The learning of small business owner-managers through networking
The research establishes a preliminary characterisation of the learning of small business
owner-managers in the context of their business networks. It does this grounded in data
derived from the extant general literature on learning, the specific literatures of general
managerial learning and the learning of small business people. Critical observation and
the results of a pilot study augment this data.
The preliminary characterisation is then further refined by reference to five established
business networks located in the Midlands of England. The methodology employed
follows a triangulation strategy of positivist and phenomenological components. It
utilises the potentials of Social Network Analysis (SNA) and Discourse Analysis (DA) to
these ends. 136 small business owner-managers, located within their respective
networks,, responded to a prepared SNA questionnaire and to in-depth interviews.
The SNA data collected is subjected to Social Network Analysis to identify measures of
actor centrality, degree, closeness and betweennirss. - This is performed across five
relations measuring communication, connections, advice, importance and learning.
Positional analysis and multi-dimensional scaling are then used to confirm four groups
within each network, which is consistent with the preliminary characterisation.
Discourse Analysis emphasises language as a basic form of interaction within networks.
From the record of in-depth interviews, and vocabularies related to the learning of ownermanagers,
39 discoursive texts are identified and analysed. These texts also reveal four
groups of actors within each network. From this evidence, which corroborates the
results of SNA, it is possible to label these groups as Learning Facilitators/ Learners,
Learners, Floaters and Traders. Together with SNA evidence, DA also allows the
learning characteristics of each group to be -described.
The research has several implications for the theory of learning in this context. For the
first time, it establishes from empirical evidence the forms and degrees of learning
occurring within such business networks. It has importance for the learning of ownermanagers
themselves, educators/ trainers and also policy makers. Based on the research
findings learning action plans for each of these stakeholder groups are suggested