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    Succession Planning: How to Harness Future Leaders in your IP Team

    No longer just a concept for royalty, succession is an important thing to consider for managers in all aspects of IP. Whether you are looking to develop a senior patent attorney, a future partner, head of department or even planning for a retirement, you should be considering the future leadership within your company. 

    Succession planning

    You might be wondering, why plan so far ahead? In short, succession planning is the best way to prevent disruption in a managerial transition. If you have prepared candidates to not only excel in a senior role but feel confident stepping into one, you can ensure smooth transitions and avoid the need for ill-fitting interim managers. In this article, we discuss succession planning, and how you can prepare the next generation of leaders within the IP industry.

    Managers with good succession plans look years, not months, into the future.

    Considering your succession planning when hiring, even at entry level, can pay dividends far into the future. When interviewing candidates, can you imagine them stepping into a managerial role at some point – given the right experience and support? This might seem difficult to think about at such an early stage, but this is where search firms such as MWA can be vital. Our consultants have over 50 years of combined experience to draw upon, and we can help you find the candidates that have the potential to develop into excellent future leaders. Our consultants are skilled in identifying traits within candidates that might predispose them to leadership, and we can provide advice on attracting top-quality candidates with long-term potential.

    Career experts, Ed van der Sande and Sebijn Bunt, outlined the characteristics that will be integral to leadership success in the future business climate1:

    A caring and conscientious approach:

    • They express the importance of a caring and considerate approach and good people skills. Excellent leaders must be focused on employee wellbeing and understand its value; employees who feel valued by their managers are less likely to leave and are more productive2.


    • Successful leaders must be capable of frank self-reflection, understanding their own needs for development and growth.

    Challenges are seen as opportunities:

    • Crucially, future leaders are eager to broaden their experience. They will seek to take on projects that stretch and build on their experience, and they will be comfortable outside of their comfort zone.

    Excellent communication and an ability to network:

    • Alongside these personal qualities, an excellent candidate will be capable of networking to expand both their connections and their knowledge base.

    The traits above, in addition to many other inter-woven aspects, can indicate that a candidate may one day excel in a leadership position.


    With the future in mind, how might you as a manager cultivate the next generation of leadership in your organisation?

    Implement a supportive culture and promote autonomy

    In our experience, the key to developing your employees is ensuring that they feel supported. Depending on your company structure, this might take the shape of an executive development program, or a less formal mentoring system. There is, of course, a balance to strike between allowing your employees independence and giving them support. If a worker feels cast adrift, they are more likely to look for other opportunities, however the opposite is also true. Micromanaging a good candidate will most likely lower their productivity, decrease a sense of autonomy and perhaps increase their likelihood of moving to another company.

    Provide opportunities for growth

    If you think an employee in your department might have the potential to be a leader in the future, give them space to apply these skills. Encourage them to lead projects that might test their capabilities. Following these experiences, you will both have new information about their capabilities. This gives you an opportunity to reflect on the experience, including strengths and areas for improvement, providing insightful feedback for their future development.

    Enable all of your team to rise to the occasion

    Finally, it is important to note that your succession planning and future leader development can – and should – focus on more than one person. If you have curated a great department, there should be multiple people you could see performing well in a managerial position. Concentrating on a single candidate to be a leadership successor may cause other employees to feel neglected;  perhaps making them more likely to look for external opportunities. Plus, there is every chance you could be  inadvertently ignoring someone who has the potential to excel. The best person for the job might not appear that way at first, which is why it is essential to develop every employee who works under you. It is also inevitable that people will move on to new positions with other companies. This result does not mean you have wasted your time; rather, you should consider every employee you were able to cultivate into a leader a success, regardless of where they are working.

    Taking an active interest in the professional development of your employees will have a positive effect on retention, productivity, and wellbeing. Whether in private practice or industry, having a succession plan is always advantageous. Here at MWA, we can advise you through this process, from forming a strategy and hiring with the future in mind, to offering career coaching and development opportunities to existing employees. The goal at the end of this process is to have well-rounded, experienced IP professionals with the confidence and skills to  seize challenges and act autonomously.


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