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In October 2015, after the SMS Annual Meeting in Denver, a group of scholars interested in the stakeholder perspective met for three days in beautiful Zion National Park for discussions around the theme “Stakeholder Theory at a Crossroads.” Experts on particular research topics led group discussions with the purpose of advancing thinking on their topics. One of the important takeaways from the research workshop was a list of “tensions” in the stakeholder research literature. The tensions include:
Is “stakeholder theory” really a theory or is it merely a perspective? If it is a theory, what are its essential arguments? If it is not a theory, then what is it and which problems does it/can it address?
Is the primary role of stakeholder management one of satisfying stakeholders or is it seeing them as joint partners in co-production?
Is stakeholder theory primarily aimed at creating value for all involved or at creating value for the firm?
From a firm value creation perspective, is it really optimal to treat all essential stakeholders unusually well (within rational limits)? If, on the other hand, a firm focuses on a narrower group of stakeholders, to what extent are the benefits of generalized exchange lost?
To what extent are essential property decision rights allocated to stakeholders ex ante vs. do they tend to evolve as stakeholders are enrolled in co-production over time?
Are decision rights primarily a function of cash flow consideration or are they implicit for stakeholders that do not have explicit rights but are still critical to the creation of value?
To what extent does stakeholder theory focus on achieving commitment from stakeholders through procedural and distributional justice vs. a focus on instrumentality in the name of efficiency?
Is stakeholder theory a theory of ethical decision-making or does it simply promote moral minimums in managerial decisions?
Does a stakeholder approach promote primarily cost minimization or opportunity maximization? Which factors create tradeoffs between these two perspectives?
Can firms find common ground among stakeholders with competing interests vs. do such competing interests make finding common ground unlikely?
Does stakeholder-based management always lead to greater value creation vs. what are the essential moderators in this relationship?
Stakeholder theory and the resource-based view contradict each other vs. these two theories are complementary in some important ways.
One of the purposes of this extension will be to expose participants to these and other tensions in the stakeholder research literature. A second, and equally important, purpose will be to help scholars explore ways to address these tensions in research, either through improving an existing research paper or developing a plan for tackling a tension in a new research project.
The following institutions have generously offered their support of this extension: