Voice, Trust, and Control

In Jeffrey Pfeffer’s column in Business 2.0 this month is he cites a famous article by Albert Hirschman called “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.” Hirschman argues that when people are dissatisfied, they have a choice: complain and try to change things, or leave. This means that if employees don’t have a voice—if they feel their complaints fall on deaf ears—then they are more likely to leave.

And in some situations, that’s fine. I know I’ve stayed at jobs, trying to “make it work” for a bit longer than I should have. There is really nothing wrong with leaving an organization to go work for another one, as long as you’re looking at it case by case.

But if you systematically don’t allow people a voice, you will likely experience higher turnover than is healthy. Pfeffer says that since 2004, turnover of executives, salespeople and production employees has nearly doubled, while turnover of professional and technical personnel has jumped about 70 percent.

And the trick, I think, centers on trust and control. You don’t know what people will say if you give them voice. You have to trust that it will be productive, or at least work out. And trust by definition involves risk. The kind of risk you take when you give up some of your control. The payoff, however—loyalty—is quite valuable.