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Harvey, M. & Napier, N. (2004). The Impact of ‘Global Time’ on the Role of Expatriate Managers, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 12(1), 92-133.

The Impact of ‘Global Time’ on the Role of Expatriate Managers

Michael Harvey & Nancy Napier


Globalisation of business has accentuated the difference in time perspectives between Eastern and Western managers. The variation in the concept of ‘global time’ makes it imperative to develop a means to viualise the critical dimensions of time. This paper examines the dimensions of global time and develops a framework for understanding the multidimensionality of global time (i.e., ‘timescapes’). These timescapes can be useful in the coordination of decision-making between Eastern and Western relational partners. Without a consistent concept of time between Eastern and Western managers, the ability to effectively coordinate strategy and to form cooperative relational partnerships will be reduced. This paper address the issues associated with global time and the interface between Eastern and Western organisations.

The edge of time captures the complicated yet adaptive behavior that emerges at an intermediate zone where managers look backward to the past and forward into the future while concentrating on today. (Brown & Eisenhardt 1998)


The term ‘global’ time (i.e., clock time embedded in the diversity of the global social contexts and horizons, as well as in the accelerating nature of decision-making in global organisations) represents a double anta dray. The basic concept of time in an organisational sense is being modified due to the rapid rate of globalisation taking place in the marketplace making the context of decision-making more complex. Therefore, expatriate managers must recognise that the changing nature of interpreting time is accelerating the traditional decision-making process, thus making assignments more complex (Harvey, Griffith & Novicevic 2000).

In general, time has gained significant importance as a variable in expatriate assignments as the firm’s environment has become simultaneously global and hypercompetitive (D’Aveni 1994, 1997, 1999). As the perception of time becomes multidimensional, the need for reassessing the impact of the changing nature of time on expatriate managers also becomes essential for human resource managers in global organisations (Bluedorn & Denhardt 1988, Eisenhardt 1989, 1990, Amburgey, Kelly & Barnett 1993, Eisenhardt & Brown 1998, Mosakowski & Early 2000). Not only will global managers’ skills need to be modified, but also their perceptions of the time that they have in which to make decisions and the evolving role of time on global decision-making.

In a global business context, it is imperative to recognise that the interpretation of time varies across societies, organisations (and other groups) as well as among individuals (McGrath & Kelly 1986, Hofstede 1991, Trompenaars, 1997). This social concept of time can vary dramatically between home and host country, and therefore, can have a direct impact on an expatriate manager’s ability to effectively accomplish strategic tasks. Consequently, the complexity and ambiguity that surround the temporal aspects of global business significantly complicate the role that expatriate managers play in the decision-making process in foreign operations (Harvey & Novicevic 2001). The embedding of time into the basic fabric of decision-making compels expatriate managers to address the variation between the home country and host country differences in the basic dimensions of time (Ganitsky & Watzke 1990).

The growing importance of time as a multidimensional variable has led researchers to identify what are considered to be five key aspects of time concepts that impact the development/implementation of decision-making in a global context. In outline they are: (1) The Nature of Time (Real or Epiphenomenal) – the role of time in decision-making, that being an integral aspect of the strategy itself (i.e., first-mover advantage) or as providing the context for a strategy being executed, (2) Experience of Time (Objective or Subjective) – clock vs social time and the relationship between the two in different settings/contexts, (3) Time Flow (novel, cyclical, or punctuated) – to what degree the past influences the future and what is the tie between time and events that will influence the interrelationship between time/events/environment? (4) Time Structure (Discrete, Continuous, or Epochal Time) – what is the measure of time and does it remain the same over time with different actors? and (5) Temporal Referent Point (Past, Present, or Future) – what is the time perspective of the decision-maker as well as others involved in the strategic decision? (Mosakowski & Earley 2000).

Each of these aspects of time is critical when expatriate managers are attempting to benchmark the dynamic capabilities of their organisations relative to those of their global competitors. Therefore, expatriate managers need a means to organise time aspects and dimensions into a framework (i.e., ‘timescapes’ to be discussed in a later section of this paper) for effective decision making in global assignments (Harvey et al. 2000).

The purpose of this paper is to examine five interrelated perspectives that can contribute to the development of the global time framework. First, a competency-based view of expatriation of managers is presented to illustrate the various types of competencies associated with successful assignments of expatriate managers. Second, the concept of a global assignment-related time frame is explained in terms of three separate types of time orientations (i.e., short, intermediate, and long-term time) and the cumulative impact of these various types of time orientation is explored. Third, the concept of hypercompetitive ‘timescapes’ is described to delineate the multidimensionality of the global time variable. Fourth, the risks of accelerated decision-making in global time by expatriate managers are examined. And fifth, the depiction of the increasing need to design an appropriate social/organisational support mechanism for the expatriate manager suffering from the consequences and pressures of global time is presented.

To better understand the impact of global time on the expatriation of managers, a competency theory perspective is presented. This theoretical base illustrates the variety of competencies expatriate managers need to possess to effectively fulfil the various roles that must be undertaken during global assignments. It is essential to understand the competency expectations of expatriate managers and how time aspects and dimensions impact these competencies. In particular, the impact of time is visible as these competencies vary across short, intermediate, and long-term time orientations.

Competency-Based Perspective on Expatriation of Managers

A competency-based view of the expatriation of managers suggests that input, managerial, and transformation-based competencies operate interdependently creating competencies that converge to produce a sustainable advantage for a global organisation. A competency-based perspective explicitly addresses the dynamic nature of the global environment by acknowledging that an initial set of expatriate managerial competencies can be diminished (i.e., the inability to cope effectively with the impact of time on expatriate managers’ decision making and performance) or enhanced (i.e., developing means to cope effectively with the impact of time on expatriate managers’ decision making and performance). This renewal suggests that expatriate managers should possess competencies to develop a proactive coping behaviour to address the short, intermediate and long term effects of time on their capabilities (Sanchez, Heene & Thomas 1996). This competency-based perspective also acknowledges that the external environment can act as a moderating variable on the relationship between the cumulative impact of time and expatriate managers’ performance adaptability.

Figure 1 illustrates a competency-based model of the company strategic choice process, which includes the competencies of expatriate managers. In general, organisational competencies are divided into three distinct categories: (1) input competencies – capital, labour, physical assets, and other factor inputs to the organisation, (2) managerial competencies – unique capabilities, social knowledge, informal internal/external networks, and the personal social capital of expatriate managers that can be used to accomplish the mission of foreign organisations, and (3) transformation-based competencies – the ability of the organisation to deploy expatriate managers to assignments to gain competitive advantage on a global scale.

As depicted in Figure 1, the three types of competencies can be bundled to provide the firm with a myriad of strategic choice opportunities.

Figure 1
Competency-based Strategic Choice Process
Competency-based Strategic Choice Process

The greater the contribution of expatriation to the stock of organisational competencies, the more strategic latitude can be executed by the global organisation. The strategic choice opportunities in the general global context are weighed against the opportunities in the various specific local contexts. As the stock of competencies and the set of options increase, the expatriate manager’s role becomes more important for the firm to select appropriate future strategic choices in the ever-changing global competitive landscape. Each of the specific types of competencies, relative to the changing role of expatriate manager, will be briefly discussed.

Input Competencies

One source of an expatriate manager’s specific competency that plays a critical role in developing sustained competitive advantage is the awareness of the organisational input resources which each expatriate manager brings to their overseas assignment. These are the competencies of the firm arising from the bundles of its tangible and intangible internal resources (Ostrom 1990) that are valuable, rare, imperfectly mobile, and inimitable (Barney 1991). In general, input resources may include physical assets, organisational capital, and specific human resources (Lado & Wilson 1994). Specifically, these input resources may also include expatriate managers’ unique and valuable skills in sharing their social/tacit knowledge of a local context with top management to improve the organisational performance.

Managerial Competencies

Managerial competencies focus on the organisational and assignment vision of the expatriate manager and the decisions/actions that they may take in bringing this vision to fruition (Lado, Boyd & Wright 1992). Managerial competencies, in and of themselves, may directly contribute to a sustained competitive advantage if the expatriate managers are able to exploit specific tacit knowledge that provides them with a unique repertoire of competencies in a particular foreign assignment context. These competencies are particularly valuable if they provide an institutional bridge across the cultural, social, and political divide often found between the expatriate manager’s organisation and operations of the global customers’ organisation. The specific competencies of an expatriate manager may include institutional social knowledge acquired from their interactions with social, financial, and political actors in the home and host countries, as well as from their ability to frame critical issues and recommended actions within a global frame of reference (Sohn 1994). As these managerial competencies develop, the resulting outcomes from implementing the new vision may reshape the thinking and actions of the top management, increasing the value of the foreign assignment.

A competency-based perspective would suggest that managers who possess a diverse set of cognitive (Mahony & Pandian 1992) and practical capabilities (Sanchez et al. 1996) would have a positive impact on their performance. A human resource system (HRM) for expatriation of managers should, therefore, strive to create such firm-specific managerial capital. If properly developed the HRM system should yield global leadership competencies in the company’s managers that would be helpful in the implementation of global strategies. Developing this global leadership competency base may result in a superior performance, provided the organisation’s expatriation strategies are consistent with its goal of developing a unique stock of managerial competencies to act on a global scale (Wright, McMahan & Williams 1994).

Transformation-based Competencies

The expatriate manager may also need to acquire and develop competencies to more effectively explore and exploit the opportunities from the assigned position in the subsidiary operations. Lado et al. (1992) have labelled a broad set of transformation-based competencies as those that enable the firm to transform inputs into outputs in a unique and valuable way. These competencies are augmented if based upon the past experiences/success of an organisation’s expatriate managers (Lado et al. 1992). Specifically, these competencies may create an experience base and/or an organisational learning capability from unique and valuable expatriate inputs that are difficult to replicate. Thus, these transformational competencies can create competitive advantage (Taylor, Beechler & Napier 1996).

Transformation-based competencies of a global organisation depend, therefore, on the effectiveness of expatriate managers. The expatriate manager may have acquired local context-specific social knowledge regarding business relationships and opportunities in the assigned geographic area (e.g., culture) that can help the firm improve its performance in the local foreign market. Expatriate managers who are likely to have specific social capital spanning national borders can augment the firm’s ability to effectively support and leverage their specific knowledge/skills. Expatriate social knowledge may also facilitate the development of a ‘soft’ control system that can provide the firm with a greater opportunity to control the foreign subsidiary better than using a ‘hard’ bureaucratic control mechanism. This type of control develops when expatriate managers work more closely with the local nationals, and manage to mitigate the resistance of local nationals to corporate standards set for the local transformation processes. The social control is based on the expatriate manager’s ability to understand the workings of the foreign subsidiary operations and to effectively align themselves with the global organisation’s need for control of transformation processes. This means of social control aids in creating a fluid learning environment in global organisations.

Like worldwide organisational learning, organisational culture is an enabler critical to the development of organisational transformation-based competencies. It is believed that a corporate culture emphasising global leadership development is essential for global organisations (Welch 1994). These social knowledge-sensitive expatriate managers may, therefore, facilitate the development of a socially complex organisational culture that can lead to sustained competitive advantage on a global scale. Specifically, in the fast-cycle global economy, the consistent interpretation of time is a key element of a corporate culture. Hence, it is important that expatriate managers share their knowledge concerning the influence of the difference in global time across subsidiaries to effectively contribute to the culture of consistent results expected by headquarters (Ganitsky & Watzke 1990). Each of the three competencies is important in providing the organisation with the resources to effectively compete in the global marketplace.

To combine the three types of competencies effectively, the global organisation should recognise how expatriate managers can help to configure not only a repertoire of strategic choices, but also the timing of its actions in the foreign subsidiary environment. The development of a corporate global mindset requires, however, that expatriate managers are capable of managing in the new ‘global’ time. Therefore, the impact of global aspects, levels, and dimensions of time on an expatriate manager and their role, as well as on the design on appropriate support infrastructure for expatriates, is examined in the remaining sections of this paper.

Context-Specific Impact of Time on the Role of Expatriate Managers

When assessing the impact of time on corporate global mindset (i.e., top management’s decision-making), it is important to take into consideration the context specificity of time-related location and horizon which is relevant for the contributing role of expatriate managers in a global organisation. The context-specific location of events in time will influence the consistency of managerial perceptions of the reporting time intervals in a global organisation (e.g., planning cycles, fiscal years, promotion and compensation cycles, performance appraisal periods and the like). As units in a global organisation operate under different reporting time intervals, there may be difficulties in aliening the units’ time perspectives on a global scale. These difficulties are particularly salient in cases of cross-border alliances and mergers and acquisitions (Hall 1983, Harrigan 1988, Kogut 1988, Ganitsky & Watzke 1990).

Both the formal reporting time intervals and the traditional time horizons of the stakeholders vary in a global organisation. Specifically, there may be a misalignment of the basic time horizon between an organisation and an individual (i.e., the individual may be within or external to the organisation). Employees bring their social derived concept of time to the organisation which is developed through their past experiences. It is not uncommon for their concept of time intervals to be different than those of the organisation. For example, the time interval between job appraisal, promotion, salary increase, vesting in retirement programs, and benefits received by ‘long-term’ employees frequently illustrate differences in time horizons between the past experience of an employer and their employee. The disconnect between employee and organisational time horizons is particularly accentuated when managers are relocated overseas where the system/processes of assessment and remuneration are often very different from the case in the home country (Harvey 1993a, 1993b).

There are four interactions that are of importance when examining the impact of time on expatriate managers in a global organisation (see Figure 2). The first interaction which evolves is a time span in the episodic or day-to-day time intervals. This span of time becomes critical to the expatriate because of the tension and stress that is induced by the events of the day (Jong & McMullen 1992, Kemmerer, Cetron, Harper & Kozarsky 1998, Hays 1999). In many cases, the assignment takes place in a country where the daily routine of the expatriate will vary dramatically from that which has been experienced in their home country. This difficulty in coping with daily routines makes it difficult to find enough qualified expatriates (Black & Gregersen 1999). The difference in daily events (i.e., commuting, length of meetings, waiting for individuals to arrive for meetings at certain times, the length of the work day and the like) will have a tendency to vary, and thereby, increase the daily stress on the expatriate manager and may impact the overall health of the manager (Dowling & Taylor 1993, Feldman & Thompson 1993, Wiggins-Frame & Shehan 1994, Brocato, 1996, McIntosh, Swanson, Power, Raeside & Dempster 1998, Campbell, Gavin, Cooper & Quick 2000). The disruption in the ‘normal’ day reduces the efficiency of the manager and decreases the satisfaction/reward derived from their job. If not addressed this daily time horizon may have significant dysfunctional consequences for the employee as well as the accomplishment of their overseas assignment (McCubbin 1988, Cassidy 1992, Schneider & Asakawa 1995, Leiter & Durup 1996, Liese, Mundt, Dell, Nagy & Demure 1997, Caligiuri, Hyland, Joshi & Bross 1998).

Figure 2
The Relationship Between Time and Change
Impact of Time on Change

The second interaction illustrated in Figure 2, which becomes germane to expatriate managers, evolves as the changing rhythm of recurring cycles take multiple weeks or longer periods like circadian cycles. These oscillatory biological rhythms occur in cells, tissues, organs, and are frequently systemic in nature and occur on a regular basis. Circadian cycles as an example are endogenous to the individual, but can be influenced by environmental conditions (Winget, De Roshia & Markley 1984, Redfern, Minors & Waterhouse 1994, Manfredini, Manfredini, Fersini & Conconi 1998). Therefore, when expatriate managers are transferred overseas on a foreign environment, not only is the clock/social time differential but the internal ‘body clock’ of the individual may also be out of alignment with its regular rhythms.

These discontinuities within the normal functioning of systems in the body may compound the level of dissatisfaction and alienation of the expatriate manager with the foreign environment (Manfredini et al. 1998). In addition, these natural recurring cycles may take an extended time to be readjusted if the individual is experiencing other time related stresses in their life (e.g., jet lag, expatriation/repatriation stress, sleep deprivation/difficulties, hemispheric differences and general time zone differences) (Wright, Vogel, Sampson, Knaapik, Patton & Daniels 1983, Waterhouse, Reilly & Atkinson 1997, Fisher 1998). The natural functioning of the body necessitates the realignment of circadian cycles that may take up to three months to accomplish if the stress in the day-to-day or episodic time intervals is not too extreme.

The third type of interaction, depicted in Figure 2, evolves as the adjustment time period common for expatriate managers when they are transferred overseas. This adjustment time period is predicated on the overall differences between the home and host country as well as the training/preparation that the expatriate manager has undertaken prior to leaving for the foreign assignment (Black, Mendenhall & Oddou 1991, Stroh, Dennis & Cramer 1994, Ceri, Van den Berg & Jiang 1998). A similar type of time-related stress and adjustment occurs when the expatriate managers are repatriated to their home country (Harvey 1989, Napier & Peterson 1990, Black, Gregersen & Mendenhall 1992, Stroh 1995).

There are predictable adjustment issues that occur during the relocation time span of managers in an international context. These adjustment issues influence the manager’s ability to effectively address day-to-day and normative cycles that are out of adjustment. While there has been a great deal of research conducted on the typical expatriation/repatriation adjustment time periods, little has been done to examine the interaction between episodic (i.e., short-term), circadian (i.e., intermediate), and adjustment (i.e., long-term) time demands on the expatriate/repatriate manager (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall & Stroh 1999).

Examining Figure 2 shows that if all three of the cycles are in a downward mode the expatriate would be more dramatically impacted by the three types of time related influences (Wright et al. 1983, Waterhouse et al. 1997). Whereas, if the daily stress is at a high level but the circadian and adjustment cycles are moving in a positive direction, the ability of the expatriate to address the daily stress is enhanced (Duxbury, Higgins & Mills 1992, Duxbury, Higgins & Lee 1994, Eby, Allen & Douthitt 1999, Moyle & Parkes 1999). Stress, therefore, has a relationship to the source of the stress and more generally to time, more particularly, how time affects the stress the individual manager is feeling.

It is important to conceptualise time intervals in short, intermediate, and long-term perspectives, in that there is an interaction effect between the three interrelated time horizons (Neck & Cooper 2000). Expatriate managers need a means/framework to effectively visualise the time dimensions of their overseas assignments in terms of the assignment’s impact both on the corporate global mindset and on the expatriate managers themselves. A framework that depicts the multidimensionality of time is derived from the concept of timescapes.

The Concept of Timescapes

The various aspects and dimensions of time can significantly shape an expatriate manager’s perception and understanding of the dynamics in the competitive landscape (Martinko & Douglas 1999). As time provides the basic causal infrastructure of events, it therefore, may be an integral dimension to leadership in global organisations. Fundamental to the multidimensionality of time is the meaning of events/issues when they occur over different time periods. The same event/issue at two different points in time may lead expatriate and top managers in a global organisation to form different interpretations of event/issues meaning (Gross 1984, McGrath & Kelly 1986, Levina 1988). Not only do strategic issues change as a function of time, but also the rules of competitive engagement may also change over time. For example, a firm that is a fierce rival of the expatriate’s organisation during the initial stage of the assignment may enter a cooperative relationship (e.g., strategic alliance) during the developmental stage of the assignment, and that relationship may then later evolve or erode over time during the mature stage of the assignment. Recognising and addressing such impacts of time and its interpreted modification in competitive interactions may be at the heart of successful global leadership.

The first perspective posits that there is clock or ‘real’ time with a measurable, mathematical, homogeneous, divisible, linear, and uniform flow which is taken for granted as objective and absolute for it exists independent of objects and events. This concept of time is frequently referred to as the Newtonian conception of linear-quantitative traditional time (i.e., functional time – Jayaram, Vickery & Droge 1999, Lee & Liebenau 1999). In Western firms, clock or real time is viewed as a resource (i.e., ‘time is money’) and is tied closely to the means of improving the productivity of individuals, groups, and organisations. The second interpretative perspective contends that time is conceptualised as social time (i.e., constructed and interpreted time), which gains meaning in a particular social context. In this view of time the basic descriptors of time are tied to some event or to a particular context (Gross 1984, O’Driscoll & Rizzo 1985, Lane & Kaufman 1994). Social time can be thought of as a social construction that can vary significantly among individuals, organisations, and societies. Therefore, time can be viewed as a socially constructed variable that gains meaning/value within the context of the entities that are ‘marking’ time (Brown & Eisenhardt 1998, Adam 2000). Social time has been referred to by a number of researchers as being specified time, event time or subjective time, but for the most part social time reflects the plurality of the concept of time (Gross 1984, McGrath & Kelly 1986).

In an effort to capture the varying impact of time on decision-makers, it is essential that expatriate and top managers visualise a ‘timescape’ framework to interpret the relationship between time and events in actionable terms. Timescapes are analogous to landscapes because they include the temporal features of socio-economic events in a variety of socially constructed contexts (Adam 2000). The timescape concept/framework does not focus on what time is (i.e., the functional view of time), but rather on how an expatriate manager interprets time and what the manager does with time in unique settings, as well as how time can influence top management’s and stakeholders’ perceptions and values (i.e., the interpretative view of time).

This recognition of the social nature of time accentuates the multidimensionality of the concept and creates meaningful interfaces among events, environments, and individuals, beyond those associated with the traditional numeric concept of clock time. The operationalisation of the timescape construct as a framework can help to describe the temporal complexity of global competition and shift the attention of expatriate and top managers from the functional role of time to the specific dimensions of differences in the individual and collective interpretations of time across national borders, to aid them in the development of appropriate strategies. Therefore, to better clarify the concept of timescape, it is necessary to define its basic dimensions relevant for the management of global organisations (Harvey, Griffith & Novicevic 2000).


The concept of timeframe is the particular time horizon enacted in the timescape. This frame may be expressed in explicit clock timeframes such as hours, days, months or years, but at the same time, the timeframe may be expressed in more social time terms (e.g., the fiscal year, the planning cycle, or the audit cycle) that are associated with the organisation’s performance. This social expression of timeframe makes the time duration less precise but communicates the concept of time better relative to a social context to enhance its meaning (Gross 1984, Kaufman, Lane & Lindquist 1991). A typical expatriate assignment involves a timeframe of three to ten years, while a short-term assignment involves a timeframe of less than six months.


Tempo may be uniform or changing, but establishes the basic pace or rhythm relative to the commonly held assumptions. The speed and intensity of interaction events, as well as the rate of changes taking place in the global competitive environment, represent the tempo dimension of the timescape (Adam 2000). For example, expatriate and top managers may sense a rapidly increasing tempo in global competition, which does not correspond to the traditional situation of competitive equilibrium. Therefore, an expatriate may expect an increased tempo of activities when a rival enters the joint venture or makes an acquisition in the country of assignment.


The timescape framework, through a dimension of temporality, denotes the limited durability of things, events and processes, which may be extended in a unidirectional and irreversible way in case of path dependency of events. This dimension of timescape is relevant to explain the change in the level of resource commitment and investment in strategic decisions over time. The directionality of time ‘going on’ is the temporal aspect of the timescape. This is frequently referred to as the ‘sunk costs’ concept of investment, engendering the escalation of commitment, and refers to the time and resources invested in a project, market or products, making it more difficult to accept temporality and abandon the particular investment. The past investment of time becomes an economic rationale for continuing the present strategy (Stalk, Evans & Shulman 1992, Rühli 1996, Hitt 2000). This type of strategic ‘anchor’ can be particularly risky when flexibility and speed are the barometers of success among competitors, such as in highly competitive global markets. For example, an expatriate assigned to manage the transfer of new technology (i.e., temporality of the currently used process in the foreign subsidiary) will face resistance due to the path dependency of established local routines.


This dimension of disrupted time patterns of event occurrence can be illustrated by the increasing asynchronisation of strategic initiatives found in home and host country markets. This asynchronisation of global initiatives commonly arises due to the latent differences in institutional systems between the countries in which global organisations conduct business. At the operating level, the lack of synchronisation in a timescape typically limits the expatriate manager’s coordination of transnational virtual teams attempting to work ‘together’ across borders (Schmenner 1988, Stalk 1988).


There may emerge a structured pattern of events that are tied together through time. For example, the sequence of events in a new product development process in the subsidiary where the expatriate is assigned is a fairly well articulated pattern or sequence that is followed by most organisations. One step of the process has to be completed prior to the next being undertaken, illustrating the sequential nature of interdependent activities. Therefore, once the appropriate sequence of events within the timescape can be determined, the length of time to complete the process can also be estimated (i.e., a beginning and end to time in a process). This sequence becomes more complex as timescapes are compressed by the hyper-competitiveness found in the global marketplace, requiring a shift toward concurrent activities within the subsidiary’s new product development process (Schmenner 1988).

Anticipated or Emerging Pauses/Gaps

The frequency and duration of gaps/pauses between events in the timescape can have a significant impact on the overall mosaic of the timescape. Not only is the number and duration of the gaps important, but also the transitions into and out of the pauses can influence the composition of a timescape (Smith, Grimm, Gannon & Chen 1991). An example of the intervals in a global organisation would be the gap between a new product version announcement in the home country market and its actual launching in the host country market. Once the new product version is launched, there are discrepancies between its availability and the local consumer demand. The time necessary to rationalise the two concepts becomes a ‘gap’ in the expatriate manager’s understanding of how much the local consumer is important to the global organisation. If the pause duration is too long, it may have an adverse impact on the local consumers’ willingness to remain loyal the company’s product. These gaps in timescape become particularly evident to the expatriate when managers of the home and host country organisations, coming from two different cultures, are attempting to interact with different perceptions of what constitutes an adequate time interval, including gaps, to accomplish the same task (Gross 1984, O’Driscoll & Rizzo 1985).


This dimension of the timescape, denoting concurrent occurrence of events, is correlated with the ubiquity dimension, which is common for both concepts of timescape and landscape. Ubiquity implies that an event may happen at multiple locations at the same time (i.e., launching a new product in many foreign markets simultaneously makes the expatriate manager’s task interdependent across subsidiary country markets). Simultaneity implies that time is a constant, but yet has to be visualised in a diffused manner as a part of the context of the events, situation, or process being considered. Therefore, simultaneity means the time is apart yet attached to everything transpiring in the timescape (i.e., the timescape is composed of both real and socially constructed time) (Adam 2000).

In an effort to map the dimensions of timescape into a managerial framework, Figure 3 is presented. In addition to the seven dimensions mentioned above, two additional time orientation aspects of a timescape are illustrated in the matrix. The first aspect of time orientation is time directionality, which is shown in Figure 3 are past, present, and future orientations attached to the conceptualisation of social time. Most events have a history, which has as an aspect of time period associated with it when the decisions are being made in the present (i.e., analogous to the accounting function in an organisation). The present also represents a type of reference or perspective on how one could view what may happen in the future. And frequently, the expectations of a future time are calculated in the risk/return perceptions of the present (i.e., analogous to the finance function in an organisation). The past influences the present, while the present is influenced by expectations of what the future will hold (i.e., this synthesis is analogous to the strategic planning function in an organisation).

Figure 3
Plurality of Global Time Context
Dimensions of Time Individual Organisation Societal Global
Past Present Future Past Present Future Past Present Future Past Present Future
Time Frame
Tempo of Time
Pauses – Transition of Time
Ubiquity of Time

The second aspect of time orientation, included on the matrix shown in Figure 3, refers to the source origin (i.e., focal level) of time interpretation (i.e., individual, organisation, society, or global community). Each of these levels of interpretation (i.e., different units of analysis) could entail different social perceptions of the value of time and therefore, these differences may be taken into consideration when assessing the concept of timescape (Gross 1984). For example, the individual expatriate manager’s time perception of temporality of the global rival’s initiative in a host country market may be of much shorter duration than that viewed from the corporate standpoint. Also, time in global competition can be strongly influenced by the national culture of competitors as each of the competitors may have its own concept of an appropriate timeframe and the timing of attack and response. This focal level of time orientation may create distortions in the concept of time for expatriate managers. This potential discrepancy in time orientation in the timescape domain is particularly visible in expatriate managers assigned to manage the uncertainty in the length of time in a strategic alliance formed between the home country and the host organisation (i.e., short-time frame) and the host country (i.e., long-time frame) organisation (Ahuja 2000, Anand & Khanna 2000). The issue that may arise due to the difference in time orientations, may centre less on the premise of the strategic alliance but more on the concept of time interpretation. Culture can impact the time orientation in terms of when to react relative to a specific strategic issue. The resulting culture-engendered managerial inertia in social time may delay corporate responses in real time.

It would, therefore, appear important for expatriate managers to recognise the plurality of the various timescape dimensions, because it may assist them to put competitive interactions into a coherent perspective of the past, present, or future time orientation. At the same time, the top managers may recognise that, with any change in the level of analysis, there may be a very different understanding of the social impact of time on competitive interactions. An example that the level of analysis has implications for the coherence of the timescape dimensions, as illustrated in the matrix, would be as follows: the tempo of a rivals’ initiative, as viewed by an individual manager, is commonly based on their experience, which incorporates the events or actions that happened in the past. Whereas, the organisational reference of tempo is in the present as events (and, therefore social time) are moving faster and faster driven by global rivalry (Davis & Meyer 1998, Fine 1998). Therefore, the timescape dimensions of sequencing, timing and duration of global corporate initiatives are critical for the global organisation’s success.

This cross-level mismatch of timescape dimensions may create significant problems in planning coherent strategies at various levels in a global organisation or in particular, when attempting to coordinate activities among its units (Ahuja 2000, Anand & Khanna 2000). The resulting impact of the difference in timescape dimensions on how to manage global organisation and its units competing in highly competitive global markets shows that understanding of the plurality of timescape levels, aspects and dimensions is critical to understand the changing role of expatriate manager in gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Developing Formal and Informal Support for Expatriate Managers

Global organisations would appear to need to provide cross-cultural training as well as a support programmes before, during and after the relocation of expatriate managers. These programmes might be useful in assisting expatriate mangers as they deal with the new dynamics of their increasingly complex assignments (Kepner 1983, Fisher 1998, Mitchell 1999, Frank 2000, Bennett, Aston & Colquhoun 2000). Social support might be accomplished through both the family/spouse and the organisation (Frazee 1998, 1999, Joinson 1998). It is important to note that much of the support is received from the organisation, in that, the needs of the time that impacted expatriates are frequently greater due to having to address significant time pressure issues. Pre-expatriation training and professional counselling for the expatriate manager might help to heighten their awareness to the magnitude of contextual differences relative to time aspects, levels and dimensions during expatriation. A truly realistic assignment preview could provide important insights to the expatriate manager as to how time is going to explicitly and implicitly impact their performance while overseas (Wanous 1985).

It would appear that providing adequate formal and informal support for expatriate managers during their overseas assignment might be considered an essential aid to expatriates and their families. Due to the increasing time pressures and the complexity of addressing the variance in social time between countries and organisations, expatriate managers will more than likely to need assistance relative to the stress associated with global time. An adequate social support infrastructure could necessitate both a formal (i.e., corporate) and informal (i.e., personal network) structure (Noe, Steffy & Barber 1988, Arkin 1993, Munton & Reynolds 1995, Leiter & Durup 1996). Given the pressures of global time on the expatriate manager there are four types of support that might be needed by these managers: (1) emotional support – empathy, attention, affection, and trust during the most difficult periods of stress (Scheider & Asakawa 1995, Saunders & Thornhill 1998, Moyle & Parkes 1999), (2) instrumental support – resources, personnel or attention time to accomplish goals (e.g., resource recognition of the impact of global time on expatriate managers) (Tu & Sullivan 1994, Zhan, 1999), (3) informational support – facts, opinions, advice, and computational assistance to the expatriate manager to address differences in data and collection processes (Starker 1997, Stewart & Leggat 1998), and (4) appraisal support – providing evaluation and feedback on performance that takes into consideration the differences and complexity of global time on managing in a foreign organisation (House 1981, Granrose, Parasuraman & Greenhaus 1992).

Formal support systems that are provided by the organisation might be of particular value to the expatriate manager who is facing short, intermediate, and long-term stress associated with the time dimensions of their foreign position. The level of stress could accumulate to a point where it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the expatriate manager to fulfil their role in the foreign assignment. Without such support, the expatriate manager may attempt to address the mounting stress in a number of ways. The dysfunctional consequences of stress in a foreign assignment can take on a number of negative characteristics such as, absenteeism, alcohol and drug abuse, ‘brownout’, turnover, early return to the domestic organisation, aggression to others within and outside the organisation, extended leaves, or any combination of these negative behaviours (Lange & McCune 1989, Jong & McMullen 1992, Liese et al. 1997, Darby 1998, Kemmerer et al. 1998, McIntosh et al. 1998).


The complex nature of time is accentuated when organisations and managers from different countries attempt to work together in a unified manner. Time is a variable that would appear to be constant between countries and organisations but in reality time becomes one of the more difficult decision variables to control in inter-cultural relationships. The variance in the concept of time is an important consideration when organisations from the East and West attempt to work together in harmony. As global decision-making accelerates given the hypercompetitive nature of the global marketplace the importance in the differences conceptualising time by Eastern and Western managers will grow in importance.

Managers from the Asia Pacific region need to develop an effective means of working with Western managers based upon some degree of agreement on the dimensions of time. By developing a competency based time perspective, Eastern managers can use time as a competitive tool when cooperating with or competing against Western organisations. An understanding of time orientation (i.e., short, medium and long-term) can assist Eastern managers in developing consistent expectations of what can be accomplished in common agreed upon timeframe. In addition, by understanding the concept of timescapes and the various dimensions of time Eastern managers can control the tempo and pace of negotiations based upon the seven dimensions of timescapes developed in this article.

The need to factor time into strategic decision-making is a critical consideration for managers competing in a global marketplace. But due to the variance in the conceptualisation of the concept of time, managers from the Pacific will not have a consistent frame-of-reference when dealing with Western managers. Without this common strategic foundation managers will find it difficult to work effectively with their Western counterparts.


Michael Harvey (Ph.D. University of Arizona): Professor Harvey is currently the Hearin Chair in Global Business in the School of Business at the University of Mississippi. Professor Harvey’s areas of research interest are in global human resource management and the globalisation process taking place in business today.

Nancy Napier (Ph.D. Ohio State University): Professor Napier is currently professor of management and Director of the International Business Programs at Boise State University. Professor Napier’s research interests are in international human resource management and women in international business.


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