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Move beyond optics and build inclusive organizations

Duncan Sinclair, Vice Chair, Deloitte shares three tips for Canadian leaders on how to move beyond optics and build the inclusive organizations Canada needs. You can listen to his conversation with Nancy MacKay, CEO of MacKay CEO Forums using the player below. Transcript below.


Speaker 1:

Welcome to the CEO Edge Podcast, with your host, Dr. Nancy MacKay, CEO and Founder of MacKay CEO Forums. Our vision is to populate the world with better leaders. In this podcast, we'll introduce successful CEOs and trusted advisors on topics of interest to CEOs today. Thanks for joining us. 

Nancy MacKay:

I'm here today with Duncan Sinclair, who is the Vice Chair with Deloitte, the largest professional service firm in Canada, and champion of Canada's Best Managed Companies Program, a program well known to all, over 850, MacKay CEO Forums members across Canada. Now Duncan, thank you so much for joining us on the CEO Edge Podcast show this morning, on the topic of inclusion.

Duncan Sinclair:

Well Nancy, thank you for having me. It's a delight to be here with you.

Nancy MacKay:

Just a few more notes of introduction for our listeners here this morning. Duncan Sinclair is a highly rated speaker with our MacKay CEO Forums CEO groups. He's been a member since 2012. He has a very successful career track record with Deloitte. He has served privately owned entrepreneurial companies, and the families that own them, for 30 years. Duncan is a past member of The Executive, and Board of Deloitte, Canada, and currently spends his time serving clients of the firm across Canada. 

Today, we're very fortunate to have Duncan here on the CEO Edge Podcast show, to talk about an important business issue for all of us, and that is the topic of inclusion. Now Duncan, let's start by ... Well, first of all, congratulations on the report that Deloitte put out on outcomes over optics, building inclusive organizations, and I fundamentally believe that every CEO on the planet needs to read this report and take action. I think it's going to be a very high impact report, and would love to hear why is it that Deloitte has decided to focus on this area of thought leadership at this time?

Duncan Sinclair:

Well Nancy, thank you very much, and certainly from our perspective at Deloitte, we believe that Canada can, over the next 25 years, cement its position as absolutely the best country in the world to live and to work. We've been on this journey for a few years now, with really the basic thesis that for Canada to enjoy that position, all Canadian businesses, regardless of size, regardless of industry or geography, need to be able to find ways to perform at a higher level. We wanted to actively contribute to that discussion.

There have been times when we've dealt with issues that have been very focused on performance, like issues around performance and productivity, issues around preparedness for disruption. There's been times where we've dealt with issues associated more with organization's culture, like courage, in the report we put out last year on, "The Future Belongs to the Bold." There's issues quite frankly, that sit at the intersection of both, culture and performance, and for us, that's absolutely what inclusion is.

It's a really important conversation we believe we need to have, based on the work we did a year ago around courage. At that time, we had surveyed 1200 business people across the country, we had looked at their businesses and their performance, and we had found that in the case of businesses that really were operating in a courageous manner, they did have substantially better business performance.

The challenge was that there were only 11% of businesses that were truly operating at that optimal level, but there was another third that were very close. They were on the cusp of achieving those benefits, and one of the biggest challenges we found for business leaders in that area was this whole notion of how do you unite to include your people? That's why we decided that this year we would spend more time talking about that issue, as a way of helping business leaders to think about it.

Again, I want to emphasize that this isn't just about doing a morally good thing. Although certainly it is. But it's also smart business. Because what we found in our research was that those businesses that were highly inclusive were businesses that were willing to challenge the status quo. They invested more than double the amount of money in R&D and developing people, and as a result, they were having a much greater level of financial result.

In 15% of the cases we ... Sorry, I would say in two thirds of the cases, we found that companies that were inclusive had more than 15% of their current product offerings that they developed within the last couple of years. They were constantly innovating and they were challenging the market. We also found that they were much more inclined to grow and have a much better growth rate than those that were not inclusive and we found that they were actually much more willing to go out and engage in global markets and seek out new opportunities and pursue opportunity because they had this very different kind of workforce around them.

As we're all, I think, living in an economic time now that's becoming more uncertain for people, the fact is that 91% of inclusive organizations saw themselves as being very prepared for what was coming in the disruptive forces in their industry, and quite frankly less than 40% of the non-inclusive firms had the same view. I think this is a major business issue. I think it's something that we as Canadians can really make our mark in within the world right now, especially when we see some of the things that are happening around in Europe or in Asia, or in the United States.

I think if this is going to really be Canada's time to shine, and the time for Canadian businesses to shine, then as business leaders, we have to have the courage to take on this issue and really deal with it.

Nancy MacKay:

Well, it sounds like this issue of inclusion is like competitive advantage for companies that choose to be vocal about it, and invest in it, and turn it into smart business strategies, not just moral good, as you suggest. So, just for our listeners, Duncan, why don't you explain, what do you mean by an inclusive organization? How is it any different from all the diversity programs that a lot of companies have started to adopt and had some, not a lot, but some progress on?

Duncan Sinclair:

You know Nancy, that's a great question, because right now, the terms of diversity and inclusion are really used interchangeably. They'll often appear together, people run the words together, and I think there's a really great quote from Verna Myers that I really like. She said, "Diversity is when you invited me to your party. Inclusion is when you ask me to dance."

So, us at Deloitte, we think about diversity as the variety of people and ideas within an organization, easily identifiable physical attributes or traits, and you'll often hear discussions about this in terms of age or gender, or race or ethnicity. The reality is inclusion is very different in our mind. Inclusion is about creating an environment in which all individuals feel valued and connected, regardless of their differences.

So, an inclusive environment is one where individuals are comfortable bringing their authentic and full selves, their ideas, their backgrounds, their perspectives, to the workplace, and to the debates they have with their colleagues, to the ideas that they express. To me, diversity is a fact, and it's absolutely a pre-condition to having an inclusive organization, but inclusion is a deliberate strategic choice that an organization makes to instill a culture that unites people, regardless of their differences.

From that perspective, I think it is a more challenging need for business to go through, it's an important issue for business leaders to take on, and it really I think in my mind, comes down to a couple of key issues. I think first of all, you have to think about your culture and you have to think about your culture in the context of are the people within your organization able to connect with the values or the impact that they see themselves, in terms of what the organization is doing? And are they able to create meaningful relationships, and a strong sense of connection with the people they work with? Or, are they just showing up?

They have to feel like they belong in their organization, and the practices, and the offices, and the engagements that they work on with their colleagues. They have to feel that there's an opportunity for real growth as they want to define that for themselves, in terms of their own sense of purpose, where they want to take their career. Now, that in and of itself is an important component of it, but in our mind, you have to take it to the next level, and that really gets down to the leadership level in the organization, driving a sense of belonging through the organization, being authentic as a leader yourself, taking courageous choices, and having a culture of trust that really allows people to believe that, "You know what, I can speak up, I can have a voice, I can make a difference."

I think for the people within organizations, they have to be actively engaged in the business, they have to actively want to be committed to that. For those two things to happen, I think businesses and business leaders really have to think about what is the shared purpose that we want to create for our folks? When I went to business school and I'm sure many of the people on this conversation would have heard the same thing, we talked about the mission, is what the business does, and the vision is where you want to get to.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I really saw a lot more conversation about the why, and that to me is what purpose is all about. Why we get up every day, why we go and do what we do, and yes, all of the business drivers are important that we have to consider, but it's got to be about more than just economic return. The reason that we get up is because we're doing X, we're doing Y, this is the why behind who we are. When you or the leader are able to really drive that at your organization, then I think you get the real opportunity to create a much more inclusive environment and see the real benefits of that.

Nancy MacKay:

So that's the whole tied into the Simon Sinek message of start with why, and your message here is that you have to have a diverse, in terms of your culture, diversity, and understanding the why that gets people to jump out of bed is a really important part of then making sure that you're including everyone appropriately-

Duncan Sinclair:


Nancy MacKay:

... aligned with their why. So, is it safe to say that it's much easier to include people that look and talk and walk just like you? 

Duncan Sinclair:

Oh, absolutely.

Nancy MacKay:

So the big challenge here is you've got to create cultures to be inclusive, doesn't matter who the person is, and that's not easy to do, right?

Duncan Sinclair:


Nancy MacKay:

And it starts at the top. Let's talk about CEOs, and what are some practical tips? Like, if you had to come up with three key tips for CEOs on this topic of how can they become more inclusive CEOs, what would that look like?

Duncan Sinclair:

I think Nancy, and I know that you're a big believer in this, it's the whole notion of the personal accountability that you take as a leader, and the accountability that you drive through your leadership team and the organization. I think having some real expectations around specific inclusive behaviors is important.

I think you have to be prepared to really set the vision of what you want success to look like, and actively communicate around it and around the organization that you're with. I think you've got to walk the talk in your own behavior. I, many years ago, can remember a leader who talked about, "Well, once we're making money around here, these are the things we can do." Well, we were making a lot of money as an organization. It was simply a rationalization of when they didn't want to change, they kept finding excuses for why we weren't doing what needed to be done.

Ultimately in that situation, you actually had to change the leader for the business to get better. So, again, walking the talk to me is critically important, and this notion of accountability. I think you have to call out behaviors that you don't see are aligned. It's not just about an annual set of targets, or performance reviews, although those are important. But it's the day-to-day, in the trenches, working together saying, "Hey, is that kind of behavior the kind of behavior that's going to cause people to want to show up and engage, or is it going to cause them to want to shutdown?"

I think that whole notion of setting expectations is really important, and I would also say, Nancy, that the whole notion of protecting against a diversity backlash is equally important. Because as you know, change is hard. It's hard for people to go through, and different kinds of behaviors manifest, and so what's critical in my mind is that we avoid some of the traps of tokenism, we avoid the traps of not being willing to have the kind of real open honest dialogue that we need to have, and pink-wash or gray-wash, or pick your color, over something rather than dealing with the hard issues and really getting to it. In terms of where I think CEOs can have a big impact, those would be a couple of ideas.

Nancy MacKay:

I was really impressed with the article that was published in the Global Mail recently, with your CEO, talking about the importance of inclusion, and that Deloitte is going to take that to the next level based on what they've learned and what they've done through this research. I'd love to hear a little bit more about what is Deloitte doing?

Duncan Sinclair:

Well, thanks again for that question, Nancy, because let me be clear. I mean, we have certainly struggled in all of these areas. We don't pretend that we're by any means have all of this locked down right, but we know that it's important, and in terms of some of the things that we're really trying to do to make a difference, I'd say first of all, the whole notion of really focusing on customized leadership development for people is something that we're spending a lot more time and energy on. We're really challenging our whole performance management system rather than giving people scores and ranking and deciding that you're an X out of 10, or whatever it may be.

Really focusing on what are individuals' strengths, what is it that really strengthens them? What do they get real enjoyment out of? What are they passionate about? How can we help them to do that every day in their careers, as part of how they continue to grow? I'd say the other thing that we've also talked a lot about is sponsorship, and I would differentiate that from mentorship, because mentors provide ideas and coaching to people. Sponsors actively go out and talk about the people they're working with, and the great work that they're doing, how they can move forward, and ways in which they can advance.

Those would both be things that we're doing at Deloitte. I'd say the other thing that we're really doing is we're challenging ourselves around the whole leadership development pipeline that we have within our firm, and to your point, are they all people who look and sound the same? Did they all go to the same business school? If they did, then we have an issue. So, we've been working for the last several years on creating a much bigger diversity of candidates within our leadership pipelines.

In doing so, really creating a much broader and deeper appreciation of the opportunities in our business, as well as the challenges around it. I would also say that we've also decided that from the perspective of having a purpose that was meaningful, that we had to just go beyond the bounds of our own organization. So, we've been doing a lot with important organizations in the whole area of diversity and inclusion in our country. We assigned individual partners to sponsor those organizations within the firm. We've put account teams around them, like they were a client, and we're really looking to actively help, to stand up and broaden this conversation in the country, as a way of being able to meaningfully contribute to success.

Nancy MacKay:

Well, I'd love to maybe just talk a little bit more about the three key areas that you outlined here that I think Deloitte is a huge organization. Just remind our listeners in terms of number of employees and partners, et cetera, even here in Canada. Then, I want to just talk about the three key areas that I think a lot of our listeners could be working on.

Duncan Sinclair:

Sure. So, I mean, we're a firm about 1000 partners and roughly 10,000 employees in Canada. We've got about another 2000 people in Chile that are part of a combined firm with us. So, from our perspective, it's really an issue of how do you make this work when you're of that size and scale? It's not to say that I think it's any easier if you're a business that doesn't have that scale, but certainly people will look at that and challenge well, "At what point are you too big to handle that?"

I was really inspired by a really great CEO in this country, Victor Dodig, who's running CIBC which of course is a much bigger organization than Deloitte, because in his mindset, what he will say is you have to be thoughtful about building the pipeline of talent and you have to look at each of the individuals coming up through the organization and ask, "What are you doing to do to help this individual get ready to be at the next level? What opportunities are you giving them? How are you challenging them?"

So, the fact that that will cascade into an entire leadership team from a corporate office right down to people leading the individual branches, that to me is a signal then, well then truly we at Deloitte have to do the same thing. I will openly challenge, I think every CEO in the MacKay CEO Forums can choose to do the same thing as well. I think it really is a question of being thoughtful, about as people are coming in the organization, as they're building their career, are we clear about what they define as success? Have we got the right kind of mentors assigned to them that are going to be able to help them achieve that success?

Then, what are the kind of work experiences and development opportunities that we can make available to help people be able to achieve those goals?

Nancy MacKay:

Let's talk a little bit about this idea of sponsorship versus mentorship. I personally believe after 850+ members across the country with MacKay CEO Forums, that mentorship even needs a lot of work in terms of people. People are so busy and so time constrained that they're not taking the time to build future leaders and do the mentorship, so lots of room for improvement in that area.

This idea of sponsorship, which goes way beyond just mentorship, that is a huge gap in my view. I think that's huge in terms of moving the needle on inclusion. And you, I know, have been a huge sponsor for so many people, not just within Deloitte, but outside of Deloitte. I believe you've mastered the ability to sponsor and so tell us a little bit about what gets in the way of people in organizations actually sponsoring, taking a stand on people, paving the way for them to achieve success?

Duncan Sinclair:

Well Nancy, that's a great question. Thank you for your comments. I would say that first of all, I think time is one of the barriers. I think there is that notion of we've all got multiple priorities every day and how do we make a priority actually a priority? I would say that another key issue is there is a certain level of ownership and responsibility that it takes when you walk up to someone and say, "Listen, I believe you can get to the next level and I really want to help to sponsor you to get there."

So, on the one hand people can look at that and say as people are rising up in the organization, "Well, how do I go and ask for a sponsor?" It can also be a little bit intimidating for somebody who's prepared to be a sponsor to actually walk up to a very talented person, I'm sponsoring right now in my organization, who's quite a bit younger than I am, and just say to her, "Look, I think you've got lots of potential. Would you like me to sponsor you?" Because what if she says no? Or, what if she thought there'd be somebody better?

I think there is this whole notion of breaking through our fears around some of this, and actually just having the open, honest conversation, and just saying, "Look, where do you want to take your career? What do you believe are some of the opportunities for you that you'd like to see? Let me give you the benefit of some of my perspective," which is the mentoring aspect of it, "But then when we've come up with a plan, now let's agree on what the plan is of how I'm actively going to be going out in the organization and talking about who you are, and positioning you around the right opportunities."

I had an opportunity last week to go and present to about 300 people at a particular conference and I sent the person that I'm sponsoring, because quite honestly, I would have loved to do it, but it was a great opportunity for her to build her personal brand, demonstrate her ability to a really important part of the market, and I think those are the kinds of choices, and deliberate actions that each of us as leaders have to make, even when we would like to go and do something we think would be fine.

I think there is this notion of as we aspire to create legacy, as we aspire to help the next generation come forward, there was a great expression that a former mentor of mine that said, "If people will never sit down, then other people never get a chance to stand up." I think that's another big part of this that's important, as well.

Nancy MacKay:

Well, and it's very powerful language I think for all CEOs to be able to have the courage to say to people, "I really believe in you and I'm going to do everything I possibly can to support you and helping you achieve whatever goals you want to set for yourself." It's up to the individual to step up and do that, but I will tell you, I remember when we first met which was over five years ago when you were first becoming the leader of the BC practice, and just one of the things you said to me, you just said, "I really believe in what you're doing and I'm going to find ways to support you." 

That was incredibly inspirational to have you say that, and I stopped at the time, I thought to myself, "Gosh, how many people have ever said that to me? Very few." So, I really want to challenge our listeners to declare it. When you believe in people and you see what they're doing, and you believe in their potential, that is the beginning of inclusion and inspiring people and all those things. Very, very [inaudible 00:22:46] for your ongoing support with our community at MacKay CEO Forums and our partnership with Deloitte.

This is an example of inclusion which is we have all of our members of 850 across the country, and I believe that we need to, as MacKay CEO Forums, step up and educate and challenge our members to learn more about inclusion and how to create these cultures. What advice do you have for me, as someone who leads this organization? I have the ability to influence. What are some of the steps that we can take as MacKay CEO Forums to create a Canadian community of very successful business leaders who buy into inclusion, will invest in inclusion, and use it as a competitive advantage?

Duncan Sinclair:

Well first of all, Nancy, thank you for all those comments. I really appreciate them, and what I would say about MacKay CEO Forums is I think the MacKay CEO Forums model is an outstanding model. You know that I've been a big fan of it for years. I really get so much out of being a member myself, and I get a lot of richness from the open, transparent conversations that we're able to have within the forums. 

I think that one of the most powerful things MacKay CEO Forums can do is continue through the Chair Network and through the conversations that you have, to continue to challenge people around the table about as you're looking to find success, as you're looking to deal with issues not only within your business life, but within your family's, and within your own personal wellbeing, how are some of these core elements of inclusion actually working for you as leaders?

How do you feel that you have a purpose that inspires you? Do you feel that you're able to have the kind of open, transparent, authentic discussions that you need to have with your teams and your people? Let the groups help each other to work through the issues together. Let people actually come together and share the experiences of what this is like. What worked? What didn't? Did it succeed? Did it fail? Have I always been a sponsor where I felt my sponsorship was highly successful? Well, sometimes no, sometimes yes. What got in the way when it didn't work? What did I learn from it? What other ideas do people have and how do we keep driving forward together?

I think that continuing to reinforce this message that this really can be Canada's time, this really can be our time as Canadian businesses, to take the wheel, not just in building really powerful organizations in Canada, but becoming real global leaders that are proudly Canadian. I believe that the message and the mandate that you have for your organization and the way you're bringing CEOs together to have an environment of this open and straight talk on these important issues, I think this is fabulous, and I think the more of this dialogue we can have as Canadian leaders together, the better the country we're going to have.

Nancy MacKay:

I 100% believe in that as well, Duncan, and I want to really say that I'm looking forward to having you and other thought leaders at Deloitte on this very important topic, be invited speakers at MacKay CEO Forums across Canada, because I think the beginning of it is to build the awareness, to share the research with this report on outcomes over optics, building inclusive organizations. I just think it's a phenomenal report with lots of very practical insights for business leaders in Canada. So, thank you for sharing that with me. Thank you for your time here on our CEO Edge Podcast show.

Before we end the call, I'd like you to maybe share with our listeners, how can they get access to the report and perhaps reach out to you, or anyone at Deloitte to learn more if they want to take action?

Duncan Sinclair:

So thank you for that, Nancy. Again, thank you for the time today on this podcast. I really enjoyed the opportunity of discussing these issues with you. In terms of people who are listening who would like to learn more and engage with us, if you go to the Deloitte Canada website, you'll find our report on the website. There's also a whole section on Canada at 175 that talks about some of other research on related topics as well that could be of use to your business. Certainly you can get my contact information there, but I'll give it to everybody.

My email is, and if you send me a note, I'm happy to engage with you, connect you with people in your local markets, and we'll find a way to continue the dialogue and drive a greater country together.

Nancy MacKay:

Thanks so much, Duncan, for being an ongoing inspiration for me and bringing such great thought leadership to all of our MacKay CEO Forums members across Canada, and our listeners here today. For our listeners, if you would like additional tools on helping you become a better leader, then you can access that at Thanks so much, Duncan.

Duncan Sinclair:

Thank you, Nancy, and thanks everybody for listening.

Speaker 1:

Thanks for joining us today. If you would like to subscribe to the CEO Edge Podcast and monthly newsletter, please visit us at



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