Social Competence in Small Firms-Fostering Workplace Learning and Performance

Thomas Lans*, Frans Verhees, Jos Verstegen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


While it is widely accepted that social networks are key to small-firm success, detailed studies on the specific contribution of owner-managers' social competence to learning and performance are scarce. In this article, the importance of owner-managers' social competence was explored in a specific, innovative small-firm sector in the Netherlands: the agri-food sector. This was done by means of a qualitative (n = 13) and quantitative (n = 556) study. In the qualitative study, the two social competence domains most frequently cited and employed in entrepreneurial workplace learning practices were a social learning orientation and the ability to interact with strategic social partners. The quantitative study illustrated that social competence, overall, influences small-firm performance significantly. However, the relationships between social competence and small-firm performance seem to depend on the specific strategies that owner-managers pursue. In particular, this research supports the idea of social competence being an important driver of success for specific small-firm strategies and for the ongoing development of existing and new capabilities. As such, it underlines the importance of the capability-driven approach to HRD in the small-firm context. This, in turn, has implications for small-firm support programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-348
JournalHuman Resource Development Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Entrepreneurial learning
  • Small-business performance
  • Social competence
  • Workplace learning


Dive into the research topics of 'Social Competence in Small Firms-Fostering Workplace Learning and Performance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this