Bring your personas back from the dead with an empathy map

Lee Smith

27 Jan 2023
Employee Engagement
Employee Experience
EX Tools

So you’ve invested time and effort into developing a set of beautifully crafted, evidence-based employee personas. They capture employee needs and motivations; they’re behavioural and not just focused on demographics. You’re quite rightly proud of what you and your team have produced, as you know they have the potential to help you design and deliver great experiences... but what happens next?

We often hear that after the initial enthusiasm, personas are forgotten and left to die: “Yes we developed a set of employee personas, but they never really got used…” They exist, but there’s no life left in them. So, how do you avoid the rise of the ‘zombie persona’ and ensure you make use of all of the valuable insight you’ve gathered?  

Let’s remind ourselves what employee personas are for, they exist to help to you, and anyone designing experiences in your organisation, get into the shoes of your employees and really understand things from their perspective. They are essentially a thinking tool.  

They are an incredibly useful tool, helping you put aside your assumptions and biases and take a more human-centric approach to EX. As such they should be one of your key go-to tools, used whenever you have conversations with internal stakeholders, run workshops, or conduct design-sprints.

One of the best tools we’ve come across to breathe life into your personas is the ‘empathy map’:
Empathy maps are a simple tool than can help us apply the insights from our employee personas to an experience, or moment that matters. They are used to visualise and articulate what is known about a particular persona’s experience.
You’ll see that they are split into four sections, covering what the person thinks and feels, says and does, sees and hears. By working through these four quadrants, you can quickly identify what pains they are trying to overcome and what gains they are seeking – which in turn will guide how you tackle the challenge at hand. Imagine, for example, that you are redesigning your approach to employee recognition, and this involves understanding the current experience from the perspective of your different employee personas. 

Using a different empathy map for each persona, you might identify that one persona likes to be made a fuss of and enjoys public recognition for their efforts, while another prefers something much more low-key and subtle – they want to be recognised, but the thought of being called out in public fills them with horror! Armed with this knowledge, you can set about creating an approach to recognition that works for all.
Using an empathy map is quick and easy and helps to overcome assumptions and biases you may have about what a good experience looks like. Creating empathy maps using your personas is a great way to make sense of the data, create and share insights. They also help to externalise knowledge about employee needs and ensure a shared understanding – particularly useful when you’re trying to get senior leaders on board! And they are a great tool to ensure you actually put your employee personas to work.  

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