Case study: Institution of Civil Engineers


We worked with the Knowledge division of the ICE to test new ways of working and discover management practices that could help develop an organisational culture fit for the future. Over the course of the four months we worked with them, the Knowledge management team substantially changed their behaviours – becoming more collaborative and commercial in their approach. They now lead the organisation in delivering against their three key strategic objectives and signal the way forward for changing the culture of the wider organisation.

The challenge

The ICE is nearly 200 years old and has a long history of promoting civil engineering and propagating standards across the world. However, it faces increasing competition from other global institutions gaining in local reputation and it’s ageing membership base is a concern for the future.

Against this backdrop, the ICE recognises that the ways of working that have made them successful in the past will not continue to deliver results in the future. In order to maintain and grow their reputation as the ‘gold standard’ in civil engineering expertise, they want to be more proactive in promoting their role and more responsive to their customers’ needs. Through an initial discovery project, the ICE invited us to help them test and discover new ways of working that would make them more collaborative, agile and open to new ideas.

Our insight

We started by spending three weeks getting to know the Knowledge division of the ICE: the eight managers we were working with, their teams, levels of engagement, areas of responsibility and current management practices. This enquiry highlighted that the status and history of the ICE was well echoed in people’s sense of pride and purpose in working there. People also felt respected and well treated by the organisation.

The enquiry also allowed us to highlight that there was an opportunity to experiment with new management practices that would appeal to people’s intrinsic motivations. We identified particular opportunities around: goal setting and recognising progress; giving people clarity on how they could contribute to the strategy and the autonomy to do so; permission to have fun; helping people to flourish as their roles changed; collaboration and the pace of change.

Our approach

We structured the discovery project with the Knowledge division around a series of three ‘sprints’. Each sprint focused on a specific people management practice where we felt there were opportunities to experiment and learn: generating more innovative ideas; playing to people’s strengths; learning how we learn.

We kicked off each sprint with a workshop with the Knowledge managers to share a specific area of scientific research on how to change behaviour, affect decision making or increase motivation, and to plan what the managers wanted to test over the course of the sprint. We then worked with the managers throughout the course of each sprint to put their plans into action, offering feedback and coaching where required. We also measured employee engagement and monitored the impact of changes on operational performance throughout in order to assess the effect of changes.

The results

The Knowledge division continue to use the approach to change behaviour in their teams and have created a culture of continuous improvement. Perhaps the most significant change to date is in their understanding of how to review activity in an evidence based way and to use this as a platform for building on what has worked well. By committing to this approach they have seen significant improvements in the pace and quality with which their plans are executed.

At the start of the project, we took benchmark measures across different categories of employee engagement, customer interactions and commercial performance. We saw improvements across all three groups of measures. Knowledge campaigns that were running throughout the project generated substantial PR, increased website hits and drove an uplift in enquiries for commercial support from the ICE. There were also significant improvements in employee engagement, in particular relating to people’s perception of collaboration across teams and their understanding of the ICE strategy, goals and expectations.

What we did next

The success of changing behaviours within the Knowledge division of the ICE has provided a model for other divisions of the ICE to copy and learn from. We are now looking to scale the approach across the wider organisation.

What they said about us

David Tullett, Head of HR: “The Pioneers’ pragmatic and outcome focused methods ensure that value and ROI can be measured throughout the change project”

Nathan Baker, Knowledge Division Director: “The Pioneers helped us to become more engaged as a team. By creating a structure that we could work with, encouraging us to challenge each other and the process we have become much more effective. The challenge for us is to not slip into our old ways. They are old ways and must remain so!”