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How to create a culture of inclusive innovation


By Heather Fraser


Innovation is the lifeblood of any organization that aims to create new and distinct value. It is not the job of a few inspired people; it takes an entire enterprise to create and deliver new value. To build a sustainable enterprise-wide capacity to innovate, it’s critical to create a winning culture that thrives on delivering new value on an ongoing basis.

Based on my research on organizations with a track record of innovation success, and working with leaders across a variety of organizations and sectors, here are some core principles that can help you build the conditions for a more inclusive innovation culture and collective success.


Create alignment on your purpose, vision and strategy, and align innovation efforts to your overarching mandate.

This means making sure everyone in the organization, across functions and at all levels, understands your strategic intent. Tying every innovation pursuit to your overarching strategy and articulating the potential for creating both customer and enterprise success will create stronger momentum, and keep you from pursuing ideas that will take you off on a tangent and waste time and money.


Make sure everyone appreciates how their role and what they do every day contributes to collective success.

Your enterprise strategy should be relevant to every single employee. If they understand the intent and direction, they will see value in their role and be able to proactively contribute to seizing new opportunities to create value. While top executives might set the vision and strategy, some of the most insightful opportunities and ideas often come from deep within the organization.


Avoid ‘Trophy Labs’ that don’t integrate with the organization.

Despite good intentions, Innovation Labs can sometimes be invisible to the rest of the organization, leading people to wonder: “What are they doing in there?” It is important to think about how the work in a lab connects to the larger business and how ideas will plug back into the operations.


Have an innovation ideology and embed new ways of working into your everyday practices.

Top of the list for creating a culture of inclusive innovation is putting your most important stakeholder at the center of your pursuits – your customer, patient, guest or client. Creating empathy for people gives meaning and purpose to everyone’s work. Beyond that, being explicit about other values, like good listening practices, collaboration and co-creation, exploration, and experimentation, will enhance your everyday ways of working and accelerate collective innovation success.


Emphasize learning.

Innovation naturally entails some degree of risk, on both a personal and business level. Exploration and experimentation is not about being perfect early on. If an idea is grounded in solid customer insight, the goal should not be to prove a new idea right or wrong, but rather how to make it the most valuable it can be. If something doesn’t work, learn from it and make it work better in the next iteration.


Have a broad-based engagement and communication plan.

Invite your organization to weigh in on new opportunities and ideas. Ongoing share-backs with employees that keep everyone in the loop on progress is important – leave no one behind.


Give emerging leaders an important role in catalyzing positive change.

They have fresh insights and will ultimately own the future.


Design structures, management systems and reward systems to motivate and support new ideas.

Often the biggest obstacles to change are the systems that have enabled scaled success to date. New ideas often call for new processes and management systems, or new ideas will hit the wall. When appropriate, consider new approaches to teaming and measurement.


Celebrate small (and big) victories.

Innovation isn’t about being 100% right out of the gate every time. Acknowledging setbacks is healthy. When you do break through – celebrate!


Measure your readiness.

Innovation readiness is the capacity of an enterprise to create and deliver value on an ongoing basis, based on strategic alignment, innovation practices, processes and systems, and culture at large. It’s best done when it takes into account the perceptions of people at all levels and across divisions and functions. It is something that should and can be measured as a diagnostic and improvement tool, as has been deployed with the academically fortified instrument we developed at Vuka Innovation.


When put into play in a mindful and disciplined way, these principles can bring the entire organization along on the innovation journey. An organization that makes innovation core to its ways of thinking and doing will be able to harness the insights, imagination and know-how of its people and boost the spirit of shared success.




Heather Fraser is Founder & CEO of Vuka Innovation Inc., where she consults on innovation and strategy for corporations and public entities. She is also adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto where she co-founded Rotman DesignWorks in 2005, and served as Executive Director through 2012. Prior to 2005, she held leadership positions at Procter & Gamble, Ogilvy & Mather, and TAXI Advertising & Design. More on Vuka Innovation can be found at vukainnovation.com.