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Build a bridge to employee engagement and . . . . get over it!

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

Have you ever wondered if there are similarities between bridges and employee engagement? You probably haven’t, but trust me, there are!

In fact, the model which is the focus of our book on employee engagement, “Build it: A rebel playbook for employee engagement”, is called ‘The Engagement Bridge™.  

Here are five reasons or similarities between bridges and employee engagement:

Reason 1:  Connection

Let’s start with connection, for that is the most obvious similarity. What’s the objective of a bridge? Connecting point A to point B, helping us to safely complete our travels. What happens if there is no bridge and no connection? In some situations you may not be able to complete your journey, so make the connection, or in some situations you can, but it will be with increased effort, time, etc. Isn’t the same true with engagement? Isn’t the ultimate objective to connect employees to a company, helping them build a solid and lasting connection and relationship? Yes a company can survive without employee engagement and without this connection, but studies have shown they have lower profit and higher levels of turnover.

Reason 2:  Dissipation

Did you ever wonder how a bridge can stretch over a great distance, and day after day, year after year deal with the forces of nature? The answer is in how it’s designed, specifically how it’s designed to deal with the important forces of compression and tension. In bridge design the best way to deal with these powerful forces is with something called ‘dissipation’, which is spreading out the bridge parts evenly over a greater area so that no one spot bears the concentrated brunt of it all.   The same is true with engagement and your engagement bridge. If you build an engagement bridge that has many parts it will be able to withstand the powerful forces from our employees. For example, build a company with open and honest communication and you’ll be able to deal with the ‘winds’ and ‘storms’ from your employees.

So like a bridge, if the engagement elements share the brunt of these forces, they can create engagement at each stage, and together they can withstand the test of time.

Reason 3:  Resonance

Resonance is another factor that bridge makers need to deal with, and happens when one object is vibrating at the same natural frequency of a second objective that forces that second object into vibrational mode. Think of it as the vibrational equivalent of a snowball rolling down a hill and becoming an avalanche. When designing a bridge, engineers put in things called ‘dampeners’ to interrupt these waves and prevent them from growing, and basically taking down the bridge.   With employee engagement I like to think of culture as our dampeners, for by having a strong and ongoing culture it can strengthen our bridge, helping us prevent a snowball turning into an avalanche. Add in the other engagement bridge elements and your snowballs will end up big enough for a snowball fit but no more.

Reason 4:  Materials

In 1444 the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy collapsed, sending hundreds of spectators there to watch the wedding of the Marquess of Ferrara’s wedding into the canal and to their death. Why, because the materials the bridge was made of, wood, was not strong enough to handle the weight of the crowd. The lessons learned from this bridge disaster were that stronger, more resilient materials were required to build bridges, and in fact this bridge was rebuilt in stone and still stands today. The same lesson can be made with employee engagement, for when we build our engagement bridge we need to think of what ‘materials’ we use, so how will we design each element to last the test of time?

Get the materials right and it will not only encourage more ‘passengers’ on your bridge, but it will have more of a lasting effect.  

Reason 5:  Break Step

This final point has nothing to do with the construction of a bridge (or engagement), but talks about how it is used.  Have you ever wondered why armies do something called ‘break step’ when crossing a bridge? So instead of marching in time, which how armies normally march, they are ordered to break their marching steps when crossing a bridge.  

The story behind this is from April 1831 when a brigade of soldiers marched in step across England’s Broughton Suspension Bridge. According to the accounts of the time, the bridge broke apart beneath the soldiers, throwing dozens of men into the water. Why? Well they found that when marching in harmony they create rhythmic oscillations, or vibrations, that causes the bridge to collapse, so enter the break step, which is marching to different beats.

So what does this have to do with employee engagement?  Shouldn’t we be saying that in order to achieve engagement our employees all need to march across our bridge in unison?  

The answer is yes and no, yes we want all our employees to ‘cross the bridge’ (engage with our organisation), but the reality is that they will and need to do it in their own ‘stride’. If we build our bridge in a way that it can hold the differences and diversity in our workforces, then we’re allowing engagement with each and every employee. If, on the other hand, we build something that allows only one kind of ‘step’, then our bridge will either not be crossed or it will collapse as we force everyone to walk in perfect harmony.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Engagement Bridge™ you can get the first two chapters for free by clicking here. And with that, I wish you the best in building your own bridges of engagement with your workforce.


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