm and intra-firm networks, as well as its engagement with both civil society and political entities (Narula, 2003). While the economic benefits of the growing intensity (and extensiveness) of trade and investment through the conduits of the MNE and its affiliated actors have been positively received, the associated mobility of people (to which the MNE has contributed in no small measure) has faced varying degrees of societal opposition. Adverse reactions to cross-border mobility and globalization are by no means new. Globalization has been impeded before, in strikingly similar ways (Jones, 2005), although the significance of the MNE as an actor and a facilitator of globalization is a key novelty of its 21st century incarnation. MNEs not only respond to political, regulatory and social pressures by modifying their strategy and the spatial and structural configuration of their activities, subsidiaries and affiliates (Iammarino, 2018; Meyer et al., 2020), but are also able to influence attitudes of civil society and political actors.
Despite the backlash over the last decade, the last 70 years have seen a systematic rise in the cross-border mobility and migration of skilled and unskilled workers, both through the use of expatriation by MNEs, as well as through migration (although this has been an uneven and punctuated process) (Harrison et al., 2018; Stalker, 2000). Nation states – particularly advanced economies – have promoted immigration based on skill levels of individuals from less developed countries, which has, in some cases, led to a net brain drain of the most talented individuals from these locations. At the same time, there is evidence that a significant portion of migrants take up menial jobs, pointing to a need for an all-encompassing perspective on global mobility (Haak-Saheem & Brewster, 2017; Hajro et al., forthcoming; McNulty & Brewster, forthcoming). Stemming from this tension between simultaneously increasing global mobility and concern about its effects, we invite research that explores how peoples’ global mobility influences the MNE, and vice versa.
How Does the Global Mobility of People Influence the Spread, Activities and Performance of the MNE?
Peoples’ global mobility is fundamental to a variety of theoretical IB issues. Edström and Galbraith (1977) were among the first to address the cross-border transfer of managers as a coordination and control strategy in MNEs. Since then, globally mobile people and their associated human capital have remained a basic building block for the study of International Business, whether as workers or customers. For example, institutional pressures are often transmitted through interpersonal interactions involving at least one globally-mobile individual (Adler et al., 1986; Björkman et al., 2007; Sackmann & Phillips, 2004). Global value chains require site visits, procurement negotiations, and personnel rotations or interactions – all necessitating people to cross borders (Jandhyala & Phene, 2015; Kano, 2018). Recent research examines how country migration policies are relevant for MNEs’ operations, such as their use of global workers and subsidiary location choices (Barnard et al., 2019; Choudhury, 2016; Estrin et al., 2018).
As a large literature in International Human Resource Management (IHRM) has amply demonstrated, firms need to attract, develop and retain globally-mobile workers and efficiently deploy their talents (see Conroy & Minbaeva, 2020, for a review). Over time, IHRM research has revealed a range of reasons for trends and shifting patterns in global mobility, including the evolving nature of international assignments and profiles of mobile employees (Caligiuri & Bonache, 2016). Studies have further emphasized the importance of a global HR architecture that uses globally-mobile employees to integrate strategic implementation across the MNE. This includes balancing centralized HR policies and practices with decentralized autonomous initiatives taken at the subsidiary level (Morris et al., 2014; Morris et al., 2016).
From an international management perspective, especially drawing from the field of cross-cultural management (Bird & Mendenhall, 2016), researchers argue for several mechanisms through which globally mobile employees influence MNEs. For example, globally mobile employees can influence MNEs through multicultural identities that facilitate creative decision-making (Vora et al., 2019), interpersonal linking behaviors such as boundary spanning or brokering (Barner-Rasmussen et al., 2014), adapting leadership behaviors across global contexts (Reiche et al., 2017), or social capital and social networks to facilitate inter-unit knowledge flows (Reiche et al., 2009). Regardless of whether individuals choose to move across borders for personal reasons, or do so following their employer’s requests, individuals’ personal characteristics appear to influence how they interact with others across borders and ultimately how these interactions influence organizational outcomes (Caligiuri & Bonache, 2016). For example, research on expatriates with Chinese heritage sent to work in China found that although this common MNE practice was designed to facilitate knowledge flow through shared ethnic identities, it also reduced perceptions of expatriate trustworthiness among local employees (Zhang et al., 2018).
From a strategy perspective, MNEs depend upon their ability to create and maintain firm specific advantages (FSAs), and these in turn are a function of the knowledge embodied in their employees. Human resources are a key aspect of FSAs (Narula & Verbeke, 2015). They are also the single largest operating element of home markets, fueling organizational knowledge development, innovation and entrepreneurship (Almeida et al., 2015; Kerr & Kerr, 2017), while also optimizing the transfer of best practices through global assignments (Harzing et al., 2016). Human capital has historically been regarded as an immobile, location-bound asset. Indeed, the search for appropriately skilled human capital is a primary motive for MNE location choices, when determining where to establish its operations (Dunning, 1977; Iammarino & McCann, 2013; Lavoratori et al., 2020; Narula & Santangelo, 2012).
Mobility is also important for the MNE in moving knowledge across geographic boundaries (Minbaeva et al., 2003; 2014; Tallman & Phene, 2007). Organizational processes such as the rotation of scientists across R&D laboratories or the hiring of immigrant inventors, facilitate social interactions and tacit knowledge exchanges (Froese et al., 2020; Minbaeva et al., 2003; 2014). By leveraging dispersed location specific advantages, MNEs can create competitive advantage by moving the people possessing proprietary skills and knowledge to other locations where other key complementary (location-bound) FSAs may be present (Rugman & Verbeke, 2003; Verbeke, 2013). It is this capacity of the firm to co-ordinate or recombine existing elements of its knowledge and its members, or more broadly recombine its firm specific advantages that can create a dynamic capability for the MNE, and act as a meta-integrator of diverse knowledge resources (Almeida & Phene, 2004; Kogut & Zander, 2003; Narula et al., 2019).
In sum, the mobility of people is a fundamental issue for IB at multiple levels. The ability to efficiently organize its human capital across its internal network arguably defines the MNE’s raison d’être (Andersson et al., 2019). This is no small feat in a world of complex MNEs with multiple (and heterogeneous) host locations.
However, the last decade has seen economic and socio-political trends that suggest greater resistance to global mobility, such as protectionism and a rise in populism due to perceived threats to national identity (Evenett, 2019). Some have proposed that this may result in de-globalization (Witt, 2019). The current backlash to globalization reflects, in part, concerns about links between rising migration and increasing inequalities (Narula & van der Straaten, 2020). These concerns persist even though the aggregate and longer-term economic effects of migration are mostly positive (Docquier & Rapoport, 2012). Environmental trends are creating greater pressures to reduce air travel for climate reasons. Lately, the COVID pandemic not only reduced both the frequency and extent of global mobility, but fundamentally questioned its need (Caligiuri et al., 2020).
If the mobility of people is indeed essential to the spread and activities of the MNEs, it is therefore germane to ask a related question: How might restrictions to mobility affect the spread, activities and performance of the MNE, at the micro, meso and macro levels? At the micro level, firms that rely more on local human capital could jeopardize their ability to attract, develop and retain global talent that generally prefers working with similarly global or multicultural leaders (Hong & Minbaeva, 2019). People might be less willing to relocate in the face of mobility restrictions, such as the ‘hassle factor’ of accessing work visas (Schotter & Beamish, 2014) or family responsibilities (Caligiuri & Bonache, 2016). This may affect the composition of the top management teams, ultimately shaping the MNEs’ response to global competitive pressures (Carpenter et al., 2001; Fitzsimmons et al., 2017). Subsequent challenges could occur for meso-level outcomes such as networks (Patel & Vella, 2013), return mobility (Cassarino, 2004), entrepreneurship (Reuber & Fischer, 1997), knowledge mobility (Minbaeva et al., 2003; 2014), and psychological safety (Caligiuri et al., 2020).
At a more macro-level, restrictions to mobility may ultimately affect the spatial organization of MNE activity more generally. GVCs respond to changing supply and demand conditions as well as socio-political circumstances, and are perpetually reconfiguring their spatial configuration. Given the role of human capital as a key location advantage, restrictions to human capital mobility will likely herald significant changes in the location choices of specific value adding activities. For instance, because R&D strategies in a competence creating subsidiary are driven by the supply of skills in a particular location (Cantwell & Mudambi, 2005), mobility restrictions may entail a restructuring of the MNE’s footprint. The MNE may be more likely to establish such subsidiaries in innovative locations with fewer mobility restrictions. The effect of restrictions on mobility in the MNE organization may be nuanced, depending upon the nature and extent of its embeddedness in each location (Castellani & Zanfei, 2006).
There may be an increase in alternate and novel avenues available to the MNE and other international organizations to overcome mobility restrictions. For example, scholars of knowledge management argue that communities of practice matter as much as spatial proximity for knowledge creation, and ultimately, the augmentation and upgrading of the MNE’s FSAs (Amin & Cohendet, 2004; Grant & Phene, forthcoming; Håkanson, 2010; Nonaka & Konno, 1998). Epistemic communities within and outside the MNE or clusters with global pipelines could enable flows of tacit knowledge without the movement of people (Bathelt et al., 2004). Ultimately, MNEs and other international organizations must discover how to retain the benefits of global mobility, either through its continued practice or by developing alternatives.
Special Issue Overall Question
We encourage research on any people-related aspect of global mobility that has implications for the MNE and addresses our primary question:
How does the global mobility of people influence the spread, activities and performance of the MNE?
Submissions can draw on a variety of theoretical and disciplinary approaches, including theoretical, qualitative, quantitative or mixed-method designs. We encourage research that can address global mobility and its effects on IB at multiple levels of analysis, as well as comparative analysis of differences in firm and institutional strategies across nations and regions. Although we prefer submissions within MNE contexts, we also invite submissions from other IB contexts (e.g., migrant employment, global mobility within international entrepreneurial firms or international governmental organizations, etc.), as long as they clearly show implications for MNEs. We particularly welcome multidisciplinary research that integrates insights from a broad range of disciplines.
All manuscripts will be reviewed as a cohort for this special issue. Manuscripts must be submitted in the window between 7-21 January 2022, at http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jibs. All submissions will go through the JIBS regular double-blind review process and follow the standard norms and processes.
For more information about this call for papers, please contact the Special Issue Editors.
The Special Issue Editors plan to offer two types of dedicated activities to support authors interested in this topic: pre-submission sessions, and a workshop for authors after the first round of review.
Pre-Submission Ask-the-Editors Sessions (2020-2021)
We will offer a series of three online ask-the-editors sessions prior to the first submission deadline, as well as special issue symposia at AIB, EIBA, AOM and other IB-related conferences. These sessions will be a good opportunity to speak to us directly about whether your paper is a good fit, and to ask any other questions that may help you finalize your submission.
Paper Development Workshop (mid-2022)
Authors who are invited to resubmit their manuscripts after the first round of review will be invited to a paper development workshop. Depending on the state of global travel restrictions, this workshop will be hosted at Copenhagen Business School, the University of Victoria (Canada), or online. This workshop will be a collaborative opportunity to meet with like-minded scholars and support one anothers’ work, in addition to receiving tailored, real-time support from the Special Issue Editors.
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About the Guest Editors
Stacey Fitzsimmons is an Associate Professor at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada. Her research analyzes how immigrants, their descendants, and multicultural employees contribute to their teams and organizations. She received the WAIB emerging scholar award and AOM’s International Human Resources Management Scholarly Impact award. Her research has been published in Academy of Management Review, the Journal of International Business Studies, Human Resource Management Review, and Organization Studies, among others.
Dana Minbaeva is a Professor of Strategic and Global Human Resource Management at the Department of Strategy and Innovation, and the Vice-President for International Affairs at Copenhagen Business School. Her research on strategic international HRM has appeared in top international journals, numerous book chapters and reports. She received several national and international awards for research achievements, including the prestigious JIBS Decade Award 2013. Professor Minbaeva is the Fellow at the Academy of International Business. She currently serves as a JIBS’ Area Editor.
Anu Phene is Professor of International Business and Phillip Grub Distinguished Scholar at the School of Business at George Washington University. Her research focuses on strategies to create innovation and enable knowledge transfer. She has authored publications in the Administrative Science Quarterly, Journal of International Business Studies, Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Economic Geography, Management International Review, Journal of Management Studies and the Journal of Management. She is Associate Editor at Global Strategy Journal, Consulting Editor at the Journal of International Business Studies and is on the editorial board of Organization Science and the Strategic Management Journal.
Rajneesh Narula is the John H. Dunning Chair of International Business Regulation at the Henley Business School, University of Reading, UK. His research and consulting have focused on the role of multinational firms in development, innovation and industrial policy, R&D alliances and outsourcing. He has published over a 100 articles and chapters in books on these themes. He is an area Editor of JIBS. He holds honorary appointments at UNU-MERIT, Norwegian School of Business, Urbino University and Oxford University.