Knowledge Transfer Through Expatriation: The U-curve Approach To Overseas Staffing

While group intellectual capital, manifested in the ability to transfer core competencies from one experience to the next, is critical for sustaining competitive advantage, today's organization faces the difficulty of measuring and managing these intangible assets. Here we examine the unique role of expatriate managers in enhancing group intellectual capital by facilitating the transfer of knowledge across national borders. Thus, while expatriates (or home-country managers sent on overseas assignments) represent costly and sometimes unsuccessful endeavors, expatriation remains a viable staffing strategy among multinational corporations (MNCs) for several reasons. Among these are the potential to (1) facilitate the communication process between the parent location and its subsidiaries, as well as across subsidiaries, (2) aid in establishing country linkages, and (3) increase the firm's understanding of international operations. As such, the practice of employing expatriates may be a strategic move on the part of an MNC to increase the international experience and knowledge base of present and future managers (Boyacigiller, 1991). Thus, expatriation is a tool by which organizations can gather and maintain a resident base of knowledge about the complexities of international operations.