Before he became Director of Innovation at Canada Post in 2021, George Dunning got innovation off the ground at Innovapost, the IT provider for the Canada Post Group of Companies. “I raised my hand, had a few conversations with our CEO at the time… the next thing you know, I’m leading [innovation].”
Canada Post Group of Companies employs over 65,000 people and generates $8.2 billion in revenue. It includes Canada Post, Canada’s postal service, along with Purolator Holdings Ltd., SCI Group Inc., and Innovapost Inc. We spoke with Dunning as part of our IL Member Spotlight series.
Tell us about your open innovation approach, and how it has impacted your work.
The only way I was able to [build Innovapost’s innovation framework] with very little people and very little money is to work with some of our technology partners, which happen to be some of the largest technology companies in the world…
[As a company, we have] no shortage of ideas. It was more [that] whenever there was a gap in skills — technology, or resources, or funding — things would fall apart very quickly. Traditionally, we felt we had to do everything ourselves.
My experiments [involve outside partners] — sometimes it’s a startup, sometimes it’s a large, traditional company, sometimes it’s an academic institution. They’re all very different and [who we partner with] really depends on the scope and what we’re trying to prove or disprove.
[Tell] a story with some type of prototype, because there’s only so far you can sell an idea with PowerPoint… Make it real.
What is a project that you’ve worked on recently?
There’s a piece of work that we started about a year ago that relates to some sophisticated tools and techniques for how we optimize for [profit] margin on our products. And that’s led into working on a subset of that… around price elasticity. That’s measuring the change in demand. Some customers are much more price sensitive than others, for a variety of factors – but we had no way to measure that sensititivity. Things like geography come into play, size and weight of an object comes into play, etc.
Do you have advice on getting innovation in front of senior leadership?
Know their scorecard, know what their priorities are — that’ll give you focus. If you can help them make meaningful progress on the priorities that they’ve set out and agreed to with their leadership team, that’s going to go a long way.
Create a relationship with the right people… A lot of what I do is based on relationships, based on my network, which is [big] because I get to work with almost every function. Building out a network is super important.
Be able to tell a story with visuals. [Tell] a story with some type of prototype, because there’s only so far you can sell an idea with PowerPoint… Make it real.
If you can keep track of your progress (large or small victories), you can get a lot of folks on board. Don’t swing for the fences right away.
What are some key things you have learned about innovation?
It sounds cool. It’s definitely not easy. Most large companies are very well-oiled machines… they’re very operationally focused. [Getting] funding or people assigned to [innovation] is very, very difficult when you start going off script. If you can keep track of your progress (large or small victories), you can get a lot of folks on board. Don’t swing for the fences right away. You’ll get there one day, you’ll earn that one day.
Can you share any future projects and/or goals in the pipeline?
One of my biggest focus areas this year has shifted to sustainability. This is a very big priority for our executives up to our board. It’s just interesting how you can be so focused on one thing for so long — revenues and products and services and all that — then all of a sudden you’re trying to save the planet.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Aside from the two kids that I have that are young but keep me busy, I play a lot of basketball, play a lot of golf. Running and staying physically fit just helps with stress and keeps my mind off of work [and] gives me time to think. I always come up with these great ideas as I’m de-stressing and staying active — although sometimes I’m missing something to write them down on. [I’m] also getting a little bit better at home renovations over the past two years. I would not call myself an expert, but definitely improving.