Valuable messages for HR and leaders from Ram Charan and James Kouzes during the HR Summit in Dubai

Highlights from the HR Summit at the Dubai World Trade Centre: November 2015

Part 1

By Liezel Pheiffer Blignaut 

Ram Charan: The road to talent mastery in the new economy 

Ram Charan has been working behind the scenes with top executives at some of the world’s most successful companies. His books have sold more than two million copies, including the best seller The Talent Masters. He was also the author of the Harvard Business Reviewarticle ‘Time to blow up HR (and build something new)’.

In his opening remarks, Charan highlighted that people come before strategy, as it is people who create value. HR therefore has a key role to play.

Charan’s four key messages to HR:

  1. Are you adding value? HR also has to ensure the tools they use add value. Speed to put the tools and initiatives in motion is essential;
  2. Stop using jargon. Connect with your managers by using business language. HR has to move from big ideas to specifics when communicating HR ideas or plans. The key role of the CHRO is to link hard and soft issues;
  3. Build credibility with peers. For HR to achieve this, they need to get good at predicting (based on a three-year plan). Once HR can demonstrate that their predictions came true, they will build trust with managers who will in turn contact them more regularly for advice; and
  4. HR has to act with agility and be great at transformation.


What CEOs want HR to know:

  • Attach an advantage to what you recommend;
  • Execution is key; and
  • Easy business is a growth business.


Two key challenges facing organisations:

  1. Break down silos that cause a lack of teamwork across functional boundaries; and
  2. Prevent the wrong people ending up in the wrong jobs.


To retain talent, Charan suggested that we have to:

  • differentiate between different layers of talent;
  • determine how engaged our people are, and consider the direct impact of managers in engagement and retention;
  • stop focusing on age and layers when considering promotions; and
  • stop thinking that retention is all about money, and start thinking that it is all about people’s ambitions.


There are three uncertainty drivers facing organisations that are the result of radical changes in the business environment:

  • Digitisation is what is driving change globally. Companies should digitise everything and anything that could and should be digitised;
  • Sophisticated software; and
  • The use of algorithms (mathematical procedures or formulas for solving a problem) in business.


For businesses to survive these challenges, they will be required to apply exponential speed and non-linear management thinking, and to break down silos and rather manage the intersection between functions.

Charan warned that hierarchical organisations will not survive (as history has already shown us), because speed is essential.

James Kouzes: HR shaping exemplary leaders 

James Kouzes is the co-developer (with Barry Posner) of the Leadership Challenge Framework, which grew out of rigorous research since 1982. He is the author of a few books on leadership, including The Leadership Challenge and The Truth About Leadership. 

Kouzes emphasised that HR must have a growth mindset – that we can develop leaders.

He pointed out that it would take one million people to find one person without any leadership ability.

Quoting a few sources and research:

  • 86% of respondents think there is a leadership crisis in the world today;
  • the top priority for talent management in 2015 was leadership development; and
  • 97% of employers think leadership development should begin by age 21.


From the research he and Posner conducted, they found that demographics only have a 0.3% influence on engagement.

The research was conducted over 30 years, from 70 countries globally (including Africa) and from more than five million survey respondents. It involved rigorous testing of reliability and validity.

During his presentation, he asked delegates to select the four competencies (from a list of 20) that they admired in a leader. The results from delegates were in line with what their findings were in their global results, and which were the same four competencies that continually end up on the list regardless of in which country delegates were asked the same question.

The four competencies that people admire in leaders are honesty (89%), being forward-looking (71%), competence (69%), and being inspiring (69%).

Their research has also found that there is a difference between the competencies we admire in leaders and the competencies we look for in leaders whom we regard as credible. Leaders who have credibility demonstrate these three competencies: trustworthiness, expertise and openness.

His message to leaders was that they have to do what they say they will do, that trust is key to innovation, and that trust is also key for an organisation’s reputation.

Their research also found that people with the widest networks have better leadership skills, and that we can therefore support leaders by connecting them to the right people.

He concluded by pointing out that leadership is in the heart and not the brain, and great leaders know how it feels to love someone and, as a result, know what passion feels like.


Liezel Pheiffer Blignaut
Founding Director: Human Capital Business Solutions


Copyright of the content belongs to the speakers and not the writer. The summary are from notes taken during the keynote presentations.

The article appeared in the March 2016 issue of the HR Future magazine “Words from the Wise” Page 16-17.

Download the pdf or read the full article: Highlights from the HR Summit in Dubai Nov 15 – Part 1.

Part 2 (published in the April 2016 issue of HR Future) features a summary of seven more speaker presentations.


The HR Summit and Expo hosted in Dubai is the largest HR event in the Middle East, with an attendance of over 3,500 HR professionals from the Middle East and beyond. For over a decade, the event has been bringing together the world’s leading thinkers and influencers in HR and business management, international vendors and HR professionals, providing a great opportunity to learn about and discuss the latest trends in people management and best business practices. 

The next HR Summit and Expo in Dubai will take place 14 – 16 November 2016.



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