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HRM structures and subsidiary discretion in foreign multinationals in the UK

[Anthony Ferner, Olga Tregaskis, Paul Edwards, Tony Edwards] and Paul Marginson
International Journal of Human Resource Management, 22, 3, 483-509


This article uses a large-scale representative survey to examine a key aspect of control in multinational companies (MNCs): the extent of central influence over human resource (HR) policy formation in subsidiaries. This is a crucial aspect of behaviour, relevant for example for the cross-border diffusion of policies and practices and for the institutional distinctiveness of practice within a given host environment. The article assesses how far policy is determined by corporate headquarters or some other higher-level organizational structure. Its novelty lies primarily in its exploration of the influence of the structure of the HR management (HRM) function on subsidiary discretion. It finds, first, that the degree of central control is influenced for different HR issues by nationality of ownership and by international product/service standardization. Second, there is some variability in the antecedents associated with discretion on different HR issues. Finally, aspects of the structure of the HRM function significantly affect discretion, notably the networking of HR managers across borders and the direct reporting relationships within the function between the UK and higher organizational levels.