Empathy mapping: a particularly valuable tool in times of crisis.

20 May 2020

The results will lay the foundation of a user-centric change and actively contribute to managing resistances.

author picture Article written by Renaud de Lombaert

Covid-19 has disrupted the workplace and upended routines in the blink of an eye. As governments relax lockdown measures, companies are pushed in the back to reshape the workspace in compliance with sanitary standards. For many employees, uncertainty translates into anxiety. Health concerns still loom large, but the sense of moving into unchartered territory can be equally unsettling. What will the atmosphere be like with less colleagues around, strict distancing rules and the compulsory wearing of masks? What if I am redeployed into a role? … The list goes on. Our partner PROSCI has drawn attention to empathy mapping[1] as an extremely valuable tool to navigate the “new normal”, by putting people first. Here is a way you could improve the response to the crisis.

Mapping out thoughts and feelings.

Empathy is the ability to understand another person´s feelings and experience. A visual and collaborative tool pioneered by Xplane, empathy mapping helps generate structured insights into the way people relate to change. As a deliberate practice, it supports informed decision making. Designing a solution with the end-user in mind - whether it be a customer or an employee - dramatically increases adoption and utilization rates. Of course, major crises like Covid-19 brutally force change upon societies, which means that companies have limited control on its scope and pace. But it is also for that reason that the act of putting pen to paper, organizing thoughts, vocalizing fears, listening, and being listened to, is so important. Because it dives deep into the personal implications of change (“what´s in there for me?”) and makes people part of the process, empathy mapping can fuel employees´ desire to move past resistances.

Empathy mapping in a nutshell.

Keep in mind that there are multiple models available. Presented below for information purposes is Xplane´s template[2]. After you have segmented groups and identified individuals –depending on how and in what measure the change will impact them – try to imagine:

  • What they think. What are their fears, frustrations, anxieties, and also their motivations?
  • What they see. What do they see happening in the market or in their immediate surroundings, what do they see others saying and doing, what do they read and watch?
  • What they say. What have you heard them say to colleagues, clients and hierarchy in the past? What are they likely to say?
  • What they do. What have you seen them doing today, what are they daily routines, how would you describe their behavior and attitudes, what can you imagine them doing?
  • What they hear. What do they hear from other customers, friends, or colleagues? What do they hear directly and indirectly?  
  • What they feel. What are their dominant emotions?

To maximize the experience and its value, meet with the people and walk them through each area to uncover as many details as possible. You can also submit the analysis to their peers (same group) for further discussion. This will reveal friction points and consensus, should they exist.


Elevated Change Management.  

To sum it up, empathy mapping is extremely useful to Change Management in several ways (PROSCI 2020). It is a departure from your own perspective on a given situation. As you are forced to step into someone else´s shoes, you help design a solution that has the potential to optimize how he/she will ultimately implement the change and operate within the new framework. Also, leaders do not have all the answers, nor should they be expected to. If it is to be lasting, the solution must stem from a collaborative effort, and be built upon the inputs of those who are expected to adopt it. Remember that the success of a change initiative is dependent on a number of factors that have been clearly identified (PROSCI best practices). Employees’ engagement is one of them, ranking number 4 after a robust sponsorship (1), dedicated CM resources (2) and a structured approach (3).

Admittedly, organizations have relatively little scope for independent action in emergency situations such as Covid-19, where they must meet applicable standards. But empathy mapping plays a particularly important role because it forces us to listen, allows us to be heard, and helps us understand resistance, that of our peers or of our own … A foundational step to create collective forward motion.

[1] Ball, K. (2020) How empathy mapping helps when redeploying workers, PROSCI Blog. [online]


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