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The International Journal of Human Resource


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How does a boundaryless mindset enhance

expatriate job performance? The mediating
role of proactive resource acquisition tactics
and the moderating role of behavioural cultural

Shuming Zhao, Yan Liu & Lulu Zhou

To cite this article: Shuming Zhao, Yan Liu & Lulu Zhou (2016): How does a boundaryless
mindset enhance expatriate job performance? The mediating role of proactive resource acquisition
tactics and the moderating role of behavioural cultural intelligence, The International Journal of
Human Resource Management, DOI: 10.1080/09585192.2016.1253033

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Published online: 02 Nov 2016.

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The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2016

How does a boundaryless mindset enhance expatriate job

performance? The mediating role of proactive resource
acquisition tactics and the moderating role of behavioural
cultural intelligence
Shuming Zhaoa, Yan Liub and Lulu Zhouc
School of Business, Nanjing University, Nanjing, P.R. China; bSchool of Business, Soochow University,
Soochow, P.R. China; cSchool of Economics and Management, Southeast University, Nanjing, P.R. China

Drawing on self-determination theory, this study explores Boundaryless mindset;
how a boundaryless mindset influences expatriate job proactive resource
performance, while incorporating the mediating role of acquisition tactics;
proactive resource acquisition tactics and the moderating role behavioural cultural
intelligence; expatriate
of behavioural cultural intelligence. Analyses of three waves of job performance; Chinese
data totalling 389 expatriatesupervisor dyads collected from multinational corporations
10 large Chinese multinational corporations indicated that a
boundaryless mindset has a positive influence on expatriate
task and contextual performance through the mediating
role of proactive resource acquisition tactics. Furthermore,
behavioural cultural intelligence enhanced the effects of
proactive resource acquisition tactics on task performance
and contextual performance. The theoretical and practical
implications are discussed.

Research on international assignment addresses expatriate success at the individual
level, such as career growth, external marketability and career development
(e.g. Benson & Pattie, 2008; Starr & Currie, 2009; Tung, 1988) as well as organi-
zational level, such as performance (the achievement of key organizational objec-
tives and the accomplishment of organizational tasks), the transfer of expertise,
the building of networks and relationships and the retention of employees (e.g.
Bonache & Noethen, 2014; Chang, Gong, & Peng, 2012; Kraimer & Wayne, 2004).
The current research pays attention to expatriate success at organizational level.
Traditional expatriate success research has focused on the stress perspective, i.e.
viewing expatriate success as a process by which expatriates make psychological
modifications to address life-changing pressures and uncertainty in their work


2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
2 S. Zhao et al.


Boundaryless Proactive resource
mindset acquisition tactics


Figure 1.The theoretical model.

environment brought on by cross-cultural assignments (e.g. Bhaskar-Shrinivas,

Harrison, Shaffer, & Luk, 2005; Black, Mendenhall, & Oddou, 1991; Takeuchi,
Wang, & Marinova, 2005). Hence, different stressors and social supports are exam-
ined as important predictors of expatriate success (Kraimer & Wayne, 2004).
Secondly, expatriate success research has focused on motivation perspective, which
suggested that individuals who have motives to proactively pursue international
assignment goals and opportunities effectively respond to their surroundings,
managing the stress and the cross-cultural environment to facilitate assignment
success (Chen, Kirkman, Kim, Farh, & Tangirala, 2010; Ren, Shaffer, Harrison,
Fu, & Fodchuk, 2014). While this line of research has identified the motives,
e.g. personal challenges, development derived from international exploration,
international work experiences, the associated enjoyment and the perceived
opportunity to develop global career competencies, for individual proactively
engaging in expatriate career (Shaffer, Kraimer, Chen, & Bolino, 2012), few stud-
ies empirically explored the mechanism and conditions in which the individ-
ual motives functioned on expatriates success (e.g. Chen et al., 2010; Wang &
Takeuchi, 2007).
To address this issue, this paper examines the motivation perspective, and its
efficacy mechanisms, to provide new insights into the success of Chinese expa-
triates. Addressing previous expatriate success research that failed to take into
consideration individual differences in terms of career attitude, Cerdin and Le
Pargneux (2009) theoretically linked individual career characteristics to interna-
tional assignment success. Based on the assumption that individuals with higher
boundaryless career attitudes are more attracted to jobs requiring international
travel and working with culturally different people, and are more comfortable
with disruptions in their non-work life, Shaffer et al. (2012) proposed that future
research examines the boundaryless career attitude on individuals initiative choice
for international assignment. We respond and extend this call for further expatri-
ate success research by specifically focusing on a construct named boundaryless
mindset, which refers to one's general attitude on working across various bound-
aries (Briscoe, Hall, & DeMuth, 2006). Our aim is to examine how boundaryless
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 3

mindsets facilitate task and contextual aspects of job performance, one of the
specific criteria in evaluating expatriate success at the organizational level (Cerdin
& Le Pargneux, 2009; Kraimer & Wayne, 2004).
The challenges inherent in expatriate jobs involve uncertainty personal
(e.g. stress, identity transformation) and work (e.g. structural and perceptual barri-
ers) demands (Shaffer et al., 2012). Based on the job demand and resource (JD-R)
model that highlights the role of job resources on reducing job demands (Bakker
& Demerouti, 2007; Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001), we give
attention to a bundle of proactive resource acquisition tactics, referring to the
behaviours initiated by individuals to acquire information, establish relationships
and gain affection in the workplace (Ren et al., 2014). By differentiating between
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, self-determination theory (SDT) (Deci & Ryan,
1985) provides a useful foundation to understand the reasons individuals engage
in autonomous (self-initiated) behaviour. Drawing on this theory and the concept
of boundaryless mindsets, especially proactive behaviour and job performance
research, we argue that a boundaryless mindset motivates an expatriate automat-
ically engage in proactive resource acquisition tactics, which in turn enhances
expatriate job performance.
However, the literature is not clear that proactive tactics are always benefi-
cial to expatriate job performance in complicated cross-cultural contexts. This is
important because proactive tactics are conducted in overseas locations, which
have special cultural norms and standards of compliance. Thus, we pay attention
to expatriate behavioural cultural intelligence, defined as an individuals exibility
in demonstrating appropriate verbal and non-verbal actions when interacting
with people from different cultural backgrounds (Earley & Ang, 2003). We view
expatriate behavioural cultural intelligence as a boundary condition that exerts
influence on the effects of proactive resource acquisition tactics. Therefore, we
examine the moderating role of behavioural cultural intelligence on the rela-
tionship between proactive resource acquisition tactics and expatriate job per-
formance. The proposed relationships developed in the subsequent sections are
depicted in Figure 1.
Understanding expatriate success is context dependent, with China providing
an important case study. According to statistics from the Chinese Ministry of
Commerce, Chinas foreign direct investment (FDI) in 156 countries and regions
reached US $102.89 billion in 2014. By the end of 2013, China had established
25.40 thousand FDI corporations overseas, and that number is expected to increase
annually.1 Chinese multinational corporations are encountering significant chal-
lenges on selection, training and management of expatriates (Zhao, 2016), but little
is known about the experiences of Chinese expatriates success. Second, to explore
expatriate success from a motivation perspective accords well with the Chinese
context and realistic status. The Chinese family-based work ethic contends that
work is for the welfare of the family (Redding & Wong, 1986); it is acceptable
that a family lives in separate places due to one of the members obtaining an
4 S. Zhao et al.

international assignment with financial and career benefits (Shen & Jiang, 2015).
Compared with non-Chinese expatriates, worklife balances should be a lesser
stressor for Chinese expatriate success, despite that family problems ranked as
a top reason for expatriate failure (e.g. Dupuis & Haines, 2008; Fischlmayr &
Kollinger, 2010; Tung, 1987). Chinese rapid globalization has called on indi-
viduals to take part in international assignment, and overseas experiences and
cross-culture competence are valued highly for individual career development.
Research indicates that Chinese employees view international assignment as all-
too-rare opportunities (Shen & Edwards, 2004), either for the intrinsic motivation
(e.g. enjoyment and satisfaction) or extrinsic motivation (e.g. money, position and
career development). Third, the boundaryless mindset matches well with the cur-
rent Chinese employment environment. Within Chinas economic transition and
reform environment, Chinese employees are experiencing changing and insecure
employment during their working lives. Taking opportunities to improve their
employability and career development are commonly accepted and embraced
by Chinese employees. In line with the evolution of employment relations and
careers, exploring the boundaryless mindset in China is timely.
To summarize, our research makes four principal contributions to the expatri-
ate success literature: (1) by linking boundaryless mindset to expatriate job perfor-
mance, our research extends the antecedent scope of expatriate success to include
boundaryless mindsets; (2) by examining the mediating role of proactive resource
acquisition tactics, our research offers a theoretical basis for associating bound-
aryless mindsets with expatriate job performance; (3) by testing the moderating
role of behavioural cultural intelligence, our research identifies unique boundary
conditions for expatriate proactive resource acquisition tactics; (4) using Chinese
expatriate samples to test the theoretical model, the findings in a non-Western
context expand our understanding of global research on expatriate success.

SDT and work motivation

SDT is an influential theory of individual motivation that can be used to understand
many behaviours (Deci & Ryan, 1985). The theory proposes a self-determination
continuum ranging from amotivation (wholly lacking in self-determination) to
intrinsic motivation (invariantly self-determined). Along this continuum between
amotivation and intrinsic motivation are four types of extrinsic motivation from
the least self-determined to more self-determined. They comprise external regu-
lation (the least self-determination) and three types of internalization: introjec-
tions, identification and integration (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Gagn & Deci, 2005).
Introjections means that individuals take in extrinsic motivations, but have not
accepted them as their own. Identification occurs when individuals identify with
the underlying value of behaviour for their self-selected objectives. Integration
involves integrating the identifications of the importance of behaviour with other
aspects of the self. Intrinsic motivation and each type of extrinsic motivation are
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 5

reflected in different reasons for behaving, and these reasons provide the means for
assessing the types of motivation (Ryan & Connell, 1989). For instances, intrinsi-
cally motivated behaviour is prototypically autonomous, propelled by an individ-
uals interest in the activity itself; a behaviour being autonomously extrinsically
motivated requires that individuals identify with the value of this behaviour for
their own self-selected goals (Gagn & Deci, 2005).

A boundaryless mindset and international assignments

Defillippi and Arthur (1994, p. 307) defined a boundaryless career as a sequence
of job opportunities that goes beyond the boundaries of a single employment set-
ting. It focuses on crossing both objective and subjective dimensions of a career at
multiple levels of analysis, including organizational position, mobility, flexibility,
the work environment and the opportunity structure, while at the same time,
de-emphasizing reliance on organizational promotions and career paths (Arthur,
1994). The concept of boundaryless career is developed under the premise that
long-term and stable employment relations were gradually collapsing, especially in
China. The main difference between a boundaryless career and a traditional organ-
izational career is that the former focuses on achieving employability through
performance and flexibility, while the latter focuses on achieving job security
through organizational loyalty (Smith & Sheridan, 2006). A boundaryless mindset
is an operational variable reflecting the psychological dimension of a boundaryless
career developed by Briscoe et al. (2006). Individuals having a boundaryless mind-
set are delineated by being willing to initiate and pursue work-related relationships
across organizational boundaries from a set location, and are generally energized
by new experiences and situations (Briscoe et al., 2006). Moreover, individuals
having a boundaryless mindset have more of a desire to acquire knowledge and
skills, to develop their network of contacts and to maintain a permanent state of
employability (Lazarova & Taylor, 2009).
The pursuit of boundaryless mindsets can be realized in international assign-
ment (Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2001; Caligiuri & Santo, 2001). On the one hand,
engaging in an expatriate task is a form of cross-boundary physical mobility.
Although this transformation of the work environment does not cross the bound-
ary of a multinational corporation, it crosses the boundary of countries, cultures
and sections of the corporation, and it brings diversification, novelty and brand
new interpersonal relationships (Dowling, Festing, & Engle, 2013). On the other
hand, during the period of assignment, expatriates can gain advanced knowledge
and technological ability, managerial experience and cross-cultural communica-
tion skills. Expatriate experience is a competitive asset that can improve employ-
ability in the job market and allow transferring employers freely (Caligiuri &
Lazarova, 2001), enhancing the expatriates psychological mobility.
Empirical research has provided evidence that a boundaryless career attitude is
congruent with international assignments. Investigating the expatriates in German
6 S. Zhao et al.

multinational corporations, Stahl, Miller, and Tung (2002) found that the most
important motives of accepting international assignments of the respondents
were personal challenge, important of the job itself and professional develop-
ment, and the vast majority of respondents viewed their international assignment
as an opportunity for skill development and future career advancement, even
though it may not be within their current company. Yielding similar findings,
Tung (1998) investigation of 409 expatriates on assignment to 51 countries found
that the respondents believed that international assignments were an important
opportunity to acquire skills and experience usually not available at home, and
the successful completion of an international assignment would have a positive
impact upon their subsequent career advancement either in their current organi-
zation or elsewhere. According to Cerdin and Le Pargneux (2009), the congruence
between (1) positive motivation to go abroad and (2) free choice (volunteer) to
accept the expatriation and expatriation characteristics results in international
assignment success, which lays the foundation for establishing the theoretical
foundations of our research.

The relationship between a boundaryless mindset and proactive

resource acquisition tactics
International assignments are quite challenging and require expatriates to devote
substantial effort to adapting and performing effectively (Chen et al., 2010). The
complexity and uncertainty of the cross-cultural environment not only produce
stress for expatriates, but also increase the job requirements (Dowling et al., 2013).
According to the JD-R model, employee well-being and performance are produced
by two specific sets of working conditions, job demands and job resources. Job
resources can reduce job demands and the associated physiological and psycho-
logical costs, as well as can assist in achieving work goals, and stimulating personal
growth, learning and development (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Demerouti et al.,
2001). Hence, not only are resources necessary to deal with job demands, but they
are also important in their own right (Hobfoll, 2002). Hobfoll (2002) indicated
that people seek to obtain, retain and protect that which they value (e.g. material,
social, personal or energetic resources). Individuals in a stressful, changing and
uncertain context (such as cross-cultural environments) are more likely to pro-
actively seek support resources (Aragon-Correa, 1998; Briscoe, Henagan, Burton,
& Murphy, 2012; Ren et al., 2014).
Proactive resource acquisition tactics refers to behaviours that are initiated
to create certainty and improve the status quo through information seeking,
relationship building and positive framing (Ashford & Black, 1996; Ren et al.,
2014). Information seeking refers to employees search for and acquisition of
knowledge about the job, the organization or the situation; relationship building
addresses establishing friendship networks and arranging social support; and
positive framing relates to the use of cognitive self-control or self-management
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 7

to perceive situations as gains for ones personal outcomes rather than losses
from ones choices (Ashford & Black, 1996). Ashford and Black (1996) found that
new employees can obtain task-related, interpersonal-related and affect-related
resources through proactive tactics, resulting in higher job performance. Ren
et al. (2014) use proactive tactics to reference their study of expatriate success.
While Ren et al. (2014) employed expatriate proactive resource acquisition tactics
as separate variables, information seeking, relationship building and positive
framing somewhat blur conceptually in expatriation (Ashford & Black, 1996), since
the basis of obtaining information is relationship building, and positive framing
push individuals to engage in information seeking and relationship building. As
suggested by prior research in the expatriate literature on relevant constructs,
such as perceived organizational support and cross-cultural adjustment (e.g.
Kraimer & Wayne, 2004; Ren et al., 2014; Wu & Ang, 2011), we treat information
seeking, relationship building and positive framing as bundled proactive resource
acquisition tactics.
We argue that a boundaryless mindset promotes expatriate proactive resource
acquisition tactics. One reason is that individuals with a boundaryless mindset
prefer initiating and pursuing work-related relationships across organizational
boundaries (Briscoe et al., 2006), indicating that they have intrinsic motivation
on building relationships. Individuals with a boundaryless mindset are willing to
improve their competence and provide performance evidence to improve employ-
ability (Smith & Sheridan, 2006; Sullivan & Arthur, 2006), and the information
resources in the work, organizational and social networks benefit task accom-
plishment and knowledge accumulation (Farh, Bartol, Shapiro, & Shin, 2010). It
implies that individuals with a boundaryless mindset may identify or integrate the
value of seeking out information for their self-selected goals, forming an extrinsic
motivation on information seeking. Moreover, individuals with a boundaryless
mindset like challenging environments that enable them to experience new things
(Briscoe et al., 2006). The preference may intrinsically drive them to shape the
context of their work by cognitively composing the content of their jobs through
positive framing (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). According to the SDT, auton-
omous behaviour is motivated by ones interest in this behaviour (i.e. intrinsic
motivation) and/or because the value and regulation of the behaviour have been
integrated within ones self (i.e. integrated extrinsic motivation); and individuals
who consider themselves autonomous tend to initiate actions, rather than follow
(Deci & Ryan, 1985; Gagn & Deci, 2005).
Empirical research supports our proposition. Briscoe et al. (2012) found
that a boundaryless mindset enabled employees to better cope with change and
explained that a boundaryless mindset played an intrinsic role in motivation,
resulting in an individual preference for taking the initiative in organizing ones
work and seeking an adaptive advantage. Other studies provided indirect evi-
dence, such as findings that boundaryless career attitudes are related to proactive
personality, which is an antecedent of a variety of proactive behaviours (Briscoe
8 S. Zhao et al.

et al., 2006; Uy, Chan, Sam, Ho, & Chernyshenko, 2015). Some of the proactive
behaviours are similar to proactive resource acquisition tactics, such as building
social networks (Lambert, Eby, & Reeves, 2006; Thompson, 2005) and obtaining
knowledge of organizational politics (Seibert, Kraimer, & Crant, 2001). Thus, we
present the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1: The boundaryless mindset of an expatriate is positively related to proac-
tive resource acquisition tactics.

The relationship between a boundaryless mindset, proactive resource

acquisition tactics and expatriate job performance
Due to the multiple objectives of international assignment, expatriate assignment
requires effective performance on dimensions beyond task performance. Caligiuri
(1997) developed taxonomy of expatriate success, highlighting the need to exam-
ine both task performance and managerial and expatriate-specific contextual per-
formance. Kraimer and Wayne (2004) defined expatriate task performance as the
expatriates performance in meeting job objectives and technical aspects of the job,
and contextual performance as job aspects that go beyond specific job duties but
are essential to performing well in an expatriate assignment, including interaction
with host country co-workers, establishing relationships with key host country
business contacts and adapting to foreign facilitys business customs and norms.
We use this definition in our research.
We argue that proactive resource acquisition tactics promote expatriate
task performance. Proactive tactics of information seeking and relationship
building can provide expatriate technical and professional knowledge and
work skills relevant to the organization, task and work role (Morrison, 1993).
Further, they also provide expatriates the critical support resources to make
sense of and adapt to uncertain work environments (Farh et al., 2010). With
positively framing, expatriates can get positive affects to meet work challenges
and view them as opportunities (Farh et al., 2010), then they may feel proactive
and be motivated to better perform in accomplishing the tasks and objectives.
As such, we believe that proactive resource acquisition tactics should promote
expatriates to carry out their assignments more efficiently and effectively,
leading to high task performance.
Proactive resource acquisition tactics are also expected to facilitate expatriate
contextual performance. Information seeking enables expatriates to understand
prevailing norms and values that expatriates need to become integrated into cross-
culture environments (Ashford & Black, 1996). Relying on the cognitions of norms
and values prevalent in the host country and work settings, expatriates are able to
build relationship with co-workers or business partners and interact with them
more effectively. When expatriates develop relationships with co-workers and
become a part of formal social activities, they can change the relational boundaries
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 9

of their work roles and create their own relationship networks (Wrzesniewski
& Dutton, 2001). With positive affect resources acquired by positive framing,
expatriates may be more willing and capable of perform extra work such as
helping behaviours and teamwork cooperation associated with contextual
There is considerable research that supports our propositions. Job resources
have been shown to lead to engagement and positive outcomes including dedica-
tion and extra-role performance (Bakker, Demerouti, & Verbeke, 2004; Schaufeli
& Bakker, 2004). Relationship building and positive framing promote expatriate
work embeddedness and cross-cultural adjustment (Ren et al., 2014), the impor-
tant antecedents of job performance (Chen et al., 2010; Feldman & Ng, 2007;
Kraimer & Wayne, 2004; Wang & Takeuchi, 2007; Wu & Ang, 2011). We thus
propose the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2Proactive resource acquisition tactics positively relate to (a) task per-
formance and (b) contextual performance.
In their SDT and work motivation research, Gagn and Deci (2005) proposed that
autonomous motivation, which consists of a mix of intrinsic motivation and internal-
ized extrinsic motivation, is superior in situations that include both complex tasks (that
are interesting) and less complex tasks (that require discipline). It implies that individ-
uals with high boundaryless mindset who have autonomous motivation to engage in
international assignments and proactive resource acquisition tactics may achieve high
job performance associated with both task and contextual aspects. Combined with the
relationships being suggested by Hypotheses 1 and 2, we suggest that a boundaryless
mindset motivates expatriate to engage in proactive resource acquisition tactics, which
in turn enhance both expatriate task and contextual performance.
Related research has laid the foundation for exploring the mediating effect of
proactive resource acquisition tactics by emphasizing the importance of proactive
behaviours in linking motivational variables and job performance. For example,
Kanfer and Ackerman (1989) found that proactive goal striving was the behav-
ioural and psychological mechanisms by which individuals purposively seek to
accomplish proactive goals. Chen et al. (2010) and Wang and Takeuchi (2007)
found that proactive cross-cultural motivation and goal orientation improved
job performance through expatriate cross-cultural adjustment. The underlying
mechanism of such relationships was expatriates proactive sustaining efforts to
adjust and adapt to their international assignments. Briscoe et al. (2012) found
that actively coping with changes served as a mediator between a boundaryless
mindset and job performance. We posit that proactive resource acquisition tactics
mediate the impact of a boundaryless mindset on expatriate task and contextual
performance. That is, a boundaryless mindset enhances expatriates task and con-
textual performance at least in part because of expatriates proactive resource
acquisition that a boundaryless mindset enhances. Therefore, we propose the
following hypothesis:
10 S. Zhao et al.

Hypothesis 3: Proactive resource acquisition tactics mediate the relationship between

(a) a boundaryless mindset and task performance and (b) a boundaryless mindset and
contextual performance.

Moderating role of behavioural cultural intelligence

Cultural intelligence refers to an individuals ability to adapt effectively in situ-
ations characterized by cultural diversity (Earley & Ang, 2003). Cultural intelli-
gence explains individual differences in adapting to new cultural settings. Ang
et al. (2007) operationalized cultural intelligence as a multidimensional con-
struct that includes meta-cognitive, cognitive, motivational and behavioural
components. We pay attention to the role of behavioural cultural intelligence.
In the expatriate literature, cultural intelligence positively relates to expatriate
adjustment and job performance (e.g. Ang et al., 2007; Kim, Kirkman, & Chen,
2008; Templer, Tay, & Chandrasekar, 2006). Wu and Ang (2011) found that some
dimensions of cultural intelligence interacted with expatriate supporting practices
to influence expatriate adjustment, but the moderating effect was not signifi-
cant for behaviour cultural intelligence. We propose that behavioural cultural
intelligence is an important condition when expatriates manifest their proac-
tive resource acquisition tactics in cross-culture settings. Saks, Gruman, and
Cooper-Thomas (2011) stated that whether proactive efforts obtain proactive
outcomes depends both on the behaviours themselves and also on the responses
of others. Behavioural cultural intelligence may be the factor which influences
the responses of people with whom the expatriates interact in the processes of
proactive resources acquisition tactics.
Behavioural cultural intelligence may enhance the effect of proactive resource
acquisition tactics on expatriate task performance. Task performance relies on
the technical and professional knowledge resources. Only when expatriates adopt
appropriate ways to interact with the technical and professional staffs may they
get the sharing task-related information. Expatriates in a high behaviour cultural
intelligence possess a wide range of verbal and body language expressions, and
are able to pick up subtle cultural signals from others and adapt when talking to
people from other cultures (Ang & Van Dyne, 2008; Wu & Ang, 2010). Hence, they
are more effective to interact with their supervisors, colleagues and subordinates
at work, resulting in getting the information resources for the task performance.
Behavioural cultural intelligence may also enhance the effect of proactive
resource acquisition tactics on expatriate contextual performance. Contextual
performance is structured around relationships with the host nationals and
working relationships with the local employees (Caligiuri, 1997). In the process
of building relationships with co-workers and other related partners, expatri-
ates with high behaviour cultural intelligence can behave in accordance with the
cultural norms of the organization and the country. As a result, expatriates are
more likely to be welcomed rather than to be offended by locals. Meanwhile,
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 11

high behavioural cultural intelligence can reduce cross-cultural misunderstand-

ings and anxiety, helping smooth communications with local staff and partners
(Wu & Ang, 2011). With behavioural cultural intelligence, expatriates are more
capable of developing new interpersonal relationships with the host nationals
and interacting closely with local group members (Kraimer, Wayne, & Jaworski,
2001), performing their non-work duties more effectively (Bhaskar-Shrinivas
et al., 2005; Kraimer & Wayne, 2004).
From the above analysis, behavioural cultural intelligence will increase positive
performance results when expatriates utilize proactive resource acquisition tactics.
Conversely, when expatriates with low behavioural cultural intelligence employ
proactive resource acquisition tactics, they may not only fail to achieve good
outcomes because of the inappropriate behaviours, but may create cross-cultural
misunderstanding and conflicts, further interfering with expatriates task and
contextual performance. Therefore, we propose the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 4: Behavioural cultural intelligence moderates the relationship between
(a) proactive resource acquisition tactics and task performance and (b) proactive
resource acquisition tactics and contextual performance. Proactive resource acquisi-
tion tactics relate more positively to task and contextual performance when expatriates
possess high behavioural cultural intelligence.

Sample and data collection procedure
Starting in March 2014, utilizing our networks of alumni associations, we con-
tacted 10 large-scale Chinese multinational corporations by convenient sampling
to conduct our investigation. The sample consisted of a coal mining group, an alu-
minium corporation, a petrochemical corporation, a petroleum engineering and
construction corporation, a nationalized bank, a textile and garment corporation,
a harbour group corporation, a foreign trade corporation, a media group corpo-
ration and an appliances group corporation. They are all state-owned enterprises.
In China, these corporations are attractive for high job security, attractive salary
and good treatment. In other words, these corporations have relatively low talent
mobility (turnover) because employees cherish their employment opportunity.
It is especially instructive to investigate boundaryless mindsets in such security
Our respondents consist of engineering technicians and white-collar
employees who are assigned overseas by the headquarters of these corpora-
tions. Each corporations human resources departments provided us with the
expatriates e-mail addresses and sent an initial e-mail to encourage them
to participate in the academic study. Our survey, along with a cover letter
assuring confidentiality and voluntary participation, was then distributed to
these expatriates.
12 S. Zhao et al.

We number coded the surveys to match the responses of each employee with
those of his/her supervisor. Three waves of data collection with two-month inter-
vals were conducted to reduce potential common method bias. In the first-wave
(Time 1), 620 available expatriates were surveyed on demographic characteris-
tics, boundaryless mindset and behavioural cultural intelligence. A total of 531
expatriates returned the survey. In the second wave, (Time 2), the 531 expatriates
who responded were surveyed on their proactive resource acquisition tactics. A
total of 489 expatriates returned the survey. In the final wave, (Time 3), these 489
expatriates were asked to distribute the job performance survey to their super-
visors. We provided our email addresses and asked the supervisors to return
their surveys directly to the researchers. A total of 389 surveys were ultimately
returned. After matching the surveys of supervisors and expatriates, 389 dyads
of expatriatesupervisor data were available to test the hypotheses, yielding an
effective response rate of 62.7%.
The host locations of the respondents covered 33 countries across Africa,
America, Middle East, Europe, Asia and Oceania. In the questionnaires, 77.1%
of expatriates were under 40years old; 71.4% were male; 82.6% held bachelor's
degree or above; 71.7% were married; 20.1% were accompanied by their spouse
in the assignment; the average assignment tenure was 28months; 37.5% had prior
international experience; and 64% were fluent in the local language.


A six-point Likert scale was used for all study items (1 = strongly disagree,
6=strongly agree). Surveys were translated from English to Chinese and submit-
ted for an independent back translation to English to ensure that the accuracy
of the meaning was maintained. Several rounds of revisions were conducted by
bilingual experts until no further inaccuracies in translation were detected. The
Cronbachs alpha of each scale is displayed in Table 1.

Boundaryless attitudes
A boundaryless mindset was measured using the eight-item scale developed by
Briscoe et al. (2006). One sample item was I like job tasks that require me to work
outside my own department.

Proactive resource acquisition tactics

Proactive resource acquisition tactics were assessed using the Ashford and Black
(1996) 10-item measure that addresses information seeking, relationship building
and positive framing dimensions. To maintain a parsimonious theoretical model
that examines the role of proactive resource acquisition tactics as a whole, we
standardized these dimensional scores and averaged them to create a total score
for our regression analysis. To examine whether it would be appropriate to repre-
sent the proactive resource acquisition tactic dimensions as a single global scale,
Table 1.Means, standard deviations, correlation and reliability.
Variables Mean S.D. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
1. Age
2. Gender .07
3. Marital status .14** .42**
4. Education .16** .06 .13*
5. Assignment tenure .10 .35** .19** .07
6. Presence of spouse .02 .21** .29** .05 .06
7. Prior international experience .10 .30** .08 .24** .02 .04
8. Language fluency 4.27 .96 .07 .11 .08 .03 .03 .14* .14*
9. Boundaryless mindset 4.10 .83 .05 .03 .11* .09 .04 .01 .04 .18** (.87)
10. Proactive tactics 4.36 .88 .05 .06 .05 .04 .02 .11* .15** .41** .15** (.89)
11. Task performance 4.07 .83 .08 .12* .02 .00 .05 .02 .00 .22** .20** .24** (.88)
12. Contextual performance 4.44 .86 .05 .17** .00 .02 .07 .14** .08 .26** .18** .38** .226** (.88)
13. Behavioural cultural intelligence 4.48 .86 .09 .18** .13* .09 .08 .02 .08 .26** .28** .40** .50** .45** (.88)
*p < .05; **p < .01.
The International Journal of Human Resource Management
14 S. Zhao et al.

we conducted a second-order confirmatory factor analysis in which information

seeking, relationship building and positive framing loaded on a higher order con-
struct of proactive resource acquisition tactics. This second-order, three-factor
model had an acceptable fit (GFI=.952; AGFI=.918; CFI=.979; RMSEA=.071;
SRMR=.042). The gammas for each of the three dimensions loading on the higher
order construct were all statistically significant (p<.01; standardized gammas
were .64, .41 and .71 for information seeking, relationship building and positive
framing, respectively). Thus, we created a single scale score for proactive resource
acquisition tactics. The sample statement was: I tried to get to know as many
people as possible in other sections of the local company on a personal basis.

Expatriate job performance

Task and contextual performance were measured using five- and four-item scales
designed by Kraimer and Wayne (2004). Two sample categories were Meeting
performance standards and expectations and Interacting with host-country

Behavioural cultural intelligence

Behavioural cultural intelligence was measured by the five-item scale developed
by Ang et al. (2007). A sample statement was I alter my facial expressions when
a cross-cultural interaction requires it.

Control variables
Several control measures were used to eliminate influences related to outcomes in
our model: age, gender, marital status, education level, assignment tenure (month),
presence of spouse, prior international experience and language fluency.

Descriptive statistics
Table 1 presents the means, standard deviations, Cronbachs alphas and zero-order
correlations of all variables included in this study. The hypothesized relation-
ships among study variables appear to be well represented in the correlations.
Specifically, a boundaryless mindset was positively correlated with proactive
resource acquisition tactics (r=.15, p<.01), which in turn were positively related
to task performance (r=.24 p<.01) and contextual performance (r=.38, p<.01).

Preliminary analyses

Using confirmatory factor analyses (CFA), a measurement model was tested to

assess whether each of the measurement items would load significantly onto the
scales with which they were associated. The results of the overall CFA and the
goodness-of-fit statistics for the five-factor model showed that a good fit with the
data (x2 of 1203.34 on 392 degrees of freedom; CFI=.91; TLI=.90; RMSEA=.07)
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 15

was achieved. We also examined two alternative measurement models: (1) a

one-factor model and (2) a four-factor model with items measuring task per-
formance and contextual performance loaded onto one factor. The results of the
one-factor model produced the following goodness-of-fit statistics (x2 of 6084.22
on 405 degrees of freedom; CFI=.34; TLI=.29; RMSEA=.19). The following
goodness-of-fit statistics (x2 of 2570.70 on 396 degrees of freedom; CFI=.75;
TLI=.72; RMSEA=.12) were achieved for the four-factor model. There were
significant differences between the two nested models (the one- and four-factor
models) and the baseline model (the five-factor model), which further supported
the preference for the five-factor model. Overall, these findings indicated that the
hypothesized five-factor model had a better fit with the data.

We tested the hypotheses using ordinary least squares regression analyses.
Table 2 presents the results of the regression analyses of the effects of a boundary-
less mindset and proactive resource acquisition tactics on task performance and
contextual performance. Models 1 and 5 in Table 2 are the base models and include
the control variables. Models 2 and 6 capture the direct effects of a boundaryless
mindset and the dependent variables. We found that a boundaryless mindset is
significantly related to task performance (=.16, p<.01) and contextual perfor-
mance (=.21, p<.01).
Table 2 presents the result from testing hypotheses 14b. After excluding the
influence of the control variables, it shows that a boundaryless mindset is signif-
icantly related to proactive resource acquisition tactics (M10, =.44, p<.01),
thus supporting Hypothesis 1. Regarding the relationships between proactive
resource acquisition tactics and task and contextual performance, it is shown that
proactive resource acquisition tactics are significantly and positively related to
task performance (M3, =.32, p<.01) as well as to contextual performance (M7,
=.35, p<.01), thus providing support for Hypotheses 2a and 2b. Hypothesis
3 predicted the mediating effects of proactive resource acquisition tactics in the
relationships between a boundaryless mindset and job performance. Following
the procedure suggested by Baron and Kenny (1986), we examined changes in the
effects of a boundaryless mindset when the proactive resource acquisition tactics
were entered into the regression equation. As shown in Models 4 and 8 in Table 2,
when proactive resource acquisition tactics were entered into the equations, the
previously significant effects of a boundaryless mindset on task performance are
reduced to non-significance (=.10 ns), and the significance level of a bounda-
ryless mindset on contextual performance is also reduced (=.14, p<.01). Thus,
proactive resource acquisition tactics fully mediate the relationship between a
boundaryless mindset and task performance and partially mediate the relationship
between a boundaryless mindset and contextual performance, thereby supporting
Hypotheses 3a and 3b.
S. Zhao et al.

Table 2.Results of regression analysis of a boundaryless mindset and job performance.

Task performance Contextual performance Proactive tactics
M1 M2 M3 M4 M5 M6 M7 M8 M9 M10
Step1: Control variables
Age .04 .049 .01 .01 .16* .17* .10 .11 .18* .15
Gender .12* .122* .08 .08 .06 .06 .01 .02 .14* .08
Marital status .07 .07 .01 .01 .04 .04 .03 .02 .19** .16**
Education .03 .009 .00 .01 .10 .08 .07 .05 .11 .06
Assignments tenure .02 .017 .01 .01 .05 .05 .06 .06 .03 .03
Presence of spouse .16** .157** .16** .15** .19** .19** .19 ** .19 .012 .01
Prior international experience .12* .133* .12* .13* .07 .06 .07 .06 .004 .03
Language fluency .39** .364** .30** .29** .27** .23** .17 ** .15* .29** .23**
Step2: Independent variable
Boundaryless mindset .16** .10 .21** .14* .44**
Step3: Mediating variable
Proactive tactics .32** .29** .35** .31**
R2 .236 .024 .09 .07 .14 .04 .08 .07 .15 5.45*
F 9.7** 8.195* 31.39** 25.82** 5.23** 12.31** 27.81** 22.16** 5.45** 68.09**
Notes: Proactive resource aquisition tactics=Proactive tactics.
*p<.05; **p<.01.
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 17

Table 3.Results of regression analysis of moderating effect.

Task performance Contextual performance
M1 M2 M3 M4 M5 M6
Step 1: Control variable
Age .042 .014 .018 .16* .095 .091
Gender .114* .072 .078 .05 .006 .013
Marital status .074 .013 .016 .052 .02 .016
Education .03 .003 .011 .099 .066 .053
Assignments tenure .017 .006 .014 .049 .06 .052
Presence of spouse .16** .156** .153** .195** .188** .184**
Prior international .121* .122* .127* .073 .074 .067
Language fluency .394** .303** .312** .27** .175** .188**
Step 2: Mediator
Proactive tactics .312** .31** .367** .36**
Step 3: Interaction
Behavioural cultural .002 .012 .040 .03
Step 4:
Proactive tactics .13* .17**
Behavioural cultural
R 2
.235** .084** .015* .142** .104** .026**
F 9.592** 15.236** 5.633* 5.128** 16.887** 8.896**
Notes: Proactive resource acquisition tactics=Proactive tactics.
*p<.05; **p<.01.

Figure 2.Interaction of expatriate proactive resource acquisition tactics and behavioural cultural
intelligence on task performance.

Hypotheses 4a and 4b were concerned with the moderating impact of behav-

ioural cultural intelligence on the relationships between proactive resource acqui-
sition tactics and both task performance and contextual performance. Models 1
and 5 in Table 3 are the base models that include the control variables. Proactive
resource acquisition tactics and behavioural cultural intelligence are entered into
each of the moderated regressions, followed by items for the interaction between
18 S. Zhao et al.

Figure 3.Interaction of expatriate proactive resource acquisition tactics and behavioural cultural
intelligence on contextual performance.

proactive resource acquisition tactics and behavioural cultural intelligence. The

results of the moderated regression analyses, displayed in Table 3, show that behav-
ioural cultural intelligence has a significant moderating effect on the relationship
between proactive resource acquisition tactics and task performance (M3, =.13,
p<.05) as well as between proactive resource acquisition tactics and contextual
performance (M6, =.17, p<.01).
Following Aiken and West (1991), Figures 2 and 3 depict the interaction effects.
Figure 2 shows that the relationship between proactive resource acquisition tactics and
task performance is more positive when behavioural cultural intelligence is rated as
being high rather than low, providing support for Hypothesis 4a. Figure 3 illustrates
that expatriates with high behavioural cultural intelligence have a significantly higher
level of context performance when proactive resource acquisition tactics are used,
supporting Hypothesis 4b.

This study proposed and tested a model in which boundaryless mindsets influ-
ence expatriate task performance and contextual performance, with proactive
resource acquisition tactics as a mediator and behavioural cultural intelligence as
a moderator. Supporting our hypotheses, we found that a boundaryless mindset
fully or partially relates to expatriate task performance and contextual perfor-
mance through proactive resource acquisition tactics and that proactive resource
acquisition tactics are more related to expatriate task performance and contextual
performance when the expatriate possesses a high level of behavioural cultural
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 19

Theoretical implications
First, using the motivation perspective, we extended expatriate research to iden-
tify a boundaryless mindset as a source of individual autonomous motivation for
expatriates pursuing international assignments. Further, we revealed its relation-
ship with expatriate task performance and contextual performance. We suggest
that the interest in the international assignment itself and its potential to improve
employability and offer career development were the main reasons that individuals
with boundaryless mindsets pursue expatriate opportunities and achieve success.
Our conclusion is a beneficial supplement to expatriate studies from the stress per-
spective, which often emphasizes the important influence of stressors and social
support on expatriate success. In fact, the relationship between the dimensions of
expatriate perceived organizational support and expatriate job performance pro-
duced inconsistent results of positive, negative and non-linear effects (Kraimer &
Wayne, 2004). This implies that extrinsic motivation from organizations does not
guarantee expatriate success, and individual attributes concerning autonomous
motivation need to be considered. In addition, our study enriches the bound-
aryless career literature. Although many researchers have linked boundaryless
career to international assignment, seldom have studies provided evidence by
testing the role of boundaryless mindset on expatriate success (Briscoe et al.,
2012; akmak-Otluolu, 2012). Our research found that a boundaryless mind-
set promote expatriate job performance, supplementing existing studies on the
effects of a boundaryless mindset and providing deeper insights into the function
of boundaryless mindsets.
Second, we extended previous expatriate research by delineating and testing
the mediating mechanism that explains how a boundaryless mindset promotes
expatriate job performance. We found proactive resource acquisition tactics play
a fully mediating role in the relationship between a boundaryless mindset and
task performance and a partially mediating role in the relationship between a
boundaryless mindset and contextual performance. The findings add to expa-
triate research by uncovering black box mechanisms through which individual
motivational variables influence expatriate success. Our findings contribute to
expatriate literature by going beyond expatriate adjustment as the mechanism
through which motivational variables influence job performance as examined
by Wang and Takeuchi (2007) and Chen et al. (2010). We suggest that expatriate
adjustment itself is an outcome variable that expresses expatriates efforts in their
work and overseas living, but it cannot determine how adjustment is achieved.
Our research partially fills this gap, providing a better understanding of how
motivators help to achieve and maintain desirable outcomes in the expatriate
context. Further, we contribute to the proactive behaviour literature by demon-
strating that individual differences on career attitude significantly influence their
proactive resource acquisition tactics in work settings, adding to the proactive
behaviour literature that focuses on the influence of contextual factors such as
20 S. Zhao et al.

organizational norms, culture and leadership, as well as individual attributions

such as personality, self-efficacy and taking charge (Crant, 2000).
Third, our research is also unique in identifying the boundary condition for the
relationship between proactive recourse acquisition and expatriate task perfor-
mance and contextual performance. Prior research found that employing proactive
resource acquisition tactics was an alternative proactive method for adapting to the
uncertainty of the expatiate environment (Ren et al., 2014). Our research extends
this by defining a boundary condition of behavioural cultural intelligence that
enables proactive resource acquisition tactics to exert their influence on expatriate
success. Thus, we obtain a more complete picture of the effectiveness of proac-
tive resource acquisition tactics. That is, high behavioural cultural intelligence
can better facilitate the positive effect of proactive resource acquisition tactics
on expatriate task performance and contextual performance. Our findings also
respond to Wu and Ang (2011), who explored the moderating role of behavioural
cultural intelligence, but found no effect on the relationship between expatriate
supporting practices and expatriate adjustment. They speculate that the possible
explanation is that behavioural cultural intelligence may be more situation-specific
(e.g. I change my verbal behaviour (accent, tone) when a cross-cultural interac-
tion requires it) (Wu & Ang, 2011). Our research confirms this speculation by
finding that behavioural cultural intelligence exerts a strengthening effect under
the specific situation when expatriates use proactive resource acquisition tactics.
Finally, our study adds to the extension of expatriate success research to
non-Western countries. Previous research on international assignments is usually
based on multinational corporations from developed countries, with far fewer
studies concerned with how multinational corporations managed their global
workforce in developing countries (Chang et al., 2012; Fan, Zhang, & Zhu, 2013).
With the progress of Chinese economic transformation and globalization, the
problem of qualified expatriate availability has risen, and every multinational
corporation in China is competing for talents with international experience,
viewing them as strategic resources for international assignment success (Zhao,
2016). This situation prompted researchers to pay attention to Chinese expatri-
ate management. Our study provides a cue for Chinese expatriate management
research by providing evidence that the contemporary boudaryless mindset has
been taken on by Chinese employees, even in the corporations with relatively
security employment environment.

Managerial implications
Our study has several practical implications for management in expatriate selec-
tion, training, development and career planning. First, our research encourages
managers to view boundaryless mindsets as an important criterion for expatriate
selection because of its benefits to expatriate job performance. Also, the organiza-
tions need to provide a long-term career development plan to employees with a
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 21

boundaryless mindset, giving them opportunities to work across boundaries (e.g.

cross-cultural and cross-section boundaries) while satisfying their requirements
for learning and growth. Since employees with a high boundaryless mindset are
modern and proactive regarding their career (Briscoe et al., 2006), their supervi-
sors need to consider that these employees have less commitment to their current
organizations (Briscoe & Finkelstein, 2009; akmak-Otluolu, 2012; Zaleska &
Menezes, 2009). Second, because our findings indicated that high behavioural
cultural intelligence was an important condition for expatriates to achieve a better
behavioural outcome during the process of cross-culture interaction, behavioural
cultural intelligence should also be viewed as a non-negligible factor in setting
standards for selecting expatriates, especially for those who hold a boundary-
less mindset and a preference for information seeking, relationship building and
positive framing in overseas locations. Third, a boundaryless mindset is an atti-
tude, and not an underlying personality trait, which can be effectively taught and
developed (Briscoe et al., 2006). Managers of international organizations should
pay attention to improving employees boundaryless mindset from cross-national
boundaries rather than cross-organizational boundaries by training and develop-
ment measures. Since cultural intelligence is a state-like capability that individuals
can accumulate over time (Wu & Ang, 2011), multinational corporations should
also reinforce the training and development of cultural intelligence for expatriate
candidates in various ways.

Limitations and future research

This research has some limitations. From the methodological perspective,
although we created the model using longitudinal and multisource data, we
employed a survey design, which precluded any inference of strong causality. We
also restricted the sample to 10 large-scale multinational corporations in China,
excluding small- and medium-sized multinational corporations. Although the
sample may control for the influences of enterprise scale, it may affect the gen-
eralizability of our conclusions. In addition, the measures used in our research
were all developed in Western countries rather than indigenously developed in
China. It is a debatable question of how well they fit Chinese employees. Future
research should develop measures from Chinese samples and use a mixed research
design and collect data from more multinational corporations. From a theoretical
perspective, our research explored how a boundaryless mindset, through proac-
tive resource acquisition tactics, influenced expatriate job performance from the
motivation perspective and how behavioural cultural intelligence moderated the
relationship between proactive resource acquisition tactics and job performance.
Unfortunately, our research did not realize an integration analysis of the mediating
and moderating mechanisms. In the light of the fact that expatriate success is a
complicated phenomenon, future research needs to further explore other possible
integrated mediating and moderating mechanisms. In addition, we argued that
22 S. Zhao et al.

employees with a high boundaryless mindset have autonomous motivation for

pursuing international assignment. However, despite empirical research findings
supporting the statement, we did not include the relating variables of autonomous
motivation in our conceptual model. Future research can explicitly reveal the role
of autonomous motivation in individual engaging in international assignment.


Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [grant num-
ber 71272065], [grant number 71332002], [grant number 71402024]; and the Ministry of
Education of Humanities and Social Science Project of China [project number 12YJC630321].

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