60 Seconds with Mel Cowan, Managing Director ANZ for Ingenium

We recently sat down to speak with Mel Cowan, Managing Director, Ingenium Consulting (Australia & New Zealand).

Ingenium Consulting is a Management Consulting firm that was founded in Ireland and now operates globally. Ingenium assists companies to successfully transform their business in the most challenging of circumstances. They do this by building and leveraging capability within the client organisation to enable them to design, lead and execute the required transformation.

In the COVID– 19 context, Ingenium are now offering all of their services and processes remotely. They have built these remote offerings from their experience with one of the world’s biggest companies in co-creating and co-delivering remotely a world class program for over 55,000 staff in thirty countries.

We asked Mel what he believes companies will take from lockdown and how to apply this to the ‘new normal’ working environment as well as support the transition back.

What do you believe are the key things companies will, or should, take from the lockdown experience?

  • In the COVID- 19 context, companies and governments have had to condense what would normally have been years of development and change into a matter of weeks. It is a testament to how the impossible can be achieved when people have a common purpose and a laser-like focus on priorities. Companies will face another set of impossible challenges as they respond to the future phases of COVID- 19. What companies need to learn from the lockdown is how we can innovate rapidly without exhausting our employees.
  • Staff will now expect more flexibility to work remotely on a regular basis.
  • Customers will have greater expectations that they should be able to access any service remotely (e.g. telehealth for G.P.s).

Is there anything you’ve seen that you think we should keep as a permanent fixture in the workplace?

  • In my view, remote working and social distancing in workplaces during COVID– 19 have ironically ‘ humanised’ the workplace. Through remote working we have got to know our colleagues better as people. In the workplaces of essential workers (e.g. supermarkets, factories etc) there have been massive efforts and expenditure to demonstrate care for the welfare of workers.  If companies leverage the sense of common purpose we have under COVID-19 and maintain a genuine personal interest in the welfare of staff, then those factors will shape organisational cultures in a positive way for many years to come.
  • It is extraordinary how many things that were really important prior to COVID-19 were dropped off the agenda very quickly. It tells us that prior to COVID-19 there was so much complexity in business that many leaders found it hard to know what actually made a difference. This is now an opportunity for companies to reset and refocus on the key things that make a difference to the performance of their people and organisations.

Everyone’s reality has now changed to a certain degree. What advice would you give to people as they adjust to ‘the new normal’?

  • The reality is that the virus will determine what happens in our society and business. Until there is a vaccine or treatment every country will go through the volatility of outbreaks, closures and re-openings. The new normal has no clear end date and even less clarity about what the future will bring. Though there is little we can control in this new normal we can control how we react to the new normal.
  • Having a mindset that helps you cope with high levels of uncertainty will be essential for the new normal and to do that people will need to manage their own stress and anxiety. Anxiety is often a fear of the future so individuals can reduce anxiety by regularly practicing mindfulness to bring them calmly back to the present.  Stress is often caused by individuals trying to control things they can’t control. Combining mindfulness exercises with a daily ritual of planning the things you can control, can significantly reduce stress.

What do you think will present the biggest challenge to companies?

  • This new context is one where every industry and organisation is in a state of flux and clients’ needs will often vary dramatically from month to month. Companies will need to reset to zero and try to refocus their companies on how to be successful in this new context. The challenge is how to realign your organisation for this volatile and ambiguous context so that it can recover and make sure that it constantly renews itself to stay relevant in a world changing at warp speed. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given during this time and from whom?

  • ‘Research shows that people who navigate difficult situations best are those that practice self-compassion, not self -criticism.” Dr Susan A. David (Psychologist, Harvard University).
  • I have used this quote from Dr David as part of my coaching of leaders through COVID– 19. It is my experience that many leaders are trying to control things they can’t control and beating themselves up in the process. Spending time beating yourself up is a waste of the precious resource of your time.

Can you provide three simple tips companies of any type can do to make their colleagues feel comfortable going back to work? 

  • Clearly define who needs to physically come back to work and why?
  • Provide a COVID- 19 safe workplace that clearly supports and demonstrates social distancing and good hygiene practices.  People will need to know why they need to come back to work and that their workplace is safe before they can engage in the work.
  • Leverage the sense of common purpose and clarity of focus that occurred under COVID-19 restrictions. Ruthlessly guard that clarity of purpose by making very conscious decisions on the relevance and importance of any activity.

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