Apple Inc.’s Human Resource Management Department

Subject: Case Studies
Pages: 13
Words: 3679
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: Master

Introduction

Human Resource Management is recognized as one of the most complicated and important areas of organizational planning. Multiple otherwise successful companies struggle with establishing the proper chain of command, recruitment mechanisms, and talent management practices for their organizations. The challenges associated with the area scale exponentially when applied to multinational organizations with outlets and assignments around the world. The phenomenon of an employee failing to complete an international assignment is known in HRM as an expatriate failure. It is a well-known challenge to globally operating companies with a wide range of factors of influence and potential reasons associated with it. This paper attempts to provide a set of recommendations to Apple Inc. HRM department in relation to this phenomenon. It focuses on each of the major areas of the course content to design potential suggestions for the international employees of the company in an attempt to help it avoid or minimize expatriate failure.

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Domestic and International HRM

When conducting a comparative analysis of domestic and international HRM, multiple factors are to be considered. HR policies and practices, strategic decisions in the area, industrial relations and cultural studies’ findings are all factors that contribute to the differences between home countries HRM and international HRM. Within the specifically international context it is fair to say that one of the main goals of the HR department is to ensure the company’s standard and brand are upheld overseas. Depending on the firm, the managers engage in different degrees of localization and standardization on the production stage to satisfy its customers. The HR strategies, however, remain roughly similar for most international companies: to develop a highly skilled, adaptive workforce, capable of recognizing the cultural differences and implementing them into their approach. To achieve this goal, Apple management team has developed a set of HR practices exclusive to the employees that are about to begin an international assignment.

Within the context of the international HRM, an expatriate is an employee who works and temporarily resides in another country, sent there by an admission of their home office. These employees are then faced with a variety of challenges, such as the need for a broader perspective and effect on personal life arrangements (Cooke, Wood, Wang and Veen, 2019). They also need to navigate the changes in emphasis and employment culture due to the mixing of international agents and local employees and manage the external influences. International HRM is then dedicated to aiding the expatriates in navigating these challenges while delivering highly productive performance. For Apple specifically the efficiency of their international agents is one of the main goals, considering the company’s successful attempts to maintain dominance in the luxury technology market. Their expatriates act as ambassadors of the global, internationally recognizable brand, that directly affect sales and firm’s performance overall.

Domestic-environment oriented HR managers tend to operate within familiar systems to design a set of employment benefits, tax relaxations and other forms of package that comes with working in the company. Benefits package implementation, however, is complicated for the international HR teams, as presenting such services within a foreign legislation and cultural environment has proven to be challenging. International-oriented HR needs to balance the provision of benefits expected from their company within a foreign landscape, while reasonably catering to needs that originate overseas. Such challenges include primarily support in costs associated with significant lifestyle changes, such as work-related immigration inseparable from an expatriate’s experience. Yet, as one of the leading companies on the market, Apple does not stop there, and has implemented a wide variety of benefits from their employees. The existing package can be described as competitive, with employees being offered virtual and in-person medical counseling, paid parental leaves and programmes that allow them to become the firm’s shareholders.

The appropriate recommendation for Apple within the international HRM framework would be to publicly put a greater emphasis on their benefit packages designed for expatriates and international agents. The expatriate failure is, among other factors, frequently associated with internal frustrations and high adaptation costs, both financial and psychological, that overseas employees have to face (Cooke, Wood, Wang and Veen, 2019). By providing structural support to their international agents, Apple could maximize their sense of loyalty to the firm and provide them with a feeling of meaningful work. It could also demonstrate the international employees that they are valued by the home office, shaping the perception of the international assignment in a positive way.

Influence of local culture

Typically, local cultural differences emerge during the collaboration process between international agents and local offices, resulting in tension and conflict of views. When discussing organizational HR performance in the international context it is important to recognize the degree of impact cultural-specific influences. Said understanding is instrumental in developing appropriate response strategies and identifying the areas which require HR managers’ additional attention (Liu, L. Cooper and Y. Tarba, 2019). Furthermore, it allows for understanding which aspects of behavior and values of the local office employees are explained by their cultural heritage and should not be explicitly questioned.

To define what is culture in itself has proven to be a challenge due to a range of vague and somewhat conflicting definitions available. For the purposes of this assignment, culture is seen as a combination of knowledge and rituals that shapes values and traditions of a nationally organized group of people. This definition is chosen on the grounds of being simultaneously broad and precise, which makes it applicable for the needs of the global business context. It is beneficial to specify, however, that even though there are several culture definitions in existence, scholars tend to agree on a set of common characteristics.

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Generally speaking, culture is considered to be multi-layered, shared by a group of people, having been developed over time and relatively stable. National cultures are particularly complicated in their structure and origin, having ties with a country’s history and political landscape. As the structural analysis of a national culture is an ambitious and not entirely relevant endeavour, HR managers frequently consider its external manifestations. These include educational system, governmental regime, economic environment, the stage of techology, legal infrastructure, etc. For countries global corporations operate in these factors might be drastically different with those of the corporations’ home countries, and the navigation of said differences proves tricky.

Other important characteristics of culture tend to be more difficult to generalize, since different sciences and fields concern with culture tend to focus on its different areas, the most relevant for their particular needs. Organizational and political cultures, being more measurable and institutionalized, tend to be studied separately from beliefs and values of the culture members. In a business context such separation is not always beneficial, since it fails to account for the influence these invisible aspects of culture have on purchasing decisions and employment practices (Liu, L. Cooper and Y. Tarba, 2019). Within the human resources framework, however, values have become a forefront of attention, and are often in the spotlight of the current managerial literature.

When applied to the Apple HRM context, the existing consensus on culture’s impact on business and talent management, it is evident that the firm prioritizes standardization over localization in its products. However, to achieve the effective marketing of branded Apple products it is essential that the international employees recognize the intricacies of local cultures. Therefore a main recommendation in relation to avoiding expatriate failure is to study the local cultures in the utmost detail.

Influence of institutional differences

In contrast to the psychologically based cultural approach, the differences between country-specific institutions are easier to document and measure. Institutional context concerns the differences in infrastructure, economic wealth acquisition, formalization, organization and even climate within the nation. These factors are tangible in influence and shape the internal processes of social regulation. Institutional framework defines what a global company absolutely needs to do for establishing a productive outlet in a particular country. Consecutively, institutional landscape defines an organizational culture of the firm’s outlet at large and on multiple layers, including the HRM perspective.

Preparation for the local institutional landscape is a key factor in planning for any expansion a firm might plan to undertake. When applied to Apple, it involves researching the taxation policies, wage rates and possible locations for factories and warehouses. Furthermore, a global management team would have to establish and navigate agreements with local suppliers, potentially compromising if some of the materials were unavailable or scarce. Hence an appropriate recommendation for the firm would be to optimize its international research process and inform the future expatriates consistently throughout every stage. Expatriate training should be scaled appropriately with the existing infrastructure of the country of interest. The importance of training in avoiding expatriate failure cannot be overstated in general and is discussed in detail in the upcoming section.

Preparation in advance

Incidentally, no amount of local success and commercial leverage is sufficient to guarantee the equally or at all satisfying performance abroad. The pre-departure training ensures the international agents possess the skills and qualifications they would require on their new place of employment. To specify, international agents need to be educated on the aspects of culture and institutional characteristics discussed above (Sudar et al., 2917). Additional motivation through familiarizing with exiting benefits for the beholders of the international assignments can also be seen as appropriate. This section attempts to discuss the key aspects a training initiative for the international agents should take into account. Consecutively, the section functions as recommendation of itself, since Apple, being an internationally established and commercially successful company, can and should incorporate the following into its training practices.

Well-researched notions on verbal and non-verbal communication guidelines, existing taboos, customs, negotiation and decision-making techniques, and corporate landscapes are essential parts of the pre-departure training. This knowledge is instrumental to an employee’s capacity of integrating into a new work environment and demonstrating an outstanding performance (Mayrhofer, Gooderham and Brewster, 2019). Without a sufficient degree of research and care put into a training area, HR managers might be personally setting up their agents for failure. No amount of domestic qualifications and excellence is enough to ensure an agents’ successful performance in an unfamiliar context and environment.

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Culture and customs training must be provided to an Apple employee, since, as already mentioned, these factors affect the operational structure of a local business outlet. A colleague educated in local customs and traditions would quickly gain trust and establish expertise exchange channels beneficial for the home office and the international office alike (Dowling, Festing and Engle, 2017). The importance of this education scales when applied to the areas with significant religious differences. An employee sent with an international assignment from a culturally Christian to a culturally Muslim country, or vice versa, would have to be throughoutly educated on the local customs of dress and speech.

Business and negotiations etiquette tends to vary substantially between countries, and although expatriates are not expected to fully shift their approach to their duties, adaptive qualities are required of them. Local business etiquette knowledge can be a deal-breaker in negotiations and casual operations, as these factors is often noted subconsciously by the local stakeholders and cannot be simply ignored. Since Apple is interested in maintaining its commercial dominance and has to compete against local technological companies, it is important that its representative is perceived as equals. If an expatriate were to demonstrate excellent knowledge of the local business etiquette, they could ensure that the firm they represent is perceived as an equal on all grounds by the local community.

Finally, an Apple expatriate would have to be trained to understand the culture-specific approaches to chains of command and internal business management. Based on the corporate legislation and the working culture at large, the decision-making processes within organizations differ substantially (Mayrhofer, Gooderham and Brewster, 2019). To make an example, in Germany corporate decisions are highly centralized and linked to the top management, while in Korea the unionist legislation ensures the greater involvement of workers. By accumulating such knowledge in their training, an Apple expatriate would be able to adapt their communicational focus accordingly, establish a positive working relationship with new colleagues and demonstrate outstanding results.

Managing Performance Internationally

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that not everything that could be considered a failure in the domestic environment can be classified as such within the international context. Performance measurement, conducted by the home office, should take into account a range of constraints and factors of influence when evaluating the results delivered by the expatriates. Said constraints are caused by both the standard logistic difficulties of the international research and, in case of Apple, the large scale of operations that need to be accounted for.

First, it is important to appreciate that by its very nature, the overseas outlet of a global corporation is an entity with dual status, conforming to both domestic and international demands. The questions of integration, control, responsibility and prioritization arise when one side of these demands temporarily outgrows the other. It is not uncommon for a domestic home office and international outlet to have conflicting short-term goals, particularly when implementing their respective market analysis in the production plan for the firm (Vaiman and Brewster, 2014). To specify, an expatriate might be faced with a situation, where a domestic office requires them to prioritize a product that is successful in a domestic environment, but not overseas (Samimi and Sydow, 2020). In this case scenario, performance management conflict might be resolved through an optimization of communication channels.

A second key constraint lies in the frequent contradictions in technical and organizational quality control systems across countries. Home office and international offices might differ in their respective production and sales targets, which in turn are influenced by the aforementioned institutional and cultural factors (Dowling, Festing and Engle, 2017). This constraint is one of the most difficult to tackle effectively and often acts as a key source of stress associated with the expatriate work. It is instrumental, however, to be aware that said differences in performance standards and product guidelines can not be equated to failure. Instead, a company that wishes to successfully operate globally should consistently prioritize its international research.

A third factor that can impact on the performance of a subsidiary is the occurrence of volatility and turbulence in the global business environment. This volatility requires the flexibility in any long-term strategic goals as both political and economic landscapes abroad are particularly difficult to predict (Brewster, Mayrhofer and Farndale, 2018). Furthermore, some of the factors that make a country attractive for an international corporation to open an outlet in tend to correlate with unstable economic situations. These factors include, but are not limited to, comparatively low wage rates and cheaply available supplies that, naturally, increase the attention of Apple’s home offices to the possible extension targets. In tackling the risks of volatile business environment, research and responsible budgeting are once again keys to success (Tasavori, Eftekhar, Mohammadi Elyasi and Zaefarian, 2021). It is impossible to predict the sudden changes, but the HRM department might prepare for the possibility of them happening. In these extreme cases of the market crush or a political turmoil it is important that the HR provides expatriates with all the necessary support.

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A final constraint influencing the measurability of international performance lies in different levels of maturity and economical development across markets. The aforementioned institutional differences influence the starting grounds for an international office to operate upon. Furthermore, any company, even an internationally successful corporation, naturally encounters a greater number of challenges and unexpected expenses overseas. When combined with potentially developing economy with uncharacteristic purchasing patters, it becomes evident that performance measurement teams in the home office should be intimately familiar with the country in question. A greater amount of time then might be needed to achieve results that are seen as satisfactory in the domestic context, and this fact must be recognized in the performance assessment procedure. This constraint is particularly relevant for the expatriates charged with the establishment or an early development of a new company branch abroad.

General Recommendations

To summarize, Apple, such as any other global firm with multiple international outlets, can benefit from a set of improvements in avoiding expatriate failure and maximizing its efficiency abroad. Firstly, any existing HR research on productivity and output should be effectively adjusted for the international framework and contexts (Pucik, Evans and Bjorkman, 2017). In practice this means hiring local consultants and trainers, as well as potentially optimizing and updating the existing professional development materials. As a firm that markets itself as a part of the bright and inclusive future of opportunities, Apple is unlikely to face significant internal resistance against this approach that aligns perfectly with the company’s values.

Second advise involves focusing not only on the international influences on the internal organizational structure, but rather on the firm’s relationships with suppliers and other businesses. The aforementioned practices of cultural customs and busines etiquette shape an outlet’s relationships with other firms, which then affects its practices in competition and partnership alike (Dowling, Festing and Engle, 2017). Furthermore, one can always benefit from investing into the development of the relationship between central management and expatriate workers (Bonache and Festing, 2020). This communicational channel should be perfected as much as possible, since it directly affects the perception of an expatriate’s performance developed by the home office. Existing corporate literature on expatriates could greatly benefit from drawing on the insights adjusted for the industry-specific context. To elaborate, Apple HR managers are encouraged to consult on organizational literature adjusted for the characteristics and demands of the technology and computing industry. In particular, attention should be drawn to way in which local cultures and infrastructures shape the relationships between Apple and its key suppliers overseas.

Thirdly, the IHRM practices accords a strong attention to intra-organizational knowledge flows and the relative dissemination of core strategies. Managers should take into account the existing mechanisms of expertise exchange and investment flows that are facilitated by the expatriate work abroad. In a way, the third recommendation involves prioritizing the positive outcomes and potentials within the role of the international agents, rather just risks and challenges they have to undertake. For Apple, the expatriates might be a facilitating link between the home office and the internationally positioned sources of expertise and knowledge. Mutually beneficial programs can be established between the head quarters and the local experts, with professionals exchanging their technical and commercial insights. By shifting their focus in training from avoiding failure to achieving success, Apple could turn their expatriates into some of the most efficient corporate tools.

Finally, within the outlined industry more then anywhere else, there is an impact of technology to be accounted for. Technological and digital trends shape the internal dynamics in business operations and are often unaccounted for by the existing body of literature (Brewster, Mayrhofer and Smale, 2016). Apple is already investing heavily into its research of international robotics and technological trends when developing a new product or optimizing the existing ones. It would be beneficial for the company to strengthen the links between its R&D department and it’s HR department, since the two are overlapped considering the company’s industry. Any expatriate could benefit from adjusting their expectations to the current state of a company’s digital transformation, which might differ drastically across outlets. On the other hand, the application of digital technology may guarantee an ongoing remote training through virtual channels. While already performing their duties abroad, an international agent could be provided with a home office-based support network that could help them address their concerns in real time.

Conclusion

Overall, the topic of an expatriate failure is a complicated and a multi-layered one, involving a significant number of uncertainties and conflicting perspectives. No amount of research and investment can fully equip a company’s home office with the full knowledge of the environment and standards specific for a certain country (Al Ariss and Sidani, 2016). The difficulty scales exponentially with the increase of international outlets, which is especially true for global multinationals, including Apple. Despite the large sums of money in operation, it is exceptionally hard to align the frameworks of reference and performance measurement. As a result, expatriate’s performance is somewhat bound to be interpreted in a negative way when compared to the home office-specific results, expectations and targets.

Nevertheless, the skilled IHRM professionals recognize both the existence of this conflict of reference and their limited capacity to address it. In negotiating and conversing with international agents, a skilled human resource manager is aware of the challenges and communicational barriers they are facing (Zhang and Edgar, 2021). Mutual trust and accountability facilitate the productive feedback exchange and allow colleagues to brainstorm their upcoming strategy in collaboration.

As a globally successful firm, Apple possesses the financial and organizational resources to set up their expatriate agents for success. By ensuring they are provided with high quality training that involves multiple aspects of cultural and institutional differences, Apple equips their expatriates to demonstrate outstanding performance. Furthermore, the HR managers engage in a variety of positive motivational techniques, designing a system of financial rewards and adaptational aid programs for the international agents (Farndale et al., 2017). The firm has already designed arguably the most competitive and accountable international workers support network in the industry. Since global approach and broad perspective are a part of the brand’s appeal, the company executives are unlikely to leave these aspects of the international training without attention.

In conclusion, key recommendations applicable to Apple in relation to the expatriate failure concern the consistent improvements and optimization of the existing practices. International business landscape is evolving at an astonishing speed, which is particularly true for a technological company. To compete on an equal footing or to secure an advantage over local firms, Apple should account for the cultural and otherwise prevalent differences between their home office and their international outlets. It then should ensure an effective communication of said differences and their implications on all levels relevant for the international assignments and partnerships. By doing so, and by equipping their international agents with this knowledge, it invests into an excellent performance.

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