Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of another person. It is the key to creating value for multiple stakeholders. While we often ask customers and other stakeholders directly what they want, they often cannot tell us what they want. They might try to tell us, but there are two problems with asking direct questions about their wants, needs, and desires. First, they often do not fully understand their own decisions or purchase behavior. Second, they often do not know what specific solutions will address their needs, and sometimes the solution hasn’t been invented yet. So how do you gain a deeper understanding of stakeholders? One tool that has proven useful for a variety of situations is the empathy map. An empathy map as described by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010) is a visual technique for depicting what a person sees, hears, thinks and feels, says and does, and identifies their most significant pain points and potential gains.
It is the ability to understand the needs, wants, and desires of potential customers that enable an entrepreneur to develop value propositions that sell. Customer empathy maps provide new insights to help answer three key business model questions.
- What does the customer value the most, and how does that drive their purchase decisions?
- What kind of relationship do my customers want?
- What is the best way to reach my customers and for them to contact me?
In addition to business model development, empathy maps are also useful for developing and deploying leadership systems.
Stakeholder knowledge is the center of the leadership system. It informs the other eight components from vision and strategy to the scorecard and learning. In this context, there are at least six key stakeholder groups, including investors, customers, employees, supplier partners, society, and the natural environment. When applying the empathy map to stakeholders ask questions that address the six empathy map dimensions that are specific to that particular stakeholder group and context. For example, you might ask customers a series of questions, such as…
- When was the last time you bought an environmentally friendly product?
- What product did you buy?
- Where have you seen our products?
- What do you think when you see our products?
- What do you think when you see that our products are more environmentally friendly than the other options?
- How do you feel about environmentally friendly products?
- What do your friends and co-workers say about environmentally friendly products?
The objective is to get them talking about a tangible real situation in a way that allows you to understand their perspective on the six dimensions of the empathy map. Then repeat for other stakeholder groups and segments.
While empathy maps are often used for product and service design, they are equally useful for stakeholder-centered management system design. Effective management design depends on an in-depth understanding of the critical stakeholders of the particular system or process being designed. Have you been surprised by the announcement of a new organization policy? Have you ever thought, “what were they thinking?” What did you say to your coworkers? What did you say to your boss? What did you do? If just a little more time was taken consulting key stakeholders as part of the purpose and requirements component of the management design process, some of these surprises and missteps could be prevented or mitigated. Following a similar questioning sequence as in the leadership section above, you can modify the questions to fit the particular stakeholder and new process, policy, so on and so forth.
Organizations are powerful in that they take, transform, and distribute resources. HOW this is done determines whether they create more or less than they take. The methods we have been using in the US to create our current standard of living require approximately 25% of the world’s resources to create a standard of living for 5% of the world. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that it is not sustainable. Sustainability requires one to have empathy for future generations. Future generations are critical stakeholders of our organizations and to change how we manage to truly create value (not steal from future generations) requires we have empathy for those not yet born.
Want to see more empathy map examples? Google “empathy map” and select “images,” and you will see hundreds of examples. Now go try it for yourself and have fun! Note – If you are not having fun, you are doing it wrong!
Enjoy the journey!
Osterwalder, A., & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business Model Generation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.