Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department (Legacy)

Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Human Resource Education

Committee Chair

Githens, Rod Patrick

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Pearson, Donna

Committee Member

Shuck, Brad

Committee Member

Rose, Kevin

Committee Member

Ryan, William


Small business--Employees--In-service training; Small business--Economic aspects--United States; Corporate culture--United States


This dissertation is a case study of a learning culture in a successful small business. It begins with a discussion of the importance of small business to the U.S. economy. The high rate of small business failure is highlighted, along with several factors known to contribute to failure. Of those factors, the limited resource environment within which most small businesses operate is discussed. The reality of limited resources influences small business owner-managers to adopt a risk-averse and conservative approach to business operations. This risk-averse and conservative approach often impacts owner-managers’ attitude toward employee learning. A historical overview of the field of human resource development (HRD) is presented next, including a critical contention that HRD achieves maximum effectiveness when applied with a focus on organizational learning. The conceptual framework used to guide this study suggests that when organizational learning is embraced by a small business, through its central tenets of improving effectiveness, striving for continual learning, and detecting and correcting error, a learning culture can emerge. It is at this point that HRD is viewed as a support mechanism for the learning culture. Instead of being viewed as a tool or something to be done, HRD – formal or informal, intentional or incidental – exists as an outward manifestation of the learning culture. Several findings from this study are helpful to small business, HRD, and organizational learning scholars and practitioners. First, the organization’s learning culture was identified as the greatest contributing factor to business growth. Second, the learning culture was initially established by the owner-manager exclusively. Subsequent recruiting and hiring practices helped identify employees with whom the culture’s values resonated, thus creating greater support for the culture. Over time the culture became self-sustaining. At this point, less leadership influence was required to keep the culture alive. Finally, leadership and employee commitment to learning was instrumental to sustaining the culture long-term.

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