Corporate Responsibility to Stakeholders

Before I delve into the topic I must first provide a definition of what constitutes a stakeholder. A stakeholder is anyone who has an effect or is effected by a decision or strategy. In a business environment this term has often become synonymous with stockholders and the Board of Directors. In a project management environment this term reflects managers that will be impacted by the results of the project.

Now that I have established what constitutes a stakeholder, I should advise that the title of this post can be deceptive. For most of corporate management groups this statement is interpreted as what makes the stockholders happy, and what can be done to create healthy investment income. Not a bad concept, and certainly one to keep in mind, but I propose that there is another group of stakeholders that are often completely disregarded: the employees. In this day and age management views employees as a resource to be manipulated and utilized at need. Even well respected business schools teach this perspective, and in so doing dehumanize the employees.

When did this change happen? I don’t have a definitive date, but I believe that it was a gradual shift that started sometime in the last 30 years or so. Talking with people who worked in a corporate environment in the 1950’s, and even the 1960’s you get the impression that management actually considered the employees, and took them into account in their strategic planning. Over time this has shifted, and employees have become resources rather than humans. Why? Resources do not have names, and can be utilized until depleted, discarded, and replaced with fresh resources. Resource inventory can be reduced to create temporary profits, and then be stocked up again at need.

Now consider the definition of a stakeholder. An employee is clearly a stakeholder, albeit a minor one, in any business strategy decision. Does this make any one employee less of a stakeholder than another? Is this stakeholder impacted to a greater or lesser degree by the strategy being implemented? My opinion is that the employee sees the greatest degree of impact, often on a very personal basis, but this degree of impact does not enter into the equation when strategy is being determined. Instead, the degree of impact being considered is how much of a savings will be created, and how that savings can be converted into increased dividends for the stockholders.

My opinion is that the employees are the greatest stakeholders, and as such the impact to them bears the closest scrutiny when formulating business strategy. I believe that it is time for those formulating these strategies to consider the individual impact. Gone is the day when you could formulate a strategy that involves laying off employees and assuaging the guilt associated with the decision by positing that the employee will be able to find work in the job market. That environment simply doesn’t exist in today’s job market, thus increasing the degree of impact upon the individual employee.

I may not be in a position where my opinion on this matter makes any difference, but someday that will change. As such I am taking some time to try to formulate my own personal approach. I want to understand just what degree will impact the employees.

Being realistic, is this something I can actually do in a modern corporation? Truthfully, no, it is not reasonable. However, I can take this resolve and use it to temper decisions when I am once more in a position where I must make these decisions.


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