Title

An exploratory investigation into the strengths-based approach in small businesses

Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Business by Research

School

School of Business and Law

First Advisor

Dr Alan Coetzer

Second Advisor

Dr Pattanee Susomrith

Abstract

Australian small businesses make an important contribution to the country's economy, both to the gross domestic product and through employment generation for a large proportion of the labour force. However, according to the statistics, Australian small businesses report lower survival rates compared with medium and large businesses. The small business literature further reveals that the success or failure of a small business is often linked to the management practices employed by the small business owner-managers. Since the characteristics of small businesses differ from those of larger businesses, small business owner-managers need to adopt appropriate practices deliberately to manage and develop their employees. The extant literature on characteristics of small businesses suggests that the small business setting is well suited for employing a strengths-based approach to managing and developing employees. However, there are no previous studies on the use of the strengths-based approach in small businesses or on its suitability to the small business context.

This study was conducted to fill the above research gap. The study had two broad aims: (i) to understand whether the managers use a strengths-based approach for managing and developing employees in their small businesses and, if so, to explore how they implement the approach; and (ii) to contribute to a theoretical understanding of the suitability of a strengths-based approach for small businesses by investigating (a) the managers' perceptions of the suitability of a strengths-based approach for small businesses and small business characteristics that may facilitate or hinder the adoption of a strengths-based approach in small businesses and (b)the employees' perceptions of the effects of a strengths-based approach on small business employees.

A qualitative research methodology was employed to address the research questions pertaining to this study. The study involved an interpretive phenomenological approach with semi-structured, face-to-face interviews to obtain data from research participants. The units of analysis of this study were the owner-managers and the employees of the small businesses. Eleven owner-managers and 19 employees were interviewed for the study. The experiences, perceptions and attitudes of the research participants were the primary data for the study. Small businesses in the motor vehicle industry in Western Australia were selected as the sampling frame for the current study. Data analysis was done using thematic analysis with the assistance of the Nvivo10® software program. The analysis was guided by Braun and Clarke’s (2006) ‘six phases of thematic analysis’ procedure.

This study suggests four major findings. First, the small businesses adopt a strengths-based approach in employee selection during employees’ temporary status of employment and in employee task assigning. It further found that the owner-managers do not employ a strengths-based approach in employee selection during the employee selection interviews, employee training or in employee performance evaluation. Second, while the ownermanagers perceive employee strengths identification as a difficult and challenging task, they use their personal observations and assessments on employees’ work-related efficiency to identify and assess employee strengths. Third, from employees’ perspectives, the adoption of a strengths-based approach has its positive effects on employee ability, motivation and opportunity to perform, and on employee engagement. Finally, the findings of the research suggest that from managers’ perspectives, a strengths-based approach to management is a suitable practice for managing and developing employees in small businesses. The study further identified several small business characteristics that might influence the adoption of a strengths-based approach in small businesses and distinguished them as enablers and barriers on the basis of their potential effects on adoption of the approach.

This research generates new knowledge on the strengths-based approach in the small business context. The study also provides the first empirical evidence on the adoption of a strengths-based approach in small businesses and the suitability of the said approach to the small business context. The findings of the current study have several further practical implications for the small business sector. These include the provision of information for owner-managers about a potential alternative to the traditional weakness-based employee management practice, and the provision of a new direction for owner-managers to achieve enhanced levels of employee satisfaction, employee motivation and employee engagement. Capitalising on people's strengths. The findings further highlight the necessity of in-depth analyses of small business characteristics prior to any practice or policy recommendation or implementation in the sector by small business practitioners or the government.

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