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This study examines employees' learning preferences in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at different life-cycle stages.Design/methodology/approachThe study has two phases. Phase I classified a sample of 30 Hong Kong SMEs into three different life-cycle stages (inception, high growth or maturity). Phase II then explored/compared their employees' learning practices in terms of importance using a mixed-method design through an online learning questionnaire followed by face-to-face semi-structured interviews.FindingsBased on a list of 32 learning practices common to SME workplaces, the study identified how SME employees perceive the importance of a learning practice. The top 5 and the bottom 5 learning practices in SMEs across life-cycle stages are presented to promote best interests for SME executives.Research limitations/implicationsWhile SME learning is highly varied, this study sheds light on some traceable context about it as an SME grows. Similar studies with additional SMEs, including SMEs in other locations, are encouraged to strengthen the findings.Practical implicationsThe findings help SME executives understand what learning practices are most important (or least important) for their employees, given the life-cycle stage of the firm. Aligning a business with employees' learning preferences in a timely fashion is a managerial decision to be made for driving organizational effectiveness.Originality/valueIt is among the first studies connecting employee learning in SMEs and organizational life cycle to address a critical but missing inquiry.
Journal of Strategy and Management – Emerald Publishing
Published: Oct 20, 2021
Keywords: Organizational life cycle; SMEs; Workplace learning
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