Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden – Mélanie Dunn – CEO, Cossette

COSSETTE CEO, Mélanie Dunn (@melaniedunnmtl) believes there is nothing stronger than corporate culture. An established industry leader behind the communications powerhouse, Mélanie cites real-time adaptation, team bench strength and aligned corporate values as critical factors for individual and organizational success. Boyden’s Sébastien Zuchowski and Chantal Hevey sat down with Mélanie to talk leadership, talent, and why true diversity can’t take shape without a pivotal culture change.

BOYDEN: What would you say are the cornerstones of your success?

MÉLANIE:  I would not be where I am today if my organization’s culture and values were not aligned with mine.  At Cossette, I worked in several departments and occupied different positions which allowed me to grow in new ways. I also believe in the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. A key here is to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and how to work with colleagues that magnify those strengths and offset any weaknesses. I have always stayed true to these beliefs.

BOYDEN: Engaging talent is critical to achieving success. How do you ensure to engage all generations of talents?

MÉLANIE: We place more emphasis on a person’s personality and leadership qualities than on their belonging to a certain generation. We hire from all generations. What we have realized is that your generation does not really define your profile. You can be a Gen Xer with Millennial characteristics and vice versa. Individuality and diversity are therefore all the more important. This concept is also key when bringing brands to the market as we stopped targeting large homogeneous groups and instead focus on individual behaviours.

BOYDEN: As you look at the sector and the leadership landscape, is enough being done to drive real change and move towards greater diversity?

MÉLANIE: What motivates me is how much we have yet to accomplish. We had a long time to think about how we encourage women to be more ambitious, help in their career development and in motivational programing. But this phase has run its course as it’s now up to organizations to change and adapt. Quotas have helped us gain a lot of ground but there is a reason why women are not selected above the quota limit, and that is due to board and organizational culture. Boards need to pivot towards being authentic when it comes to attracting diverse talent and make changes within the organization instead of pushing quotas.

BOYDEN: How does gender diversity fit within Cossette’s mission and within your leadership team?

MÉLANIE:  I feel a responsibility on our part to ensure that our brands express themselves by realistically representing today’s population – the people we see and the subjects in our advertising, social media, and websites. In order to express brands and still manage to offer a quality and creative product that remains realistic, you need diversity. And the only way to obtain this balance is to have a diverse team that produces the work. Thus, if our people don’t accurately represent the population, they will not be able to help a brand become relevant to today’s target markets.

BOYDEN: You are leading in the era of disruption. How do you ensure Cossette continues to evolve in light of constant change and competition?

MÉLANIE: We are in the business of communications, marketing, and media where innovation is constantly present. What we are doing for our clients today is totally different from what we were doing just a year ago, wherein lies the importance of adapting to change in real time. The ability to always question is key. The time of five-year plans has come and gone. Changes in technology, new possibilities, personal transformations and political shifts have assured this. At Cossette, we are making important changes in the way that we operate our organization by turning towards a more agile methodology. It really emphasizes the real-time adaptation of processes against up-and-coming challenges.

BOYDEN: Does it feel as if you’re going through a constant state of renewal?

MÉLANIE: Yes, but at the same time the reality is that there is no longer an ending nor a beginning. The hamster wheel is always spinning, that is why you must appreciate the present moment.

BOYDEN: How does that translate in your leadership style?

MÉLANIE: You have to accept that there is no status quo or certainty; it’s a world of adaptations. Surround yourself with people that are comfortable with change. My expectations towards my employees must also change. I myself have to adapt to new realities and trust my team.

BOYDEN: Is there more proximity in those moments?

MÉLANIE: Yes, I think that’s a good point, genuine and honest relationships favour a climate of change, of asking questions and of transformation. Leadership that’s aligned with this culture helps so that there is acceptance that mistakes will happen because everything is changing so quickly but also of generosity towards the new reality.

BOYDEN: What advice would you give someone striving to lead?

MÉLANIE: It is important to make informed choices before taking your next step. Seek an organization where harmony exists between company culture and what you want to accomplish in your career. There is nothing more difficult than going against a culture, especially for a leader, but nothing easier than being yourself at work and feeling like you can grow in a natural and authentic way.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

About the series:

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden is a feature series highlighting leadership, talent and diversity discussions with top leaders of today. The series focuses on topics and themes with a purpose to inspire women and our diverse community to lead. Talent Talks also appears on the Boyden website.


About the authors:

Sébastien Zuchowski and Chantal Hevey are part of Boyden’s Montréal team.  A global leader in executive search for over 70 years, Boyden is committed to excellence in leadership and values diversity as an essential force towards achieving this commitment.

Connect with them on Twitter: @BoydenCanada @SebZuchowski@ChantalHev  

5 Tips For Effective Change Management

Missed our recent Speaker Series in Toronto on Leading Effective Change Management? Good news: our Digital Brand Ambassador, Silvia Pencak is recapping the event below and sharing her top 5 takeaways.

We’ll also be hosting change-themed Speaker Series in Calgary (Nov 8th) and Vancouver (Nov 7th) next month. Visit our events page for our full Speaker Series schedule, we have a number of can’t-miss events taking place across the country this fall!

Last week, WXN hosted a sold-out Speaker Series event in Toronto where 100+ guests were presented with practical strategies on leading effective change management.

The keynote speaker was Caroline Riseboro (@criseboro), CEO of Plan Canada (@PlanCanada) – one of the oldest non-profit organizations in the country. Caroline shared key lessons she learned during times of major organizational changes as she stepped into her role as CEO. Despite advice to not rock the boat, she decided to trust her gut and make the necessary changes to move the organization forward. There were a lot of “aha moments,” but here are my top 5 takeaways from Caroline’s presentation.

1. Society can’t afford us being stagnant

Change is necessary. Being in a reactive mode is deadly. When you’re reacting to things that are happening, you can feel productive, yet the reality is that you are maintaining status quo. Stability in an organization is important, but if you stick to it, you might soon become obsolete. We’ve seen it happen with giant companies who were ahead of the game and had billions of dollars yet still failed.

2. The only way to get ahead of disruption is to disrupt

If you’re going to ignite a major change, you need to have resilience. It won’t be easy. In order to ignite change, you need to have resilience first. Start today. Do something this year that will push you out of the safety zone and help you build stamina. You will need this resilience when you become a leader and need to make major disruptive decisions.

3. Prepare to let people leave

Change is only possible if the people inside the organization step in the boat. Not everyone will. It doesn’t mean that people are not capable, they are just not the right fit for the organization at the time of change. It’s not easy, but you must be willing to let them go.

4. Know when to push and when to pull

During times of change, constantly check in with people. How are you doing? Is it too much? Are you on track? What’s working? What’s not working? Pay attention to inner dialogue in an organization. Change brings both, passion and interest about where you are heading, but also enough criticism about where you are heading. If you are only hearing excitement, you might not be making the changes necessary and if you are only hearing criticism, you might be pushing too hard. When making the change, you will hear both.

5. Celebrate successes

Small successes will lead to bigger successes. Share successes across the organization to encourage change culture in your organization. You don’t have to be a top leader to do this. Become a change agent no matter where you are in an organization.

Caroline Riseboro is not only a great speaker, she is an inspiring leader who confidently walked her organization through turbulent times of change despite criticism and resistance. I am sure it wasn’t an easy journey. Yet, the results she achieved for her company, like helping more girls this year than ever in history, reaching their best fiscal year yet, and inspiring the Canadian Prime Minister to give his seat to a 16-year-old girl for a day, are things no one can take away from her. Great work, Caroline and all the best on your next journey!



Blogger: Silvia Pencak, founder & CEO of Powerful Life Consulting, a boutique consulting company located in Ontario, Canada.

Silvia is a consultant, speaker and an award-winning blogger. Her specialty is in change leadership and strategic team development. With hands-on experience on over 500 mission critical initiatives across four continents, Silvia helps business leaders establish proven, actionable strategies to keep essential projects on time, on budget, and on the mark with client expectations. Connect with Silvia at SilviaPencak.com or on Twitter (@SilviaPencak).

Redefining Leadership with Disruption and Humanity

“Regardless of where you work or what you do, it’s really important to always change the way you approach things. . . .Redefining what we do and how we do it, shows the evolution of our society and its needs,” says Top 100 Winner, Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia.

In her recent insightful TedxKelowna talk, Bahr-Gedalia challenges us to redefine our traditional perception and understanding of leadership using two key qualities – disruption and humanity. The outcome, she says, can be extraordinary.

Bahr-Gedalia was joined at TedXKelowna by fellow Top 100 Winner Tasha Kheiriddin – find her heartfelt talk on how autism can make a better world here.