Purpose – The accumulation of knowledge and learning by firms has been identified as being critical to their internationalisation. This paper aims to explore the knowledge assimilation processes of rapidly internationalising small to medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs). Design/methodology/approach – This is a qualitative enquiry in two stages. First, four case studies were selected from firms that were participating in an internationalisation programme run by Scottish Enterprise, the regional development agency. Data collection involved semi‐structured interviews with chief executive officers (CEOs) and programme providers, and archival data. Second, two focus groups were held with six CEOs participating in the programme. Findings – The findings indicate that knowledge sharing is important for rapidly internationalising SMEs and that firms adopted high levels of formality in assimilating knowledge. Two key aspects of formality were identified as important; formal planned events to share explicit and tacit knowledge and the codification of tacit to explicit knowledge. Knowledge may be assimilated less formally by the retention of tacit knowledge as tacit, while utilising elements of formality. The paper finds that learning for internationalisation can be transferred to support domestic growth. Practical implications – It is important for firms to develop appropriate knowledge assimilation processes within their management systems to support internationalisation. The CEO and management team need to take the lead in marshalling commitment to learning processes and in cultivating an organisational culture that is supportive of learning. Originality/value – This research contributes to international entrepreneurship by providing insights into the knowledge assimilation processes employed by rapidly internationalising SMEs to manage the tensions between the need for greater formality to be efficient at learning, and informality to enable speedy decision making.
Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development – Emerald Publishing
Published: Aug 9, 2011
Keywords: Knowledge assimilation; Small to medium‐sized enterprises; Learning; International business; International entrepreneurship
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