This paper is concerned with the learning needs of managers in SMEs that seek to become progressively international. A particular focus of attention is the informal learning practices that occur within the economic and social networks utilised by managers in this sector. Using both qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection, the paper investigates the challenges perceived by managers engaged (or seeking to engage) in international activity. The results suggest three main areas of challenge: first, the early “pre-internationalisation” stage, when decisions about “whether”, “where” or “how” to internationalise are taken; secondly, the development of longer-term planning processes and business systems to cope with the consequences of the initial internationalisation decision; thirdly, the challenge of regulatory issues and the need to secure payment and manage foreign intermediaries. Further areas of learning need, which depend on the significance of international business for the firm, are also indicated. Existing structures, cultures and approaches to management can be maintained for many SMEs that undertake some limited international activity. Where international business is a more important factor, however, managers need to develop cultural appreciation and empathy to underpin their expertise and consolidate their market position. Indeed, sustained international development may require a significant reorienting of the business, underpinned by management and organisational learning to develop an appropriate international “mind-set” that supports the effective development of relationships with stakeholders in different countries.
|Number of pages
|Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development
|Published - 2001