A bridge too far?

A bridge over troubled waters?

Bridging the gap

One of the wonderful things about my new(ish) role is learning all about the work our volunteers do, and having our Volunteering Manager in my team. She is a person who oozes Emotional Intelligence and she is helping me to learn about the differences in approach to how we treat staff and volunteers. I had an appreciation of this already (and I’m a volunteer myself in various capacities) but it is even more finely nuanced than I thought. Or is it?

Well yes, contractually of course, but when it comes to how you treat people and show them they are valued in ways that have meaning for them? Something to think about…

Anyway, last week we were discussing the dreaded topic of policies. She had recently been talking to a group of geographically dispersed first line managers, whose teams include lots of volunteers. There can be an understandable nervousness about how to approach a ‘difficult’ conversation with a volunteer who may have disregarded boundaries, or who may be behaving out of character, or who may not be quite right for that particular volunteering role. Nobody wants to offend someone who is giving their time, knowledge and skills freely, with great goodwill. So there do need to be light touch policies, or agreed processes in place to help such conversations to happen effectively.

She chose to use a metaphor to describe this. The issue to address? A fast running river. So how would you get across? First she asked who would use a wobbly plank to crawl across. Then who would prefer a proper bridge…

This got me thinking about HR policies, particularly those designed to process difficult situations. As massive metaphor lover, I'm sharing some different bridges (or means of crossing water)…

Stepping Stones. Might be all we need, but what if the river rises? Or you have to jump too far between the stones? Or they become slippery?

Rope bridge. Might be all we need, but oh, so wobbly! What if you are terrified of heights? Who is maintaining the bridge? Do you really, really trust the person who made it?

Ironbridge. The prototype. But (and I know this from school trips) only strong enough for people to cross, not cars. Looks beautiful, and is iconic, but regarding modern day functionality, has it stood the test of time?

Suspension bridge. Elegant and strong - it will get you to the other side. It's rather long though, and what is that misty bit 2/3 along? Might some of this be uncertain, opaque, open to interpretation?

Tower Bridge. Iconic, much loved, sturdy and functional. But which route are you going to take (the high road or the low?) Are there too many distractions? Might you go off on a tangent up one of the towers? And what happens if a giant plastic duck needs to get through urgently, just as you are half way through?

Stone bridge. Strong, simple, everyday and functional. If I had to choose a bridge to represent the approach I prefer to all policies related to people at work (paid and voluntary), this is it.

What do you think?


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