Reinterpretation of a metaphor: from stakes to claims



  • Stakeholder theory is a necessary approach to managing successful firms in today's complex economic, social, ethical and environmental context.

  • Strategists wishing to apply stakeholder theory need to have a full understanding of the intricacies of this developing concept.

  • A thorough application of stakeholder management requires a culture of openness and dialogue and awareness of organizational values.

  • It is proposed that an ethically defensible approach to stakeholder theory is one that identifies key stakeholders by considering those with legitimate claims on the firm rather than just those with significant stakes in it.

Stakeholder theory is a potentially important perspective in the successful management of the firm. This entails acknowledging the importance of groups other than stockholders, to encompass those who have an effect on, or are affected by, the organization. The theory has been adopted by those concerned with business ethics, as a means of leveraging consideration of corporate responsibilities into management discourses. In reviewing the development of stakeholder theory, it is held to be lacking in its normative foundations. Rather than focus on stakeholders, it is argued that managers should seek to engage with claimholders — those who have a legitimate claim on the firm. Key stakeholders need to be identified in line with organizational values. The mechanisms for ensuring an open dialogue need to be established and maintained. The stakeholder model when applied properly is a complex undertaking involving full commitment by participating organizations, coupled with a detailed understanding of the intricacies of the concept. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.