Case Study: HR Business Partner Development Centre

We live in an age of digital disruption. As this iconic Australian brand evolves to meet marketplace challenges, it also recognises that its people processes, practices and capabilities need to evolve to support the future aspirations of the business and to deliver a strategy focused on tomorrow. To support this intent Curve Group designed and delivered a HR Business Partner Development Centre.


Our client’s HR community continues to play a critical role in the organisation’s transformation. In particular, the HR Business Partner job family was identified as a priority cohort for targeted investment, given the importance of HR roles closest to the business as the organisation navigates unprecedented change.

What We Did

Curve Group collaborated with the HR senior leadership team to create a generic HR Business Partner job profile to paint a transparent and consistent picture of what success looks like in this role. With this key job architecture in place, our focus shifted to designing a process that would provide greater insight into the capability and ‘benchstrength’ of the HR Business Partner cohort. A bespoke Development Centre was subsequently designed for the national network of 60 HR Business Partners. Key objectives were to:

  1. Deepen understanding of the evolving nature of the HR Business Partner role
  2. Provide a unique development experience in and of itself
  3. Generate objective needs assessment data to inform targeted development at both an individual and group level, to support the ongoing professional growth and engagement of the HR Business Partner community.

A highly customised Development Centre comprising three job-relevant individual and small group activities was therefore designed, in addition to a networking breakfast and panel discussion over lunch. A number of innovative elements, not typically part of a stock standard Development Centre, were incorporated. These included:

  • Learning Bites: To maximise the developmental nature of the experience, participants were provided with ‘bite-sized’ learning content such as tools, models and / or frameworks to support their performance and learning in each Development Centre activity.
  • Learning Pods: Participants were allocated to cross-functional ‘Learning Pods’ in which to complete the Development Centre activities. At the conclusion of each activity there was an opportunity for members to provide peer feedback to one another to support and reinforce their learning.
  • Development Coaches: Each Learning Pod was assigned a ‘Development Coach’ (a member of the HR senior leadership team) to provide coaching and feedback throughout the Development Centre.
  • Development Panel: Participants took part in a panel discussion comprising senior business leaders, who shared what they look for in a business partner, as well as guest speakers who provided external insights regarding the hallmarks of a successful business partner.

HR Business Partner Development Centre Activities

Assessed activities included a presentation prepared and delivered by participants outlining a key business change, their role in this change and its impact, including what the organisation’s business transformation journey has meant to them personally. The second activity took its cues from a typical ‘in-tray’ exercise comprising items of varying importance and urgency reflecting a typical ‘day in the life’ of a HR Business Partner, contrasting past and future priorities to see where participants spend their time. Specific items were also designed to test participants’ commitment to leveraging the broader HR operating model to respond to business needs, for example drawing on Shared Services or referring to a Centre of Expertise. The third activity was an individual case study analysis of a fictional organisation’s annual report, people plan and budget followed by a group discussion where participants needed to collaboratively agree a set of recommendations for a meeting with the HR Director who had requested the group’s counsel on reducing cost. Following the Development Centre an experienced team of organisational psychologists prepared personalised feedback reports for each participant and conducted debrief sessions to explore the implications of the data and to inform participants’ individual development plans.


While this initiative was always intended to mark the beginning of a development journey, not an end in and of itself, the following outcomes have already been achieved:

  • Enhanced mid-year review conversations given the rich learning needs analysis data that could be incorporated into these discussions.
  • Increased talent mobility, including two acting Head of HR roles that were filled internally, informed in part by the strong Development Centre results the successful candidates achieved.
  • Improved talent retention. For example, the loss of a talented HR Business Partner in an impacted role was avoided.

In addition, participant and sponsor feedback highlight the following benefits:

For Participants

  • Greater role clarity, including the things that HR Business Partners need to do ‘more of’ / ‘less of’ to better support the business during change.
  • Enhanced sense of community with participants feeling more connected and comfortable reaching out to one another for support and assistance.
  • Deeper appreciation of the challenges facing other business areas prompting a better balance of local and enterprise priorities.
  • Greater willingness to challenge through realisation that there is always more than one way to do things and potentially a better way than how it has always been done it in the past.
  • Stronger relationships with senior leaders through having the Heads of HR participate as Development Coaches and senior business leaders contributing as panel guests.
  • Deeper insights, with participants particularly valuing the opportunity to reflect on their role and career more broadly with an impartial third party in their one-on-one debrief.

For Sponsors

  • Improved visibility and understanding of the depth of the HR Business Partner talent pool, through personal observations of participants ‘in action’ and Capability Heatmap data.
  • Guidance on where to target group-based development initiatives through deeper understanding of the collective developmental needs of the HR Business Partner cohort
  • Opportunity for self-reflection on their own capability and approach to developing others through their role as Development Coaches, with many members of the HR SLT embracing this initiative as an opportunity to enhance their own visibility and profile within the HR community.

Next Steps

This initiative has sparked momentum and focus for the ongoing development of HR Business Partners through the design of a HR Business Partner Development Framework comprising the following elements:

  • Refinement and execution of participants’ own individual development plans through conversations with their manager, insights from their Feedback Report and suggestions provided by 70:20:10 Competency Development Guides
  • Interactive HR Forums and the continuation of Learning Pods to provide a safe place to learn and opportunities for practical scenario based problem solving and targeted skill building.
  • Continuation of the role of Development Coaches, particularly to support the HR Forums and Learning Pods and to promote broader leadership visibility and influence across the HR community.
  • Expanded use of the HR Portal to promote ready access to consistent tools and resources, and for information sharing.

Finally, Development Centres are currently being considered for additional roles and job families, including the HR Centres of Excellence, Finance Business Partners and Retail Area Managers, highlighting this initiative’s resounding success in developing capability to support business strategy and underscoring its sustainability as a mechanism for developing talent.

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