A stakeholder is anyone who has any interest in what you are doing, with the word ‘anyone’ inviting us to draw our net as widely as possible. And any interest means that they can be interested in what you are doing, how you are doing it, or in its outcome.
Some of you will prefer an alternative definition, which is equally wide, and equally true, a stakeholder is:
‘anyone who can ruin your day’
This word stakeholder has, in the author’s professional life, moved from being a jargon-word that has been little understood outside narrow areas of business to becoming a commonplace. So where does it come from?
The Influence Agenda
Preparing for my new book*, I researched this extensively, resulting in a thousand word essay at the start of the book. I summarized my research with a simple diagram. Sadly, I couldn’t put a colour version in the book, so happily, I can share it with you here.
From Left to Right
- Early 18th Century
Stakeholding exclusively part of gambling culture
- Late 19th Century
Primacy of the shareholder
Managers as trustees, balancing multiple communities
- Early 1960s
‘Stakeholder’ identified as a concept
- Late 1960s
Ansoff incorporates stakeholding into corporate strategy
- Early 1980s
Freeman writes ‘Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach
- Mid 1990s
Tony Blair describes a Stakeholder Economy
Stakeholder Engagement starts to emerge as a managerial and professional discipline
Download The Origin of Stakeholders poster.
The drawing starts with the first appearance of the word, recorded by The Oxford English Dictionary as being in 1708, and meaning the holder of a wager. A stake is ‘that which is placed at hazard’ although OED is uncertain where that usage of stake comes from.
The OED, incorrectly, I now believe, credits the first use of stakeholder in the business sense that interests us, to Igor Ansoff in 1965. I attribute it, two years earlier, to the Stanford Research Institute, as a play on the words shareholder and stockholder. The word gained most of its power in the mid 1990’s when British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the UK as a ‘Stakeholder Economy.’
I have written before (in The Origins of Project Management) about the wonderful tool that is the Google Ngram Viewer. Here are some annotated print-outs that did not find a home in the book, but which make interesting references and helped to inform my essay.
For those not familiar with Ngrams, they plot the frequency of your chosen word from a vast selection of published books that Google has scanned and rendered into searchable text. You can have hours of fun choosing words, sources and time windows, to research the rise and fall in popularity of your favourite words or ideas.
* The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change is published by Palgrave Macmillan next week, on 22 April 2014. It is available from all good booksellers, including Amazon UK and Amazon.com.
You can learn more about the book and its contents, read extracts, scan the full contents list, and download resources at: theinfluenceagenda.co.uk.