Making Sense of Global Integration and Local Responsiveness: Unravelling Logics of Actions in HR Function of Korean MNCs

Chul Chung.

Chul’s doctoral research, co-supervised by Dr Ödül Bozkurt formerly of the Department of Organisation, Work & Technology.

Research outline

The notions of global integration and local responsiveness have been widely used in describing and analysing international HRM (IHRM) strategy and practices of MNEs. A significant amount of research has examined the degree of global integration or local responsiveness in HR functions of MNEs, mainly from developed economies, by assessing whether a particular HRM practice resemble local practices or parent firm’s practices. In this stream of research, it tends to be assumed that:

(1) the global integration simply means standardisation of HRM practices by imposing parent practices to subsidiaries and the local responsiveness connotes localisation of subsidiary HRM practices by following local practices;

(2) responding to the dual pressures of global integration and local responsiveness is a matter of ‘either-or’ choice between the global standardisation and the localisation of HRM practices;

(3) the adaptation patterns of subsidiary HRM practices are largely determined by the contextual factors such as home and host country institutional influences.

However, there is lack of empirical investigation regarding whether those rather narrow, dualistic and deterministic conceptualisations of the two constructs would be valid in the actual development and execution of IHRM strategy and practices.

The core research question for this research is: 'How are global integration and local responsiveness conceptualized and put into practice in subsidiary HRM practices by corporate and subsidiary HR actors in Korean MNEs?' This is explored through four questions:

1) How are global integration and local responsiveness conceptualised by corporate HR actors in Korean MNEs?

2) How is this conceptualisation then reflected in IHRM strategy? (The approach corporate HR takes to subsidiary HRM practices.)

3) How are global integration and local responsiveness conceptualised by subsidiary HR actors in Korean MNEs?

4) How is this conceptualisation related to the implementation of the IHRM strategy at the subsidiary level?

This research furthers our understanding of IHRM strategy and practices of MNEs by examining the ways of conceptualising and enacting the notions of global integration and local responsiveness in IHRM strategy and subsidiary HRM practices of MNEs from a newly industrialised economy, South Korea. It reveals patterns in their IHRM strategies and practices, various logics and conceptions of global integration and local responsiveness underlying those strategies and practice.

A cross-sectional study has been carried out in South Korea, involving around 30 interviews with Korean MNCs operating in the auto, electronics, steel, heavy equipment, software, confectionery, cosmetics and HR services sectors. This study examined the institutionalisation of 'global HR' in the Korean HR field, convergence and divergence in the concepts of global integration and local responsiveness among the companies; and subsidiary response patterns to Global HR initiatives.

Data have been gathered to examine 47 micro-components of practices within five broad HRM areas that have widely been identified as core areas of practice in previous research: job and grades, recruitment and selection, learning & development, performance management, compensation and benefits. This micro-component data is used to evidence standardisation, localisation or hybridisation in each of the five core HRM practice area.

A second cross-sectional study has been carried out in Japan to examine global HR logics and practices in three leading Japanese MNCs by interviewing with key actors in corporate HR of the companies. This study tried to identify some commonalities and differences amongst Japanese MNCs aiming at making sense of Korean MNCs cases by comparison as well as examining the country of origin effect.

The core research also involves a multi-site comparative case study at the subsidiary level. Data have been collected from the Indian and US subsidiaries of a Korean MNC. In India, 17 interviews have been conducted in: a manufacturing plant in Chennai; an engineering centre in Hyderabad; and sales and marketing operations in Dehli. In the US, 20 interviews have been conducted across the three sites are involved: an R&D centre in Michigan; a manufacturing site in Georgia; and a sales site in California. Interviewees included HR expatriates, local HR managers, heads of site, and line managers.

Those interested in the research should email Chul on 

Chul's bio

Chul is a doctoral researcher in Lancaster University Management School in the UK, studying organisation and people management practices of multinational corporations, specially Korean and Japanese multinationals. His broad research themes encompass the areas of intersections between human resource management, strategic management, organisation studies, and international management. Whilst at Lancaster he has conducted field studies with Korean MNCs such as Hyundai/Kia Motors, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, and POSCO in their headquarters and India and U.S. subsidiaries, and with Japanese MNCs such as Sony, Panasonic, and Fujitsu to examine how the MNCs conceptualise and enact the notions of global integration and local responsiveness in their HR function.

Before embarking on his studies in Lancaster, Chul worked as a management consultant for eleven years, specialising in organisation design and human resource management areas with multinational consultancies and a research organisation such as IBM Global Business Services, Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson) and LG Economic Research Institute. At IBM, as a senior managing consultant, he performed such roles as project director for multiple projects, project manager for large scale projects, competency group leader for Workforce Transformation and Learning Solution, and people manager for a group of consultants.

Chul graduated from Yonsei University in South Korea with a Bachelor and a Master degree in Business Administration and also from Lancaster University with a MA degree in Human Resource and Knowledge Management. When he was in the Graduate School of Yonsei, he studied at the Graduate School of Business in University of Chicago as an exchange student. During his doctoral studies, he was a visiting researcher at Hitotsubashi University in Japan.