Research into management and leadership development needs in SMEs

(BiteSize) Case Study: Researching needs, analysing data, recommending improvement programme and piloting


Reeves Consulting were very professional in undertaking the project. Their research identified some expected and unexpected results which they helped us understand and use

The issue

research information
The initial findings of work to create a management development strategy for SMEs in the West of England (Pigott and Cowell, October 2001) included a recommendation that research be conducted to quantify the needs of this management population for management and leadership development and support, and to establish current patterns of activity. The recommendation arose from the finding that no clear research and analysis of the issues currently existed. Business Link West believed that without such research and analysis efforts to address issues would lack focus and targets set would tend to be somewhat arbitrary.

The objective of the project was to carry out research to address the lack of data on the needs of SMEs in the West of England for management and leadership development and support, and to establish current patterns of activity. In addition to the collection of data about the SME population, the research set out to test the hypothesis that management development needs are related to the growth stage the business has reached and the sector within which it falls. A secondary hypothesis was also put forward that companies in different sectors reach growth stages at different sizes (measured by employee number). The project was geographically limited to the former counties of Avon & Dorset, to SMEs and focused on 10 target sectors.

Services provided by Reeves Consulting Ltd

  • Segmentation and desk research
  • Qualitative research, 20 telephone/face-to-face interviews to explore in some depth with current leaders of SME businesses the issues around leadership and management development
  • Postal questionnaire of 120 questions, to gather data from a large number of organisations within the target groups (over 4,000 questionnaires were sent out)
  • Preparation of a report detailing the project and drawing conclusions from the evidence obtained
  • Pilot of business improvement coaching model

Research findings

  • Providers of support services and learning for SMEs must “join them in their world”.
  • The Business Links must make a network of mentors and coaches available and accessible to SMEs
  • Development activity must be completely orientated to the needs of SMEs in terms of both content and delivery process
  • Individuals have differing preferred learning styles
  • Providers of support services and learning must acknowledge and take account of the sub-groups within SME’s and their different learning and development needs
  • Any delivery coaching and mentoring delivery model must be trialled across a range of SMEs