Bright Sparks will support an inclusive approach to decision-making – Philippa Ward

Pinsent Mason is seeking to nurture future leaders, says Philippa Ward

Philippa Ward is a Corporate Solicitor and founding Spark Board member at Pinsent Masons LLP

Strategic decision-making at Pinsent Masons will take on a new perspective following the launch earlier this month of our Spark Board, which comprises of eight colleagues who will represent viewpoints from different generations, geographies and job roles.

The aim of the Spark Board is to support an inclusive approach to strategic decision-making, ensuring the firm’s global board benefits from perspectives from outside the elected partnership. It is intended to lead to a more inclusive decision-making process that embraces the many talents around our business and we hope it will be a catalyst for engagement around the firm, increasing the connection between senior management and junior colleagues.

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The Spark Board will consider current topics on the board’s agenda, present recommendations and opinions on a number of “advisory projects” delegated by the board, and four “thinking projects” shortlisted by the Spark Board and approved by the board.

The concept was born from a recognition that, whether you are a lawyer, a fee earner in another discipline or a specialist in an area of business operations, you can offer a different way of thinking and alternative expertise on the big issues. There is a recognition around our business that no single person or committee has the monopoly on good ideas, and that’s where the Spark Board has a role to play.

It will stimulate, inspire, encourage and nurture potential future leaders by providing opportunities to gain insight and experience as to how a board works. It will also encourage collaboration, cohesion and greater teamworking between generations, building valuable networks across all of Pinsent Masons’ global footprint.

Employees from all parts of our business, not just fee-earners, are eligible to become a Spark Board member. The criteria is that they must be enthusiastic individuals who together represent a diverse range of opinion, background and thoughtful insight, and who are below the level of Partner, Legal Director or Director of Business Operations.

The firm received 130 applications from across our network of offices with the successful candidates, who work in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds, London, Dubai, Melbourne and Paris, appointed for two years.

We considered a two-year maximum term long enough for Spark Board members to bond well as a team and to allow good exposure to the board’s thinking and strategy, and deliver some meaningful outputs. All Spark Board members will then be replaced by new applicants to ensure that we have a completely fresh set of individuals bringing new ideas and a continuing cycle of diversity which includes as many people as possible.

Our Spark Board is different from the mirror or junior board concept used in other businesses. A mirror or shadow board is typically made up of senior individuals looking to step in to board roles, while a junior board usually has a set age criteria and is typically placed a step further away from the management board. Our Spark model follows no previous template and has been designed to reflect Pinsent Masons’ culture, taking in all the good ingredients from our extensive research of boards.

Consideration was given to appointing a junior person on the board but we concluded that creating the Spark Board goes one better. Putting one junior colleague on to the board to represent the views of thousands of colleagues around the world would place a huge amount of responsibility, pressure and expectation on to the shoulders of just one person, and it would offer only one person’s perspective. The benefit of the Spark Board is that it offers the considered, collective thinking of eight people from all around the business.

As we continue to transition our business we know our decision-making needs to be informed by the widest possible range of talents within our business. If we want our business to work better we have to be prepared to push a few boundaries, and that includes around key decision-making.

As always, the proof will be in the pudding as to the success of this project, but a good benchmark for our firm and our stakeholders will be whether the global board choose to implement the Spark Board’s proposals, the success of such initiatives, and whether our community feels better engaged with our board on a global scale.

Philippa Ward is a Corporate Solicitor and founding Spark Board member at Pinsent Masons LLP