An earlier post referred to the economist Albert Hirschman, as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker review of his recent biography (“Doubt: A Best Practice in Managing Change?” August 8). According to Gladwell, Hirschman’s most famous work posed two options for “dealing with badly performing organizations and institutions.” (If you’ve never encountered one of these, this blog may not be for you.)
The two options are “Exit” and “Voice.” I hope it doesn’t diminish the impact of this dilemma to point out that these basically amount to the familiar “fight or flight”–in reverse order. “Exit” means taking off and putting the dysfunction behind you. “Voice” means staying and working for something better right where you are.
I wonder whether in recent times the progressively shorter tenure most people have in their organizations–I’m told that this is down to four or five years on average, compared to the double-digits that were the norm several decades ago–may be a result of a bias toward “Exit.” I often hear that this shorter tenure is associated with younger generations, and that certainly aligns with what we hear and what we see about attention spans and TMI as a way of being.
Hirschman, however, believed strongly in “Voice.” Not only because this stance conformed with his personal values but because he thought that only if enough people choose this option do our organizations and institutions improve.
Are too many people too quick to vote with their feet? And does this necessarily mean a decline in the quality of our institutions?
What’s the long term impact if leaders implicitly or explicitly welcome “Exit” strategies instead of nurturing those who Stay Put and Speak Up? Aren’t these the fully engaged employees we all say we want more of?