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Here's a sentence taken from an executive memo, "Action item: get feedback from stakeholders on SuperDongle 9000". Is there something that can replace "stakeholder"?

The word is not being used in the first sense given in the OED:

  1. An independent person or organization with whom money is deposited, esp. when a number of people make a bet or other financial transaction.

If there is a finanical interest for some of the included people, it is a fuzzy one.

It is closer to the second:

  1. A person, company, etc., with a concern or (esp. financial) interest in ensuring the success of an organization, business, system, etc.

When I've heard it, it has usualy been directed at a vague (that is, not formally defined) group of people within an organization who have some input (often by technical necessity) or interest into a project or component of a project. These would be, e.g., programmers, technicians, sales and marketing people, project managers, operational support(IT), and so on, possibly with the addition of a 3rd party or outside group that will work with the product (e.g., Swedish Chefs would use SuperDongle 9000, since it is designed with the needs of the discerning Swedish Chef in mind).

What can be used instead of "stakeholder" in this situation? I'm looking for a term that is more inclusive of all involved, without the sense of it being a financially-related commitment.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

"Stakeholders" has been a strong player in biz-speak since at least the early 2000s. It usually rates highly in any list of "business terms we love to hate." Which is problematic, because the word is very pertinent to corporate operations.

A stakeholder is an "interested party." It's a person who is at some level vested in the outcome of a particular project or proposal. A person with "skin in the game."

So your alternatives are words or phrases like, "interested party," "affected person," etc. A more targeted term like "team member" will not get the job done, because a stakeholder may not be directly involved with the mechanics of the issue in question, only the outcome or net result. Such a person could be termed a "downstream player."

"All parties involved" is a possibility, but I don't see this as much of an improvement. Like it or not, "stakeholder" is an elegant term inasmuch as it captures a wide, but specific, range of individuals.

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+1 Well-put. I think I would be less bothered by the term if it was defined adequately for the context. But that's a different kind of management communication failure. –  jbelacqua Sep 30 '11 at 18:31
    
+1 for interested party, though I can't see what OP has against stakeholder. To me the former could include, for example, a regulatory authority, whereas with stakeholder I tend to assume the interest is primarily financial. Which is probably what's intended, so OP should just get used to the word. –  FumbleFingers Sep 30 '11 at 18:31
    
What is the objection to ‘stakeholder’? It has been in use since the early nineteenth century to describe a person or persons with an interest in the success of an organization. –  Barrie England Sep 30 '11 at 18:32
1  
@drɱ65 Hmm -- probably my fault. I've rewritten it a bit. –  jbelacqua Oct 1 '11 at 0:04
2  
@Barrie -- it seems that there is a shift in usage, from meaning something closer to 'shareholder' to the modern business jargon. Here's the OED example: 1993 J. Kay Found. Corporate Success Pref. p. vii, I see the firm as a set of relationships between its various stakeholders—employees, customers, investors, shareholders. –  jbelacqua Oct 1 '11 at 0:06

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