The Key Role of Metacognition Monitoring in the Performance of Small Firms: The Mediating Roles of Systems, Orientation, Implementation, and Strategy.

Author:Mukherji, Ananda


A quick glance at the United States Small Business Administration website will inform the reader about the size and scope of small and entrepreneurial businesses in the country ( ). The numbers are quite striking as there were, as of 2014, more than 28 million small businesses that employed in excess of 56 million people. Publicly available information does suggest that small businesses, usually defined as businesses employing fewer than 500 persons, contribute nearly half of the nation's nonfarm GDP. In addition, small businesses are critical for a majority of innovations and play a significant role in employment generation. Entrepreneurs have an important role in creating wealth both personal and societal, and have been the subject of a great deal of study (Baron, 1998). "It is widely recognized that entrepreneurs--people who formulate new ideas, recognize opportunities, and translate these into added value to society by assuming the risk of starting a business--are a major source of economic growth for many economies" (Hatten, 1997; Holt, 1992; cited in Baron, 1998, p. 276). The irony is that a greater focus is paid toward studying and researching the large companies that are typically listed in Fortune and Forbes magazines. Business schools also craft syllabi and pedagogy focusing far more on understanding and operating large, formal firms and have a far lower emphasis on small entrepreneurial firms. Some of this is slowly changing with more courses in entrepreneurship being taught and increased volume of research on small and entrepreneurial firms. Our research is to address issues that are more common to entrepreneurs and fill some gaps in that area.

From an exogenous point of view, we focus on one particular aspect of the entrepreneur, the entrepreneur's metacognitive processes, a concept that we will expand upon in this paper and suggest that it constitutes a key aspect of the functioning of small and entrepreneurial firms. It is true that the small firm faces a complex, sometimes inhospitable, intensely competitive, and dynamic market place. Much of environmental forces are beyond the entrepreneur's control, and the best the entrepreneur can do is to adapt and respond to the forces that the firm is confronting as best and as competently as possible. However, the entrepreneur has some other elements under his or her control and the key managerial factor is the metacognitive ability of the entrepreneur. We make the case that performance levels of small firms depend far more on managerial factors than on anything else (Albert, 1981; Stegall, Steinmetz, & Kline, 1976). Environmental factors affect all firms, small and large, but it is the managerial factor that separates out different levels of performance. Indeed, it an ongoing question that researchers ask and the question "What produces heterogeneity in performance among competitors?" (Slater & Olson, 2001, p. 1055) remains central to the discipline of strategic management research (Rumelt, Schendel, & Teese, 1994).


Our interest and focus in this research is the entrepreneur, their ways of processing information, and their decision making processes. These are factors that researchers believe are putatively under the control of the individual. Environmental factors, as stated earlier, are not only common to all firms, small and entrepreneurial, but are not under the control of the individual in any meaningful sense. There is a long history of entrepreneurship researchers who have associated psychological characteristics with performance of small and entrepreneurial firms (Begley & Boyd, 1987). These researchers, for example, found, in their study of 239 entrepreneurs, that founders scored significantly higher than non-founders in the need for achievement, risk-taking propensity, tolerance for ambiguity. There is now increasing focus in trying to understand the mind of the entrepreneur. Research now suggests that there are no personality characteristics that predict entrepreneurial success (Hatten, 1997) but the emphasis now is the potential role of cognitive factors and processes in entrepreneurship (Baron, 1998). The question now is to find out which aspects of human cognition do entrepreneurs differ from others.

Researchers have looked at the owner-managers' cognitive style and organizational demands through the framework of a person-organization fit (Brigham, De Castro, & Shepherd, 2007). According to Sadler-Smith and Badger (1998), cognitive style is widely recognized as an important determinant of individual behavior in the psychology literature. Cognitive style is defined "as an individual's preferred and habitual approach to organizing, representing, and processing information, a built-in automatic way of responding to information and situations, individual differences in the way people perceive, think, solve problems learn, relate to others, and an individual's characteristic modes of perceiving, remembering, and problem solving. Cognitive style has been conceptualized as a high-order heuristic that individuals employ when they approach, frame, and solve problems" (Brigham et al., 2007, p. 31). Since the 1970s, the terms metamemory and metacognition have come into use and were first coined by Flavell (1979; Flavell & Wellman, 1977). These terms were used to distinguish between knowledge about the contents of memory versus processes used to regulate monitor memory and cognition (Schraw, 2009). Metacognition is awareness as well as understanding of one's own thought processes. Broadly stated, metacognition refers to knowledge about cognition and cognitive processes (Schraw, 2009). We will make the case that entrepreneurs have a distinctly different kind of metacognition that allows them process and act upon information in certain ways that are somewhat different from non-entrepreneurs.

A seminal paper on this subject, stated that "entrepreneurship scholars suggest that cognition research can serve as a process lens through which to 'reexamine the people side of entrepreneurship' by investigating the memory, learning, problem identification, and decision-making abilities of entrepreneurs" (Mitchell, Busenitz, et al., 2002, p. 93 [cited in Haynie & Shepherd, 2009, p. 695]). The last mentioned duo gave shape and form to the concept of metacognition. They described it as the process through which individuals are aware and reflect upon the range of strategies (or create new strategies) appropriate to apply to a given task, and consider each relative to its utility in addressing the decision task at hand (Ford, et al., 1998; Haynie & Shepherd, 2009, p. 697; Staw & Boettger, 1990). On page 696, Haynie and Shepherd (2009), in citing other researchers, state that metacognition describes a higher-order, cognitive process that serves to organize what individuals know and recognize about themselves, tasks, situations, and their environments in order to promote effective and adaptable cognitive functioning in the face of feedback from complex and dynamic environments (Brown, 1987; Flavell, 1979, 1987). Metacognition is considered to be, at least, in part, a conscious process also referred to as metacognitive awareness (Flavell, 1979; Nelson, 1996) and is distinct from cognition. To think metacognitively is to be "self-aware, to think aloud, to reflect, to be strategic, to plan, to have a plan in mind, to know what to know, to self-monitor (Guterman, 2002, p. 285).

Haynie and Shepherd (2009) developed a more full-fledged metacognitive theory which they were able to transform into a model. They conceptualized cognitive adaptability as the aggregate of metacognition's five theoretical dimensions which are goals orientation, knowledge, experience, control and monitoring. They subsequently tested on a sample of 432 undergraduate business students and found strong support for their five-dimensional model of metacognition. The only criticism one can make is that the empirical results that support the model were based on the responses of students as opposed to actual entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, the contribution this paper made is significant as it created robust and theoretically compelling framework that has been of immense value in developing and extending the people side of entrepreneurship.


Our intention in this research is not to reexamine metacognition but to extend the research to study the impact of metacognition, or some of its dimensions, on business activities and operations that make a real difference in the performance of firms. In attempting to combine all five dimensions along with the constructs we are interested in would make the overall model far too cumbersome. In order to have a reasonable degree of parsimony we would like combine a key dimension of metacognition with elements of business operations and strategies. The key element that we found most interesting is metacognitive monitoring. It is this particular dimension of metacognition that is associated with entrepreneurs and their decision making processes, and their ability to evaluate, analyze, assess, review, learn, reiterate, and reevaluate (Haynie & Shepherd, 2009). We believe that metacognitive monitoring will help entrepreneurs and small business owners to develop the appropriate systems and analytical procedures that act as a foundation to their strategic orientation, planning implementation, and pursuit of specific strategies.

Theory and Research Constructs

We expect entrepreneurs and small business owners to use their metacognitive monitoring abilities to operate their firms in a systematic and logical manner. This would require entrepreneurs to create appropriate support systems within their organization, to have the ability to analyze their competitive environment accurately, to develop a relevant strategic orientation, to plan and...

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