Stakeholder dialogue for sustainable service

University dissertation from Karlstad : Karlstad University

Abstract: Human behavior threatens to ruin irrevocably our long-term existence; the downhill slide is steep and seemingly soon will be incurable. Shifting from unsustainable development would require substantial and far-reaching changes in lifestyles and living standards. As stakeholders (customers, consumers, shareholders, suppliers, distributors, employees, and local communities), through different kinds of dialogue we can influence organizations’ performance by applying pressure on them to change unsustainable behaviors. This doctoral thesis is concerned with the dialogue occurring in the interface between service organizations, under pressure to change their behavior, and their stakeholders, and the link between stakeholder dialogue and organizations’ performance management. The overall aim of the thesis is to describe and understand how stakeholder dialogue can contribute to the value-creation process of a sustainable service. The theoretical frame of reference finds its inspiration in research on management accounting, service management, and sustainable development/corporate social responsibility. In this way, it attempts to bridge the gap between business and ethics. Theoretically, the thesis is a melting pot of ideas on stakeholder value creation. Herein, the customer focus of service research expands to a stakeholder focus, and the management approach of the quality movement, more specifically total responsibility management, develops the thinking of performance management beyond the functionalistic tradition. The thesis also applies a triple bottom line (economic, social, and environmental) approach. The thesis is a compilation of five different studies that follow an interpretative case study approach. The empirical framework stems from the public and private sectors through studies of Swedish public organizations (the Swedish Road Administration and Sveaskog), parts of the Swedish public transport industry, and Swedbank.The thesis contributes to an understanding of what sustainable service is and the complexity of the transformation process of an organization towards sustainability. Further, it reflects on the role of stakeholder dialogue in a sustainable service. Finally, the thesis contributes to an understanding of how sustainable service matches with performance management by developing a sustainable performance management framework. The framework is a total quality value-creation concept that avoids reducing the complexity of the studied problem by solving it in three parallel, continuous processes or dimensions coupled with each other: the descriptive, instrumental, and normative dimensions. The descriptive dimension involves a social, ethical, and political documentary contextualization through sustainability reports purposed for stakeholder communication. The instrumental dimension contains a traditional set of management controls and techniques supported by triple bottom line performance measurement. The normative dimension is founded in sustainability- and triple bottom line-thinking, values-based leadership, and a feedback and learning process dedicated to genuine stakeholder dialogue.