Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Switching perspectives

If we talk about stakeholder relationships, the most common reaction of people is to think about a firm and the different groups which are affected by the corresponding business activities. These stakeholders are usually named as financiers, customers, suppliers, employees, the communities and so on. By this means we talk about stakeholders defined by their functional relationships with a firm, which is situated in the center of its stakeholder relationships. Further, the usual way of thinking about stakeholder management is on how to elaborate positive relationships with stakeholders to create as much economic value as possible.

In this blog post I would like to address two rather unusual ways of thinking about stakeholder management by making use of the example of employees’ work-life balance as an independent issue. In the context of this issue, the traditional defined stakeholder categories of a firm are no longer of much use to capture the essential features of the employees’ work-life balance. To assess what is of real importance for people, a firm’s decision makers have to switch perspectives to find out which groups have a real stake in the issue of the work-life balance. The traditional stakeholder category of employees then becomes more fine-grained, for example as mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, part-time workers and so on. By switching the perspective from a functional firm-centered to an issue-based view, decision makers are able to identify a much broader, and arguably more useful, set of stakeholders related to the firms’ activities.

But how are those newly recognized stakeholders related to a firm’s value creation? I think part of the answer arises from a too narrow understanding of value in an economic sense. It is easy for decision makers to conceptualize economic value creation in traditional firm-stakeholder relationships, as those ties are, as described above, functionally defined. But from a stakeholder’s perspective, there are other ways of understanding what “value” actually consists of. Indeed, regarding the issue of the work-life balance, stakeholder groups like mothers or fathers acknowledge the results related to their relationship with a firm, for example the accessibility to corporate childcare services, but also the possibility to work part-time in a managerial function. However, besides those extrinsic values related to economic or non-economic goods or services in a stakeholder relationship, employees are also seeking for more intrinsically motivated results. For example, employees also appreciate the psychological result of job satisfaction, as they are recognized and esteemed by the firm’s decision makers regarding their stake in the issue of work-life balance, thus for example as mothers and fathers.

In my opinion, managerial decision-makers can realize a much broader potential for value creation if they not only rely on a firm-centered approach to create economic value together with their functional stakeholders. Switching perspectives to identify the stake different groups have in a focal issue and recognizing both the corresponding extrinsic and intrinsic results of stakeholder relationships will then lead to an enhanced mutual value creation of a firm with its stakeholders.

Thomas Schneider

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