STAKEHOLDER: 1. (in gambling) an independent party with whom each of those who make a wager deposits the money or counters wagered; 2. a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business. – New Oxford American Dictionary

I’ve been wanting to address stakeholder for a while. It is certainly an overused “corporatese” word, but what fascinates me most is that in the legal and gambling world it refers to a disinterested party who holds money or other assets (the “stake”) while some contest decides who gets the kitty. That’s the opposite of the common, business-speak meaning – an interested­ party.

The trouble with throwing about phrases like “stakeholder engagement is two-fold: when you get down to it, everyone’s a stakeholder – shareholders, investors, customers, employees, vendors, managers, executives, the community, your great-aunt Pootie in Puyallup… The second problem is that true stakeholder engagement is time-consuming, costly and thoughtful, and often yields long-term benefits. If you’re like most corporate managers, you may conduct a few focus group sessions and call it “customer engagement.” As for the other stakeholders, you will simply kiss up to executives, dictate policy to employees, browbeat your vendors and ignore your community. (How you deal with great-aunt Pootie varies, depending on the product you’re launching.)

So why even mention stakeholders? Because it’s a long word that makes you sound either responsible or smart, like you studied stakeholder theory at Wharton. Granted, writing stakeholder is quicker than listing all your interested parties, but as I posited, it’s not like you care about most of them. Other people’s opinions often get in the way of what you want to do, and worrying about profitability and marketability could mean your billion-dollar vampire elephant project never sees the light of day. Better to bury it under jargon to keep it away from the Abraham Van Helsings at your company. They’re the stakeholders you have to worry about.

Otto E.Mezzo


The ultimate paragraph in this entry is the most revealing:
The word “stakeholder” has been listed as one of the top ten classic jargon terms used by English councils, and as such alarms or confuses ordinary people and is best avoided. It is recognized as jargon by the UK government, and defined as such by the Learning and Skills Council. Councillor Tony Greaves actively objects to the word “stakeholder” considering it to be an example of management speak adopted by the Labour Party under its New Labour guise to avoid sounding like socialists.