Anna Preston

What is empathy mapping and how can it help you manage change


In times of frightening change such as we are experiencing now due to COVID-19; businesses need their management to take the lead more than ever before because no matter how many transformations are necessary; planning for and executing solutions without fully understanding the impact on their employees will often lead to failure and change fatigue.

Empathy versus sympathy

During times of crisis such as the Corona pandemic which is affecting people not just on a business level but an extremely personal one too, employing empathy will help you bridge the gap between the logical decisions that need to made and the personal struggles of the staff employed. This is essential because ultimately; the success of the company rests on them.

Change management training teaches that sympathy is feeling sorry for someone whereas empathy as actually putting oneself in their shoes and seeing a situation from their perspective. In this way; you take on the feelings that they experience and their personal struggle in understanding and adapting to the changes that logically they may logically understand are necessary but are wrestling with emotionally.

Mapping change

Empathy maps therefore, provide an ability to quickly get inside someone’s head and that’s where you need to be. Each square of the map represents the individual or group they belong to and how they are relating to or will relate to a particular change. It is working through each of these squares that will lead you to insights and the ability to form a unique connection in order to distill critical information and promote a sense of understanding regarding the changes you are trying to make.

There are many online resources regarding empathy maps, but the chosen technique is less important than being able to understand how they can help you work through a change management program during any kind of change and especially a crisis-related one.

Crisis related change

Empathy mapping is a great tool when you need to move boxes around on your organisational chart to say; deploy staff members into new roles and in times of crisis; they may need to happen quickly. Change consultants understand how people both feel and work will help you to move those boxes (and the people) into exactly the right places for both them and you.

A two-pronged approach

Prosci’s ADKAR Model is built of five blocks: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement and in order to build desire; empathy mapping can help you make a positive impact at one of the earliest steps. When people feel they are listened to with empathy; they then use that voice to become ambassadors for change filters quickly through the company in an almost chain reaction fashion. The what’s in for me mentality (WIIFM) can then become a what’s in it for us (WIIFU) and it’s this kind of transparent passion and honest communication that leads to a sense of honesty, empathy and desire for change throughout the workforce.

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