Managing for Stakeholders by Edward Freeman

Managing for Stakeholders by Edward Freeman - Managing for...

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Unformatted text preview: Managing for Stakeholders Bob Collingwood was president of Woodland International, a division of a large company headquartered in the United States with operations in fifty-five countries around the world. His twenty-year business career had been marked by significant changes at Woodland and in the business environment in which Woodland had grown and operated. Bob’s responsibilities included overseeing manufacturing as well as public affairs, and he had bottom—line responsibility for the fully integrated Woodland operations. He was measured on “economic value added” as well as several other variables.1 As Bob checked his calendar for the upcoming two weeks, he could see that his schedule was even more hectic than usual. He had appointments with government officials at the national level to discuss some legislation that affected Woodland. He had to fly to Mississippi to discuss a potential new plant with state officials. He had a meeting with several environmentalists to discuss a joint venture on waste reduction that was a new partnership between industry and these activists. He had a day—long meeting scheduled to brainstorm how the company could take more advantage of its Web site and of the Internet in general. The new labor contract was up for 2 MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS renewal, and rumors of restructurings and layoffs were plentiful. In addition, he had important meetings with his counterparts at three customer accounts. In four days he had to be in Tokyo for twenty—four hours to launch a new office and a new marketing effort, only to jet back to Texas for a two—day strategy meeting. Each day Bob had several hundred e—mail messages, most of which his staff could handle, and his voice mailbox was constantly full. He received an average of forty—five faxes a day. He had a committed team of people, most of whom he had been personally able to select, and each of whom experienced roughly the same level of work and resulting stress as he did. As Bob thought about the enormous amount of effort that went on to prepare himself and Woodland for the upcoming two weeks he couldn’t help but wonder how things could be more hectic. Collingwood had risen rapidly at Woodland International and was headed for “stardom” in company headquarters, mentioned frequently as a candidate for fu— ture CEO. He did not feel prepared to handle the diverse mix of situa— tions he now faced, and furthermore, he had a sinking feeling that the air of crisis that seemed to hang over him and his staff would never go away. He had missed his children’s last two Little League games and a piano recital, and he increasingly felt that both his professional and personal lives were spinning out of control.2 Although Bob and his people had the skills and abilities to meet each situation and to manage the crises as they came up on a daily basis, they were unable to preempt the situations. Bob knew that he needed a framework, a mindset, and some different methods and processes for leading the organization forward. He needed to somehow redefine the idea of constantly being behind the eight ball each and every day. He knew that he had to escape the crisis-reaction-crisis cycle or risk burning out both his people and himself. This book is about Bob and the thousands of managers around the world like him who meet all the criteria for good managers and leaders, — MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS 3 yet who do not seem to be able to get ahead of the curve in today’s fast— changing business environment. It explains a framework for business and management, “managing for stakeholders,” which offers a mindset for Bob and his colleagues to begin to interpret their world differently and to lead in a more positive fashion. MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS: THE BASIC IDEA We need a new way to think about business. Executives in the past twenty-five years have witnessed unprecedented changes, and the domi— nant models and frameworks that we use to understand business can— not easily account for these changes. From the globalization of capital markets to the emergence of powerful information technologies, the very nature of the modern corporation has changed virtually beyond recognition. The purpose of this book is to set forth a new conceptualization of business and the role of the executive. This new view, which we call managing for stakeholders, has emerged during the past twenty-five years from the work of many business thinkers and the actions of execu— tives around the world? The basic idea is quite simple. Business can be understood as a set of relationships among groups that have a stake in the activities that make up the business. Business is about how customers, suppliers, employees, financiers (stockholders, bondholders, banks, and so on), communities, and managers interact and create value. To understand a business is to know how these relationships work. The executive’s or entrepreneur’s job is to manage and shape these relationships, hence the term “manag- ing for stakeholders.” Customers, suppliers, employees, financiers, communities, and man- agers are all key parts of today’s business organization. If we understand capitalism as how business really works (rather than how theorists want us to believe it works) it will become obvious that this has always been 4 MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS true. Building and leading a great company has always been about managing for stakeholders. The idea that we need to pay attention to only one of these groups, the people that supply the capital (stock— holders or financiers), if we want to build and sustain a successful business is deeply flawed. The very nature of capitalism itself is putting together a deal, a contract, or a set of relationships among stakeholders so that all can win continuously over a long period of time. BUSINESS REALITY There is a very pragmatic reason to adopt a “managing for stake— holders” View: it is what any successful business really does. Managers have to concentrate on creating and sustaining value for key stakehold- ers, no matter what the overall purpose or direction of a particular business is. So, even if the ideologues who insist that the only legitimate purpose of a business is to maximize shareholder value or maximize profits, the only way to do that is to create great products and services that customers want to buy. Even in these narrowly defined businesses, managers must pay attention to supplier and employee relationships, and if they are at all clever they will understand that paying attention to community can help prevent activists, regulators, and others from using the political process to prevent their companies from pursuing profits. And, of course, executives do have to pay attention to pursuing profits for stockholders or financiers and creating value for other stakeholders at the same time. Business, indeed any business, just is creating value for stakeholders. The day—to-day life of any business consists of interactions with a broad range of stakeholders, and these relationships need to be managed in a thoughtful way. In summary, even if the executives and directors of a firm believe that creating shareholder value is the only legitimate objective for business, they must concentrate on stakeholder relationships to accomplish the MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS 5 creation of shareholder value. The logic is simple. The business world today is very complex and there is a great deal of uncertainty. It consists of interconnected networks of customers, suppliers, communities, em— ployees, and financiers that are vital to the achievement of business success. The company that manages for shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders cannot sustain its performance. A system of eco- nomic activity based on such exclusive attention to shareholders is rife for social activism and regulation in a free society on behalf of the other stakeholders. WHAT BUSINESS CAN BE Many critics of the idea of managing for stakeholders suggest that it encourages business leaders to focus their attention on non—business activities. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is really no inherent conflict between the interests of financiers and other stake— holders. If we are correct, there is simply no way to maximize value for financiers without paying attention to the other stakeholders. But, there is more. The past century and surely the next one will yield unprecedented economic and technological progress. That progress is largely due to the ability of entrepreneurs and other business leaders to create value for their stakeholders. Thinking about business more broadly, in stake— holder terms, is an idea that potentially frees capitalism from its posi— tion as a social institution that is morally and ethically suspect simply because “it’s all about the money.” Of course, the money is important, but so is the value created for customers, employees, suppliers, and communities. Some businesses really do try to maximize value for financiers, but most do not. Most have a different sense of purpose or what they stand for that usually includes creating value for at least customers and 6 MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS employees. Some businesses even have a more “noble cause” approach and are trying to change society. Most want to create value that allows people to improve their lives and to flourish. Managing for stakeholders is a multifaceted idea that allows us to see that there are many ways to successfully manage a business. If business as an institution is to be healthy, thrive, and make our lives better, this diversity of management methods and ideas is good in itself. CAPITALISM AND THE LOGIC OF VALUES Business works because of the “logic of values,” the way that values form the very foundation of economic activity. In the business world of the twenty—first century the very purpose of a business in society is connected with creating value for stakeholders. We can better under— stand business by seeing it as an institution for stakeholder interaction. Corporations are just the vehicles by which stakeholders are engaged in a joint and cooperative enterprise of creating value for each other. Capital- ism, in this view, is primarily a cooperative system of innovation, value creation, and exchange. Indeed it is the most powerful method of social cooperation we have ever invented. Competition is a second—order, emergent property that adds fuel to the fire of innovation. Business works, in this “stakeholder capitalism” view, because people want to innovate and create together, not simply because they are competitive. MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS: THE BASIC PICTURE Figure 1.1 depicts this basic idea for adopting a “managing for stakeholders” View.4 First of all, we have defined a stakeholder as any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of a corporation’s purpose. Those groups in the inner circle, which we will call primary stakeholders, define most businesses. Clearly, managers need to pay a special kind of attention to these groups. They need MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS SPEC IAL- INTER EST GROUPS CONSUMER ADVOCATE GROUPS PRIMARY STAKEHOLDERS SECONDARY STAKEHOLDERS 1.1. Basic two-tier stakeholder map to understand the values and purposes that are at stake among cus- tomers, suppliers, financiers, communities, and employees. The inter- ests of these groups go a long way in explaining whether or not a company is built to last, whether it can achieve and sustain extraordi— nary performance. It would be difficult to understand a framework that did not take into account relationships among customers, suppliers, employees, and financiers, as our main model of business and manage— ment is built on better serving these groups. At least in a relatively free 7 8 MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS and open society, however, community must also be on that short list of primary stakeholders. The litany of community members using the political process to regulate the firm is long and dreary, and it exists largely because our framework of business has ignored community as an important stakeholder. The outer ring of the diagram in Figure 1.1 shows another set of groups that can affect or be affected by the corporation. Each of these can influence the relationship of the corporation with the primary stake- holders. Environmentalists can influence how a corporation deals with community or with a segment of customers. Government can drastically alter the design and delivery of products and services, and it affects each of the primary stakeholder relationships since it regulates the flow of information to financiers as well as the set of permissible practices with employees. Figure 1.1 represents those thinkers and managers who believe that we should define stakeholders in very narrow terms, by including only those groups who have high legitimacy (primary stakeholders). It takes into account those strategists who have argued that if a group can affect the corporation, even indirectly, then the company needs to think stra— tegically about its relationship with that group.5 A specific company’s stakeholder map may differ from Figure 1.1. Companies in the defense industry have governments as primary stake— holders. Companies in the toxic waste disposal business may need to consider environmentalists as primary stakeholders. Who is a primary stakeholder and who is an instrumental stakeholder depends in large part on the company’s overall purpose. Our argument is simple. The stakeholder framework depicted in Figure 1.1 and sketched in the remainder of this book must underlie any practical theory or model about business—at least in today’s world filled with change. There are many ways to define and depict the stakeholders in a business, and we shall return to this point in Chapter 3. fi—_—— MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS 9 THE ROLE OF CHANGE There are at least four major trends, each of which has had pro— found effects on business. First, few people are arguing that we need more government planning and control of private business. Indeed, around the world, governments have been exiting markets, leaving busi— ness to private parties, and selling their stakes in industry after industry through privatization, while often retaining intense regulatory control. Markets have become much more open and liberal, and while there is still steady pressure for regulation, most policy makers around the globe realize that basic processes of markets, companies, and investments are the keys to prosperity. Second, along with the liberalization of markets has come a liberal- ization of political institutions around the world. The fall of commu— nism, the pressure for more market—oriented reform in countries as different as Japan and Indonesia, the market reforms in China, the openings of once closed societies have all had a tremendous impact on the opportunities available for businesses. Business today is global in unprecedented ways. Third, over the past few decades we have discovered that we need to take better care of our environment. This environmental awareness, led by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), has spread around the world, and it has led to a wealth of innovation in business. 3M sells products from its waste stream. Companies like Patagonia make useful products out of what once would have been garbage. Even the U.S. automobile manufacturers are inventing new technologies that make the internal combustion engine cleaner. In addition, many have argued that environmental values are only the start. Businesses can and should pay attention to other societal issues like public health, education, and other issues where the effects of business matter to broader “civil soci- ety.” One trend that has exploded is the whole field of social investing. 10 MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS More than $2 trillion has been invested specifically in companies that meet criteria relating to their effects on society.6 Finally, these three trends are fueled by a fourth one: the impres— sive advances in information technology. The information revolu— tion has made it possible for businesses around the globe to see vast improvements in productivity and innovation. Today’s world is con— nected, plugged in, turned on, and wireless. Information technology has changed the very nature of the way that we work with each other, emphasizing knowledge over place. Each of these trends has added a layer of complexity and intensity to stakeholder relationships. Whether, as IBM says, it is an “on demand” world, or whether the interconnections among stakeholders make com— munication much easier, there are few secrets in today’s world. Execu— tives live in the fishbowl, on full display. They need a way of thinking that easily integrates the many changes that they face. Focusing simply on stockholders and shareholder value is not helpful. ADOPTING THE STAKEHOLDER MINDSET Adopting the stakeholder mindset means understanding that busi— ness just is creating value for stakeholders. From startups to large bureau— cratic firms, business works when customers, suppliers, employees, com— munities, and financiers get their needs and desires satisfied over time. The key insight of managing for stakeholders is that the interests of these groups must go together over time. A business that constantly trades off the interests of one group for another is doomed for trouble and failure. Seeing stakeholder interests as joint rather than opposed is difficult. It is not always easy to find a way to accommodate all stakeholder interests. It is easier to trade off one versus another. Why not delay spending on new products for customers in order to keep earnings a bit higher? Why not cut employee medical benefits in order to invest in a new inventory control system? r————— MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS 11 The stakeholder mindset asks executives to reframe the questions. How can we invest in new products and create higher earnings? How can we be sure our employees are healthy and happy and are able to work creatively so that we can capture the benefits of new informa— tion technology such as inventory control systems? Our current way of thinking about business and management simply asks the wrong ques— tion. It asks how we should distribute the burdens and benefits among stakeholders. The managing for stakeholders mindset asks how we can create as much value as possible for all of our stakeholders. In a recent book reflecting on his experience as CEO of Medtronic, Bill George summarized the managing for stakeholders mindset: “Serving all your stakeholders is the best way to produce long term results and create a growing, prosperous company. . . . Let me be very clear about this: there is no conflict between serving all your stakeholders and providing excel— lent returns for shareholders. In the long term it is impossible to have one without the other. However, serving all these stakeholder groups requires discipline, Vision, and committed leadership.”7 ENTERPRISE STRATEGY AND THE CONNECTION TO ETHICS AND VALUES Once you begin to think about business as creating value for stakeholders, it is easy and necessary to take the next step: to begin to see the process of value creation as inherently concerned with ethics and values. Ethics and values questions are at the core of Managing for Stake/70141675, since executives early on in the process must address just who are the stakeholders for whom they are creating value. Part of the problem in today’s highly charged business environ— ment with clarion calls for more attention to ethics rests on an under— standing of business where ethics is separated from business. And, there is some truth in these calls for reform. We do need more ethics in business. But, an even better idea would be to change the way we think 12 MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS about business so that we could be sure that ethics gets built into the very foundations of business. The aim of managing for stakeholders is to make such a change and to suggest a more appropriate View of capitalism. The beauty of capitalism is that there are multiple ways to create value for stakeholders. Also, there are many choices of which stakehold— ers to serve. Only by being very clear about values, individual and corporate, can executives begin to harness the power of managing for stakeholders. Managing for stakeholders relies on a concept called enterprise strat- egy that replaces the standard questions of corporate strategy such as “what business are we in” with questions that come logically prior. Managing in an ever—changing world filled with conflict and stakehold— ers means that we have to answer questions like “How do we make each of our stakeholders better off?” “What do we stand for?” “Which stake- holders do we want to serve?” “What are our aspirations?” and “What legacy or impact do we want to leave on the world?” These questions imply that we cannot ignore basic ethics and values in business. We can no longer pretend to separate out the business from the ethics. We cannot afford another wave of scandals like Enron, Arthur Andersen, Tyco, and the like. One way to avoid this kind of thing is to replace the shareholders-only model with something like the managing for stake- holders concept. Enterprise—level strategy is a four—part idea.8 To begin, a business must have a clear purpose: something that resonates enough with key stakeholders to get them to “come to the party” and trade with the business. For established companies like Wal—Mart or Merck these pur- poses have been clearly articulated in the slogans “everyday low price” or “inventing medicine to save lives.” Jim Collins and Jerry Poras have documented the existence of purpose in companies that have been “built to last.” For other companies who do not have such a history, perhaps their purpose has not been so clearly articulated, so there is f——_ MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS 13 much work to be done. Purpose is the reason for showing up. Even the smallest startup must give customers and employees reasons for showing up and engaging in value creation and trade. A business can’t get OE the ground without an initial commitment of customers and other stakeholders. Next, there has to be a reason for having an ongoing relationship with the business, so there must be a set of principles or policies that garner and build stakeholder commitment over time. For instance, at Wal—Mart customers have to come to realize that everything that Wal- Mart does is aimed at creating “everyday low price”; there is a predic— tability and consistency to that relationship. Third, enterprise strategy must recognize that societal expectations play a role in the process of creating and sustaining value for stakehold— ers. When a company is going against the grain of society, it must realize that it is doing so and put in place a strategy that tries to mitigate the societal efTects of its actions. For instance, Wal—Mart has been criticized for ruining Main Street and replacing Mom and Pop shops. In several localities in the United States, specific anti—Wal-Mart zoning rules have been enacted. Wal-Mart’s response seems to be that Wal-Mart cus- tomers vote with their dollars every day and that Mom and Pop shops are going out of business because Wal—Mart offers a better value. De— spite the fact that the company may have “right” on its side, Wal-Mart executives still need to understand exactly where they might be going against the society’s grain. They must put in place some ideas that might ameliorate these effects if possible. Finally, enterprise strategy must be executed in the spirit of ethical leadership. Given that there are multiple stakeholders, a complex busi- ness environment, and an increasingly demanding public that expects the worst from business, we must build ethics into the foundations of how value gets created. Leaders can’t claim they did not know some— thing wrong was being done. They can’t pretend that they do not live in a fishbowl. And, more importantly, most business people are in fact 14 MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS Tradi "on lVa e h in Raw Mala-ms CD Supplier w Company Go Distributor OD End User Companies Responsibility Chain Financiers Financicrs Financiers Financiers Raw Materials a) supplier m Company a) Distributor OD End User Companies Employcx Employk Employek Employek Communities Communities Communities Communities 1.2. Value chain and responsibility chain good, ethical people. We need a framework that expects them to be ethical leaders rather than to stick with the current View of capitalists as a bunch of “greedy little bastards” trying to do each other in. Enterprise strategy is about managing the total enterprise. It is about the complete chain of value creation and trade from raw materials to end use. Traditionally we could think of a firm as responsible for only a part of the value creation chain. Society held firms accountable for how they modified what suppliers sold them. The responsibility was seen as discrete and limited. If a company made a faulty product it was of course responsible, but it was limited to its own actions. Increasingly tod: 1.2 s acti. chai Foo for stan 61's 2 ultir. twer execr need are. notj also 1 of pr be at beha‘ Ci their stake tial, c tive 1 Man: ers’ a1 busin doesr MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS 15 today the chain of value has become a chain of responsibility. As Figure 1.2 shows, companies are being held accountable for the effects of their actions, the effects of their stakeholders’ actions throughout the value chain. Nike is held accountable for the labor practices of its suppliers. Food and beverage companies are increasingly being held accountable for the effects of their products. Without a clear sense of what you stand for, it is just impossible to work through this thicket of stakehold— ers and issues.9 EVERYDAY BUSINESS PROCESSES The stakeholder mindset and the idea of enterprise strategy must ultimately permeate all the way through the business. Over the past twenty years a number of techniques have been developed to assist executives in managing key stakeholder relationships. For starters, we need to take a fairly detailed approach to define who our stakeholders are. Segmentation analysis can be applied across stakeholder groups, not just according to customers or markets. Stakeholder thinking must also be based on realistic assessments of stakes and behavior. In a world of politics and political spin, where every nuance of a strategy can be analyzed publicly, we need to think about concrete stakeholder behavior. Creating value for stakeholders is about understanding and satisFying their needs and concerns. Executives need to understand in detail each stakeholder’s: (1) actual or current behavior; (2) its cooperative poten- tial, or how it could help a firm achieve its purpose; and (3) its competi- tive threat, how it could prevent a firm from achieving its purpose. Managing stakeholder relationships effectively is less about stakehold— ers’ attitudes and more about their behavior and their beliefs about the business. If a particular stakeholder group thinks that a firm simply doesn’t want to meet their needs, or puts the needs of other groups 16 MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS ahead of theirs, there will likely be little commitment and the group’s behavior is likely to pose a competitive threat, ultimately leaving the value-creation process. In addition to approaching managing for stakeholders on a stakeholder—by—stakeholder basis, executives also have to integrate across stakeholder groups. The key is finding strategies and programs that appeal to and satisfy multiple stakeholder groups simultaneously. For instance, it is one thing to satisfy an environmental group by building cars that get better gas mileage, but quite another to satisfy other impor- tant market segments like government regulators and shareholders by building an SUV that gets great gas mileage and is profitable. There are four possible approaches for designing bottom-line pro— cesses for dealing with stakeholders. Obviously, a company can simply ignore a stakeholder, do nothing, and allocate no resources. In some instances this is a viable approach. Often it isn’t done intentionally, but a particular stakeholder group just falls through the cracks. A second strategy is what we’ll call the “public relations approach,” in which executives decide on the company story and use strategies like image advertising, communicating with opinion leaders, and so on to get the story known. Again, this is sometimes warranted and effective, but in today’s business world there can also be a high degree of skepti— cism among some constituencies, depending on a company’s track rec- ord. Third, the company can engage in implicit negotiation. In this View, executives take stakeholders’ positions into account in formulating strategy but have little direct interaction and negotiation with them. Obviously, this strategy is only as good as the information about a particular stakeholder’s needs and wants. In more and more cases, executives need an overall strategic posture of direct contact and direct negotiation and communication with stake- holders. Over the years this has come to be called stakeholder engage- ment. It is often the easiest way to find win—win solutions, and commu— nicating in good faith builds relationships. Such explicit negotiation MANAGING FOR STAKEHOLDERS 17 and communication can no longer be planned. It often takes time, with a great deal of give and take. The results are a fluidity in stakeholder relationships and an ambiguity that can be difficult to manage. The process calls for a different idea of leadership. THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP No single topic takes up more space on business bookshelves than that of leadership. The truth is, we don’t know very much about leader— ship despite all of the studies and examples from history that we have. Some have even questioned the usefulness of “leadership” as a concept. In a practical sense, chief executive officers (CEOs) talk a lot about “tone at the top,” by which they mean top management setting the example for the behavior of others or providing a role model that hope- fully cascades down the organization. The idea of “tone at the top” connects leadership and ethics. It is there that we find some of the big— gest abuses of the recent scandals. From throwing lavish, multimillion— dollar birthday parties to publicly applauding someone for “stealing” the resources to start a business, executive leadership behavior makes a real difference. This is especially true in a world where there are multiple stakeholder pressures, conflicting values, and a standard mindset that in the end, executives only have to worry about shareholders. Therefore we must search for a set of connections between ethics and leadership that enables executives to set the right tone at the top that will promote the creation of value for all of the stakeholders. We suggest that there are three types of leaders: (I) the amoral leader; (2) the values—based leader; and (3) the ethical leader. The notion of the amoral leader focuses on the aspects of leadership that emphasize getting things done. Perhaps amoral leaders eventually evaluate the outcomes that result from such leadership and judge them to be good or bad, but that is a job for Monday morning quarterbacks. This way of connecting, or not connecting, ethics and leadership ...
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