Transport yourself back to 2016, a time that seems like a far-off place compared to the hybrid remote-first digital working world we live in now. 

This was a world in which a slightly younger Ilona Brannen was tasked with the challenge of creating a leadership development programme for the future leaders of PwC. A programme that was global, prioritised a remote-first working environment, and was able to engage participants with the business problems of the company, while simultaneously accelerating both their personal and business development.

To tackle this challenge, I began by prioritising user experience. 

I interviewed past participants of PwC’s leadership development programmes to gain insight into what had worked well in the past, and what could be improved. Using the knowledge gleaned from these interviews, I incorporated digital technology and user experience principles to create an engaging online platform where participants could share ideas and best practices, at the same time as building a global community to drive personal and leadership development at scale.

Next, I engaged with key stakeholders across the business to understand what they needed for the programme’s participants to succeed. By identifying high-performing individuals in the programme, we were able to share their success stories with their peers, allowing for continued learning and growth. The programme spanned 200 participants from 130 different territories across the globe and lasted for 18 months, culminating in a week-long face-to-face gathering in Malaysia.

From this experience, I learned several valuable lessons that have shaped who I am and the work I do today. 

Firstly, the programme really brought home to me the importance of building connections when implementing remote-first programmes. To create an initial connection, we sent each participant a glass globe, asking them to take a selfie with it in front of their local office. This “phygital” experience allowed for a tangible item that participants could use to introduce themselves to others, both online and in-person.

Secondly, I learned the power of people working together on a particular task. Using the CEO report, we created activities and assignments that encouraged participants to talk to one another, and to share insights with their colleagues across the globe. This helped to build commercial global acumen, and to foster meaningful connections and real relationships between people all over the world, even though they’d never actually met in person.

Lastly, I discovered the importance of designing intentional face-to-face interventions. By incorporating excursions into the start-up and social enterprise scene in Kuala Lumpur, as well as activation workshops, we were able to provide meaningful participation opportunities that allowed participants to get to know one another, and to learn something new along the way.

In conclusion, if you are running any development programme, the first and most vital thing you can do is to understand the needs of all the stakeholders involved, and to identify key influential people who can support the change you’re directing. Mapping out stakeholders according to their power and interest in your programme can help to identify those who can best support the programme’s success vs those who are relevant but less crucial. 

By following these principles, you can create a truly transformative development programme that makes a meaningful difference to the organisation you’re working with.

If you’re looking for more information, please contact me or my team at Slate Digital at or book in for a 30 minute strategy call where we can help set you up for success.