The learning-decoding approach as a means of overcoming the barriers to growth in small & medium size enterprises
This thesis explores how small business owners learn to learn' to overcome barriers to growth or commercial success. This learning takes place within a process which has been termed the Learning-Decoding Approach. This Approach consists of three main factors - (1) how small business owners Scan their environment for signals and cues; (2) how they Decode any signals and cues; and (3) how they Test their Mental models and Assumptions - this factor incorporates an analysis of the inclination to be Open to changing or affirming the Mental Models and Assumptions held. Further, it examines what the small business owner does with the final result from this process: that is, is it used to influence the design of some strategic plan or does it become part of an emerging one? Generally, it was found that Strategic Planning is not a function of the Learning- Decoding Approach. It is not considered a core tool for overcoming barriers to growth. Its major role is at the task or operational level rather than the business level. Further, any attempt at Strategy Planning is only used as a guide. Fifty small firms were investigated within two `knowledge-worker' sectors: the Management Consulting Sector and the Marketing Consulting Sector. Within these sectors three sizes of firms were reviewed. Thirty-eight male and twelve female owner-managers were involved in the interviews. The research identified a number of similarities and some differences between the sectors; and provided a cultural explanation for them. The daily work practices used by owner-managers showed that the sectors were different but closely aligned. A tentative Learning-Decoding Approach model was developed and comprised three spectrums. Firms can be positioned on them according to their predisposition to, and skills in, Scanning the environment for signals, and Decoding the signals and then Testing them against their Mental Models and Assumptions. Further, if learning is to occur the owner-manager must be prepared to be open to changing any Mental Models and Assumptions held. By learning the skills implicit in this process, the owner-manager can move on to learning how to overcome the barriers to growth. This suggests that the Learning- Decoding Approach can provide a helpful model for advisers to enable them to mentor, coach, counsel or facilitate small business owners in a review of their business style and practice. The main conclusion drawn from the thesis is that Scanning, Decoding and Testing are perceived as valuable activities which influence commercial success. However, a gap is evident between attitude and behaviour. Due to this, it is felt that the aims of the research are only partly met.