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Interview: Learning the Wavelength Connect Way

Jul 4th 2024

An interview with Wavelength Co-founder and Director of Wavelength Connect, Jessica Stack FRSA

What is Wavelength Connect?

Wavelength Connect is a unique executive education and leadership development programme focused on the theme of The Future of Business. Each year we bring together a cohort of 60 leaders from sectors that do not normally interact and provide access to a global array of the most admired, successful, and innovative companies, leaders and thinkers.

Across this nine-month, in-person, experiential programme of Events, Behind the Brand visits, Peer Working Groups and Executive Coaching, we immerse leaders in four key themes:

Global Perspectives on Innovation & Agility
Culture & Future Workforce
The Responsible Organisation
Personal Leadership

Together each cohort of leaders explore the opportunities and challenges they face within the business landscape, seeking insights and lessons to inspire action in their organisations and sectors. Along the way, we encourage and inspire leaders to build better networks, to support and serve their leadership now and in the future.

Q. Wavelength Connect has been going for 15 years, what have you learned about its impact on leaders?
Jessica Stack: Over the years we’ve seen Connect unlock and boost the potential of leaders, often at a fundamental level. It can be transformative and of huge value to individuals and organisations. We know because we conduct impact research and because alumni tell us. But to feel these benefits, leaders need to participate fully and feel supported by their organisations, both of which can be challenging.

Last year’s cohort were great in this respect which is reflected in the research including 96% judging the programme either ‘Completely Invaluable’ or ‘Really Useful’, something we are proud of. Particularly as it’s a significant rise from our 2021-2022 figures.

Q. Where does the programme’s impact come from?
JS: Well, there’s a clue in the Connect name!

Across nine months, members connect to the wider world – from hearing how organisations are integrating AI into their business models, to visiting people-first organisations like Pret A Manger or AllSaints, to hearing about future work trends from Meta. It also connects leaders to a kaleidoscope of other leaders, expanding their networks and the bank of stories they can draw on. But most critically it connects leaders to themselves – through conversations about purpose, through examples of what leadership can achieve, through stories of failure.

Q. 2023 was the first year where programme delivery wasn’t affected by the pandemic…
JS: It was so wonderful not to design for possible lockdowns and social distancing!

The programme was originally designed to be 100% face-to-face. Then along came Covid and we shifted to 100% on-line, gradually moving back to in-person events as restrictions lifted. What this reminded us is that something alchemic happens when you bring people together and this is increasingly valued as technology makes focusing on one thing at a time rare.

We spend a huge amount of time designing the Connect environments because they are as important as the curation of content. We aim to create a safe space – both literally and figuratively – where leaders can listen, be vulnerable and share, a space that helps people stay energised and receptive. I have a theatre design background, so this is something particularly close to my heart.

Q. Do Connect members notice all this effort?
JS: Yes! And we know this because they tell us we’ve inspired them to run their own away-days and meetings in a more Wavelength way. Which we love!

Q. Given the power of the room, why did you keep some on-line sessions post-Covid?
JS: The overall focus of Connect is The Future of Business, and part of that is offering global perspectives particularly on tech and innovation. We’ve always included this in Connect, but Covid enabled us to dial up that international aspect of the programme with speakers joining from China, Silicon Valley, India and Africa as suddenly people accepted learning through sessions delivered on-line. We always knew there were multiple distractions for participants however well designed our on-line content is, and that the chemistry of being there in-person is hard to replicate, and these are reflected again in the 2023 feedback.

Over the last couple of years and into 2024, we have increasingly dialled speakers virtually into our in-person events, rather than running the whole thing online. This has been successful because it has enabled us to keep the breadth of inspiration from global organisations, but balanced with the landing and learning discussions being in-person in the room. It aligns with Wavelength’s own sustainability agenda of minimising the environmental footprint of Connect, and we’ve got so good at it that sometimes members have even talked to us about the impact of a speaker as if they had been there in-person in the room rather than online!

But it’s a good question and something we give a lot of thought to not least because it’s an area we know we need to keep working on.

Q. You put a lot of emphasis on the diversity of the Connect cohort – why is it so important?
JS: The more senior you become the harder it is to find people you can open-up to, and you can start to feel alone with the challenges you face. The longer you are in a sector or an organisation, the easier it is to become mired in a shared organisational mindset. Yet, as a senior leader you’re typically the one everyone looks to for answers.

Connect offers a break from all this. And it is why spending time with leaders with different backgrounds, jobs, organisational norms can be so refreshing and stimulating. Especially when you realise how many face similar personal and organisational challenges.

There’s also something wonderfully mind-broadening if you have listened to Sue Campbell talking about being the only woman at a testosterone-filled FA meeting or Alastair Campbell sharing his experience of mental ill health, and the people listening with you have picked up on different things! It holds up a mirror to your own position and patterns of thinking.

Q. If I was a Head of HR considering sending leaders on Connect, how would you persuade me and what would you say if I asked about ROI?
JS: Three things stood out in our research this year that relate strongly to this. Leaders who were stepping up to a bigger role told us the programme had deepened their confidence and upped their ambition for their new roles. On the other hand, leaders who came on the programme feeling restless – often because they’d been in their roles or organisations a while – told us that focusing more closely on the alignment between their purpose and the organisation’s purpose had unlocked energy, helping them to realise they had more to offer their teams and their organisation. Also, big initiatives do happen because of Connect – the Lithia case study is a great example, and we had more examples this year. But Connect is not prescriptive about what leaders will learn – we want each leader to find within it what they need, that’s one of the reasons for the breadth as well as depth of the conversations.

I remember one member telling me that he came to the last event of the 2023 programme when he was absolutely over-whelmed with work – indeed, he said “I probably should not have gone”. But hearing Alison Platt [NED, Tesco & former CEO, Countrywide] talk about the challenges she had gone through as a leader “got [him] through the next 20 days.” So, I’m confident if you sent your leaders on Connect the time spent with us will deliver more to the business in both the short and long term than spending it at their desks.

Q. Finally, is there anything you’re particularly excited about for 2025?
JS: Lots! Including challenging ourselves to ensure things are not too comfortable on Connect…

So, last year on Connect we had what one member called a “proper heated” debate on the future of the workplace. It was really stimulating, and it made us think… We pay a lot of attention to creating an environment where people feel safe to express themselves and explore issues, but we need to make sure this it is not at the expense of expressing different opinions. Which is just the sort of design challenge we love at Connect!

The Impact of Wavelength Connect

Proudly, we are a purpose-led business at Wavelength and our programmes are designed to create serious impact on those who participate in our leadership programmes. Every year we measure the performance of the previous year’s Wavelength Connect programme, holding ourselves accountable and helping future clients understand Why Connect?

You can find out more about the impact of Wavelength Connect in our latest report, from research with our 2023 members.

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