Pain/Gain: A Decision-Making Tool

GUEST BLOGGER: Gayle Ely, Founder of Total Life Leadership, is an Executive Coach, Trainer, and Facilitator

Teams make decisions all the time.  Some decisions are easy; some not so much.  When teams are in the process of deciding whether to make a change, someone may suggest creating a pros and cons list.  This can be a very useful exercise, however, I find that such lists don’t take into account all the dimensions of a decision.

Enter the Pain/Gain Decision-Making tool.  I was first introduced to this simple tool, during my coach certification training. It has revolutionized decision-making for both teams and individuals. 

The Pain/Gain tool is a 4-quadrant grid used to evaluate the pain and gain of both making and of not making a change. For example, a team may be trying to decide whether to move to a new project management platform.

Here’s how to create and use the Pain/Gain tool
  1. Start by creating a grid with four quadrants, labeling the columns  “Pain” and “Gain” and the rows  “Current” and “Future”.
  2. In the top left square, describe the pain of the current situation.  Identify such things as what pain the current situation is creating, what about the current situation isn’t working, what is missing from the current situation, and the impact the current situation is having on the team and those who engage with the team.
  3. In the bottom right square, describe the gain of making a change.  Identify such things as the benefits to be gained from making a change, why the benefits are important, and how the team and those who engage with the team will benefit.
  4. In the top right square, describe the gain (or advantages) of the current situation.  Identify such things as how the team benefits from the current situation, who else benefits from the current situation, and what is gained by maintaining the status quo.
  5. In the bottom left square, describe the pain of making a change.  Identify such things as the effort it will take to make the change, what it will cost, and what will be required of the team and those who engage with the team.

After the Pain/Gain grid is completed, have the team process it by asking questions:  What jumps out at you?  Based on the information gathered, can we make a decision now?  What option makes the most sense right now?  What additional information is needed to help make a decision?  

When/How to Use the Pain/Gain Tool

The Pain/Gain tool can be used spontaneously in a team meeting with no prep time using a flip chart or whiteboard to gather initial thoughts about a proposed change. 

The tool can also be shared ahead of time so that team members have more time to identify the pains and gains for both the status quo and for the change.  At the team meeting, answers from all team members can then be transferred to a larger grid on a flip chart or whiteboard to help the team make a decision. 

And finally, the Pain/Gain tool can be used iteratively as the team moves toward a change decision.  

Summary

We all know that both benefits and costs come with changes.  The Pain/Gain Decision-Making Tool is a simple way to facilitate a multi-dimensional decision-making conversation.  This tool can also help identify impacts that might not be uncovered in a simple pros and cons list.

About the Author:  Gayle Ely, the founder of Total Life Leadership, is an Executive Coach, Trainer, and Facilitator.  She provides services to help entrepreneurs, senior leaders, and their teams to perform more effectively so they and their businesses can thrive.  Her motto is “Lead Yourself and Others with Passion and Intent”.

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