International Journal of
Cross Cultural Management
2022, Vol. 0(0) 1–29
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
An emic-etic-emic research cycle for
understanding context in
Bella L Galperin
John H. Sykes College of Business, The University of Tampa, Tampa, FL, USA
Betty Jane Punnett
Department of Management Studies, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados
Naveen Jindal School of Management, University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX, USA
Terri R Lituchy
CETYS Universidad, Mexicali, Mexico
Given the importance of understanding the context of management issues in the world, this article
discusses the role of both emic (developing culture-speciﬁc concepts) and etic (applying concepts
across cultures) research in the international management literature. This paper proposes a more
comprehensive mixed methods research cycle that can provide researchers with a deeper un-
derstanding of the context in under-researched countries. Using a decolonial lens, this theoretical
paper proposes that an emic-etic-emic cycle is the best way to disaggregate contextual issues in
organizational research, particularly when dealing with human issues in management. By examining a
research project on leadership in Africa and the African diaspora from decolonial perspective, our
proposed emic-etic-emic cycle (1) stresses the importance of using an emic approach in addition to
the dominant etic approach in cross-cultural management; (2) provides researchers with a deeper
understanding of context in under-researched countries; and (3) contributes to decolonial ap-
proaches to management, which call for a symmetrical dialogue across borders which decentralizes
the dominant Western approach, and provides a deeper understanding of management from an
indigenous and local perspective. Contextualizing research using the emic-etic-emic cycle can
enhance rigor and relevance of the research.
Bella L Galperin, John H. Sykes College of Business, The University of Tampa, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL, USA.
Emic, etic, multi-method research, international management, mixed methods, decolonial
Increased globalization underscores the importance of understanding the role of the context when
conducting organizational research. This is particularly true because of the shift in business from the
United States and Europe toward more under-researched regions, including Asia, Latin America,
and Africa. While these emerging regions have more pronounced differences in business and
cultural environments, these contexts are often less examined. Unfortunately, the literature does not
sufﬁciently address contextual factors (Tung and Stahl, 2018) in these emerging economies.
Teagarden et al. (2018) argue that it is still unclear how models and theories developed in traditional
Western contexts are relevant or apply to these under-researched regions.
artel and O’Connor (2014: 417) urged scholars to “take up the challenge of putting
context back”into organizational research and ﬁnd new research directions for contextualizing
organizational research. More recently, Jackson (2019: 247) asserted that, “the context is our
content”in cross-cultural management. Some researchers (e.g., Arnaud and Schminke, 2012;
Chattopadhyay and Choudhury, 2017) have highlighted the role of context, as predictions are tested
to better understand organizational phenomena, while others have used an inductive approach to
explore the conceptualization of constructs in other settings, such as a non-Western context (e.g.,
Zhu and Hildebrandt, 2013). Responding to this call to action in the literature to contextualize
organizational research, this paper proposes a more comprehensive research cycle that can provide
researchers with a deeper understanding of the context in under-researched emerging regions,
including Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
When discussing context in under-researched countries, it is especially important to recognize
the aspect of coloniality in organizational research. Coloniality is the process of domination and
exploitation of the West over the rest of world (Naude, 2017). More recently, decolonial approaches
have been used in management and organizational research (e.g., Ibarra-Colado et al., 2006;
Nkomo, 2011;Ruggunan, 2016). Decolonial approaches have called for the liberation from
economic and knowledge domination from the West (Nkomo, 2015).
Using a decolonial lens, we propose that combining emic and etic research approaches, in an
emic-etic-emic cycle, is the best way to disaggregate contextual issues in organizational research,
particularly in under-researched locations. Morris et al. (1999) provide an interesting discussion and
contrast between emic and etic research perspectives. These authors note that the inside perspective
of ethnographers, who strive to describe a particular culture in its own terms, is usually designated as
the emic perspective. Alternatively, the outside perspective of comparativist researchers, who strive
to describe differences across cultures in terms of a general external standard, is usually designated
as the etic perspective. As such, emic researchers tend to assume that a culture is best understood as
an interconnected system or whole. On the other hand, etic researchers are more prone to isolating
particular components of culture and making predictions using hypotheses about their antecedents
and consequences (Morris et al., 1999).
In line with Jick (1979: 602) who suggests “triangulation in action,”we advocate that scholars
employ a cycle of emic-etic-emic research, which is often associated with both qualitative (emic)
and quantitative (etic) methods. Emic and etic approaches are not always associated with qualitative
versus quantitative methods; for example, Tatli and ¨
Ozbilgin (2012) deﬁne emic as developing
2International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
categories from the data, while etic uses predeﬁned categories. We use both of these ideas, as-
sociating predeﬁned categories largely with more quantitative research and developing categories
from the data with more qualitative research. The purpose of this theoretical paper is to explicate this
emic-etic-emic research cycle and to illustrate the approach using an on-going international project
in Africa and the African diaspora. This paper is primarily intended for a scholarly audience
interested in undertaking international and cross-cultural research. An earlier short article appeared
in AIB Insights; the current paper expands on the ideas outlined brieﬂy in Insights ((Punnett et al.,
2017) anonymity and to be provided before publication).
By taking a decolonial approach, we are able to understand management from an indigenous and
local perspective and recognize the history of colonialism. Our research cycle is able to decentralize
the importance of the dominant Western approach and acknowledge other perspectives that are often
overlooked. For example, the ubuntu philosophy from South Africa, a humanistic view of the
individual (Mangaliso, 2001;Mbigi and Maree, 1995;Swartz and Davies, 1997), often remains
unnoticed in the West. The ubuntu philosophy is taken from a Nguni (isiZulu) aphorism: Umuntu
ngumuntu ngabantu, which can be translated as “a person is a person because of or through other
people.”This philosophy is illustrated in the words of Desmond Tutu when he said, “none of us
come into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as
human beings unless we learned from human beings. We need other human beings to be human”
(Molefe, 2018). While this perspective was developed in Africa, Molefe (2018) argues that the
ubuntu philosophy should be the focus of organizations today as they strive to become more
inclusive and purpose-driven. This philosophy is often seen in open innovation platforms allowing
employees to engage in external co-operation and idea generation to navigate through this fast-
changing environment and/or the recent push for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies to attract
and retain talent. By examining African concepts, such as ubuntu, in the West from an emic
perspective, management scholars would be able to re-examine the current Western theories, which
are associated with the individual rights rather than the collective.
Birkinshaw et al. (2011) noted that the international business (IB) ﬁeld was founded on studies
employing rich qualitative research (e.g., Bartlett, 1979;Prahalad, 1975). More recently, the broader
trend toward positivistic empirical methods has led to quantitative methods becoming more the
standard in the ﬁeld. Scholars who have studied management in emerging markets/developing
countries have largely adopted an etic approach and used quantitative methods (e.g., Acquaah,
2012;Kantabutra, 2012). Fatehi et al. (2020) explain that the etic approach to studying culture has
become more popular since quantiﬁcation of any construct makes comparisons easier. Researchers
often use the application of cultural dimensions of the etic approach (e.g., Hofstede, 1981) since it
lends itself to quantiﬁcation. In Shackman’s (2013) review of the IB literature, he found structural
equation modeling to be the best and most widely used path modeling technique, given its ability to
compare models across groups—a useful feature in studying samples from multiple countries or
Despite the beneﬁts of quantitative methods, Birkinshaw et al. (2011) argued that the evolution of
the ﬁeld has resulted in missed opportunities to better understand processes and contexts. Since
many researchers have become “partial and rudimentary translators of contextual differences,”
qualitative methods can provide the ﬁeld with a grounded and deeper perspective of the micro-
processes and the relationship between culture and context (Birkinshaw et al., 2011:575).
Buckley et al. (2014) noted that emic approaches and qualitative methods can generate new
conceptualizations and interpretations that will enable a better understanding of the differences
and complex contextual factors involved in research and practice, especially in emerging
economies. For example, Feitosa et al.’s (2018) review on the role of culture in understanding
Galperin et al. 3
teams calls for more emic approaches in capturing culture-dependent cognitions and behaviors in
Rather than viewing the emic/etic or the quantitative/qualitative approaches from a dichotomous
perspective, there are several advantages of using a combined emic-etic, mixed method approach
(Halbesleben et al., 2004;Woodside et al., 2012). It has been noted that a combined emic-etic
approach can help with theory development (Halbesleben et al., 2004;Woodside et al., 2012).
Halbesleben et al. (2004) argue that a grounded theory methodology can provide the richness of the
qualitative data, which can help in the development of common themes, which can later be in-
tegrated in a theory and tested empirically. Morris et al. (1999) suggest that the combination of
perspectives can help in developing a rich and descriptive theory that can have an impact on future
studies. Other beneﬁts of mixed methods include the potential to compensate for biases of using a
single method and the opportunity for corroboration, or triangulation of ﬁndings (Denzin, 1989;
Erzberger and Kelle, 2003;Thurmond, 2001).
Arguably, the emic-etic, mixed method approach has several advantages. Building on the limited
literature that adopts both emic and etic approaches to understand management in under-researched
countries (e.g., Cao et al., 2013;Zhu and Hildebrandt, 2013), an emic-etic-emic cycle provides an
even more comprehensive perspective to further contextualize research. This paper not only argues
that cross-cultural studies must take up the challenge and combine these approaches to better
understand the context in under-researched emerging economies/countries, we also go beyond the
emic-etic perspective and expand upon the previous literature by completing the research cycle with
an emic approach. Researchers can gain both depth and breadth in understanding the research
context by further adding another step to the process in order to further integrate the mixed method
approach. The purpose of this paper is to ﬁll a gap in the literature by describing a research
methodology that can provide researchers with a deeper understanding of the context, especially in
Understanding the context of under-researched locations
Researchers are beginning to ﬁll the literature gap by undertaking research in all parts of the globe,
particularly in those areas identiﬁed as under-researched (Steers et al., 2012). While there have been
some studies that have attempted to address this gap by examining management in emerging
economies (e.g., Acquaah, 2012), the literature has largely adopted a dichotomous approach—either
emic (Ozcan and Santos, 2014;Uzo and Mair, 2014) or etic (Acquaah, 2012;Meyer et al., 2009;
Nguni et al., 2006)—rather than a combined emic-etic, mixed methods approach.
Some researchers (e.g., Greenﬁeld, 1996) have recognized that selecting an approach depends on
the stage of research. That is, the emic approach serves best in exploratory research and the etic
approach is best for hypothesis testing. While these studies have advanced the ﬁeld by examining
management in emerging economies, the adoption of a dichotomous approach can still limit our
understanding of a research phenomenon. We argue that the interplay between perspectives within
the research process is especially valuable; for example, Zhu and Hildebrandt’s (2013) combined
emic and etic approach uses a variety of data collection techniques and contributes to a greater cross-
cultural understanding of effective persuasion strategies in China and New Zealand. In this paper,
researchers are encouraged to consider using an emic-etic-emic research cycle to further enhance
contextualization of research. Our proposed cyclical research approach can provide a richer and
deeper understanding of the context compared to the traditional mixed method approach. Table 1
discusses the design features of a sample of studies that focus on management in under-researched
4International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
Table 1. Summary of the design features in a sample of studies on management in emerging economies.
Nguni et al.
(2006) Meyer et al. (2009) Acquaah (2012)
Zhu and Hildebrandt
(2013) Ozcan and Santos (2014) Uzo and Mair (2014) Jiang et al. (2011) Zhao (2015)
70 schools in
Local MNE subsidiaries
in India, Vietnam,
South Africa, and
106 organizations in
companies in New
Zealand and China
Organizations in the
ﬁnancial services in North
America, Europe, and Asia
4 organizations in the movie
industry in Nigeria
121 organizations in China with
partnership experiences with
overseas Chinese and non-
Field case studies pilot
Survey instrument: 2
waves of data
80 sales letters; survey
used to best case
data; archival data
observations; archival data
Mail surveys; archival
executives in the
two time periods
23 interviews with
manager; 2 focus group
40 executives 52 CEOs, movie producers,
editors, copyright lawyers,
industry regulators, and
121 Chinese Executives 149 Chinese
executives and two
Data analysis Regression
Regression analyses Regression analyses Qualitative analyses Qualitative analyses Qualitative analyses Regression analyses Regression analyses
Galperin et al. 5
Several of the studies summarized in Table 1 used a mixed methods approach that involved both
qualitative methods (interviews, observations, archival data collection, and focus groups) and
quantitative methods (survey questionnaires and regression analysis). Jiang et al. (2011) studied
Chinese executives’trust in their overseas business partners and collected data via semi-structured
interviews and a survey instrument. This study was an example of the use of qualitative and
quantitative data both analyzed quantitatively, with the qualitative data playing a very minor role.
Likewise, Zhao’s (2015) study utilized mail surveys and archival data about the Chinese ﬁrms. In
both studies, the qualitative and quantitative data were collected sequentially, and the data were
analyzed quantitatively. While the use of the mixed method approach in these studies provided an
opportunity to triangulate the ﬁndings and further develop theory, we argue that an additional emic
cycle would have even further contextualized research. For example, Jiang et al. (2011) uncovered
an unexpected ﬁnding in their study on the effects of cultural ethnicity, ﬁrm size, and ﬁrm age on
senior executives’trust in their overseas business partner. Contrary to their prediction that ﬁrm age
would reduce affect-based trust in overseas partners in ﬁrms, Jiang et al. (2011) and his colleagues
found that executives from older ﬁrms had greater affect-based trust in partners who share their
cultural ethnicity. In their discussion at the end of the paper, the authors suggested that the un-
expected ﬁnding might only be seen in the Chinese empirical context and proposed that the reliance
of personal ties or guanxi ties often involving people from the same village or province (Tsui and
Farh, 1997) may have impacted the results. In other words, it is possible that Chinese senior
executives at older ﬁrms may have more likely followed traditional guanxi principles during their
interactions, and therefore started business partnerships with overseas Chinese whose ancestors
originated in the same province as their own family. Our proposed emic-etic-emic approach would
have further shed light on this unanticipated ﬁnding and developed our understanding of inter- and
intra-cultural trust in overseas partners in China.
In the following discussion, we brieﬂy look at the literature on emerging regions and multi-
method approaches in various countries across the globe in order to demonstrate the applicability of
the emic-etic-emic research approach to various contexts. In order to illustrate the depth of the
proposed emic-etic-emic cycle, there is a focus on the African context and the Leadership Ef-
fectiveness in Africa and the Diaspora (LEAD) project is discussed. We conclude with the
managerial implications of this methodology.
Literature on under-researched countries
Over the past 15 years, management researchers have argued that management knowledge is
severely biased toward Western perspectives (Bruton 2010;Tung and Stahl, 2018). Bruton (2010)
argues that management researchers have been delayed in reacting to the calls of business leaders to
address important issues regarding poverty in emerging economies of the world. Similarly, Das et al.
(2009) found that research papers published in mainstream economic journals were linked to level
of development. Namely, countries with the lowest incomes and weakest economies received the
least attention. This is perhaps not surprising, given that most active management researchers are
from North America and Western Europe (Punnett, 2008), but it still leaves a major knowledge gap.
Scholars have also advocated the need to understand management from an indigenous or local
perspective as well as within the global context (Jackson, 2013) and to develop locally driven
management concepts and measures (Holtbrugge, 2013). Despite the calls for more research in non-
Western countries, management literature remains dominated by research from the West, partic-
ularly the United States. Xiaojun et al. (2012) noted leadership practices in China often focus on
Western perspectives and use Western-built instruments, which generally do not take into account
6International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
the perspectives and practices of leadership in non-Western contexts. Similarly, Zecca et al.’s (2012)
study on the Five-Factor Model of personality in four African regions and Switzerland found a lack
of scalar invariance suggesting that the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), a Western-
developed instrument, did not sufﬁciently measure cross-cultural mean differences of personality
proﬁles. It seems clear that it is the context that differentiates international research from domestic
research (Buckley, 2002;Child, 2009;Oesterle and Wolf, 2011).
In line with the colonial approach, it is also important to recognize the continuity of “colonial
forms of domination”produced by colonial cultures and structures (Grosfoguel, 2007: 219) in
international management research. From a decolonial perspective, there have been calls in the
literature to decentralize the importance of the dominant Western approach and acknowledge other
perspectives that are usually disregarded. A decolonial perspective enables us to recognize im-
positions of the modern/colonial world and their consequences in the international management
literature (Imasato, 2010). Barnard et al. (2017) provide an example of how the Western-based
management theories do not recognize the recent history of colonialism. The researchers argue that
Theory X and Y (McGregor, 1960) and humanizing leadership (Petriglieri and Petriglieri, 2015),
which emphasize the view that humans are at risk of being reduced to machines in Taylorist
approaches, fail to recognize Africa’s history of colonialism and slavery, whereby people were
“presumed by colonial powers to be animal-like and spoken of as chattel, savages, or primitives”
(Barnard et al., 2017: 487). When conducting international management research, it is important to
acknowledge the context and be mindful of the history.
This lack of knowledge about the context in non-Western countries suggests a limited un-
derstanding about management from a global perspective. In order to truly talk about management,
researchers need to be able to understand the similarities and differences that exist across countries
and cultures, that is, the contexts in which business and management take place. By conducting
research in under-researched countries and including indigenous concepts and measures into our
global research undertakings (Tung and Aycan, 2008), researchers can achieve a greater under-
standing of the context and explain what is unique to the context in some countries, as well as how
countries compare on variables of interest.
The African continent and the African diaspora provide a good illustration of how little we know
about management in many countries and regions. Even in the GLOBE study (House et al., 2004),
African countries were not well represented, and there is little discussion of the results from Africa.
Similarly, the African diaspora has been essentially ignored in most studies (Galperin et al., 2014).
Kamoche (2011) argues that Africa remains relatively under-researched in the ﬁelds of manage-
ment; nevertheless, the opportunity for further research is far reaching. This supports earlier calls for
research on management in Africa (Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 2009)
and Bolden and Kirk’s (2009) suggested need for grounded conceptualizations of leadership drawn
from research within Africa, using a variety of methodological approaches. Similarly, in their
systematic review, Kolk and Rivera-Santos (2018) stated that scholars need to better understand the
African context in the broader management literature.
Scholars who have studied management in African countries have questioned the effective
implementation of Western management and practices (James, 2008;Kamoche et al., 2004), but
only a few researchers have looked at the role and impact of culture on management in the African
context (Ford et al., 2013;Jackson 2013;Jackson et al., 2008;Zoogah and Nkomo, 2013), or
indigenous concepts such as ubuntu, the philosophy from South Africa that provides a humanistic
view of the individual that recognizes “a person is a person through other people”(Mangaliso, 2001;
Mbigi and Maree, 1995), kgotla, a public forum in Botswana where people would meet with chiefs
or leaders (Beugr´
e, 2016), spirituality and connection to one’s ancestors (Smith, 2002), and the
Galperin et al. 7
Tree of Talking (Wambo and Githongo, 2007). A particular question that arises in post-colonial
societies is “how do we decolonize the research and the research process?”That is, how can we
ensure that researchers from countries that have colonized do not simply repeat the earlier process
of studying the other. The research cycle that we propose goes some way toward ensuring that this
does not happen.
We believe that in under-researched areas, the emic-etic-emic research cycle is particularly
valuable. In the next section, the emic and etic research designs are discussed to provide a
background for understanding the proposed cycle rather than highlighting the research ﬁndings.
Emic versus etic research
According to Headland (1990), Kenneth L. Pike was the person who ﬁrst coined the terms emics and
etics in anthropology and linguistics, and who ﬁrst used them in print in 1954 (Pike, 1967). Pike’s
use of the concepts “etic”and “emic”was derived from the words phonetic and phonemic, re-
spectively. Pike saw the terms as analogous references to raw generalized classiﬁcation (etics), on
the one hand, and more speciﬁc and systemic analysis (emics), on the other. In tagmemics, a theory
of language, the two terms are something of a “root-metaphor”with philosophical implications
(Pike, 1987: 81), although this metaphor would collapse if it were to treat units as existing au-
tonomously, without context (1987: 93). Pike’s original deﬁnitions of emics and etics, however,
vary from their usage in other disciplines.
By the 1980s, the terms were being used in unrelated disciplines including management and IB.
An examination of the Academy of Management Journals identiﬁes a number of papers in the 1990s
that discuss emic and etic research issues and focus on which is the “better”approach (Elsbach et al.,
1999). In this paper, we contend that such arguments are misleading because both approaches used
together are “better”’ than when used individually, where context is important and when a phe-
nomenon has not been studied.
For our purposes, we describe our “emic”approach as beginning with a “blank page”and
allowing research participants to deﬁne and explain the concepts of interest in their own words. In
contrast, our “etic”approach uses deﬁnitions and explanations, drawn from all the countries in-
cluded in the research. These are incorporated into a survey instrument that can be used in a large-
scale study across cultures and countries. This allows for statistical tests for similarities and
differences both within cultures and countries, as well as between cultures and countries. This
approach is in line with Peterson and Ruiz-Quintanilla’s (2003) perspective that advises researchers
to address both universal and local, tacit and explicit, aspects in organizational studies.
While the emic and etic multi-method approaches have been accepted in the literature (e.g.,
Kramer, 1992), there are on-going debates over emic research versus etic research. Each has its
proponents and defendants, and each has its opponents and detractors (Brannen, 1996;Jahoda,
1983;Sinkovics et al., 2008). A concern with emic research in management has been that it is
“unscientiﬁc”or “subjective knowledge”, as noted earlier by Headland (1990).
The emic versus etic arguments are similar to those that revolve around quantitative and
qualitative research, and they are in fact closely linked. Emic research is often qualitative, and etic
research is often quantitative. However, emic and etic approaches are not always associated with
qualitative versus quantitative methods. As noted earlier, some researchers have deﬁned emic as
developing categories from the data, while etic uses predeﬁned categories (Tatli and ¨
2012). Morris et al. (1999) also stress that the relationship between perspectives and methods is not
rigid. It is possible that emic studies of indigenous constructs and data are collected with survey
methods and analyzed using quantitative techniques (Farh et al., 1997;Yang, 1986). Similarly,
8International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
ethnographic observation and qualitative data are sometimes utilized in the development of ar-
guments from an etic approach (Nelsen and Barley, 1997).
Given etic and emic approaches have traditionally been associated with differing research
methods (Morris et al., 1999), some scholars see quantitative research as superior to qualitative.
However, a poorly designed quantitative study can be even less effective and misleading compared
to a well-designed qualitative research study. Based on Pike’s (1967) concepts of emic and etic,
Triandis et al. (1971) argue that either an emic or etic approach is preferable to a pseudoetic
approach, an emic approach developed in a Western culture (often the United States) that is assumed
to work as an etic approach. In other words, researchers who adopt a pseudoetic approach use
instruments that are based on American theories, and the instrument items mirror the American
context. The items are simply translated and used in other cultures. The key is to use each approach
appropriately, to choose the best approach for a given research question, to design the research well,
and where possible to use both approaches, as each complements the other. For example, Cheung
et al. (2011) propose a combined etic and emic approach to provide a more culturally inclusive
understating of personality. Using illustrations of Chinese and South African cultures, the authors
combine the methodological rigor of the etic approach and the cultural sensitivity of the emic
approach. For a discussion on how to use emic-etic approaches effectively, see Buckley et al.
(2014), and for a comprehensive review of the research methods in cross-cultural management, refer
to Szkudlarek et al. (2020b).
Hurmerinta-Peltomaki and Nummela (2006) have provided a topology of mixed methods studies
of IB research conducted between 2000 and 2003 in four IB journals (Journal of World Business,
Journal of International Business Studies,Management International Review, and International
Business Review). Their deﬁnition of a mixed method study is one that combines qualitative data
collection and/or analysis with quantitative data collection and analysis in a single study.
That is precisely the case for our proposed emic-etic-emic research cycle. As Shah and Corley
(2006) have noted, when qualitative inquiry follows quantitative analysis, this might be especially
useful when the researcher wishes to attempt to explain the existence of an unexpected pattern in the
data or attempts to uncover the mechanisms that create the unexpected pattern. As such, our emic-
etic-emic research cycle goes beyond being a mere mixed methods research approach. It becomes
a“specialized”mixed methods longitudinal research design where each stage is informed by the
results of the prior stages of the study. These approaches are discussed in detail in Cresswell
These arguments are especially relevant to organizational research, where using both emic and
etic research approaches allow researchers to identify the contextual issues that affect the research
and the concepts under investigation. Senior academics will often say that it is harder to publish
qualitative or emic research than it is to publish quantitative or etic research, and Hurmerinta-
Peltomaki and Nummela (2006) noted that editors and reviewers may not ﬁnd innovative research
designs attractive. This bias toward etic and quantitative research is limiting our ability in the IB
ﬁeld to develop a global understanding of the context in which management takes place and
conﬁning our knowledge of under-researched locations. It is vital to do both kinds of research in
under-researched areas, especially if researchers are to gain a better understanding of the context.
Using a combination of these research approaches allows one to triangulate on the concepts of
interest, thereby gaining more conﬁdence in the emerging results of the study. The combined emic-
etic-emic cycle answers the calls for indigenous research in under-researched areas of the world
(see, for example, Management International Review, special issue on indigenous management,
published in February 2013) while also addressing researchers’concerns to be able to compare and
contrast management in different locations.
Galperin et al. 9
Where little empirical research has been done, emic research is critical. We need to know how
people in under-researched places view the constructs of interest; otherwise, researchers impose a
view, developed elsewhere. In post-colonial locations, this is particularly important. At the same
time, we want to be able to understand how countries around the world are similar or different on
variables being researched. While valuable, knowledge based on emic research alone does not allow
for large-scale comparisons among groups which helps more clearly understand similarities and
differences. Etic research is necessary for such comparisons.
The LEAD project focuses on countries in Africa and groups that comprise the African diaspora.
These are clearly under-researched countries and groups; thus, an emic approach was appropriate to
begin with. The research was better facilitated by having a cross-cultural team to carry out this type
of research and to avoid, as much as possible, researcher-imposed biases. The initial focus was on
countries where English was commonly used (although the intent is to expand this sample). The
entire cross-cultural team consisted of researchers from Canada, the English-speaking Caribbean,
the United States, and six African countries where English could be used (Egypt, Ghana, Kenya,
Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda; Morocco was later added with a French translation of the ques-
tionnaire). Country teams were established to complete the in-country research as they had context-
speciﬁc knowledge and it was expected that respondents would be comfortable working with them.
In the following section, we brieﬂy discuss this project to illustrate the research cycle proposed in
Putting an emic-etic-emic cycle into practice: The LEAD project
We do not present details of the research project, because our intent is simply to use this project to
illustrate the proposed emic-etic-emic cycle, which provides deeper understanding of the context in
under-researched countries (refer to Figure 1). A more complete discussion of the development of
the survey instrument can be found in (Michaud, Lvina, Galperin, et al., 2020).
The research began with an emic approach, or what we termed a “blank page.”While there are
many emic approaches to use when conducting international management research, the Delphi
technique (Linstone and Turoff, 1975;Okoli and Pawlowski, 2004) was ﬁrst used because this
perspective provided participants with the opportunity to deﬁne concepts used in the project. The
Delphi technique is an effective method to organize a group communication process and enable a
group of individuals to deal with a complex issue (Linstone and Turoff, 1975). Typically, the Delphi
technique can involve a series of rounds in which information is collected from panelists, analyzed,
summarized, and reported back to the group for participants to review their judgments until
participants reach a consensus. Participants were asked open-ended questions related to concepts
investigated in the study including, culture and leadership. Sample open-ended questions included
(1) What three to ﬁve words/phrases best describe your ethnic or cultural background? (2) What
three to ﬁve words/phrases describe what an effective leader does? (3) What three to ﬁve words/
phrases best describe your culture? While the open-ended questions were asked in English, the
participants were free to ask questions in their respective languages. The responses were then
collated and shared with all participants until consensus was achieved.
Participants in the Delphi technique were knowledgeable individuals in leadership positions who
were considered “experts”in each country and were selected by each in-country team. Knowl-
edgeable people were members of the following groups: (a) academics, (b) private sector, (c) public
sector, and (d) other—religious leaders, leaders in nongovernmental and charitable organizations,
and community leaders. For example, participants in the Delphi technique in Africa (Egypt, Ghana,
Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda) included religious leaders (pastor/priests), university professors/
10 International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
lecturers, civil servants, lawyers, engineers, managers, bankers, directors, business people, re-
searchers, journalists/mass media professionals, and retired individuals who had a higher education
After the Delphi technique, focus groups were conducted to discuss the equivalent open-ended
questions in order to get feedback from individuals who were not considered experts. Focus groups
were selected as the best approach following the Delphi technique since it is considered an effective
method in collecting qualitative data through group interaction (Morgan, 1996). During the focus
groups, the participants discussed the same open-ended questions that had been used in the Delphi
technique. After the group discussed the open-ended question and some agreement was reached,
each participant was asked to rank the top ﬁve most important responses.
Overall, the ﬁndings from the Delphi technique and focus groups suggest that there was a
preference for the ubuntu approach to leadership (Senaji, Metwally, Sejjaaka, et al., 2014). Ac-
cording to Ncube (2010), there are six steps to the ubuntu leadership philosophy: (1) setting the
example and demonstrating the way; (2) inspiring a shared vision among followers that offers
direction for others in a communal approach; (3) seeking opportunities to promote change through
people and the use of consensus-decision making; (4) building relationships with others that
promote interconnectedness and interdependency; (5) possessing a collectivist mindset that focuses
on teamwork and a noncompetitive environment; and (6) building innovation and empowering
others through continuous development of human potential, mentoring, and building relationships.
In line with the ubuntu leadership philosophy (Ncube, 2010), the data showed that leading by
example, articulating a vision, building a team spirit, achieving the objectives of the team, taking
care of others are central aspects of effective leadership in Africa. For example, when asked to
describe “what an effective leader does”during the Delphi technique, participants from Ghana and
Figure 1. Model of iterative research process.
Galperin et al. 11
Uganda emphasized the importance of setting an example and demonstrating the way, the ﬁrst
ubuntu philosophy principle. Participants from Ghana agreed that an effective leader “leads by
example”and “walks the talk.”Similarly, the participants from Uganda noted that an effective
leader “guides/leads/coaches/directs”and “takes action.”Second, participants from Ghana, Kenya,
and Uganda highlighted the importance of inspiring a shared vision among followers and offering
direction to others. In Ghana, participants noted that an effective leader “inspires”and “setting
standards/goals.”Similarly, participants in Kenya stated that an effective leader “inspires,”“is goal
oriented/achieves the goals of the team,”and “articulates/communicates goals/vision.”Participants
in Uganda also stated that an effective leader “inspires”and has a “vision.”Third, participants from
Ghana also stated the importance of “building a team spirit.”Finally, participants from Egypt,
Kenya, and Nigeria agreed that it was important that leaders work with and take care of other people
including employees and members of society (Senaji, Metwally, Sejjaaka, et al., 2014). The role of
spirituality and connection to one’s ancestors, aspects of the ubuntu philosophy, were also
The kgotla practice of collaborative leadership also emerged in the data; however, it was less
predominant. By tradition, kgotla has been a participatory process at the village or community level
that stresses consultation, mediation, consensus building, and harmony (Beugr´
e, 2016). Participants
in the Delphi technique in Uganda described their ethnic/cultural background and culture as ac-
commodative and collaborative. Similar to the ubuntu philosophy, kgotla also focuses on the
common good and well-being of the community (e.g., tribe) rather than individual goals (Barnard
et al., 2017). It is important for leaders to implement structures that are appropriate to the African
context and inclusive of cultural, tribal, and religious differences, as reﬂected in the responses to the
questions which asked the participants to best describe their ethnic or cultural background and their
culture. Refer to Table 2 for the summary of the Delphi technique ﬁndings to a sample of questions
highlighting the ubuntu leadership approach and the practice of kgotla.
In line with the decolonial lens, participants of the Delphi technique in Uganda used the terms
“detribalized”to describe their ethnic/cultural background. Detribalization is the loss of tribal
traditions and culture and the process when people who belong to a particular indigenous ethnic
identity or community are detached from that identity or community through the deliberate efforts of
colonizers and/or the larger effects of colonialism. Hence, the perspective of detribalization assumes
that ethnic groups, ethnical consciousness, and identity limits national cohesion and progress (Ani
et al., 2019). The group of participants in Uganda were the only country to recognize the history of
colonialism, political occupation, and subjugation in the Delphi technique.
Next, the results of the Delphi technique and focus groups were used to develop a questionnaire,
the etic phase of the research. The Delphi technique and focus group results were analyzed using
qualitative software, and effective leadership characteristics were identiﬁed. Some of these concepts
were reﬂected by already established constructs—for example, charismatic, visionary, servant
leadership, and ubuntu. Established instruments that measured these constructs were reviewed and
selected on the basis of their psychometric properties and evidence of previous cross-cultural/
international use. Other characteristics identiﬁed required the development of new questions—such
as spirituality, community, tradition. Three researchers collaborated on developing a list of 60 items
to measure these new culture-speciﬁc concepts. Questions were reviewed by team members, reﬁned
and further reduced to a list of 43 items. This ﬁnal questionnaire, that was pre-tested, thus consisted
of both existing measures and newly developed items. The questionnaire was further reﬁned and
condensed by two researchers and the ﬁnal set of survey items were reviewed by a third researcher
for accuracy and completeness. Examples of new items included: “an effective leader honors
traditions,”“is pragmatic,”“is bold,”“is wise,”and “is spiritual.”The questionnaire was then tested
12 International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
Table 2. Ubuntu leadership approach and Kgotla in the Leadership Effectiveness in Africa and the Diaspora
Project: Summary of Delphi technique ﬁndings in Africa.
Description of ethnic/cultural
Description of an effective
leader (what he/she does)
Description of the
1 Egypt (n= 12) •Social relationships and
•Fair •Forgiving and patient
•Muslim •Understanding •Conservative
•Arab •Honest •Diverse
•Egyptian •Commitment/dedicated •Ethical
•African •Work with others
•Religious beliefs and behavior •Humor
2 Ghana (n= 12) •Respect for elderly/authority •Respectful •African
•Love for God •Rewards performance •Black
•Modesty •Proactive •Group cohesion
•Moral behavior •Building team spirit •Sense of belongingness
•Institution of chieftaincy •Setting standards/goals •Customs/Knowledge/
•Tradition (i.e., beliefs and
•Leads by example
•Group cohesion •Gives hope/inspires/motivates
•Matrilinear and patrilineal
systems of inheritance
•Sense of belonging/being one’s
•Singing, drumming, and dancing •Firm and fair
•Humility and respect •Passionate
•Belief in after life/rebirth/
•Walk the talk
3 Kenya (n= 10) •Ethnic group/tribe (e.g., Kikuyu,
objectives of the team
•Hard working/survivors •Vision •Hardworking
•Waits for commendation of
•Respect for elders
•Social behavior, relationships, and
•Takes care of others
4 Nigeria (n= 10) •Country of origin (i.e., country
of birth, ancestors, and
•Honest/trustworthy •Unique dressing
•Importance of community
•Religious beliefs and behavior •Perseverance •Moralistic
•Work with others/people
Galperin et al. 13
with several samples in different locations and analyzed in terms of reliability and validity to
provide evidence that it could be used across different countries.
The important contribution of this emic-etic approach is that the questionnaire includes Afro-
centric concepts, based on the Delphi technique and focus groups, which are not represented by
previously established theories or frameworks. New concepts included Culture—the role of gender,
family, lineage and tribe, and religion; and Effective Leadership—the importance of honoring
traditions and customs, education and knowledge, spirituality, wisdom, being bold and courageous,
resilience, and having a strong personality.
In the emic phase of the research, “being bold and courageous”was mentioned by participants in
some countries as important to effective leadership. Since existing measures of this aspect of
leadership were not found in our review, questions related to being bold and courageous were
developed for the survey instrument. In the etic phase of the research, these questions were included
for all countries, and hypotheses were developed to test whether being bold and courageous would
have a higher score in countries where this construct was mentioned during the emic phase.
In the etic phase, the Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) ﬁndings from measure reﬁnement in
Africa suggested that the data-driven factors were aligned with the concepts found in the initial
qualitative research (emic) with respect to effective leadership. Even though there was some overlap
with Western conceptualizations of effective leadership (e.g., being an effective communicator and
interpersonal skills), culturally sensitive concepts (e.g., honoring traditions and being community-
centric) were also uncovered. Based on the EFA, further reﬁnements were then made to the survey.
Speciﬁcally, 14 additional new items (e.g., “Is involved in the community”and “Works to improve
the community”) were added since some emic-derived factors had too few items. The ﬁnal etic
phase (measure conﬁrmation stage), which further tested the measure using large samples in Africa
and the Africa diaspora, conﬁrmed that both African and African diaspora models in the Americas
reached acceptable ﬁt supporting the applicability of the measure in the multiple locations for
African and Diaspora populations.
Table 2. (continued)
Description of ethnic/cultural
Description of an effective
leader (what he/she does)
Description of the
5 Uganda (n= 23) •Language •Inspire/inspires •Respect
•Tradition(s) •Evaluates •Beliefs
•Welcoming/greeting •Motivates/leads •Norms
•King/Kabaka •Takes action •Clans/detribalized
•Generous •Concerns/empathy •Happy/happiness
Note. Italics represent aspects related to the Ubuntu leadership philosophy and the Kgotla practice of collaborative
14 International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
The ﬁnal LEAD scale consists of eight factors: (1): Inspirational and supportive: for example,
“fostering collaboration among work groups,”“inspires others with his/her plans for the future,”
“seeks creative and innovative opportunities for the organization,”“leads by example,”“is a
mentor,”“coaches his/her followers,”“gets the group to work together for the same goal”; (2)
Effective communicator: for example, “has good communication skills,”“is a good listener,”“is
wise”; (3) Interpersonal skills: for example, “is a team-player,”“generally works well with others,”
“has a good sense of humour,”“is charismatic”; (4) Organizational caretaker: for example, “is able
to inspire others with his or her enthusiasm and conﬁdence for what can be accomplished,”“is able
to articulate a clear sense of purpose and direction for his or her organization’s future,”“gives me the
authority to make changes necessary to improve things”; (5) Knowledgeable: for example, “is
intelligence,”“is able to learn from subordinates who he or she serves”; (6) Gender: for example,
“behaves in a traditional female way,”“behaves in a traditional male way”; (7) Values tradition:
“honours tradition,”“is religious,”“is spiritual,”“embodies our culture”, and (8) Community-
Centric: for example, “community-oriented,”“works to improve the community,”“thinks about the
community when making decisions.”
This sequential combination of an emic approach with an etic one allowed us to incorporate ideas
generated by groups of research participants in several under-researched locations, and to translate
these ideas into a broad cross-country examination of the issues. For example, the principles
associated with the ubuntu leadership philosophy (Ncube, 2010) that were uncovered during the
Delphi technique and focus groups in the emic phase can be seen in the LEAD scale. The ubuntu
principles correspond to the eight LEAD factors in the following manner: setting the example and
demonstrating the way (Factor 1); inspiring a shared vision among followers that offers direction for
others in a communal approach (Factors 1 and 8); seeking opportunities to promote change through
people and the use of consensus-decision making (Factors 4 and 8); (4) building relationships with
others that promote interconnectedness and interdependency (Factors 1 and 8); possessing a
collectivist mindset that focuses on teamwork and a noncompetitive environment (Factor 1); and
building innovation and empowering others through continuous development of human potential,
mentoring, and building relationships (Factors 1 and 4).
A central aspect of ubuntu is the emphasis of the common good and the welfare of the community
rather than individual goals (Barnard et al., 2017), which was reﬂected in the Community-centered
factor (factor 8). Interestingly, while the African sample in the validation and testing of the measure
saw a relation between Factor 7 (values tradition) and Factor 8 (community-centric), the sample
from the Americas saw no relationship between the factors. According to the African sample, when
one upholds traditions, one must be connected and concerned about the community. The ﬁndings
also suggest that emic-developed items (e.g. “An effective leader is religious”and “An effective
leader is spiritual”), part of the “Values tradition”factor, were found to have a decreased ﬁt in the
Americas (United States and Canada) diaspora sample. These ﬁndings further reinforce the view
that while concepts of the community and tradition are relevant in the Western context given the
acceptable model ﬁt, the community and tradition play a more central role in better understanding
perceptions of leadership effectiveness in Africa.
Another cross-cultural difference was found between the samples in Africa and the African
diaspora in the Caribbean. The Africans saw religion and culture as being intertwined and part of the
tradition. On the other hand, the Caribbean sample saw these constructs as distinct. That is, Factor 7:
traditions did not have a good model ﬁt in the Caribbean since items that related to religion or
spirituality did not load onto the factor that related to respecting traditions. Similarly, differences
were found between the African and Caribbean sample with respect to Factor 1: inspirational and
supportive. While the African sample saw mentoring/coaching as conceptually similar to inspiring
Galperin et al. 15
employees and encouraging group cohesion, the Caribbean sample did not see these concepts as
conceptually similar. The participants from the Caribbean may have seen a distinction between
mentoring/coaching concepts related to the individual, while encouraging group cohesion as
helping behaviors related to the community. On the other hand, the African sample saw a blurring
separation between the individual and the community, a central aspect of ubuntu.
Further analyses were conducted to examine whether the respondents’gender and age had an
impact on perceptions of leadership effectiveness. The results suggest that only the age of the
African respondents was signiﬁcantly related to differences in leadership effectiveness. That is, the
older African respondents showed a stronger preference for an “other persons”orientation seen in
Factor 1 (the inspirational and supportive factor). Post hoc analyses also suggest that the African and
North American samples slightly preferred male leaders compared to female leaders; however, the
differences were not signiﬁcant.
Overall, these etic ﬁndings further reinforce the importance to rethink leadership models which
have been biased toward a Western perspective and have largely placed individual needs over
collective needs. By adopting a decolonial lens, one can recognize the prevalence of collectivism
(Triandis, 1995) and an interdependent construal of the self (Markus and Kitayama, 1991;Markus
et al., 1997) often seen in emerging economies. Estrada-Villalta and Adams (2018) argue that many
nations in the West (or Global North, term used to explicitly reference geopolitical power relations)
often with afﬂuent settings tend to promote and emphasize individual uniqueness and personal
choice. On the other hand, many colonized nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (or Global
South, term used to emphasize these nations have suffered from exploitation and expropriation and
hence have inherited widespread poverty and instability) promote interdependent tendencies which
promote a focus on the context, that stresses behaviors that honor obligations for material support,
sharing resources, and burdens, and redistributing wealth through wide social networks, such as
extended family and local communities (Kraus et al., 2012).
To further reﬁne context-sensitive management/leadership theories and models that draw upon
local knowledge, we propose that research should not conclude with the etic results but rather proceed to
an additional emic stage. In the case of the LEAD project, we plan on conducting semi-structured
interviews in the future to further explore etic ﬁndings. By adding another emic phase to the cycle, we
would further pursue the relation between upholding traditions and one’s connection with the com-
munity in Africa. Similarly, it would be interesting to better understand the role of the community in the
African diaspora (United States and Canada) and valuing tradition and how it relates to leadership
effectiveness. Research has shown the negotiation of the role of the community among women of North
African (e.g., Morocco) and Turkish descent in the Western context (Essers and Benschop, 2009).
We would also explore the importance of the community by interviewing individuals from
various countries, type of organizations (e.g., private, public, and not-for-proﬁt), ﬁrm size, sectors,
and positions. The semi-structured interviews would provide a greater understanding of the im-
portance of the community among organizational members across various situational contingencies
and explore how their view of the community may relate to an ubuntu leadership philosophy
(Ncube, 2010) and a kgotla practice of collaborative leadership. For example, some research
questions may include: “Are employees of not-for-proﬁt organizations more likely to reference the
importance of the community and adopt an ubuntu leadership philosophy compared to for proﬁt
employees? Do employees from larger organizations place less emphasis on the community
compared with smaller entrepreneurial start-ups? Will healthcare employees more likely relate to the
community compared with employees from other industries?”
Additionally, we plan to further explore how the participants’gender and age had an impact on
perceptions of leadership effectiveness. Speciﬁcally, the etic results suggested that older African
16 International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
respondents showed a stronger preference for more inspirational, supportive, and collaborative
approaches of leadership. Our semi-structured interviews would further explore whether older
Africans would prefer a kgotla practice of collaborative leadership compared with younger Af-
ricans. In addition, we would also explore whether there is a preference for male leaders compared
to female leaders. It would also be interesting to further investigate the intersectionality of gender
and multiple ethnicities (African and Western) and how they shape perceptions of leadership
Finally, in the illustration above, if being bold and courageous was considered an important
variable in certain locations, we would pursue that ﬁnding with further emic research in the future,
asking questions such as “how is being bold and courageous important to effective leadership?”,and
“what do you mean by being bold and courageous in a leadership context?”
The title of this paper uses the terminology “emic-etic-emic research cycle.”We proposed a ﬁnal
emic phase because it allows one to achieve both depth and breadth in research. This approach is
illustrated in Figure 1, which builds upon the discussions by Jogulu and Pansiri (2011) and Morris
et al. (1999).Figure 1 shows that each subsequent phase of the research cycle is informed by the
results of the prior phase, and the ﬁnal emic phase will provide theoretical grounding for, and
ultimately inﬂuence, the ﬁnal set of merged perspectives from the etic and emic phases. The ﬁnal
emic phase will be undertaken by in-country teams. In the section below, we share some lessons
learned in putting the cycle into practice.
The emic-etic-emic nature of the project is more complex than most projects. Team members need to
be comfortable with both approaches and able to carry out both types of research. Many researchers
tend to specialize—doing research that is primarily either emic (more qualitative), or etic (more
quantitative); thus, ﬁnding appropriate partners can be a challenge.
Overall, the emic aspects of the project were particularly time-consuming. We found that it was
difﬁcult to get participants to complete the Delphi technique and to attend the focus groups. Both
required substantial effort to arrange and complete. Emic research must be carefully designed to
ensure that the data collected provides meaningful results. In order to comply with our own concept
of indigenous research, we needed to make the Delphi and focus group questions as open as
possible, so that we did not “lead”the respondents. While we would have liked to start with a blank
page, we had to have something for respondents to respond to. This was by no means a simple task.
As an example, in drafting the questions, the word “community”caused substantial debate, because
one team member felt it should be included, while others felt it had speciﬁc meanings which would
lead respondents too much.
Although we expected the etic aspects of the research to be less complicated than the emic, we
found that our survey instrument needed substantial work to ensure that it would be reliable across
cultures. Administration of the survey also raised issues regarding identiﬁcation of participants (e.g.,
MNCs versus local companies), distribution and collection of surveys (e.g., electronic versus mail
or in-person), and prizes for participation (e.g., a smartphone for a small number of participants
versus a lottery ticket for all). Because of the nature of the research team, and the hope that in-
digenous concepts were included in the etic phase, substantial input was needed from all par-
ticipating country teams.
The LEAD project has also been full of learning experiences for the authors. Since the LEAD
project was composed of a large group of scholars from various countries, a lot of coordination
between members was necessary. Some members corresponded frequently and responded quickly
Galperin et al. 17
to electronic communications, while others did not; some members used informal, “shorthand”for
correspondence, while others wrote more formal, lengthy memos or letters. Despite these dif-
ferences, our team functioned effectively.
It was also evident that different team members had different schedules, priorities, timelines, and
access to resources. As a result, the project took longer than initially envisioned. In projects such as
this, one must expect delays, but it is important for team members to agree on appropriate rewards
and sanctions to ensure that delays do not mean that the project is not completed in a timely manner.
We suggest that cross-national teams meet in person initially and agree to conditions. For example,
if research funding is available, payments can be tied to completion of stages of the project. In
addition, members may agree that team members can be dropped from the project, if they do not
fulﬁll their obligations, and new members may replace them. This is not necessarily easy when one
is working with colleagues, with whom you may have several working and personal relationships;
therefore, a clear, written agreement among team members is critical.
Projects such as LEAD are necessarily time-consuming, lengthy, and expensive. There are
several implications arising from these factors. First, in terms of time, team members need to
recognize the time commitment that they are making, both in terms of on-going attention to the
project and in terms of a long-term devotion to it. Second, team members need to be able to ﬁnd
funding to cover the necessary research expenses. With the LEAD project, we have found that many
applications for relatively small amounts of money have been very helpful in covering actual
research expenses. Of course, the hope is always that the team will receive major funding, but this
involves investing more time to identify appropriate granting agencies and writing grant proposals.
The emic and etic nature of the project was very rewarding, but it was also challenging. From the
perspective of doing research in under-researched areas, and ensuring that indigenous concepts and
measures are included, this approach was most appropriate. Based on our experience with the
project, we would encourage others to adopt this approach, but we would also warn them to be
prepared to deal with the difﬁculties. While challenges will be encountered in emic-etic-emic
research, and more generally, in any research in under-researched areas, scholars should not let
challenges deter them from using research methods that are particularly appropriate in these lo-
cations. The research methods described in this paper can take the ﬁeld of international management
toward a more realistic contextual understanding of what effective management is, from a more
The literature often does not sufﬁciently discuss the contextual factors in organizational research,
especially in under-researched countries. Hofstede’s (1981) seminal work on culture and, more
recently, Minkov et al.’s (2017) new way to measure culture and calculate individualism and
collectivism (IDV-COLL) has led to a body of work on cultural values in different countries and the
impact of cultural values on organizational phenomena. Some cross-country research has sought to
identify similarities and differences in perceptions of leaders, the characteristics of leaders, and the
ﬁt between culture and leadership behaviors (Dickson et al., 2012;House et al., 2004). House et al.’s
(2004) GLOBE study involving 62 societies around the world is particularly relevant. Despite this
body of work, such studies remain relatively rare, and certain regions of the world continue to be
largely ignored, or what we refer to as under-researched.
To ﬁll this gap, we sought to speak to international management scholars directly with the
argument that incorporating an emic-etic-emic research design in their studies is one appropriate
approach when dealing with countries where little previous research has been done. The focus of
18 International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
this paper is based on a methodological approach which provides both breadth and depth to or-
ganizational research. An emic-etic-emic cycle of research is particularly relevant for research in
under-researched countries, where little is known of the context, and it is essential to incorporate
indigenous concepts through emic research.
It is also important to make comparisons across groups and countries, using etic approaches so
that we can better understand which concepts are in some sense “universal”, as well as those which
are more culture-speciﬁc. Thus, the research approach outlined herein dovetails quite nicely with
prior international business research employing qualitative (e.g., Bartlett, 1979) and quantitative
(Acquaah, 2012;Kantabutra, 2012;Shackman, 2013) methods, and contributes to prior research.
For example, Jiang et al.’s (2011) unexpected ﬁnding regarding ﬁrm age and affect-based trust in
partners who share their cultural ethnicity would have beneﬁted from emic-etic-emic approach to
further explore traditional guanxi principles during their interactions in order to better understand
the inter- and intra-cultural trust in overseas partners in China. By beginning with emic research and
incorporating emic results into the etic phase of the research, one reaps the beneﬁts of both.
Continuing the cycle with a further emic phase provides even greater understanding of the phe-
nomenon under study. An underlying premise is that researchers avoid imposing their own biases
while incorporating indigenous concepts and making comparisons across groups.
When conducting research in non-Western countries and understanding management from an
indigenous and local perspective, it is important to recognize the history of colonialism. From a
decolonial lens, researchers have argued for decentralizing the importance of the dominant Western
approach and acknowledging other perspectives that are usually disregarded. Ndvolou (2016)
explains that contemporary knowledge within colonized societies continues to have a Eurocentric
and a colonizer perspective. By re-framing research, indigenous views may help inspire new
theorizing in international management. Barnard et al. (2017) suggest that management scholars can
examine African theories (e.g., ubuntu and kgotla), which emphasize the common good and well-
being of the community, and create new approaches to our understanding of organizations and their
place in society rather than adopting traditional individualistic approaches found in most existing
An example of the dominant individualistic approach found in Western theories is McClelland’s
popular theory on achievement motivation or need for achievement (McClelland, 1961). The notion
of achievement motivation assumes that individuals are free agents and have control over their lives
and environment (Weiner and Kukla, 1970). Estrada-Villalta and Adams (2018) argue that theorists
who developed this concept found that marginalized groups (e.g., ethnic minorities, lower-income
communities in the United States, and the largely Global South) possessed lower achievement
motivation than wealthier groups (e.g., McClelland, 1961;Rosen, 1959). They interpreted this
pattern as support that achievement motivation was a source of upward mobility and suggested
prescribed interventions to promote individualistic tendencies (e.g., autonomy) as way to improve
This view is consistent with modernization theorists who argue that psychological tendencies of
individual modernity, which emphasize individual choice and responsibility and preference for
secular values (e.g., individual autonomy) over traditional values (e.g., religious or family authority)
are associated with modernization and economic attainment. In other words, social progress is more
in line with value orientations that focus on personal fulﬁllment, Western-style institutions, and
economic growth (Inglehart and Baker, 2000).
A decolonial perspective challenges the view and imposition of individualistic models of
personal empowerment found in the Global North and highlights the importance of developing
context-sensitive models (Estrada-Villalta and Adams, 2018). Rather than emphasizing individual
Galperin et al. 19
tendencies of motivation, indigenous models of the Global South stress the role of connectedness
and emphasize the value of an interdependent self by focusing on the constraints and obligations
associated with one’s context (Escobar, 2015). For example, the concept of sumac kawsay or “buen
vivir”(“good living”) of the Quechua indigenous people of South America emphasizes reciprocity,
complementarity, and relationality with others and the natural environment (Estrada-Villalta and
Adams, 2018). The concept stresses the right of the community over the rights of the individual as a
central aspect of well-being (Merino, 2016;Quijano, 2010).
The combination of emic and etic research approaches, in an emic-etic-emic cycle would provide
an opportunity to disaggregate contextual issues to better understand concepts such as, “buen vivir”
or well-being and how they can apply to an organizational context. For example, in the ﬁrst emic
phase, researchers would uncover variables related to the psychological well-being speciﬁc to the
region, country, and group (e.g., Peruvian Andes) by conducting in-depth semi-structured inter-
views and asking interviewees to describe what makes them happy and unhappy. Qualitative data
would be analyzed and concepts identiﬁed. By beginning with an emic phase, researchers would be
able to re-examine the current theories of psychological well-being in the West, which assume well-
being is largely associated with individual rights rather than the community. During the next phase,
survey items would be developed based on the emic phase, and the questionnaire would be tested in
other contexts using quantitative analyses (e.g., EFAs). One would expect that identiﬁed factors
related to well-being during this phase would differ from the six-factor model of psychological well-
being developed by Ryff (1989), an American academic and psychologist. Ryff’s (1989) six-factor
model includes self-acceptance, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, personal growth,
and positive relations with others. The conceptualization of well-being in this Western-developed
measure focuses on the individual rather than the collective and an interdependent construal of the
self (Triandis, 1995). In the ﬁnal emic phase, researchers would have the opportunity to further
explore the etic ﬁndings or investigate any unexpected results by conducting focus groups or
structured interviews. Hence, the combination of emic and etic perspectives would inform a
community-based theory of well-being.
The proposed emic-etic-emic cycle makes several theoretical contributions. First, the cycle
stresses the importance of using an emic perspective compared to the dominant approach in cross-
cultural management, which largely relies on an etic approach. For example, Szkudlarek, Osland,
Nardon and Zander (2020a) argue that Hofstede’s (1981) widely used etic approach to measure
cultural values framework can be attributed to the greater ease of survey measurement. Despite the
popularity and expediency in using an etic approach, the authors note that the survey method is
limited since it only mirrors what the researchers used in the ﬁrst place. When studies explore
cultural-speciﬁc emic insights, researchers can gain rich and unique insights. For instance, concepts
such as ubuntu in South Africa, kgotla in Bostwana, guanxi in China, can provide a deeper un-
derstanding of the culture and its impact on management. Szkudlarek et al., (2020a) encourage
researchers to use various methodologies, such as narrative analysis, ethnographic ﬁeld studies, and
in-depth cases which can assist in better understanding the scope of the phenomena. Our cyclical
approach using an etic approach along with two emic phases can further advance theory-building in
Second, the cyclical approach can provide researchers with a deeper understanding of the context
in under-researched countries. Teagarden et al. (2018) argue that context should be more em-
phasized in IB research. Despite the calls by thought leaders to better contextualize business re-
search, current approaches in contextualization are largely limited since most international research
relies on categorical data or concepts such as country or nationality (Shenkar and Von Glinow,
1994). Due to the increasing importance of emerging countries, there is less certainty in how
20 International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 0(0)
theories and models in Western contexts are relevant or apply to non-Western contexts. The current
approach can enhance the contextualization in theory development.
Finally, the emic-etic-emic cycle approach contributes to decolonial approaches to management
which call for the liberation from economic and knowledge domination from the West (Nkomo,
2015). Decolonial approaches in international management view globalization with the domination
of the American model as a colonization of knowledge and an indication of what is considered good
management (Youﬁ, 2021). International management theorists (e.g., Alcadipani and Faria, 2014;
Alcadipani et al., 2012;Ibarra-Colado et al., 2006) have condemned the hegemony of American
managerial literature, which views the American management knowledge as the only means to
improve the economies of the Global South and increase the productivity of local businesses. Ibarra-
Colado et al. (2010) discuss the role of a decolonial lens of a project (from a Latin American
perspective) as requiring an epistemology grounded in the experiences and views of the colonies
rather than the colonizer, thereby promoting a symmetrical dialogue across borders. Jack and
Westwood (2009) also argue the importance of decolonizing international management’sre-
search methodologies in an effort to avoid American and European ethnocentrism (Dar, 2018;
Gantman et al., 2015). Our proposed research cycle can facilitate this dialogue since we begin
from the emic approach with a “blank page”, enabling research participants to deﬁne and
explain the concepts of interest in their own words rather than the view of the other, which can
reduce Western ethnocentrism.
Contextualization has been viewed through many lenses, and contextualizing research enhances
the rigor and relevance of research. The proposed emic-etic-emic cycle encompasses qualitative and
quantitative methods and can provide a deeper understanding of context through the use of mixed
methods. In the LEAD project, the Delphi technique and focus groups were the best way to gain an
emic perspective. Other approaches, such as case studies, interviews, observations, and participant
observation would be appropriate for different projects. In line with Von Glinow and Teagarden
(2009), who argue that academic research teams should use a dialectic approach by design and can
enhance the likelihood that the research will be rigorous and more relevant, we believe that the team
should be comprised of researchers from all the countries involved to avoid research-imposed biases,
and that all researchers should have substantial input into the design and administration of the project.
Members of the team should be knowledgeable in both qualitative (emic) and quantitative (etic)
methods. At the same time, the on-the-ground research needs to be carried out by in-country re-
searchers. Most often with qualitative, inductive approaches and sometimes through quantitative,
deductive approaches, researchers can achieve strength of inference by exploring, probing, blending,
and synthesizing different perspectives to better understand a study’s multiple contextual elements in
order to achieve cross-cultural research rigor (Von Glinow and Teagarden, 2009).
The emic-etic-emic approach is very rewarding, but it is also challenging since this research is
more time consuming and requires more resources. Not only does the research team have to be well
versed in qualitative methods, methodological concerns in cross-cultural quantitative research must
also be met, such as issues of structural and measurement equivalence and hierarchical structure of
the data (Byrne et al., 2009;Van de Vijver and Leung, 1997). These factors should not prevent
researchers from adopting an emic-etic-emic mixed method approach, which we believe can
contribute to a better understanding of the context.
Using a combination of emic and etic approaches for research should be particularly appealing to
practicing managers (Cao et al., 2013;Tung and Stahl, 2018) because it helps with the complexity
and makes the context more understandable. Rather than only looking at quantitative data,
qualitative studies can provide more of a story for practitioners, which adds a sense of completeness
to the research. This is likely the case in the international business context. For example, a manager
Galperin et al. 21
may ﬁnd it hard to interpret a score of 80 out of 100 on individualism, but when that score is
combined with comments from emic, qualitative research that say something like, “it’s very
important to ask everyone their opinion when discussing changing a procedure,”the score becomes
more meaningful to the workplace. Similarly, knowing that a country is politically a parliamentary
democracy provides only a simple contextual snapshot, while hearing that “the Prime Minister
(of country X) makes most of the decisions having to do with approving investments”provides
more practical guidance on how to interact in this political system.
Furthermore, coupling this approach with a decolonial perspective lens can be beneﬁcial to
practitioners. Organizations must be aware of the colonial history, when appropriate, and its impact
on today’s management practices since its business leaders can be central players in economic
e, 2010) and actors of social change and social justice (Shell-Weiss, 2019). For
example, colonial history may play a more important role in African countries compared to China.
Mollan (2019) highlights how power structures formed by corporations are rooted in colonial
repression, such as slavery, and have continued into the present (Cooke, 2003;Rosenthal, 2018). A
recent example is the rebranding of the Aunt Jemima line of breakfast products by parent company
PepsiCo in February 2021 after recognizing that the packaging was “based on a racial stereotype,”
given the more recent calls for racial equality (Tyko, 2021). Other discussions in the literature that
outline colonial issues in organizations include imperial narratives in the internal discourse of the
Hudson’s Bay Company (Smith and Simeone, 2017), Eurocentric inﬂuences on the Brazilian
advertising self-regulation system (Rodrigues and Hemais, 2020), and the corporate history of Pan
Am as it relates to American imperialism (Kivij¨
arvi et al., 2019;Paludi et al., 2019).
In conclusion, an emic-etic-emic research cycle provides beneﬁts to both academic researchers
and management practitioners. We advocate that cross-cultural studies should combine these ap-
proaches to better understand the complexities of under-researched countries. While most studies
conclude with the etic phase, it is the ﬁnal emic phase that enables researchers to meaningfully
comprehend the intricacies and complexities of culture. During the proposed emic-etic-emic research
cycle, practical managerial guidance can be developed based on research that asks those involved in
business to explain from an insider-perspective how various concepts play out in the real world.
The authors would like to thank Daniel Rottig and John Mezias who provided feedback on an earlier version of
this work which was featured in AIB Insights.
Declaration of conﬂicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conﬂicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or
publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following ﬁnancial support for the research, authorship, and/or pub-
lication of this article: This article is ﬁnancially supported by The University of Tampa (David Delo and Dana
Bella L Galperin https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2216-5530
Terri R Lituchy https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4324-9466
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