Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Loyalty and its impact on organizations and individuals

 What is loyalty ?Is it a virtue?What does it mean to be loyal to an organization?Does it mean being loyal to the ideas of the organization's founders?"In trying to think more thoroughly about  loyalty,I turned for inspiration to Amazon.com, the online book seller.I found 250 books on loyalty.More than 200 were about keeping consumers and employees loyal."Brand loyalty" was by far the most frequent use of the term.About 20 books were about "loyalty oaths" during the McCarthy era.Several others were concerned with "my loyalty is my honour",the slogan of Hitler's SS.Only a couple had any relevance to loyalty as a complex moral virtue(Fletcher) ." writes  C. Fred Alford. 
The term loyalty is old fashioned and carries the hint of fascism.The term has been trivialized as brand loyalty .The Nazis committed numerous crimes  under the banner of loyalty .Loyalty  is a virtue but can be misused.Loyalty is strictly an organizational resource.
Albert O Hirschman (born 1915)is a Professor of Social Science , Emeritus at the Institute of Advanced Study  in Princeton.His  book  "Exit , Voice and Loyalty . . Responses to decline in firms, organizations and states" was published in 1970 and  is 162 pages long.It is provocative , perceptive, fascinating ,powerful , original and multidisciplinary.
What do policy makers  do when the organization  they  belong to  declines and becomes slack  due to strife , corruption , boredom or any other factor?It may be  a firm(economic organization) , a non governmental organization , a political party or a government.The  mechanisms of recuperation   or restoration to  health of such organizations use loyalty , exit , voice and strategic and tactical efforts.
Hirschman has given an interesting theory of loyalty. Breeding ground for loyalist behaviour is in general  difficulties in recognising change.There are obstacles to the perception of change.Loyalty is different from faith .Loyalist behaviour retain an enormous dose of reasoned calculations.                  
                       Loyalty raises the  cost of exit.It holds exit at bay and activates voice.As a result of loyalty, members may be locked into  their organizations  a little longer .Exit then becomes equated with disloyalty.But loyalty often represses voice alongside exit.Loyalty breeds self deception and alters beliefs and attitudes  .In this sense , the behaviour of a loyalist goes against the theory of cognitive dissonance.Intolerable deterioration finally does lead to exit of the loyalists.
There are two different varieties of loyalty:
1.Loyalty with no thought of exit .This is unconscious loyalist behaviour(ULB)2.Loyalty when a member thinks about exit and is liable to use the threat of exit for the purpose of changing the practices of the organization.
  Exit option is a characteristic of normal competition .But when loyalty is present ,  it is often seen as disgraceful ,desertion , defection or even treason .Is the option of exit always available?What if the price of exit is high , or deliberately kept high by the organization?The longer one fails to exit , more difficult the decision to exit.Failure to exit becomes spinelessness.Exit is also seen as opportunism."Opportunism is often rationalised as public spirited;even better, it can masquerade as secret martyrdom"(Hirschman).By exiting , one renders  one's  arguments unanswerable.The remarkable influence wielded by  martyr can be understood in these terms.
Upward social mobility is also an exit.Evolutionary individualism and social Darwinism  indicate towards this( flight) pattern of upward mobility.This implies plucking many of the most promising members from the group (like Blacks in the US)while failing to alter the lot of the group.People who oppose evolutionary individualism  argue that without collective thrust or group process , no worthwhile upliftment of the group is possible .Group process castigates a supreme value , ie , success via exit of the promising individual.               
                  "Brain drain" is  also a kind of exit. This also  applies to emigrants who leave their country and migrate to a foreign country for a better job or opportunity .In leaving his country , the emigrant makes a difficult decision and usually pays a high price  in severing many  strong , affective ties.The story about two immigrants from Germany  meeting for the first time  after many years in New York .One asks the other.:"Are you happy here?"Reply:"I am happy , but happy I am not".(Hirschman)

                                                 Voice is to change practices , policies and outcome.Voice can be individual or through collective petition .We find ways to exert influence through voice towards recovery of organization .Voice can be from within as also from without.Voice is in a much more commanding position in less developing countries .In advanced countries, dissatisfaction is more likely to take the form of silent exit.Voice option is  observed more frequently among organizations than among business firms.Voice appeals to higher authorities to replace existing management . Voice against  exploitation and profiteering  had a history in consumer movement .Ralph Nader  was a pioneer of such movements.
                               Voice is an art of constantly evolving  in new directions while exit is clear cut either or decision .There is a scope for development of the art of voice .The presence of the exit alternative can tend to atrophy the development of the art of voice.What should be the effective volume of voice?We need to minimise discontent and hostility.Some organizations resort to expulsion to restrict resort to voice by members.But this is totally unproductive.Some organizations have official or domesticated  dissenters .This also is not very useful.
There is a symbiosis between exit and voice.Both are feedback mechanisms as well as mechanisms for recuperation.Ways of facilitating voice can be to reduce the cost of exit or reduce the opportunities for exit, or increase the rewards  of voice .We should improve the design of institutions that need both exit and voice to be maintained in good health .Ordinarily , when the dominant mode plainly reveals its inadequacy , will the other mode eventually be injected once again .
Loyalty is a virtue , but not an unqualified virtue .If practiced in organizations with fascist elements , it can lead to large scale abuses.In my experience , I have observed that in India , both in private sector as well as public sector, there is widespread practice and expectation of loyalty by organizations from members as well as from employees . In return ,organizations sometimes  treat employees as well as members with filial  attachment and care .As a result , while in the advanced western countries like the U.S. , the relationships between the organizations and members as well as employees is purely contractual , it is not so in India .Indian organizations  have these relationships where expectations of loyalty and loyal behaviour is high , treatment to employees and members has more human touch , more informality, higher motivation   and higher emotional intelligence .But it also has serious downside and vunerability in terms of abuse of human rights and exploitation .While I hesitate to recommend a total elimination of  expectations and practice  of loyalty and loyal behaviour  from the organizations in India( which in any case cannot be done easily  , being a part of Indian culture and tradition ) , there is a need to put institutional checks and limits on such expectations so that large scale organizational loyalty may not result in blind self deception in the name of loyalty , leading to abuses and exploitation .