Learning and change for business sustainability in small business
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Current scholarship on small-business and talent management lacks a knowledge base for informing small-business leaders’ ability to build talent and organizational capacity. This action research (AR) study sought to understand the challenges pivotal leaders in private dental practice encounter and their responses to the existential threat posed by rapid proliferation of corporate dental practices. Two questions guided the research: (1) What happens to a small business when it implements a strategic talent development approach focusing on talent leadership? and (2) How can AR facilitate evolving strategic talent development and collaborative learning among pivotal small-business leaders? The study also attempted to validate four arguments embedded in a small-business sustainability theory of change model. The study focused on three dentist owner-managers and five office managers in four private dental practices; two leadership teams served as AR team members, and one expanded leadership team participated as benchmark-practices participants. The AR team executed the following: (1) strategic talent development for office managers; (2) strategic talent development for leadership teams’ entrepreneurial, managerial, and leadership competencies; and (3) development of scaled performance support systems. Qualitative data were generated through a questionnaire, interviews, observations, meeting notes, and coaching session notes, and were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis, pre- and post-test analysis, and theory testing. Four major findings emerged: (1) the leaders became aware of their talent and organizational capacity gaps after implementing talent development strategies; (2) strategic talent development activities positively influenced leaders’ ability to implement sustainable capacity-building interventions; (3) leaders’ human and social capital were enhanced by strategic talent development; and (4) AR is ideal for facilitating strategic talent development and collaborative learning among pivotal small-business leaders. Two conclusions were drawn from the data: (1) context-based developmental investments are necessary for pivotal small-business leaders to effectively lead and manage talent and the organization; and (2) leveraging AR may stimulate iterative cycles of learning that promote talent and organizational maturity. Implications for theory, practice, and future research are also discussed.