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




Distilling the Corby Culture: Meet Amandine Robin

Amandine Robin

Named “Top 30 Under 30” by PR in Canada, Amandine Robin is making her mark at Pernod Ricard, the worldwide co-leader in the Wines & Spirits sector with brands such as Absolut, Jameson, Chivas, and J.P. Wiser’s. In the span of just a few years, she’s rocketed to the top of the corporate ladder, recently promoted to Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Pernod Ricard USA. She shares some of the innovative ideas that have led to career success at Corby Spirit and Wine, the Canadian affiliate of Pernod Ricard.

For Amandine Robin, wine has always been in her blood.

“I was born and raised in Reims in the Champagne region,” says Robin. “So I was living five minutes away from the G.H. Mumm Champagne — one of Pernod Ricard’s brands.”

But despite growing up near France’s vineyards, Robin fell into in the wine and spirits industry. She actually worked in the financial and legal sectors for several years, before stumbling upon a Corby’s job advert for a Communications Manager.

“For me, it was the dream job,” she says. “To be working in communications and with a company [linked] to a region where I was raised in and loved.”

She applied and won the position. Since joining the Pernod Ricard family, Robin has distilled a culture of innovation into the company, and transformed how the company communicates. It has led to a big boost in employee engagement and corporate brand awareness, multiple award wins, and personal promotions — most recently to Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Pernod Ricard USA, the group’s biggest affiliate.

“For me, it was the dream job….To be working in communications and with a company [linked] to a region where I was raised in and loved.”

“We imagine corporate communication as writing speeches for executives or writing press releases,” she says. “That’s not at all how I see it. It’s about being completely transparent, working together, and creating excitement inside and outside the company.”

Robin credits the success to an executive team that’s “open to trying things differently” and values collaboration. While novelty may scare some companies, Corby welcomed her fresh ideas and experimentation with new approaches, especially in tough financial times. With this “carte blanche” in hand, Robin has spearheaded some cutting-edge initiatives that are now reaping major rewards for the company.

“Our tagline globally is ‘creators of conviviality,’” says Robin. “That’s one aspect that I really love about the company: the emphasis on the people and the conviviality. It’s about ‘what do we give to the world?’”

One such initiative is Corby’s Den, a corporate challenge based on CBC’s Dragons’ Den TV series that sees top management travel across the country to hear employees present their best and most innovative business ideas.

“That’s one aspect that I really love about the company: the emphasis on the people and the conviviality. It’s about ‘what do we give to the world?’”

“Employees were put in teams and had 10 minutes to pitch an idea to our dragons,” she says. “The size of the idea didn’t matter — it could be something small that doesn’t cost anything or a big national idea to change the system.”

At the end, the “dragons” selected a handful of winning ideas to implement across the company. What was most surprising? Participants loved the “Corby’s Den” experience, even more than the company conferences held overseas.

“They liked the chance to see the executive team in a smaller format and share their ideas,” says Robin. “It was great from a business point of view, and the executive team discovered talents that they might not see from Head Office.”

Robin also launched “I Thank,” a corporate program to boost the company’s non-financial employee recognition. Based on gamification principles, employees can virtually award each other achievement badges with a personal congratulatory note, which are visible online to the entire company. Employees move up the levels of recognition as they accumulate badges, with those reaching gold receiving an extra week of vacation and $1000 donation to a charity of their choice.

“It’s a created a culture of recognition,” says Robin. “Within one year, the ratings of non-financial recognition increased by 25 per cent. And the program cost zero dollars!”

Under Robin’s leadership, Corby is also winning awards for corporate social responsibility, such as a Road Safety Achievement Award from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation for the Corby Safe Rides program. This annual partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission promotes responsible drinking and provides free public transit on New Year’s Eve — ensuring that everyone has a safe ride home.

“Being a socially responsible company drives employee engagement,” says Robin. “We’re the department distilling the culture — both inside and outside the company.”

As for Robin, she’s eager to keep up the momentum in her new role and continue “making a difference” inside and outside of the company.

“What I’m the most proud of is changing how we do corporate communication,” says Robin. “The pride of our employee engagement and being excited to come to work every day. That’s what I find rewarding.”

A proven case: championing diversity enables innovation

The importance of innovation in business is undisputed. Tapping into diversity as a driver of innovation is a newer concept — but it is already proving its worth. Dubie Cunningham, vice-president of innovation at the Digital Factory at Scotiabank, shares why and how diversity has been a key driver of success.

By Shelley White

Diversity in the workplace isn’t just a good idea, says Dubie Cunningham. It’s a crucial part of being a successful business in the digital age.

As vice president of innovation at the Digital Factory at Scotiabank, Dubie’s mandate is to help accelerate the Bank’s digital strategy and reimagine the customer experience in an era where technology has become ubiquitous. Advances in FinTechs (financial technology) in areas like mobile payments, wearables, and artificial intelligence are promising to change the way the world does their banking.

“Our customers have come to expect a completely different experience than in the past,” says Dubie. “The accessibility of technology has dramatically evolved, and our customers’ expectations about how they want to interact with the bank have completely changed.”

Diversity is an important part of Scotiabank’s digital strategy, says Dubie, because it’s key to reimagining the banking experience for this new age and beyond.

“It’s important for us to think broadly outside traditional banking and what a traditional banker is thought to be,” she says. “In the last couple of years, trying to tap into those kinds of opportunities makes diversity particularly important and very, very exciting.”

At Dubie’s workplace, the concept of the traditional office has been “blown up,” she says. There are no offices or cubicles. Instead, people work at picnic-type tables, and in the corners of the room, where white boards filled with colourful sticky notes invite collaboration and open dialogue. It’s an “agile” workplace — a concept pioneered in the Silicon Valley where employees have the freedom to work where they want, when they want.

“If our customers are diverse and we want to serve them well, we need to be as diverse as they are.”

This forward-thinking workplace style is part of the way the bank is challenging traditional notions of what a bank is all about and encouraging diversity in the people who work there.

The Digital Factory team also encourages diversity of thought by bringing people from different aspects of the business to work together in one dynamic space. From software developers to marketers, from data scientists to security, everyone has a seat at the table.

“The way we work attracts a real variety of people,” she says. “A lot of folks don’t want to be in a constrained, overly formal environment. It takes barriers away and everyone’s value and contribution becomes equally important. We see a lot of the by-products of this in the people that are coming to work for us.”

Dubie points out that a diverse workforce — whether in gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or skill set —reflects an increasingly diverse customer base.

“Because we are a global bank, I think it’s really about aligning with our customers. If our customers are diverse and we want to serve them well, we need to be as diverse as they are. Really understanding and reflecting their values means we can be more successful,” she says.

Partnerships with global innovation hubs, accelerators, incubators and university research programs have been another part of encouraging diversity at Scotiabank’s Digital Factory, bringing in fresh ideas from a new generation of out-of-the-box thinkers.

“Opening our doors to students has been key in helping us better understand people’s perspectives through their eyes and their skills,” says Dubie.

To succeed in our rapidly changing world, businesses need to constantly be thinking about different methodologies to encourage diversity, she adds.

“Unless we continue to embrace diversity and leverage it and build on it, we will be at a disadvantage, so I think of it as a business imperative to make it a priority.”


Dubie Cunningham shares her biggest inspiration, and why IT needs more women

Gender equality is a particular passion for Dubie, who’s long been inspired by her pioneering mother, an architect in an era when not many women were in that field.

“My mom was the only female architect in the sixties working on the CN Tower, and in her graduating class, she was one of only a couple women, so she’s very inspiring to me,” Dubie says. “She showed me what is possible and I’m very proud of what that generation has done and what my generation has done.”

As the mother of one boy and three girls, Dubie says she has great faith in what the next generation will accomplish, but she notes that when it comes to gender equality in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), there is more work to be done.

“One thing we’ve noticed in IT (information technology) is we’ve got a problem because not as many women or girls are going into science and math,” says Dubie. “Think about the damage that will do to the diversity pipeline, and we really need it. We need diversity as we build our solutions.”

To encourage women to pursue STEM-related careers, Dubie says her team collaborates with partners like Ladies Learning Code, going into universities and making presentations to encourage women to pursue careers in IT.


Collaborating on Disruption: How Susanne Chishti is Connecting Investors to FinTech Startups

The financial services sector is facing a wave of disruption. Thanks to an onslaught of FinTech companies—combining finance with technology—changes are being made in the way people bank, borrow, invest, and spend money. Women of Influence CEO, Carolyn Lawrence, sat down with with Susanne Chishti, Founder and CEO of FINTECH Circle, Chairman of FINTECH Circle Innovate, and Co-Editor of The FINTECH Book to gain insights.

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