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Foulkes one year on: doing it for the members

ICE news

What do Institution of Civil Engineers members want for their subscription?

After 12 months in the job ICE director general Tom Foulkes believes he has the answer. Antony Oliver reports.

WHEN TOM Foulkes took on the job of director general and secretary of the ICE, it was clear to him that the Institution could give him, as a member, a better service.

'I want to make the ICE something engineers want to belong to, ' he told NCEI a year ago.

'If we are not getting it right for the members then there is something wrong.'

Foulkes says he had always been slightly puzzled that the ICE never took the time to ask him what he actually wanted in return for his membership fee.

His first 12 months have therefore focused on the membership. He has been committed to finding out what members like, and dislike about the Institution.

'The membership survey this year was one of the most important things we have done, ' says Foulkes. 'Now we actually know what members think about the Institution. We know what they want and we have been able to form a strategy to meet this demand.'

His next challenge is to deliver the service that members not only want, but also need and value.

It was clear to Foulkes from the start that some big changes would have to be made if the ICE is to move into the 21st century. Yet he stresses that his job over the last year has not been to dictate these changes but simply to organise the Institution's collective thinking.

'I don't want people to think I am running this Institution, ' he says. 'I am here only as a servant and my job is to support the presidential team. My job is to drive change and to deliver the ICE strategy. Credit has to go to my predecessors and the last few presidents who have sown the seeds. We have been able to capitalise on this and get some real momentum.'

Foulkes has introduced new business practices to the ICE and has reshuffled the management pack with his new matrix management system. Through the Bailey project, Foulkes now has a five year business plan to implement and a very clear idea about what his budget will stretch to. He is also clear that the ICE must make choices about what it does and does not do.

But for all this effort does he see any real sign of improvement yet?

'Without doubt the signs are there, ' he says. 'I have noticed an increasing willingness to go back to the fundamentals and say 'why are we doing this and is this the best way', he says.

'In the past the approach of this and many institutions was to say to members 'this is what you get, take it or leave it'.

Now we are starting to take the opposite view and ask what it is that members want.'

And having worked out what the members do want, worked out the strategy, and put a plan together, Foulkes is refining the structure to ensure there is an effective delivery mechanism. Again he insists this process is a total team effort.

'My job is to build support and consensus, ' he explains.

'Nothing changes without enormous effort and that requires support. The management style that succeeds in an organisation like this is a very consensual one.'

Achieving this consensus has presented Foulkes with an enormous challenge.

'I am not perfect, ' he says, reflecting on his first year at the ICE. 'But if someone says that I'm not doing a good job I would much rather it be because I am driving too hard, or driving faster than people can assimilate, than the opposite.

'I would rather that than have people say they have seen nothing come out of my office except me at half past six, ' he continues.

The membership satisfaction survey research showed that members wanted to see the profile of the ICE raised. They wanted to see the institution engaging with the big issues.

They wanted to hear that it had a voice, had something to say and was being listened to.

'We have put a lot of effort in (to boost communications) this year and I'm pleased with the results, ' he says. 'I hope members realise that something is going on. I think they do.'

But ensuring the ICE has a clear strategy and plan is only phase one of the job, he promises. 'We can do a lot more to give members real value for their subscription.'

'It is to do with knowledge, with promoting and representing the profession, and maintaining extremely high standards, ' he says. 'We must keep asking:

'what can the Institution do that will make a real difference to your professional life?''

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