Shall we voice Exit, Voice, or be Loyal?

My most valuable university courses wasn’t a finance, accounting, or marketing strategy course although all three has helped in being able to understand contracts and budget better.  My most valuable course – the one that has integrated into me and has become part of my makeup – was a small seminar course that I initially signed up for because it was rumored to be a bird course and the professor leading it had this old-school, intimating style to him –  the kind of professor you would see in movie. You know the ones I’m talking about.  They are hard-skinned on the surface and all the students fear them but if you go a little beneath the surface, they are really a soft soul who becomes your life guide.  Think Sean Connery in Finding Forrester.

This course was an Organizational Behavior course – one where I expected to fully learn about different personas of workers and different political interactions in organizations.  Instead, the entire course became dedicated to the study of Albert O. Hirschman’s influential but rather dry book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.

The book focuses on Hirschman’s concept that there are three decisions that organizations and individuals in an organization face:

Exit – When to leave an organization, when to exit out of a market, etc.

Voice – When to voice dissent, communicate an opinion, etc.

Loyalty – When to stick with the status quo

We took the concepts in his book and read several articles ranging from Nazi Germany, IBM in the 1940s, small town community and applied his concepts to each scenario.

The teachings from the class and the discussions that we had stayed with me past university.  Reflecting back now, I can’t tell you what Black-Scholes does without googling it or spew off the 4Ps and 3Cs of marketing without guesstimating.  I do however remember Porter’s five forces… gotta love that model coming up year after year.  Rather Exit, Voice, and Loyalty has intrinsically became a part of me and a part of how I make decisions.  When I’m faced with a dilemma – professionally and personally – that I’m not sure what to do about, I immediately think “is it worth the fuss”, “should I just wait to blow it over”, “maybe they’ll be open to my idea”.  Ultimately, in any dilemma we are faced with three paths.  The path to leave the situation, express an opinion and hope for change, or stay quietly accept the situation as it is.  The actions aren’t siloed from one another.  Majority of the time, it begins with voice and leads to either exit or loyalty depending on the reaction and response of the other party.  Rarely do we see one action become the be all, end all.  You be surprised how useful Hirschman’s concept is within your own personal life as well.  Think of it in a crumbling relationship.  Should I stay with my SO?  Is it even worth talking about our problems anymore?  Urgh, I’m done and I’m out.  

The book is short and a quick read if you can get over the dryness of it.  Are there any courses, books, readings that you’ve done or read over the years that has impacted your daily life?

Want to learn more about Hirshman’s book?  Check out this great article from HBR.


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