Speak up or ship out: the dilemma of a change agent

22nd June 2020

We all belong to many groups – families, organisations, countries, and many more besides. If we believe a change is called for, what’s the best approach for us to take? And how should we encourage other group members to contribute effectively to change?

One way of thinking about this (following Albert Hirschman) is to contrast your loyalty to the group with your belief in your ability to effect change.

If you don’t feel you can influence events, then you may be more or less persistent in supporting the status quo depending on your commitment to the group. Either way, nothing’s going to change.

But if you believe in your ability to effect change, then you have two choices: ‘voice’ or ‘exit’.


Speaking up is the only way to bring about change in a group you belong to. As a group, we’d much prefer people to exercise voice, surely, than persist despite having ideas for improvement, or neglect their responsibilities altogether.


If you’re committed to the change but not the group, then leaving may be the best way to improve the situation. This may be in your own interests, but for the group it’s disastrous. If the best ideas are walking out the door (or never being raised), the group will struggle to renew itself in the face of changing demands.

As Adam Grant puts it:

“Only when you believe your actions matter and care deeply will you consider speaking up.”

If you don’t take people’s ideas for change seriously, they’ll keep them to themselves. Or worse – take them somewhere else altogether.


by John Saunders, CMC Consultant



Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the WorldAdam Grant

Exit, Voice, and LoyaltyAlbert Hirschman