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Dr Neville Meyers
(School of Information Systems, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)

Professor Greg. Hearn
(Institute for Creative Industries & Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane,

Associate Professor Lisa Bradley
(School of Management, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)

Meyers, N., Hearn, G., Bradley, L. (2006). Critical success factors for positioning Australian
business talent in the global knowledge economy: A current research agenda.
Proceedings of 17th Australian New Zealand Academy of Management Conference,
December, 2006, Yeppoon, ANZAM.

„Globalisation‟ and the „global knowledge economy‟ have become some of the most common
„buzzwords‟ in Australian business, economic, and social sectors in the past decade. Further,
knowledge service exports are a growing sector for Australia that utilise complex technical and
creative capacities, increasingly rely on virtual work innovations, require new socio-technical systems
to establish and maintain effective client relationships in global contexts; and – along with other
innovations in the electronic age – may require novel coping abilities on the part of both managers and
their employees to achieve desired outcomes (Bandura, 2002). Accordingly, this paper overviews
such trends. The paper also includes a research agenda which is a „work-in-progress‟ with a major
global company, Shell (Australia); it highlights both the objectives and proposed methodology of the
study; it also outlines anticipated key benefits arising from the research.

Keywords: Globalisation; Virtual work

Worldwide electronic networks are not only increasingly linking countries; they are also demanding a
re-appraisal of how e-commerce and business processes – as well as management practices generally
- can be reconfigured to cope with new opportunities. On the other hand globalisation is “complex
and multifaceted phenomenon” which defies an over-simplified categorization (Fischer, 2003: 1). In
more pragmatic terms, globalisation can also be seen as the growing international dependence on
resource flows, product markets and business competition that characterise the new economies
(Schermerhorn, Campling, Poole, & Wiesner, 2004). Typically, in most university business texts,
potential managers who perceive that one day they might operate in an international organisation are
urged to understand and come to grips with the structure of the global economy (Davidson, Simon,
Gottschank, Hunt, Wood, Griffin, 2006: 64-66; Sampson & Daft, 2005, Ch: 4)). Accordingly, while
researchers-writers may pro-offer differing viewpoints on whether globalisation is either a positive or
negative force (or some hybrid of both), most of these writers agree on one fundamental point:
globalisation is becoming pervasive in the international economies. For example, Prime Minister John
Howard a decade ago described globalisation in terms of Australia‟s interests as “the most potent
economic force in the world today” (address to the Australian Parliament on the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation APEC Leaders Meeting cited in Australia Bureau Statistics Year Book
Australia, 1998). Subsequently, a growing number of Australian companies are continuing to „seize
the day‟ and are endeavouring to secure their niche in the global economy. As part of this process,
Australian companies have been both (i) extending their activities to other parts of the world; and (ii)
actively competing against organisations located in these other countries. For example, in 2002-03
Australian enterprise groups had 4,012 foreign affiliates employing 391,924 staff as noted in an
official ABS Survey conducted for the first time (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004). In 2002-03,
foreign affiliates of Australian resident enterprise groups generated $142.3 billion in sales revenue for
goods and services. At the time of writing, more current data is being obtained from the Australian
Bureau of Statistics (ABS is apparently continuing to analyse these trends, but data is patchy). More
recently, growth in global commercial services trade in 2004 was 18%; further, in 2004, Australia‟s
exports of services were worth US$25 billion. At the international level, according to U.S Chief Trade
Negotiation for the Bush Government Bob Zoellick, the number of people participating in the global
economy has also risen from one billion to 4.5 billion in the past fifteen to twenty years (Zoellick, as
cited in Kelly, 2006).
On the other hand globalisation may bring as many dangers as opportunities. Firstly, national – indeed,
individual corporate - survival may be at stake if goods and services that are produced cannot remain
internationally competitive (Buchen, 2005; Gupta & Westney, 2003). Secondly, for Australian and
other corporations, the challenge has been actually to identify and exploit the opportunities which the
liberalised global regulatory environment provides. Organisations wishing to „globalise‟ need also to
capitalise on meeting demand for high-level skills (Miles, 2007). As well, these organisations need to
be proactive and innovative to respond to frequent changes in technologies, markets, government
regulations and changing customer needs (Unsworth & Parker, 2005). Thirdly, to succeed globally,
organisations need to build new coalitions of tasks, technologies and people and capitalise on
continuing refinements in ICTs for expanded and more flexible service delivery (Buchen, 2005). The
human-organisation behavioural impacts of the emergent work practices can also be significant within
what is often the 24/7 dynamic of the global knowledge economy: both employees and their managers
need to balance job demands and person-centred needs for flexibility and autonomy (Hitt, Miller, &
Colella, 2006: Ch.3; Lamond, Daniels & Standen, 2003; Sparrow & Daniels, 1999). Both mangers and
employees also need, in global contexts, to develop creative workstyles which may include particular
cross-cultural knowledge as well as new interpersonal skills (Bandura, 2002). Finally, the resultant
unintended economic consequences that can occur at both the national and corporate levels via
outsourcing and resultant downsizing of existing Australian employees – and potential loss of
Australian talent - have also been noted. Such stories frequently appear in the IT-management press
including – last year – the case of National Australia Bank„s then-likelihood of outsourcing a
significant part of its IT operations to Bangalore, India (Maiden, 2005).
The Virtual Organisation
Much has been written about the „virtual organisation‟ and the impact this model will have on
organisational structures, tasks and processes for the 21
century (for example see Jackson, 1999). In
particular, because of its inherent flexibility, the virtual organisation has become a new business model
for the global economy. Much has to do with both (a) the increase in more powerful yet cheaper
information processing power-communication technologies; and (b) fundamental yet innovative
thinking in the way new organisational structures and services need to be developed as measures of
enterprise agility (“the ability of firms to sense environmental change and respond” (Overby,
Bharadway & Sambamurthy, 2005: 296). See also Unsworth & Parker, 2003). Accordingly,
„virtuality‟ may exist as overviewed in Lamond, Daniels, & Standen (2003) across several dimensions
loosely coupled under the term teleworking (addressed later in the Research Issues of this paper).
The time is appropriate to initiate a case study of an appropriate organisation – or, as research unfolds,
a series of case studies – on organisational processes and behaviours that facilitate successes in a
global context. On the other hand the pathway to success in articulating management practices initially
focused on being domestic companies to international or fully global players goes beyond the CEO
merely setting globalisation as an objective in the company‟s mission statement; rather, new business
processes may have to be strategically and operationally defined and implemented (Samson & Daft,
2005). For the present, apart from raising initial issues, the focus of this paper is to indicate the extent
to which the organisational experiences of Shell (Australia) can potentially serve as a benchmark or
template for other Australian companies.
The interim research proposal (Meyers, 2006) was finalised in January this year to facilitate a joint
research partnership with the QUT and Shell (Australia), Melbourne. The proposed study has now
matured into a formal QUT-Shell Australia ARC Industry Linkage Grant Proposal (Hearn, Meyers, &
Bradley, 2006) which is currently under consideration by the Australian Research Council and has the
full endorsement of Shell International - The Hague (Should the current ARC application fail,
alternative funding will be possible within QUT. Moreover, there is potential, currently under
investigation, for other industry partners to become part of the study). Therefore, it is timely (i) to
examine to what extent Shell Companies in Australia may serve as a „template‟ for other Australian
businesses seeking to globalise; and (ii) to examine to what extent innovative work practices such as
virtual work and telework serve – along with other workplace innovations – as contributing factors to
help „internationalise‟ Australian corporate expertise.
To begin with identification of core issues, however, Shell (Australia) meets the criteria of a global
company laid down by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for data collection purposes; accordingly,
Shell Australia‟s focus is to:
“…transcend national borders in their production, sales of goods and services and
international financial activities…conducting their services on an international rather
than on a local or even national level” (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1998: para 2)
Further, just a decade ago, only 30% of Shell Australia‟s operations were „global‟. By both product
services diversification and organisational innovations, Shell Australia‟s global operations now
comprise 70% of its operations including IT activities worth some $US3 billion annually, according to
Vice President - Shell People Services, Shell (Australia), M. Sinclair (Sinclair, 2005). Further, Shell
in Australia has built up significant IT capabilities. In addition to providing services to Shell‟s
businesses in Australia, it has also become a provider of IT talent & services to Shell companies
worldwide. Moreover, as these businesses clustered, then regionalised, and then globalised, significant
business gains were delivered through other „valued-added‟ processes. In short, Shell Information
Technology International has adopted ICTs and re-engineered business processes to use these
technologies and processes in productivity-enhancing ways (Sinclair, 2005).
Moreover, to what extent does Shell (Australia) typify the „global company‟ as perceived
internationally? In terms of globalisation classifications, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has
defined (World Trade Organization, 2005) four different modes of services trade:
1. Cross border supply, estimated to account for 35% of trade;
2. Consumption abroad, 10-15% (e.g., travel and tourism);
3. Commercial presence, 50% (e.g., construction); and the
4. Presence of natural persons, 1-2% (e.g., contracting of workers by overseas companies)
Notably, Shell (Australia) is applying three of the WTO‟s four modes of services (1, 3 and 4), and so
serves as a globalisation exemplar. Accordingly, the organisational experiences of Shell (Australia)
can potentially serve as a benchmark or template for other Australian companies. Further, in a large
part of its operations Shell has established five „virtual work‟ principles as part of its working model
(Sinclair, 2005). These principles are:
 Where work activities do not need to be done locally they are moved to the lowest cost
delivery location;
 Work is moved to where resources are located rather than resources moved to where the work
 Activities are driven and managed by outcomes/outputs rather than by time;
 A work location is anywhere (e.g., Shell office, home, airport, hotel ) where activities can be
undertaken with due regard to health and safety; and
 A person‟s work hours are driven by project demand rather than a historic standard.
According to Shell (Australia) the above model extends beyond mere technologies such as telework
and other forms of virtual work (Sinclair, 2005); rather, it is a total system change not only
underpinned by technology but also “governed by policies and programmes, with changed behaviours
at its core “ (Sinclair, 2005: 1). Useful frameworks for other organisations‟ similar conversions,
aligned with strategic HRM objectives, can also be found in (Sparrow & Daniels, 1999; Wang, 2005).
To summarise at this point, a number of core factors (adapted from a model presented in Sparrow &
Daniels, 1999) that can well be considered for further investigation in the future study a focus can be
directed at:
 The Organisational level – issues of organisational form, work organisation, and
organisational learning as part of work processes in the virtual organisation;
 The Workforce level – innovative ways of working such as teleworking, virtual teams, global
teams, job design and job-based flexibility, potential for information overload and other
processes within the boundary-less organisation; and
 The Individual level – key organisational and personal coping behaviours, problem solving
competencies, information management skills, interpersonal communication skills as well as
computer literacy skills all of which come to the fore in a teleworking or flexible work
environment (Meyers, 1999; Meyers and Hearn, 2001; Meyers and Thompson, 2003) which
may include participation in virtual /global teams both within and external to the organisation.
Finally, it will be useful to overview resultant research issues that arise from such considerations.
A full canvassing of issues is beyond the scope of the present paper (although enquiries will be
welcomed during the actual presentation). Representative research issues are, however, as outlined
here. A primary concern is to the extent to which Shell (Australia) innovates, enacts and monitors its
knowledge services: the high value-adding complex services which combine professional, technical
and creative skill sets such as IT consulting, business services, creative industries, and other
professional services. As one core dimension to this problem, Morris (2000) suggests in particular
three skills for work required in the export of complex knowledge-based services:
The ability to deal with tacit as well as codified knowledge;
The ability to solve complex or “wicked” problems; and
Competence at high context work which involves significant (informal) interactions to get the
job done; high levels of group efficacy; and a high degree of awareness of co-workers and of
Understanding these key capacities together with innovative work and ICT system solutions will
require a multi-disciplinary approach including the norms and cultural values influencing team
processes (Malhotra & Majchrzak, 2004). Virtual solutions incorporating workplace design,
organisational structures, and technological issues will be required as well as careful consideration of
attendant HR issues (Wang, 2005). Individually, successful „global‟ employees may encompass new
skill sets including: risk-taking, working in teams, critical thinking, as well as creative thinking – all
attributes which go beyond the overt job skills and include development of new skills for participative
knowledge-sharing within teams to promote innovation (Bandura, 2002; Maxwell, 2003).
Work Organisation
As earlier outlined, „virtuality‟ (and virtual work processes) have become integral to the globalising
company. Accordingly, in the proposed study central research issues relate to:
 Location – the amount of employees‟ time spent in different locations: traditional office,
home, remote office/telecottage, nomadic;
 IT usage – extent of use of telecommunications/IT links including home/mobile computer,
fax, modem, phone mobile phone, use of www sites;
 Knowledge intensity – extent of knowledge required, ease of output measures, autonomy of
 Intra-organisational contact – extent (range and intensity) of (necessary) intra-organisational
contact; and
 Extra-organisational contact – extent (range and intensity) of extra organisational contact
A core focus within the above broader work contexts is the extent to which measurable contributions
of telework (and other forms of virtual work) can be seen actually to contribute to employee
productivity, job satisfaction, lifestyle satisfaction and to project effectiveness. Telework, theoretically
and often practically, may give both employees and managers higher levels of perceived control of
their work and, empirically, be found to contributed to actually teleworker productivity (Meyers &
Hearn, 2001).
On the other hand telework itself is a complex phenomenon which, although it can be introduced for
the best possible reasons to support globalisation, may also produce unintended negative
consequences. To be adopted successfully, telework requires a „strategic fit‟ within the organisation‟s
structure, technology, culture and goals (Thompson & Meyers, 2002). Other empirical research with
Australian and US teleworkers has shown that attention must also be paid to selection of employees
who are best candidates for telework (Meyers & Thompson, 2003); that such employees require
adequate levels of self-efficacy as well as appropriate coping behaviours to achieve adequate levels of
teleworker productivity and sustainability (Meyers & Hearn, 2001; Meyers & Thompson, 2003); and
that other organisational factors will also need to be in place to support the teleworker in his or her
virtual environment (Bailey & Kurland, 2002). Virtual teams, which increasingly have become a
focal point in global work operations, similarly require sophisticated applications of tasks,
technologies and people with particular attention to communication efficacy across cross-cultural
boundaries (Gibson & Cohen, 2003). Thus, drawing on principles of social cognitive theory (Bandura,
1986, 1997; Wood and Bandura, 1989) with respect to telework environments: behavioral, cognitive
and personal and environmental factors all interact to produce telework sustainability.
Moreover, because of the demands of the 24/7 global economy, traditional workstyles as well as
hierarchical forms of management and control may not apply. For example, telework and other forms
of flexible work giving employees greater choice – and, hence, greater control – of how, where, and
when they work may, increasingly, be the norm. On the other hand a mixture of „traditional‟ and „non-
traditional‟ workstyles may equally be the norm for many, perhaps the majority, of global-virtual
organisations. Whatever pattern of workstyles is adopted, these workstyles should be seen as actually
achievable and measurable according to their contributions to employee productivity, employee job
satisfaction, employee lifestyle satisfaction, as well as to overall organisational effectiveness. This is
particularly the case with respect to sustainable teleworking (Meyers & Hearn, 2001). Measurable
contributions of these work-styles towards turnaround and delivery of key products and services, as
well as to levels of client satisfaction, should also be considered. Accordingly, it is timely to address
how in successful organisations such as Shell (Australia) – and in a selected number of other
companies - these benefits are attained.
HR I ssues
Selective issues to be examined include the following:
Recruitment and selection practices centring on permanent vs. non-permanent employees;
contract employees; heterogeneous competences; time and spatial distribution of work;
organisational tenure; annual income; hours worked; preferred hours of work; partner‟s hours
of work; employment position. These will all be measured with single item questions;
Jobs-based flexibility; career settings/processes; role demands; job-design and well being;
development of actual career competencies (Bandura, 1997, 2002) including measures of
career efficacy (O'Brien, 2003). In multinational contexts, particular competencies as well as
differing HRM systems may be expected at both the parent-company and subsidiary levels
(Kim & Gray, 2005);
Work-life balance culture, including: manager support, co-worker support, gender
expectations, time expectations and career consequences (scale developed by McDonald,
Brown, & Bradley, 2005). Other factors including assessments of employees‟ self-efficacy to
cope with the overall challenges of working in the virtual organisation (Bandura, 1997 &
2002). A particular challenge for Shell (Australia) remains: “We must front up to the reality of
our geography & develop operating models which allow folk to work flexibly and virtually”
(Sinclair, 2005: 2).
Job attitudes including; job satisfaction (scale by Quinn & Staines, 1979) , organisational
commitment (scale by Allen, 1990) and turnover intentions (scale by (Hom, Griffeth, &
Sellaro, 1984); and
Emergent issues arising once field work is implemented.
I T Support Issues
Selective issues to be examined include:
IT support and the continuing application of on-going refinements to ICTs have been
fundamental to Shell Australia‟s work practices – including systemic changes – in global
contexts (Sinclair, 2005). For example, global intranets offer unique advantages are used
frequently by virtual teams; video-conferencing may be less widely-used; while other ICT
tools are still maturing (meeting with P. Lawrence (Shell IT Functional Manager) and Simon
Bennett (Shell HR Delivery Services Manager), March 22, 2006). Technologies must also be
adequate to ensure collaboration across geographical boundaries, sustain effective
communication links, and build trust (Sinclair, 2005). Consequently, on-going evaluations
will be part of the present study;
Problems noted at Shell (Australia) during a March 2006 workshop-meeting with Lawrence
(Shell IT Functional Manager) and Bennett (Shell HR Delivery Services Manager), relate to
diffusion of new technologies, whereas enablement is not a problem; consequently, staff
problems exist with respect to staff using the full range of technologies available. Early
adopters may understand and more readily adopt the new technologies whereas others –
progressing down the adoption „chain‟ – may not feel comfortable in their abilities to manage
and use the new technologies (Rogers, 2003). However, various research methodologies exist
with respect to further explorations of these aspects (Whitman & Woszczynski, 2003). In
particular, the role of efficacy expectations in predicting the decision actually to use these
technologies invites further investigation (Hill, Smith, & Mann, 1987);
Global virtual teams have essential in the new workplace because of their facility to span time
zones and geographical boundaries within a 24/7 workplace; such teams are a regular work
practice at Shell (Australia) and within other global companies. On the other hand, much has
yet to be learned about group efficacy in virtual teams to address communication and cultural
barriers, and achieve productivity and job satisfaction goals (see overview in Gibson & Cohen,
2003: Ch.16). As noted in (Malhotra & Majchrzak, 2004: 79) “Teams have to achieve a
strategic fit between task characteristics, team composition and information technology
support to overcome the barriers to knowledge sharing and the successful creation of new
knowledge in extreme environments (often) faced by far-flung teams”. As Shell (Australia)
has an extensive global „reach‟, the efficacy of its virtual teams will require particular
examination (Gibson & Cohen, 2003; Malhotra & Majchrzak, 2004; Prasad & Akhilesh,
2002); and
Other emergent IT support issues as the research unfolds.
Accordingly, the proposed joint study between Shell (Australia) and the Queensland University of
Technology, Brisbane will enable a critical focus on all these three core domains of Shell
(Australia)‟s operations, endorse what emerges as „best practice‟ when bench-marked against other
companies‟ operations, and suggest where refinements to existing processes can be achieved.
A full canvassing of methodological issues is beyond the scope of the present paper. However, the
broad methodological directions can be stated. To begin, a „mixed methods‟ research design involving
both qualitative and quantitative methods is proposed. More specifically, the primary research
opportunity here is the development of a detailed analysis of the global operations of the partner
organisation Shell (Australia), to be made available in the public domain. The aim is to use whatever
is deemed appropriate from the Shell International Australia experience to create a template to assist
other Australian organisations similarly wishing to „globalise‟. As such, the aim is not to focus
exclusively on the strategic and operational aspects of the partner organisation for their own sake.
This rigorous analysis will be achieved via several mechanisms including detailed interviews with key
informants in Shell to scope the research; a survey of global knowledge workers in Shell Australia‟s
international operations; and the development of case studies which exemplify best practice in global
knowledge work.
Year 1
The first year involves an initial scoping of the research; establishing benchmarks for distributed work
across other international companies in other service industries and within Shell. The other industry
sectors to be covered include the creative industries (particularly computer gaming and design) as well
as education, business and finance because these often exemplify cutting edge innovations in
organisation and digital technologies, and because they represent Australia‟s best international service
export success. Included will be key informant interviews in five international companies in each of
these sectors as well as interviews with key Shell operatives. An in-depth Delphi interviewing
approach will be employed as this is recognised as an excellent process for exploring and
conceptualising uncertainty and divergent perspectives, while acknowledging inherent limitations to
the method (Okoli & Pawlowski, 2003). Broad agendas as well as specific judgements about trends
and issues will be obtained from the interviewees through the Delphi process. This will guide the
synthesis and identification of key anchors within the evolving research as well as guide future
research in the project. Initially, the areas to be addressed are – generically speaking (see Sparrow
and Daniels, 1999) – the business environment for global companies, the organisational aspects, work
issues, and issues at the individual level (personal copying behaviours, problem solving competencies,
information management skills, interpersonal communication skills, and computer literacy skills) – as
well as the other more specific research aspects discussed earlier in this paper.

Year 2
Survey data will be used to build an analysis of technological, work organisation and HR practices
that build an effective model. The survey will have two foci: namely, IT- work organisational issues,
and HR issues. The survey will be sent electronically to randomly selected employees. Employees
will be selected via the list of all Shell Australia employees. The electronic survey will be set up in
such a way that staff who complete it will maintain anonymity. Wherever possible, valid existing
scales will be used. Otherwise, new items will be developed for this research. Analysis of the survey
will conducted using SPSS. Descriptive statistics will provide information about the levels of these
concepts in the Shell organisation. Structural Equation Modelling using AMOS will also be
conducted to examine the relationship between work organisation concepts and positive outcomes
such as improved organisational effectiveness, high job satisfaction, and good work-life balance.
Year 3
On the basis of the interviews and survey data potential case studies will be identified for
development in year three. Case methods are now developed to allow rigorous theory testing as well
as inductive descriptions (for example Yin, 2003). Comparative case studies will be chosen firstly to
illustrate and then test different models of work organisation and their effectiveness in the
international markets of operation. This comparative case design approach (Yin 2003) will utilise a
priori specification of relevant constructs from the survey analysis. Interviews with Shell operatives,
and where possible document and quantitative indicators, will be used to triangulate measures of
constructs in the models adding to the robustness of the measurement. For example, effective
measures will be derived from Shell performance data and HR practices and outcomes from Shell
policies and monitoring. The case building will yield contextualised appreciation of the models of
work organisation. The cases will be documented as both rich descriptions as well as construct
As already noted, corporations have begun energetically to embrace such concepts as globalisation,
virtual work, creative work-styles, as well as other business innovative processes, to internationalise
Australian corporate expertise. On the other hand plenty of scope exists for more research in these
above areas. This is particularly the case since (a) Australia geographically remains at the „bottom of
the world‟; and (b) there is only so much reliance that can be placed on the Internet, related ICTs, and
information processing technologies. Therefore, it is clearly in both the national and corporate
interests to have a closer understanding of emerging technical and human processes to bridge the
„tyranny of distance‟. Finally, there is an urgent need to find out in greater detail which business
processes and creative work-styles work best and can be proven adaptable in the interests of both
national and corporate survival.

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