The JGM BitBlog: Can you bring your reputation abroad?

Journal of Global Mobility

Theresa Bernhard, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany

Dirk Holtbrügge, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany

Imagine your employer sent you on an international assignment. Now, imagine what you could take with you on this assignment to a foreign host country and host organization. While it is relatively easy to pack up and move material items, your knowledge and skills, and perhaps your family, the same cannot be said about the reputation you have built among your home country colleagues. Rather, the new colleagues in the host country would dynamically create an idea of who and how you are and, thus, newly construct your reputation. In the beginning, your host country colleagues would evaluate surface-level information about you, such as your nationality, to construct your reputation. Later, your colleagues would accumulate new information about your deep-level characteristics, such as particular skills or your values, and their evaluation of these characteristics dynamically updates your reputation. Yet, how exactly would your reputation among your host country colleagues shift over the course of the assignment? Our conceptual study addresses precisely this question.

Research on individual reputation recognizes it as an essential component of human relationships, and research on global mobility acknowledges the high relevance of the relationship between host country nationals and the international assignee for the outcome of the assignment. However, these interactions and their underlying mechanisms, such as the assignee’s reputation, are not well understood. Our study advocates for closing this gap and develops a conceptual model to propose how the reputation of an international assignee shifts over the course of an assignment in the host country. Thereby, we build upon extant research that understands individual reputation as a social construction and draw from sensemaking theory, which explains the incremental and procedural effort of making sense.

Our conceptual model follows recent research about individual reputation as a temporal and dynamic construct, and introduces time and reputational richness as two model elements. We suggest that the reputation of an individual assignee increases in both quantitative and qualitative richness over time, when host country nationals update the information that they hold about the assignee. These updates should be the result of specific events taking place in the context of international assignments, which reveal new information about the assignee, trigger host country nationals’ sensemaking processes, and subsequently shift the assignee’s reputation to become richer. The paper elaborates on these reputational events in much detail, and employs a narrative technique about the fictional international assignee Liu from China to discuss exemplary reputational events. Moreover, our model discusses particular accelerating and amplifying factors that should influence both the timing and the strength of reputational shifts, thereby enabling organizations and their managers to contribute to the development of the relationship between host country nationals and international assignees. For instance, leaders’ sensegiving could affect how strongly an assignee’s reputation is amplified by reputational events.

To conclude, the important theoretical contribution our study is able to make, refers to its inclusive look on international assignments. With our conceptual model, we shed light on a mechanism on the side of host country nationals, whose perspective does not always stand in the foreground in the global mobility literature.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:

Bernhard, T. and Holtbrügge, D. (2022), "When the Chinese guy becomes the female IT specialist Liu – a conceptualization of reputational shifts in international assignments", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 105-126.