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A Study of How Small- and Medium-Sized E-Businesses Use their HRM to Succeed

Written by Miguel Carnero and Laura Weishaupt, Sweden and Germany

Linnæus University


Master Thesis

Masters of Agility A Study of How Small- and Medium-Sized E-Businesses Use Their Human Resource Management to Succeed in a Complex Environment

Author: Miguel Carnero and Laura Weishaupt

Supervisor: Richard Owusu

Examiner: Mikael Hilmersson

Date: 26.05.2016

Subject: International Business Strategy

Level: Master Level

Course code: 4FE80E


SMEs are a type of business that has been intensively studied with regards to many different aspects, given that they are known as the engines of economies. Also, the adoption of the e-channel by SMEs has been researched widely. Yet, scarce research exists on e-businesses that do not have a physical point of sale – a rather new phenomenon that has changed the business world permanently. Especially the number of SME e-businesses increases rapidly and this type of business has not sufficiently been researched. E-businesses, given their own nature, are very exposed to external factors and competition, thus they have the need to be agile to remain relevant. Furthermore, it is known that HR are one of the most important resources in every business, and weigh even more in small businesses. This study aims at researching the existing gap in academic literature on ebusinesses by shedding light on the general structures of the businesses HRM. Moreover, the concept of business agility in the context of SME e-businesses, which enables the businesses to cope with a complex and ever-changing environment, and how this characteristic can be fostered through HRM, is researched by this study. This study is based on a qualitative multiple case study of seven SME e-businesses from Germany and Sweden. The interviews were conducted face-to-face or via Skype with the HR responsible of the companies. The general HRM structures and activities were analyzed in SME e-businesses, as well as their contribution to eight agility characteristics, identified by previous research in different contexts: contextual clarity, common purpose, commensurate returns, flexible organizational structures, continuous learning, autonomy and accountability, personal growth and collaboration. Furthermore, three agility characteristics that can be revealed by the workforce of a company were analyzed: proactivity, adaptability and generativity. We conclude that the general HRM structures and activities reveal characteristics of typical SMEs as well as of large e-businesses. Furthermore, this study found, that business agility is generally fostered through surprisingly well-formalized HRM activities. Common purpose, commensurate returns, continuous learning, collaboration and generativity are the characteristics towards business agility that are fostered the most through HRM in SME e-businesses.

Keywords Business agility, human resource management, e-businesses, small- and mediumsized enterprises Acknowledgements The writing of this thesis would not have been possible without the support of many people that accompanied us on stages of our way and we are very thankful to all those that left their footprints during the process of elaborating this study. First of all, we would like to thank all companies, and especially the interviewees that participated in our study for their precious time and their incredible openness during the interviews. The input of the interviews gave us unique insights for our study but also gave us the opportunity to get to know very interesting companies that will surely make big steps in the future. We would also like to thank our supervisor Richard Owusu who invested a lot of energy and time to our thesis, who unwarily revised our drafts and guided us with very valuable advices during the ups and downs of the research process. We would like to further thank our examiner Mikael Hilmersson for his guidance, his useful comments and the insights in the world of research. Our gratitude also goes to Susanne Sandberg, the coordinator of the master program, who created the administrative frame for our thesis and also devoted her energy in assisting us during the process. We would also like to express our gratitude to all opponents that dismantled our manuscript during the seminars and helped us to develop a holistic research project. Lastly, we would like to express a big ‘thank you’ to our families and friends, who actively and mentally supported us during the last months. Thank you all very much!

Kalmar, May 2016

Miguel Carnero and Laura Weishaupt

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