We created Wavelength to change the world for the better through business. We work with leaders from across industries and sectors offering them world-class stimulus, learning and new connections.
We want to help make them better leaders – more informed about key issues, more resilient and confident in how they exercise leadership, with better networks – in order to deal with an increasingly complex and fast changing world.
Our cross subsidy business model has enabled leaders of scores of social enterprises, charities, mutuals and community organisations to take part as equals with their peers in private sector big business. We have invested more than £500,000 in the learning and development of social entrepreneurs and innovators in the UK and beyond.
Since 2008 more than 900 leaders have taken part in our various programmes. Our work has taken us from the beauty of the Berkshire Downs, where we run our residential events, to the slums and rural areas of Bangladesh and Kenya and on to the gleaming citadels of the digital revolution in Silicon Valley. It has been quite a ride.
We have never wanted to do purposeless inspiration. We are not an entertainment business, we are in the business of behaviour change. Our theory of change is rooted in the power of experiential learning, of leaders learning from leaders, and that diversity – in all its meanings – deepens everyone’s insights and learning.
We wanted to find out: What real impact have we had in the lives and leadership behaviours of the many hundreds of people with whom we have worked?
The leadership and executive development industry is drenched in hyperbole and empty promises of ‘transformational change’. We don’t want to over-claim or indulge in hyperbole about how amazing we are. We aren’t. We’re good but we have much to learn and we want to always be improving.
Gauging behaviour change and linking it credibly to our interventions are no easy tasks. Senior leaders living complicated, ever-changing business lives have many influences on them of which Connect is but one. People have different learning styles and timing is everything.
In some cases it is very straightforward to draw a line between participation in Wavelength and new stuff happening. Centrica founded an innovation investment fund called Ignite to back “entrepreneurs with the energy to change society.” A director at Deloitte created a pro bono programme for social entrepreneurs. One private banker, Richard Brass, created a £40 million impact fund, Impact Ventures UK.
All identify Wavelength as the catalyst to change and creation.
But where there has not been a big bright shiny new thing created, like a multi-million pound investment fund gauging the difference Connect has made – in our alumni’s difficult business decisions, calls, hiring and firing, career choices, an individual’s sense of confidence and how they are seen by peers and bosses – that is harder to measure and account for.
So we decided to ask people. This report is the sum of those conversations and surveys. We owe it to our members and clients to make honest and accessible data available to them. We want to verify some of our core beliefs about our approach to leadership development and gain insights into how we can improve.
For this, our first foray into verification of impact, we have focused on Connect and not included our Wavelength USA or bespoke activity. We started with Connect because it is by far our biggest piece of work in terms of the numbers of participants and the time and money we spend on it.
Connect is an annual leadership programme which runs from February to July and is made up of a series of residential events, master classes and visits to companies, punctuated by facilitated sessions to help members make sense of what they are learning and how it might be applied in their own businesses. Each year there has been between 95 to 120 members from a wide range of businesses and sectors.
The structure and content of Connect has been deliberately improved over the years, including in response to two qualitative studies. So while the leaders who responded to our survey all went on Connect they will have experienced different versions of it.
So What Have We Learnt?
We believe that the research data validates the design approach that underpins Connect: where leaders learn from other leaders from diverse sectors alongside other leaders; where learning is experiential; where we curate content based on our instincts and beliefs about leadership rather than design a didactic programme of rigid learning.
This being said we were surprised (but perhaps should not have been) to find that where individuals came from the same organisation, building a network within their organisation was often valued above building one without. And indeed we feel that while there was a high score on consciously building networks (70% said Yes) this is an area we would do well to understand and attend to better.
We have learned that when it works – when leaders make significant changes to their leadership, their lives and in some instances their organisations – Connect does this by equipping them with three key things:
- The courage to act rooted in self-confidence and a sense of purpose.
- A bank of stories, examples, anecdotes (not case studies) to draw on in almost any leadership setting.
- The habit of looking beyond the day-to-day both at where they are headed personally and at what others are doing beyond their division, organisation, industry and sector.
We have also learned that for some this cocktail can be more Molotov than Mohito and that for these the spark comes from meeting Connect at the right time for them personally. While this could be a post rationalisation – for some leaders perhaps the great stimulus always arrives at the right time – it could also be true.
Finally it has been reinforced to us that while it could be argued we’re taking a ‘changing the world one leader at a time’ approach, we are OK with this. One leader across a whole career can make a huge difference to many organisations and individuals and to the world.
However, we won’t stop working with teams and with organisations because we know we can make a difference there too.
The Results of Our Survey In Brief:
To find out more read our full Impact Report here