Meaningful succession planning


A large insurance broker had recently lost three key Executive Directors and discovered that while it had a succession plan in place, in practice it wasn’t substantial enough and was instead designed to simply fulfil regulatory requirements with “names in the frame”.

No development had been put in place to ensure that successors could step up into the roles and in most cases only HR and the CEO knew who was designated for each role as a successor to avoid creating political problems and raising expectations that may not be fulfilled.

It was recognised that had the matter been approached with greater openness and the investment made to develop people, the firm would not find itself looking externally for at least two of the candidates. This would have reduced the investments in cost and time that were now required to coach and intensively train the only successor able to fulfil one of the roles.  

The Remuneration and Nominations Committee asked BP&E Global to develop a new approach to succession planning that would avoid this situation occurring again. As well as addressing the concerns about transparency and individual motivation that had now arisen within the organisation.


In the first instance BP&E Global and the organisation agreed clear goals for the project and a plan to reach those goals. The project team leader was a Director of BP&E Global who lead the team comprising of two BP&E Global consultants and representatives from HR, Training, and the four main business areas.

The goals were:

  • To have a clear and communicated succession planning policy
  • To identify the roles within scope of succession planning
  • To devise the means of communicating the plan to individuals
  • To propose a development programme that would ensure successors could step into their next role when needed.

The timescales were to reach these goals within 2 months of starting the process.

The working party met every fortnight and whilst the work was led by BP&E Global, our concern was to ensure that all parts of the business were involved in formulating the approach. This group also had a role in communicating how this would work and why the approach had been chosen.

We were also concerned that the Succession Planning policy made sense with the Performance Development approach and that there was a seamless transition for individuals selected as successors from the normal development review to the more formal successor leadership development.

The first draft of the policy became known as “Focused Development Programme” and included:

  • Purpose and goals
  • Roles within scope
  • Selection criteria and approach
  • Identification of development needs
  • Options available for development
  • Half yearly assessment of progress
  • What happens when you are ready for promotion

There were considerable concerns raised that the openness of the approach would firstly, create disaffection from those not selected and, secondly, that when ready for promotion there would not be roles available and those people would be lost.

The risks associated with different routes to meet the goals were discussed and all agreed that action should be taken to develop successors properly.

To resolve the debate a formal risk assessment was undertaken with the financial implications of a more guarded approach versus a fully communicated policy were compared. Perhaps the most difficult point was to assess the financial benefits of having better developed people in roles than before and this was resolved by the risk team who arrived at a formula linked to improved business results.

Two months after the project commenced the Steering Group agreed that the open proactive approach to development should be pursued and it was agreed that by having this debate and putting the risks and benefits of the alternatives in perspective had been of great value.

The roles in scope were two levels below Director and following an initial launch event and the selection of the first tranche of successors a two-year programme of training, coaching and mentoring was put in place.

Topics for development were similar to an MBA programme and included:

  • Strategic Management
  • Risk Management
  • Business Finance
  • Management Information
  • Legal and regulation
  • Leadership


Despite the risks, a staff survey one year after the launch of the scheme indicated that 85% of staff felt that the Focused Developed Programme was Fair or Very Fair.

Of the 12 Successors identified one had been promoted after their Manager had left the business and another was ready to take over from a retiring Director.

The board monitored progress each half year following the assessment of Successors and recorded that they felt that this had been a wise decision as an unexpected benefit had been a reduction in staff turnover due, they felt, to the feeling that the company took staff investment and progression seriously.

Visit our Board Ready Leadership page to find out more about our approach to creating future role models for your business.

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You can also email or  call us on +44 (0) 20 7764 0721 to discuss how our insight could make your Board more effective.  

BP&E Global – Board performance matters 

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