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




How do you attract top talent? Foster an inclusive workplace

By Shelley White

For Naomi Shaw, gender inclusion is about more than simply counting how many women work at an organization.

“For me, inclusion means an environment where every employee feels valued for what they bring to the table,” she says. “People can feel comfortable to be themselves, and feel that they can contribute to their maximum and perform at their best.”

As senior vice-president of human resources for international banking at Scotiabank, Naomi leads a passionate team that is committed to promoting gender inclusion, a key strategic focus for Scotiabank’s international banking division. It’s a commitment to equality that benefits employees and the organization as a whole.

“If your organization has a reputation for having an inclusive workforce, people will come knocking on your door and you will attract the best talent,” she notes.

Naomi became aware of the need to further promote gender inclusion when she began visiting Scotiabank’s Latin American countries as part of the bank’s international banking team.

“I would be sitting and meeting with the senior management teams in those countries and I’d often be the only woman at the table,” she says. “I thought that was such a contrast to what I had seen here in Canada.”

Naomi wondered, “Are we tapping into the broader talent pool, both internally and externally?” It sparked a discussion with the international country heads about unconscious bias—the idea that everyone has biases against different groups that they may not be aware of.

Through informal discussions with women in Scotiabank’s international offices, Naomi was able to learn about some of the challenges they have experienced in their careers. Many of the challenges were based on cultural expectations in their home countries—ideas that women are responsible for the family and men are responsible for working.

For example, one female employee recounted: “I have kids, but my career is important to me too. If something is happening and the team is asked to work late, my boss will say, ‘You’ve got kids, don’t feel like you have to stay, you can go home.’ But my boss wouldn’t say that to my male counterparts.”

As more stories were shared, the awareness of unconscious bias grew which led to a commitment by Scotiabank’s international banking division to make gender inclusion a priority.

Scotiabank CEOs from Mexico, Colombia and Chile recently took part in an International Banking Inclusion Panel at the new Scotiabank Centre in Toronto, where they reflected on their experiences as leaders and why they believe it is important to continue building a culture of inclusion at Scotiabank. More than 300 employees attended the event, which was moderated in Spanish so panelists were speaking their native tongue, with real-time translation for English speakers.

Naomi, as facilitator of the panel, says she was humbled by the participants’ honesty and willingness to be so open.

“For the international CEOs to do this panel, I think it was incredibly powerful,” she says. “They wanted to show people that they felt this was important.”

Scotiabank Colombia’s CEO and country head, Santiago Perdomo, spoke about what he and his team are doing to ensure women have equal opportunity to excel.

“We are working on having more flexible schedules, and we have also initiated talks with women where they express their concerns,” he said. “We are continuing to have these talks because these conversations are very important.”

Santiago also noted that women in his organization are gaining more and more prominent positions.

“In the steering committee, we have two women out of eleven members,” he said. “In the next level of report, we have 37 per cent women in leadership positions. These are women with vast experience who are adding so much value to the organization.”


“If your organization has a reputation for having an inclusive workforce, people will come knocking on your door.”


Another panelist was Enrique Zorrilla, Scotiabank Mexico’s senior vice-president and country head. Enrique pointed out that diversity in an organization should be looked upon as an opportunity.

“I’ve concluded that we need each other — we are better together than on our own. As we talk about diversity and inclusion, we have to recognize that because of origin, experiences, gender and other aspects, each person brings different attributes and we need them all.  Having these multiple perspectives makes us better as a team.”

It’s an attitude that seems to be working — in 2015, Scotiabank Mexico was awarded first place from Mexico’s Great Place to Work Institute in the gender equality category.

Francisco Sardon, Scotiabank Chile, CEO and country manager, added that he sees firsthand the need to create an inclusive environment.

“We all feel a responsibility to come together to make efforts to foster inclusion. The executive committee in Chile is a great example of this. We have a diverse group representing six different countries, with 12 individuals, men and women, showcasing the outlook of international banking in Central and South America. This sort of collaboration can really be fruitful.”

To keep the momentum going, a Scotiabank inclusion council with representation from each of the Latin American countries meets monthly to share best practices and experiences.

Naomi says she is optimistic that gender inclusion will continue to improve in the international banking community as more people understand that it’s not just about equality, but good business too.

“If we have a truly inclusive culture and people feel like it doesn’t matter what gender you are, what colour you are, what school you went to, then we can attract the top talent and it would be a true meritocracy,” she says.

“What could be better for an organization than having the best talent and the most high-performing teams?”