Mercenaries Or Stakeholders? How Engaged Are Your Employees?

Charles Handy rather famously suggested that nearly all organisations are made up to some extent of both mercenaries and stakeholders. If this sounds a little over-simplistic it still helps us to look at how this split affects employee engagement in organisations across the spectrum from global businesses to local family firms and from national public sector bodies to small not-for-profit organisations.


Many of our clients say they feel as though they have more mercenaries in their organisations than stakeholders and that seems to be a growing trend. Now they are trying to tackle this by improving their employee engagement for better performance/productivity all round.

First of all it helps to define what we mean by the terms ‘mercenary’ and ‘stakeholder’:

Mercenary: literally this is someone who’s in it for the money. For our purposes this is someone who is looking out for themselves and feels little or no loyalty for the organisation that employs them. They are motivated by personal things; reward, recognition, status, achievement, even glory – and if they don’t get it from their current employer they will up sticks and move without shedding a tear.

Stakeholder: this person is deeply attached to the organisation – their whole being is associated with the central core values of the organisation. They care passionately about its history and its future goals. They may grumble from time to time but will always go the extra mile, without being asked, in order to meet their shared goals and objectives. They are like a stick of rock and have the organisation’s values running all the way through them – they couldn’t conceive of working for anyone else.

Between these two extremes most people have some of the qualities from both of these sets. The thing with these ‘in-betweeners’ is that they are persuadable one way or the other.

So how do we ensure we have the right balance of mercenaries and stakeholders in our organisation? And more importantly how do we convert more of the right people to become stakeholders when and where we need them?


Attraction: it’s all about attraction. Most organisations go to a lot of trouble to attract the right people through their recruitment and selection process. And then once they’ve got them on board they then start managing them and stop attracting them. All organisations must strive to continually attract the right people no matter how long they’ve been on board.

Attraction works at three levels:

  1. the role must be attractive to that individual
  2. their manager must be someone they want to work with
  3. the organisation must be one where they feel in-tune with the core values.

And if you do all this, you would probably spend less time managing people and more time taking the organisation where it’s aiming to go.