Globalizing Actors: Multinationals and the Creation, Diffusion and Implementation of Global Norms

Saturday, 4 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.3.01 (Tower Two)
Phil Almond, N/A, United Kingdom; De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom
Tony Edwards, N/A, United Kingdom; Kings College London, London, United Kingdom
Olga Tregaskis, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom
Globalizing Actors: Multinationals and  the Creation, Diffusion and Implementation of Global Norms

Phil Almond (DMU) Tony Edwards (Kings’ College London), and Olga Tregaskis (University of East Anglia)

Presenting author: Tony Edwards –

The multinational company (MNC) is a rich research context for the development of institutional theory, representing a domain in which individuals and units in different national socio-economic contexts, hierarchical levels and functions, cooperate and compete in a negotiated order in order to advance economic goals (Ferner, 2000; Bouquet and Birkinshaw, 2008).  MNCs attempt to institutionalise and manage norms globally, and to balance the advantages of international standardization of norms against those of local variation (Gupta and Govindarajan, 2008). While some aspects of the travel of norms within MNCs have been well documented (Rosensweig and Nohria, 1994), there remains something of a gap in academic research concerning the role of individuals in developing strategies of integration within multinational companies. This paper aims to provide an analysis of what is known about such ‘globalizing actors’ in their roles of creating, spreading and implementing global norms across the international operations of MNCs, and to identify how this agenda can be taken forward, both conceptually and methodologically.

The behaviour of globalizing actors is shaped by institutions in many ways. One element of this is their embeddedness in the country in which they spent their formative working years, which shapes their experiences and competencies in such issues as intra-firm modes of control and coordination and the extent of delegation to workers. Secondly, globalizing actors must be aware of, and sensitive to, the variety of host country national institutions that they encounter in their cross-border activities. In this vein, Drori et al. (2009) stress the importance of this group being able to ‘develop dual capabilities in understanding and operating in multiple institutional environments’ (p1009). And third, they must navigate their way through a growing range of transnational institutions, such as meeting the demands of the global financial system (Yeung, 2002), familiarizing themselves with institutions shaping the rights of professions to practice abroad (Faulconbridge and Muzio, 2011), and dealing with international non-governmental organisations (Were, 2003).

Thus globalizing actors are institutionally embedded and constrained. An adequate framework has to interpret their agency as to some extent operating ‘along the paths provided by history’ (Crouch, 2005: 24). Yet Crouch also emphasises the creativity and innovativeness of individuals in being able to ‘cast around for elements of institutions that they could recombine in unusual ways at opportune moments in order to produce change’ (2005: 3) in a process that he terms ‘institutional bricolage’. Similarly, Drori et al. (2009: 1003) argue that those operating transnationally are ‘not simply passive adherents to institutional constraints, but actively mould them to suit their own unique initiatives’. In doing so they develop ‘strategies of action’ that help shape the ‘emergent rules of the game’ and they develop and deploy the capacity to exploit institutional contradictions and ambiguities to their own ends (Greenwood and Suddaby, 2006). The combination of these multiple institutional and organisational signals is idiosyncratic and based on their saliency to the individual. The individual level resources of these actors reflected in the skills, knowledge, behaviours alongside the relationship these actors have to others in terms of power, position and trust and transnational experiences or exposure are central to the institutionalisation of norms within MNCs, but largely unexplored empirically.

The current paper will bring together hitherto fragmented insights on the creation and diffusion of norms in international firms, It will seek to develop a more adequate way of evaluating these processes, through the prism of those tasked with performing them – what we term the ‘globalising actor’. It aims to establish a methodological agenda for future research. The argument here will be strongly oriented towards a need for cross-national comparative research, both of nationality of firm ownership, and of host countries: research on the role of globalising actors in MNCs must take account of potential country of origin effects (Ferner, 1997) to mitigate against the risks of ethnocentrism, while it must also seek, at least on aggregate, to cover the full variety of types of national host environments and levels of economic and host country managerial development.


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