Growth management research to support business growth

The growth of businesses is a sign of economic development, dynamism, and renewal. Growth-oriented companies have a desire to do things bigger and smarter. Growth gives companies more resources to fulfill their purpose - why they exist. Growth is also good for the long term, because there is a positive relationship between the size of a business and survival. Growing firms also invest more than other firms and have positive externalities, often the most important of which is that they create new jobs.
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However, business growth requires the willingness of entrepreneurs and the ability of the firm to grow and expand its business. Worryingly, recent surveys (including the SME Barometer Autumn 22 and the GEM Finland 2021/2022 Country Report) show a downward trend in firms' ambition to grow. And this is not just a question of economic uncertainty related to the current global situation. In the last six years, the number of companies with strong growth ambitions has fallen by 36%. Over the same period, the combined number of companies seeking strong growth and those seeking growth and opportunities has fallen by 10 percentage points (from 50% to 40%).

Expected growth challenges as a barrier to growth

In order that entrepreneurs decide to pursue growth, they need to perceive it as interesting, exciting, rewarding and with manageable growth risks. This last one is a particular focus of the research theme on growth management. As a company grows, the business becomes more complex, creating change challenges and even growing pains. Research has shown that perceived and expected growth challenges strongly influence entrepreneurs' growth attitude and that non-financial concerns may be more important than expected financial outcomes in determining entrepreneurs' attitudes towards growth.

In a growing business, the key role of management is to keep growth under control. Growth requires, among other things, adaptation and reorganization. The company must develop new systems, processes and structures to support its expanding size and complexity. Unless management recognize the need for change, growth stagnates.

There is a cure for growth pains

In the micro-enterprise context, the growth-related challenges are not unfamiliar. The micro-enterprise faces major relative changes, for example when hiring its first employee. A micro-entrepreneur who started businesses as a part-time entrepreneur has already experienced a lot when hiring ninth employee. We know that the bigger the business, the more likely it is to seek growth. That's why understanding and supporting micro-enterprises in their first steps of growth is particularly important.

As the number of growth-orientated businesses seems to be decreasing, our economy cannot afford to miss out on potential growth companies - at least not for fear of foreseeable growth risks. What is needed, therefore, is research-based knowledge and skills to identify, prevent and manage the challenges associated with business growth - in other words, business growth management.


Martti Saarela, PhD, M.Sc., Econ.
Development Manager, MicroENTRE® Microentrepreneurship Centre
Programme Director (deputy) in National task of microentrepreneurship research and education.
Kerttu Saalasti Institute
University of Oulu


Björk, P., Saarela, M., Kotavaara, O. & Muhos, M. (2022). Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2021/2022 Finnish Report. Publications of Kerttu Saalasti Institute, University of Oulu 3/2022.

Flamholtz, E. G & Randle Y. (2016). Growing Pains: Building Sustainably Successful Organizations, Fifth Edition. Wiley.

Kuismanen, M., Malinen, P., Ohlsbom, R., & Vehmanen, E-S. (2022). SME barometer autumn 2022. Federation of Finnish Enterprises, Finnvera Plc., Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. Finland.


Martti Saarela
Development Manager, Program Director (deputy)
University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute
Micro-Entrepreneurship Centre MicroENTRE®National task of micro-entrepreneurship research and education, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute
University of Oulu

Ph.D. (industrial engineering and management), LL.M., M sc. Econ.