HRD in Small Organisations: Research and Practice

Harry Matlay (UCE Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Article publication date: 1 December 2004



Matlay, H. (2004), "HRD in Small Organisations: Research and Practice", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 514-515.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This edited volume originates from an ESRC funded Research Seminar Series on “HRD: The Emerging Theoretical Agenda and Empirical Research”. Professors Jim Stewart and Graham Beaver, both of whom are well known and respected academic researchers in this field, have succeeded in putting together an empirically rigorous, coherent and informative volume of well‐written chapters on a relatively underdeveloped but very important research topic. The stated purpose of this research monograph is to advance knowledge and understanding of human resource development (HRD) in small organisations. In this, the editors have succeeded admirably. The book comprises three parts, each incorporating a number of interrelated chapters that focus on specific HRD perspectives.

The first part of the book concentrates upon the context of HRD in small organisations. In a challenging but well‐grounded chapter, Rosemary Hill outlines the reasons why HRD in small organisations may have become a neglected field of academic study. Drawing on case study research, she proposes a theoretical model to contextualise HRD as applicable specifically to small organisations. In the next chapter, Taylor, Shaw and Thorpe focus on employee training and development as important aspects of traditional human resource management (HRM) activity. Based on the in‐depth study of four organisations, the authors contend that smaller firms and institutional support for this size of business might be failing employees in their personal development. They suggest that formalising training and development practices could have the effect of enabling small business employees to become included in a society that increasingly values knowledge and expertise. In the third chapter, Clare Rigg and Kiran Trehan compare and contrast traditional and discourse aspects of HRD in small organisations. The authors argue that HRD in small businesses could be pursued through the engagement of one or two influential individuals in formal learning, who would feed back new knowledge through changed or improved practices. Furthermore, they point out that a discourse perspective on HRD would enable its study in action, by focusing upon the micro‐process aspects of employee development. In the final chapter in part one, Graham Beaver and Kate Hutchings examine the role for HRM in small businesses. The authors recommend that in order to develop strategic HRM planning processes, small businesses need to link recruitment and selection to training and development, including performance appraisal and reward systems. In this context, however, it is essential that small businesses manage to attract, motivate and retain high quality employees.

Part two contains five chapters that report on various approaches to HRD in smaller organisations. In the first chapter Smith, Thursfield, Hamblett and Holden offer a critical perspective of employee development (ED) in small and medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs). ED programmes differ from more traditional types of training on the basis that these are voluntary, and employees can choose what to learn in their own time. In order to reconcile conflicting research evidence relating to the “mutuality” of ED initiatives, the authors have expanded the boundaries of two central concepts, namely “learning” and “rationality”. Furthermore, they also reduced and reclassified the notion of “mutuality” and proved the implausibility of a traditionally monolithic ED model. The second chapter focuses upon the practice of HRD in smaller firms. Eugene Sadler‐Smith and Jonathan Lean set out to critically review HRD in small businesses in terms of activities, methods, roles and responsibilities. The authors offer an excellent framework of small firm HRD, which is comprehensive and easily contextualised within both quantitative and qualitative research. In the next two chapters, Paul Iles and Maurice Yolles/Elaine Eades and Paul Iles use the “Technology Translator Project” case study and the teaching company scheme to investigate HRD and knowledge migration in SME‐higher education (HE) partnerships. Knowledge management is coherently linked to HRD and a viable model of knowledge creation in SME‐HE partnerships is proposed. In the final chapter, Sally Sambrook evaluates e‐Learning in small organisations. This is a relatively new and potentially important aspect of training and HRD in smaller firms. She argues that, in order to be effective, e‐Learning requires a positive attitude from both employers and their employees. The process also needs significant support in terms of specific software/hardware and learning material requirements. The author proposes a very useful model of dimensions and factors influencing e‐Learning in smaller organisations, from both employer and employee perspectives.

Part three of this volume incorporates four chapters that focus upon applying HRD methods in small organisations. Alison Wilson and Gill Homan investigate the management development needs of owner‐managers in manufacturing SMEs. In micro‐businesses with up to nine employees, training and development rested mainly with the owner‐manager. Interestingly, the authors claim that both formal and informal methods of training and development are popular in organisations that employ 10 or more individuals. In businesses with 51 to 100 employees, training and development decisions are made mainly by managing directors but with the involvement of line and personnel managers. In the next chapter, David Devins and Jeff Gold analyse the value of HRD in small owner‐managed organisations, from the perspective of external coaching. The authors recommend working with external coaches so that small business owner/managers can enhance training benefits, as applied to the specific circumstances of their organisations. The following chapter, authored by David Megginson and Paul Stokes, focuses upon mentoring in small organisations – but from a successful exporting perspective. The authors raise some pertinent questions in relation to mentoring dependence/interdependence/independence. Other issues highlighted include solutions versus questions and pairs versus networks. These results could prove very useful to export advice agencies seeking to assist SMEs in their quest for internationalisation in an increasingly global economy. The final chapter, by Garavan, McCarthy, McMahon and Gubbins, looks at management development in micro‐ and small firms in Ireland. They found that four factors, operating individually or in interaction, have a significant impact on management development in micro and small firms. These include firm size, owner‐manager perceptions, HRM and the strategic orientation of the firm. Their research has confirmed the well‐known fact that management development in SMEs tends to be based upon individualised employment relationships and a focus on cost, short‐termism and “bottom line” considerations.

This is an excellent book and I would unreservedly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in training and HRD in SMEs. It is a well designed and researched volume, with good quantitative and qualitative studies that would satisfy even the most discerning and knowledgeable reader. Academics, researchers, students and owner/managers as well as trainers, small business advisers and policy makers – could all benefit from this specialised book. I really enjoyed reading this book and it certainly has expanded and updated my knowledge on a favourite topic of research. As such, I would like to congratulate the editors, contributors and the publishers for their commitment and hard work.

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