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I run a non-profit organization and often wonder why people stay with us and why they leave. What causes them to be loyal? What makes them feel betrayed or unheard and quietly slip out the back door never to be seen again? How do you instill loyalty in those who are part of the same cause?
According to Albert Hirschman in his book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, the normal response of someone who is dissatisfied with a company, a product, or an organization is to simply “exit.” They may also choose to utilize their “voice” in order to change a situation by writing a letter, making a phone call, or some other form of protest. The newest version of this ability is clearly demonstrated in the Occupy Wall Street Protests, as well as the demonstrations seen in the Arab spring. If fact, even after recently being ousted from the streets of Boston, the OWS group boldly declared, “We might have been evicted, but we shall not be moved.” They will continue to project their “voice.”
Loyalty, however, is a different issue. It will cause people to stay connected in spite of the fact that an organization is in decline or going through severe trials and tribulations. I had the opportunity to witness this first hand in the scandal that struck New Life Church in 2008. A sexual scandal of that magnitude could have easily caused people to “exit” in groves. But “loyalty” was a stronger force. Hirschman points out that, “the presence of loyalty makes exit less likely and gives more scope to voice.” Because of the loyalty of the constituents to the church, New Life thrives more today than it did before the scandal under different leadership.
We live in a society that does not favor loyalty. We’ve become professionals at coining terms like “church-hopper.” People change jobs like they change under garments. Our culture is marked by incredibly high percentages of promiscuity and divorce in America is over 40%. This is indicative of an exit state of mind. If things aren’t working out, relationships aren’t meeting our needs, churches aren’t performing the way we should, we exit. There are times that exit should be utilized, but constructively using our voice for positive change and being people of loyalty should be more of our standard.
Hirschman highlights the importance of loyalty as a trait that should be cultivated by every organization and should be made a priority by the leaders in that organization. Although it was written forty years ago, this book provides much wisdom about an age- old concept that should be cultivated by all of us no matter our walk in life.