Conversations at the Crossroads.

The Pain/Gain Model (Risky Business, Part 3)

In the last installment of Risky Business (03/06/13), we looked at how a “balance the scale” approach can be helpful in confronting risk-aversion. When we examine the potential for gain/reward on equal footing with our concerns about pain/risk, this enhanced perspective can lead to a greater sense of empowerment and conviction in decision-making.

Once we’re already on this path of exploration–identifying the risks and rewards in taking a particular action–we can go a step further and look also at the risks and rewards of not taking action, or taking a different action. In Energy Leadership coaching, we call this the Pain/Gain Model. It is most useful when facing a decision that involves choice between two options, and it is especially useful when the decision involves a choice “to do or not to do,” as in choosing a new scenario or maintaining the status quo. As with the “balance the scale” approach, the Pain/Gain Model offers a structure for mapping out options and carefully weighing the factors. The Pain/Gain Model just expands your perspective further.

Think of a decision you are currently contemplating. Perhaps you are considering switching jobs. You’ve been pondering for months:  Should I stay or should I go?  Perhaps you’ve even got a job offer in hand, in which case the dilemma is more specifically:  Should I stay in the current job or accept the new job?

Here’s how the Pain/Gain Model might help you think this through. Grab a piece of paper and draw four quadrants.

The Pain/Gain Model

At the top of the left column, write PAIN. At the top of the right column, write GAIN. On the left side, label the top row CURRENT and the bottom row FUTURE. The rows represent your two options, staying in the current scenario or choosing the new/future scenario. In our example, CURRENT could also be labeled “current job” and FUTURE could be labeled “new job.”

Begin to populate the boxes with your thoughts around the pains and gains of each scenario. The top left quadrant is CURRENT PAIN. In other words, what’s painful about your current situation? Perhaps you’re feeling the lack of a promotional path in your current job. Perhaps your salary is lower than you’d like. Perhaps you have a challenging boss. Capture all of these thoughts in the top left box.

It’s helpful to move from here to the lower right box (FUTURE GAIN), because we explore new scenarios to purposefully eliminate the pains–or “right the wrongs”–of the current scenario. What would be the benefits of the desired change?  Does it seem you will get along well with your boss in that new job? Great. Is the salary higher? Capture that. All of the perceived gains of the new opportunity go into this box.

The Pain/Gain Model

By this point, we have captured many of the pro’s for accepting that new job. But it’s not that simple, right? If it were, you’d have already done it. There must be some reasons you’re holding back.

The top right box (CURRENT GAIN) is your third step and should contain your answers to the question: How would you benefit from staying put/status quo? Maybe you’ve got a stable routine going with your spouse and kids, and you’re worried about disrupting it. Maybe you’ve got coworkers who’ve become good friends. These factors represent legitimate reasons for staying in the current situation. Fill them in.

The fourth and final box (FUTURE PAIN) is about the cost of change as you perceive it. What are the challenges you face in order to make FUTURE a reality? Perhaps you’re nervous about the new routines, new schedule, new colleagues… starting everything over anew. Maybe you’re worried about some of the skills you will need to develop to feel comfortable in the new role, and you imagine it will feel uncomfortable for a while. Concerns about the pain of the new scenario, or the pain of the transition itself, can certainly keep us stuck. Identify those concerns and add them in.

With all four boxes populated, you’ve got more inputs to inform your decision, having captured the key influencing factors. A really useful next step at this point is an assessment of the relative weight of each factor, as it’s likely that some are more important to you than others (e.g. having a higher salary right now might be more important than a shorter commute). Once you’ve added some measure of weight to each factor, you may feel more decisive already.

One value of this exercise lies in its ability to neutralize concerns about the risk in making a change, because you start to see that there are risks in maintaining status quo, too. It’s a perspective that can really open up possibilities you had previously shut down, and that’s worth a lot when you want to make a powerful, intentional decision.

So what’s your take on the Pain/Gain Model? How has this been helpful to you? I would love to know, and I would enjoy the opportunity to work through it with you in a session!

With support and encouragement for your journey,

Founder, The Crossroads Coach

Published May 2, 2013