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Leadership matters in crisis-induced digital transformation: how to lead service employees effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic

Silke Bartsch (Institute of Marketing, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany)
Ellen Weber (Institute of Marketing and Management, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany)
Marion Büttgen (Institute of Marketing and Management, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany)
Ariana Huber (Institute of Marketing, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 12 August 2020

Issue publication date: 2 January 2021

46536

Abstract

Purpose

The COVID-19 pandemic has, besides the health concerns, caused an unprecedented social and economic crisis that has particularly hit service industries hard. Due to extensive safety measures, many service employees have to work remotely to keep service businesses running. With limited literature on leadership and virtual work in the service context, this paper aims to report on leadership effectiveness regarding employees' work performance in virtual settings brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design/methodology/approach

Drawing on the input–process–outcome (IPO) framework, this research investigates the effectiveness of leadership on service employees' work performance mediated by work-related tension, autonomy, and group cohesiveness. Furthermore, this study explores moderating effects of the service provider's digital maturity. To test the derived model, the authors collected survey data from 206 service employees who, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unexpectedly had to transform to a virtual work environment. The authors analyzed the data using partial least squares structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM).

Findings

The results indicated that it took task- and relation-oriented leadership behavior to maintain service employees' work performance in a virtual environment during crisis situations. Further, results indicated mediating effects of service employees' individual job autonomy and team cohesiveness; surprisingly, work-related tension did not impact employees' work performance. Results offered service businesses guidance on how to effectively lead in times of crisis when service employees predominantly work in virtual environments.

Originality/value

This is the first empirical study to show how leadership affects service employees' work performance in a virtual work environment during crisis times. Thus, the study contributes to the scarce literature on the impact of leadership in service firms that have to operate in such a setting.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This paper forms part of a special section “The Coronavirus Crisis and Beyond: Implications for Service Research and Practice” guest edited by Prof. Volker G. Kuppelwieser and Dr. Jörg Finsterwalder.

Citation

Bartsch, S., Weber, E., Büttgen, M. and Huber, A. (2021), "Leadership matters in crisis-induced digital transformation: how to lead service employees effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 71-85. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOSM-05-2020-0160

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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