Pain Based Change Management
Andrew Grove’s political commentary today in the Washington Post (“Mr. President, Time to Rein in the Chaos”) was interesting to me not because of the opinions presented, but because of his unorthodox suggestion: successful change management can emerge when leaders deliberately allow pain, then rescue the masses once the pain has become too unbearable:
I have found that to succeed, an organization must travel through two phases: first, a period of chaotic experimentation in which intense discussion is allowed, even encouraged, by those in charge. In time, when the chaos becomes unbearable, the leadership reins in chaos with a firm hand. The first phase serves to expose the needs and options, the potential and pitfalls. The organization and its leaders learn a lot going through this phase. But frustration also builds, and eventually the cry is heard: Make a decision — any decision — but make it now. The time comes for the leadership to end the chaos and commit to a path.
We have gone through months of chaos experimenting with ways to introduce stability in our financial system. The goals were to allow the financial institutions to do their jobs and to develop confidence in them. I believe by now, the people are eager for the administration to rein in chaos. But this is not happening.
Would you, as a manager, take this kind of approach if you knew it would effect the change you wanted?
The ethical implications of this strategy are remarkable to me. First, put yourself in the frame of mind where you’re thinking about organizational change management – adopting a new software package, or reorganizing the hierarchy. Change like this is tough, and often results in mental and emotional pain as people adjust to the new state of the workplace – not physical pain, but definitely pain in the sense of its official definition. But is it appropriate to allow this pain in order to achieve benefits – both for those who have “suffered” and the organization as a whole?
I have no answers to offer – but think that this dilemma might be illuminated further by understanding the ethical standards for pain management and research that have already been explored by the medical community.