Stakeholder management has been employing experts for several decades[1] and is considered one of the golden rules in project management[2]. However, in practice of organizational management and communication, this concept has not really arrived[3]. Wikipedia also presents it as a relatively new and less established approach.[4] So why should we focus on it? Why do we need stakeholder management?

From the instrument to the concept

This question cannot be answered without R.E. Freeman[5] and T. Donaldson / L. Preston[6]. Freeman offers us a business-oriented approach that creates added value. Stakeholder management is the right strategy for him to respond to economic and social challenges. Donaldson and Preston in turn emphasize normative aspects and polarize between shareholder-oriented companies and intrinsically motivated stakeholders. Overall, they criticize the stakeholder theory as a "managerial". But this is exactly what S. Sachs and E. Rühli are committed to: They develop concrete recommendations for stakeholder management and even proclaim a paradigm shift: Building on the "stakeholder capitalism" of Freeman et al. it's about „mutual economic and social value creation with and for stakeholders“ where companies are organizations embedded in stakeholder networks.[7]

Similar views bring M.A. Nowak and R. Highfield with their reflections on cooperative intelligence[8]: they explain the importance of cooperation for evolution and point to the need for joint decision-making and action. In this context, A. Kahane focuses on "Collaborating with the Enemy" and recommends his model "Stretch Collaboration"[9]. Petra Künkel is committed to "Collective Leadership" and deals with concrete tools for stakeholder engagement.[10]

What can we take from these different perspectives?

From manipulation to collaboration?

In practice, stakeholder management is today primarily recognizable as an instrument. Above all companies use it to successfully implement concrete projects, to improve their reputation or as an input for strategy development. Often it is considered how stakeholders can be influenced or even manipulated to achieve organizational goals.

The theory already shows other ways: Collaboration opens up new perspectives for joint decision-making and action. However, this requires not only changed values but also a new understanding of common development opportunities in our "VUCA world" (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). The recognition of complex causal relationships demands new concepts for coexistence. It's about thinking in networks and systems. Instead of bilateral relationships and linear causal chains, multilateral relationship management, cycles and impact networks are involved. The question of why we need stakeholder management is therefore clear: we need it to master all the current issues of the future.


[1] The oldest definition dates from 1963; see chapter "Definitions" [2019-11-05]

[2] [2019-11-05]

[3] There are two surveys on the practice in Austria and the DACH region: (a) Hauska, L. (2015): Erfolgsrezept Stakeholder Management. In: A. Schneider und R. Schmidpeter (Hrsg.) Corporate Social Responsibility, 2. Auflage, Berlin: Springer Gabler; (b) Lintemeier, K., Rademacher, L. (2016): Stakeholder Relations. Nachhaltigkeit und Dialog als strategische Erfolgsfaktoren. In: Altenburger R., Mesicek, R.H. (Hrsg.) CSR und Stakeholdermanagement. Berlin: Springer Gabler

[4] [2019-11-05]

[5] Freeman, R. E., Harrison, J. S., Wicks, A. C., Parmar, B. L.,  De Colle, S. (2010): Stakeholder theory. The state of the art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Donaldson, T., Preston, L. (1995): The stakeholder theory of the corporation: Concepts, evidence, and implications. Academy of Management Review, 20(1), 65–91.

[7] Sachs, S., Rühli, E. (2011): Stakeholders Matter: A New Paradigm for Strategy in Society (Busi-ness, Value Creation, and Society). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[8] Nowak, M.A., Highfield, R. (2013): Kooperative Intelligenz. Das Erfolgsgeheimnis der Evolution. München: Verlag C.H.Beck oHG.

[9] Kahane, A. (2017): Collaborating with the Enemy. How to Work with People Yo Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

[10] Künkel, P., Gerlach S., Frieg V. (2016): Stakeholder-Dialoge erfolgreich gestalten. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler