Empathy mapping can help teams work together better.
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By Ellen McGirt
Updated: March 29, 2018 2:53 PM ET

Ask and ye shall receive.

A heartfelt thanks to the dozens and dozens of you who have answered my call to help me help you by answering a few short questions in this brief survey.

Here’s what I’m learning so far: You’re smart, funny, dedicated, often lonely in the work and at work, and you’re looking for best practices, better tactics, and smarter ways to influence meaningful culture change. You are also looking for more responsiveness from your chief executive, and better ways to hold them accountable.

I plan to use your responses (please keep encouraging colleagues and friends to contribute) to help guide my reporting and curate more relevant links. But I’m also using your thoughts to inform my first-ever attempt at an empathy map, to help me better understand who I think you are and what I think you may need.

You said you wanted more best practice ideas, so here we go.

The empathy map was created by Dave Gray at the design consultancy XPLANE, as part of a broader human-centered design toolkit. Evidently, it’s all the rage. “The Empathy Map has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” wrote Gray in a recent Medium post. “It has been featured in the Stanford D School curriculum and in Harvard Business Review, where David Kelley, founder of IDEO, and his business partner Tom Kelley, listed it as one of “Three Creativity Challenges from IDEO’s Leaders.”

I was immediately struck by the thoroughness of the thought process — it encourages a team to ask their customers, clients, donors or other stakeholders better questions about their needs, and gather and assess other information about how they experience the world. Here’s an example of one in its fully notated glory.

I was lucky enough to get a quick lesson on empathy mapping in action during a recent visit to DDI, a global leadership consultancy based in Pittsburg, PA, which has given me a lot of inspiration and confidence. (For more research on empathy as an essential leadership soft skill and inspiring words from DDI CEO Tacy Byham, click here and here.)

While the process seems fairly simple, she said having not actually attempted it yet, I’m hoping for enough epiphanies to make it well worth your time and my post-it notes. I’ll be sure to report back often. Wish me luck.

Those of you in marketing, software development, or experience design may have used a version of an empathy map in the past. A quick heads up — it seems that Gray and his team have recently updated their “canvas” to better reflect their latest thinking on company culture. Those of you interested in culture change may want to check out their relatively new Culture Map tool, too.

Finally, this survey has also been a welcome reminder of how hard this work is, even if it’s not your day job. I see and appreciate all of you.


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