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Heat Maps: The Change Manager's Powerful Little Secret
Published on: May 3, 2023
Published By: Timothy Grayson

     Heat maps are graphic representations of information that use color-coding and relative size to display data values. They are commonly used to visualize and analyze large data sets but can be an indispensable part of the change manager’s arsenal too. Heatmaps are a useful tool for analyzing and communicating complex information clearly and intuitively. And change is nothing if not complex.

Scatterplot heat maps will typically have three dimensions. The base dimensions (x and y) are primary for showing relationships among entities. The third dimension will use colour and relative size to indicate some magnitude typically.
A scatterplot heat map

Heat Maps are Hot

     Heatmaps typically display values as colored squares or dots, where the color represents the magnitude of the underlying value. Darker colors usually represent higher values; lighter colors represent lower values. Many infographics vary this by making the dot or square larger (or smaller) in accord with what it’s representing.

     Benefits of heat maps include:

  • Pattern identification: Heatmaps’ visual representations can help identify patterns otherwise not immediately apparent.
  • Value comparison: Heatmaps allow easy comparison across categories or time periods.
  • Outlier highlighting: Heatmaps often make evident anomalies that may require attention.
  • Insight communication: Heatmaps are a striking and powerful tool for communicating to stakeholders. Their visual appeal is typically easy to grasp.

Heat Maps Used in Change Management

     Specifically for those leading and managing change, well-placed heatmaps have very practical use. In at least one case below, they are probably being employed already.

A common heat map is used for risk analysis. The two dimensions are severity and probability.

Visualizing data

     Heat map help visualize information related to the initiative, such as employee engagement or performance metrics. Colour and size visualizations quickly identify areas of strength and weakness, so efforts can be focused accordingly. Picture Superiority effect is a psychological bias that explains this, asserting that we… tend to prefer pictures.

Identifying key stakeholders

     Heatmap can highlight key stakeholders who may be particularly influential or resistant. By analyzing the data and identifying these stakeholders, targeted strategies can be developed for engaging and communicating with them (and others, really). Prosci, for certain, recommends this as part of how they recommend development of sponsorship models.

Tracking progress

     Heatmap are great for quickly tracking progress and change of an initiative over time. Monitoring and displaying key performance indicators in a heatmap renders obvious any areas where progress is being made… and areas where added effort may be required.

Communicating insights

     Heatmaps are a vivid and powerful means for communicating insights and findings to stakeholders. The visual format is easy to understand, so stakeholders readily gain a better understanding of the initiative and its impact.

Bottom line: Heat maps help change leaders and managers—and stakeholders—make more informed decisions.

Change Leader and Manager Focus for Heat Mapping

     There are a few key things change leaders and managers should focus on when choosing to use heatmaps.

  1. Identify the right information: Select data relevant to the change initiative that will provide meaningful insight. Carefully consider what data to track and monitor to measure the success of the change initiative (e.g., stakeholder interest levels/changes). Heatmaps are particularly good for any insights that could fall on (or be rendered as) a spectrum. Animating before (Time=then) to after (Time=now) heatmap evolutions are also a powerful visual of change to whatever metric is revealed.
  2. Customize the heatmap: Select the appropriate color scale, choose the right data visualization format, and display the data in a way that makes it easy to interpret. You can never go wrong with official corporate colours, the shades of the spectrum, or the universal stoplight red-yellow-green hues. Because you are communicating along a scale, try to illustrate with gradients.
  3. Use it to identify patterns: Use the heatmap to identify areas of strength and weakness, and to pinpoint where additional effort may be needed to drive change. Remember, if you really want to parse data and dig into (and argue about) specifics, don’t bother with a heatmap. Heatmaps are excellent coarse grain representations. Use them that way.
  4. Communicate insights effectively: Use the heatmap to present data in a way that is easy to understand and clearly communicates the impact of the change initiative. That’s what the heat map is best for. If you try to use it for detail and precision, nobody will win from that.

     Overall, the most important thing for change leaders and managers to focus on when using heatmaps is to use them to gain meaningful insights into the change initiative, and to communicate these insights effectively to stakeholders. By doing so, they can help drive change and ensure the success of the initiative.

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If you really want to parse data and dig into details, don’t bother with a heat map. Heat maps are excellent coarse grain representations. Use them that way.
Published By: Timothy Grayson

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