HRD in Small Organisations: Research and Practice

By Jim Stewart; Graham Beaver | Go to book overview

2

Why HRD in small organisations may have become a neglected field of study

Rosemary Hill


Objectives

The main purpose of the chapter is to explore possible reasons why human resource development in small organisations may have become a neglected field of study. It proposes a theoretical model to explain this current context, and draws upon case-study research to support and illustrate the validity of the model. The main argument advanced is that the mistaken application of ‘large-organisation logic’ to HRD in small organisations is fundamental to the problem of its neglect as a field of study. The explanatory model introduced in the chapter aims specifically to show how the application of large-organisation logic in small organisations causes barriers at various stages of HRD research.

This tenet is underpinned by a further argument based upon what appears to be a predominant theme in the literature about HRD in small organisations. There is a substantial amount of evidence to suggest that small organisations do not have the HRD expertise, infrastructure and general resource more usually enjoyed by larger ones (see for example, Hill 2001; Hill and Stewart 1999; Matlay 2001; Westhead and Storey 1996, 1997; Wognum and Bartlett 2001). At first appraisal, this may indicate that HRD in small organisations is characterised by conditions of absence and deficiency. The author, however, questions the notion that small organisations do not ‘do’ HRD - that is HRD founded and conceptualised in conventional, large-organisational logic and models. For on the basis that many small organisations do survive - in the United Kingdom, for instance, 99 per cent of businesses have fewer than fifty employees (Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) 2000) - it is not unreasonable to think that they must be doing something right. Furthermore, if we believe the vast amount of academic and practitioner literature about the value of HRD and learning to organisational capability and performance (see, for example, Shelton 2001), then some of what small organisations do right could, arguably, be construed as ‘developmental’.

The next section discusses in more detail what is known about HRD in small organisations and proposes an alternate conceptualisation. This is followed by an explanation of the research context and design, to include its logic and methodology. Findings about the HRD approaches in three small case-study organisations are then advanced, leading to a concluding theory of why HRD in small organisations may

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