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