Research by: Nicole Siebold, Sebastian Oelrich, & Olivier P. Roche
“The rise of the digital economy has profoundly changed the way how organizations engage and interact with stakeholders (Eckhardt et al., 2019). Stakeholder theory has shown the advantages for firms to engage with stakeholders (e.g., Harrison et al., 2010; Harrison & Wicks, 2013) but also revealed that the complexities involved in this process can lead to both positive and negative organizational outcomes (e.g., Harrison et al., 2010; Greenwood, 2007; Mantere & Vaara, 2008; Kochan & Rubinstein, 2000). For instance, inclusion of stakeholders can signal trust (Brown et al., 2016; Crane, 2020; Wohlgemuth et al., 2019), which can come to constitute a source of a firm’s competitive advantage (Crane, 2020; Harrison et al., 2010; Jones, 1995; Pirson et al., 2017; Wohlgemuth et al., 2019). Indeed, platform organization scholars widely agree that stakeholders’ trust in sharing platforms plays a key role in the success of these types of organizations (Karunakaran, 2021; Möllmann, 2015). However, despite the great promise of stakeholder inclusion, our understanding thereof in platform organizations remains limited (Klarin & Suseno, 2021; Kumar et al., 2021), especially in the context of crises, such as war or natural disasters⸻or a health crisis such as that provoked by COVID-19. Contemporary crises have become omnipresent through global media coverage (Anwar et al., 2021; Doern et al., 2019), thus imbuing them with relevance for business research and providing an opportunity for “management scholars to join the debate and turn research into actionable insights to frame and tackle some of the biggest challenges that we face in our global community” (George et al., 2016, p. 1880). As exogenous shocks that disrupt routine business practices and uproot social interactions (cf. Brown & Rocha, 2020; DesJardine et al., 2019; Kwong et al., 2019), crises can significantly impact how platform organizations interact with key stakeholders and, when mismanaged by platform leaders, wreak long-term havoc on stakeholder relations and, thus, affect a platform’s survival (Bloomberg 2021; Sifted 2021). However, the extant literature has yet to provide an understanding of platforms’ stakeholder inclusion and reveal new “ways of relating, engaging, and supporting firm stakeholders and the local community” in times of crisis (Ng et al., 2022, p. 815; see also Seth, 2020). We aim to fill this important research gap by empirically exploring the following research question: How is stakeholder inclusion practiced in platform organizations in times of crisis, and which outcomes does it produce?
In order to investigate our research question, we draw on the revelatory case of Airbnb and conduct a qualitative analysis of its stakeholder inclusion in times of crisis. Airbnb constitutes an excellent context in which to study our research question because, in late January 2020, the platform organization was subjected to exogenous shock when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a global health emergency upon the occurrence of COVID-19, which, soon thereafter, was declared a pandemic (WHO, 2022). The consequences for Airbnb and its key stakeholders (i.e., hosts and guests) were grave: global travel activities ground to a sudden stop when countries closed their borders and governments issued stay-at-home orders. In order to mitigate the consequences of the unfolding crisis, Airbnb introduced new practices intended to help both hosts and guests, yet these ultimately generated heavy criticism for not giving voice to key stakeholders or listening to them in times of crisis.
Our inductive analysis suggests that the platform’s leaders failed to notice a dissonance between their articulation of stakeholder meaning and understanding (i.e., what they said) and their newly implemented crisis response practices (i.e., what they did and did not do). This ultimately fostered distrust and selective disengagement as stakeholders re-interpreted Airbnb’s claims about their role and how stakeholders were given voice in the unfolding crisis. Drawing on psychology literature, we focus on the concept of inattentional blindness to explain this failure to notice, which we utilize as a metaphorical explanation for failed stakeholder inclusion in times of crisis. Traditionally understood as a cognitive issue also referred to as ‘looking without seeing’, such blindness has been observed by psychology scholars when “people fail to notice stimuli appearing in front of their eyes when they are preoccupied with an attentionally demanding task” (Most et al., 2005, p. 217). In our case study, the platform’s leaders were likely preoccupied with the demanding tasks of handling the COVID-19 crisis, implementing crisis response practices to mitigate the negative crisis effects for hosts and guests, yet failing to notice how those practices were at odds both with their articulated stakeholder meaning and understanding as well as the needs and wants of hosts and guests. By utilizing inattentional blindness as a metaphorical explanation and key disabling mechanism, we are also able to formulate suggestions for structures and practices that may help platform leaders to mitigate the risk of ‘looking without seeing’ in times of crisis.”
Keywords: platform economy, platform organizations, stakeholder inclusion, trust, & inattentional blindness
To cite this article: Siebold, N., Oelrich, S. & Roche, O. P. (2023). “I Am Your Partner, Am I Not?” An inquiry into stakeholder inclusion in platform organizations in times of crisis. Journal of Business Research, 160, 113776. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2023.113776
To access this article: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2023.113776
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Academic Journal Guide 2021
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