PGBM18 – Concepts of Convergence and Divergence of HRM Practices in China

Convergence and Divergence of HRM Practices

PGBM18 – Concepts of Convergence and Divergence of HRM Practices in China

PGBM18 – International Human Resource Management.

Sunderland International Business School.

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Globalisation and the overall dynamics of a growing world economy have pressured firms into transformation for fit (Khan, 2011). Essentially, there is a strict balance that needs to be observed between maintaining the local appeal and competing in the global arena. Schuler (2000) notes that the human resource management (HRM) has not been exclude in this dilemma as a company can hardly manage its people without borrowing from internationalised procedures of HRM. In light of these sentiments, this essay highlights the concepts of divergence and convergence in HRM practices using theories and examples.

Theories of convergence and divergence

The debate of convergence and divergence has been around for some time with main arguments revolving around the advantages and disadvantages of such. However, in order to grasp this discussion better, engaging the theories that elaborate on divergence and convergence is prudent. One such popular theory is Hofstede’s cultural framework. This frame work was developed after a behavioural study of IBM employees from which cultural dimensions were developed. According to Hofstede (2011) dimensions that differentiate societies include power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism versus collectivism, and feminism versus masculinity and long term versus short term orientation.

Hofstede (2011) elaborate on these elements as follows. Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful in the society accept that power in unequally distributed. Uncertainty avoidance refers to the extent to which a society is tolerant to ambiguity and out-of-normal situations. Individualism and collectivism deals with how individuals in the society are integrated into groups. Masculinity and feminism refers to the general orientation and distribution of values attached to different genders. The long term versus short term orientation refers to the future orientation and mindset attached to current decisions made.

Additional theories that explain differences in cultural orientation are Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Values orientation theory and Edward T. Hall’s high and low context culture. Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck offer different aspects of value orientation including relationship to nature, time orientation, basic human nature, activity orientation, relationship among people and space orientation. In all the value orientations there are variations as follows. In relationship to nature the variations are subjugation, harmony and mastery. In time orientation the variations are past, present and future. In human nature the variations are basically evil, basically good and a mixture of the two. In activity orientation the variations are being, controlling and containing and doing. In relationships the variations are rank by class, by groups and individualism. Lastly the space orientation varies with public, private and mixed elements (Jandt, 2010; Hills, 2002).

The theory by Edward T. Hall focuses more on the communications patterns divided through the edges of context, space and time (Kittler, Rygl and Mackinnon, 2011). Clausen (2006) elaborates this theory by noting that it was developed during Hall’s training of Japanese soldiers. Essentially, the difference emerged when he noted that in the Japanese context verbal communication formed only a small segment of the overall communication action. Some elements were mostly assumed to be known by the members or were pricked from the surrounding. This is in contrast to the US where every detail of communication had to be communicated verbally. Thusly, in high-context communication, the deduction of meaning is found beyond the words, that is, on the surroundings (Clausen, 2006). This refers to the context part of communication. Haghirian (2010) analysing the space, context and time elements in Hall’s theory notes that time is measured as monochronic – meaning one activity happens at a time – and polychromic  meaning many activities happening simultaneously. This affects how people communicate. Further space refers to how one approaches personal space and Haghirian (2010) notes this difference between northern and southern Europe residents.

These theories address convergence and divergence exhaustively. However they are not devoid of criticisms. Hofstede’s theory has been faulted, for example, for firstly sing survey approach to research which is deemed by some as inappropriate. Further, his assumption that people in the whole countries share culture and that culture is divided by national boundaries is faulted (Jones, 2007). Rogers, Miike and Hart (2002) also have criticised the applicability of some elements of Hall’s theory in Japan. Scott (1994) in addition notes that the methodological approaches used in most studies supporting the Value orientations theory by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck are inadequate and thus compromise the validity, reliability and generalisability of the results. Regardless, it is imperative to not that these theories form the basis for analysis of convergence and divergence in HRM practices between nations. This is because human behaviour/employee behavior is much influenced by their cultural orientations (Kong and Jogaratnam, 2007).

Convergence and divergence in the case of Human Resource practices

As established in the introduction, there is a strict balance that has to be maintained between the adoption of international standards and procedures of HRM and the practice of traditional elements of HRM. Khan (2011) believes that event the scholarly literature on HRM has evolved to a great extent and this has further contributed to the issue of divergence and convergence. Convergence as a concept refers to the continued similarity in the approaches that are used by firms to manage people. Essentially, the force behind convergence is the need by multinational firms to compete on the international level as opposed to remaining locally competitive only. As Rowley and Benson (2002) posit, the convergence theory was born out of belief in ‘universal truths’ that can be applied to HRM. Further Rowley and Benson (2002) maintain that even as Taylor’s scientific theory of ‘one best way’ of managing situations expounds, there can only be singular best practices to HRM.

Convergence in the case of China can be much attributed to the international firms operating in China and strategic alliances between western and Chinese firms. As evidenced in a research by Gamble (2006) some international firms practice the same HRM models as they use in their home countries, majorly western firms, and this leads to Chinese firms slowly adopting such models. Gamble (2006) further exemplifies this by referring to the recent changes that have occurred in the general business environment in China where prior stringent regulations such as regards to firing unsatisfactory workers and rewarding employees are changing. Gamble (2006) notes that even the government is adopting performance based reward systems and using western styles of performance appraisal and employee development. O’Connor, Wu and Chow (2004) exemplify the adoption of western management styles in China (convergence) differently through reference to privatisation of state owned enterprise (SOEs) in China. The main point of compromise noted is the extent to which the Chinese government had been regulating businesses has reduced. Currently, SOEs are accountable for their own profits and operations. Further, the rice-bowl mentality of employment has faded with the introduction of the western contractual employment. Additionally as Gamble (2006) notes, O’Connor, Wu and Chow (2004) believe that the methods of rewards are more westernised than before with rewards and bonuses being the new norm in payment and employee motivation. Lastly, O’Connor et al. (2004) point out at the changes in the Chinese management norms such as respect to seniority and status, the iron-rice bowl employment mentality and egalitarianism (equality in power) as elaborated in Hofstede’s framework of culture. A company example is the Baoshan Steel Group of Shanghai which has undergone drastic management changes towards western oriented practices (Angehrn et al., 2005).

The concept of divergence on the other hand is more attributable to multinationals bid to adapt to local models and procedures of human resource management (Gamble, 2006). Rowley and Benson (2002) attribute divergence to the different orientations in culture between nations. In the analysis above, the models and theories that distinguish culture have been addressed. Using the Hofstede’s framework for example, there is elaborate difference between China and other societies especially the western societies. Some points of differences observed using Hofstede’s model are high power-distance in China, males are more respected as leaders in china, the Chinese are more avoidant to uncertainty among others (Hofstede, 2011). These differences translate to differed management styles with China having a unique style. Rowley and Benson (2002) for example notes that the high Chinese ‘uncertainty avoidance’ aspect cause the practice of guaranteed job-security. In addition to this, Wang and Satow (1994) and Zabihi (2013) evidence that Chinese culture such as Taoism and Confucianism affect work relationships, conflict resolution and general interactions.


Evidently, the concepts of convergence and divergence are and issue in the current business world. Issues of cultural orientations and their impact on global business practices remain imminent in every organisation’s competitive strategy. As posited in the essay, some theories including Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, Edward T. Hall’s high/low context theory and Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s theory on value orientations offer great insight as to particular points of difference in culture and societal dimensions. Further, the essay shows that China has incidences of convergence and divergence. Convergence is evident through adoption of standard western styles of management while divergence is more evident through the enormous impact of the Chinese culture upon management styles of Chinese firms.


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