However, there are still serious questions about whether owner-managers are consciously or deliberatively strategic in their management style. Even casual observation would suggest that crisis management on a day-to-day basis is a fact of life in many SMEs. The rejoinder would be that these are generally not the types of concerns which are successful in growing. However, for strategic management perspectives on growth to be sufficiently plausible to act as the main conceptual framework for SME growth, it would seem essential to be able to demonstrate more substantial longer-term vision and strategic intent amongst owner-managers.
Unfortunately, strategic management perspectives on SME growth are rich to a fault in the explanations they attempt to provide. Well may Birley & Westhead (1990, p. 535), who clearly favour the strategic management paradigm, seek to provide evidence on ‘the kaleidoscope of factors which describes firms of different size’. Strategic management models of growth like those of Gibb & Dyson (1984) and Gibb & Scott (1985, 1986) tend to become so multidimensional as to cause one to lose the thread of the explanations given, full and rich as they are. Simplicity and parsimony are qualities which seem to be overlooked in the zeal to provide as comprehensive and nuance-replete an explanation as possible of growth phenomena. Sparser explanatory paradigms are dismissed as overly reductionist (Gibb & Davies, 1989, 1990, 1991).
Despite justified claims that appropriate qualitative methods involving small samples and/or case studies have been employed in their initial formulation, it is true to say that adequate empirical support for strategic management perspectives on SME growth is yet to be forthcoming. Until recently, empirical underpinnings for other explanatory frameworks have also been weak or missing; but there have been no obvious attempts to make a virtue of this fact. Strategic management explanations of SME growth tend to employ such complex and difficult to measure concepts, and are so contingent in their specifications, as to make these theories almost untestable in any practical sense. This may seem a small price to pay for rich insights. Or it could be seen as a profound weakness.
In the last decade or so, stage models of SME growth have been scrutinised with much more scholarly rigour than hitherto has been the case. Sound attempts have been made to integrate the multiplicity of models, and to ground them with an empirical as well as an experiential base. The works of Kazanjian (1988), Kazanjian & Drazin (1989), Hanks (1990a, 1990b), Kazanjian & Drazin (1990), Hanks et al. (1991), Dodge & Robbins (1992), Hanks et al. (1993), and Hanks & Chandler