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Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down (Memo to the CEO) Hardcover – October 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and the founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, where she chairs the Hidden Brain Drain--a task force of fifty global companies committed to fully realizing female and multicultural talent. She also heads the Gender and Policy Program at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. She has authored several books, including Off-Ramps and On-Ramps (Harvard Business Press), named as one of the ten best business books of 2007 by


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Product Details

  • Series: Memo to the CEO
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422140423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422140420
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 4.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,375,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is the founding president and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation, and the founder of Hewlett Consulting Partners LLC. She's the co-director of the Women's Leadership Program at the Columbia Business School and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Century Association. An economist with 20 years of experience in global talent management, Hewlett has particularly focused on the "power of difference" and the challenges and opportunities faced by women, minorities and other previously excluded groups. She has forged a signature style of enquiry which blends hard data and rigorous analysis with concrete solutions and on-the-ground action.

Hewlett is the author of eleven Harvard Business Review articles and eleven critically acclaimed books, including "When the Bough Breaks" (winner of a Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award, "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps" (named as one of the best business books of 2007 by, "Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets," "Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor"(named one of the best business books of 2013 by the Globe and Mail and winner of the 2014 Axiom book award); and "Executive Presence." She is currently ranked number sixteen on the Thinkers50 list of the world's most influential business gurus. Her writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, and the International Herald Tribune, and she is a featured blogger on the HBR Blog Network. In 2011 she received the Isabel Benham Award from the Women's Bond Club as well as a Women of the Year Award from the Financial Women's Association and in 2013 she received a Work Life Legacy Award from the Families and Work Institute.

Hewlett is a founder of Hewlett Consulting Partners, an advisory services firm that focuses on helping organizations leverage talent across the divides of culture, gender, geography, and generation.

Hewlett has taught at Cambridge, Columbia, and Princeton universities and has held fellowships at the Institute for Public Policy Research in London and the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at Harvard. In the 1980s she became the first woman to head the Economic Policy Council, a nonprofit composed of 125 business and labor leaders.

Hewlett is a sought-after speaker on the international stage. She has keynoted International Women's Day at the IMF, given the featured address at Pfizer's Emerging Markets Leadership Summit in Dubai, and spoken at the White House. She is a frequent guest on TV and radio programs, appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose, ABC World News Tonight, The Today Show, The View, BBC World News, and Talk of the Nation--and she has been lampooned on Saturday Night Live.

A Kennedy Scholar and graduate of Cambridge University, Hewlett earned her PhD in economics at London University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert Selden on September 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"A recession is a terrible thing to waste", so says author Sylvia Ann Hewlett in her new book "Top Talent". Her thesis is that people, particularly top people are more likely to change organisations in a recession than at other times. This presents both an opportunity for enterprising organisations to gain some good talent and a challenge for those organisations who are perhaps not so good at hanging on to their top talent, to keep them.

In part 1, Hewlett presents the evidence that suggests top talent are more likely to move during a recession than at other times. Fortuitously, Hewlett and her colleagues had set up a research study prior to the recession to look at the issues (challenges in work, motivation, engagement, life/work balance etc) facing top performers. Thus they have been able to look at before and after statistics, comments and trends amongst a wide range of top talent people. This provides much credibility to the book's conclusions and recommendations.

I found some of the statistical information fascinating and quite illuminating. For example:
* 31% of people who survive a layoff, subsequently "walk out the door".
* Between June 2008 and June 2009, 14% of college graduates in the US lost their jobs. Of these, 32% were fired and 68% voluntarily left.
* As at June 2009, 22% of "high potentials" are now working an extra 9 hours per week.

But for me, the really interesting stats were around trust, loyalty and engagement and the differences between high performers employed in Wall Street firms and those employed elsewhere both pre and post the recession. There are some real messages here for CEOs, senior managers and HR managers that make this book a great investment.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of the volumes in the "Memo to the CEO" series published by Harvard Business Press. The purpose of each is to have a well-recognized expert on a major business subject provide a brief but insightful analysis of it. In this instance, the expert is Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, sponsor of the "Hidden Brain Drain" task force, and author of Off-Ramps and On-Ramps. Her subject is sustaining the performance of the most talented workers "when business is down" and she shares a wealth of insights during a narrative of only 132 pages. Hewlett responds to specific questions such as these:

Why is a recession "a terrible thing to waste"?
What is "the top talent challenge"?
How and why to create and then sustain a "no-spin" zone?
How and why to think locally and focus on team leaders?
How and why to give workers meaningful non-monetary rewards?
How to develop a fair restructuring process?
How to retain valuable female workers?
How to demonstrate that senior management really cares?
How to re-create pride, purpose, and direction at all levels and in all areas?
Meanwhile, how to expedite your own professional development and personal growth?

Given the space limitations, Hewlett obviously cannot fully respond to these and other questions, any one of which is worth a complete book's coverage. (In fact, I can think of two or three books that have limited their attention to only one of these questions.) What Hewlett provides in a series of mini-chapters are 2-3 key points, usually accompanied by one or two specific examples. Think of each volume in the "Memo to the CEO" series as a briefing, as indeed that was the purpose for which the memorandum format was devised.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down focuses specifically on how leadership can strive to maintain profitability and retain its star performers even during downturns in the economy. The book is broken up into two main parts. Part 1 examines why a recession can cause such harm to employee morale and efficiency. Part 2 then lays out practical steps on how to tackle these issues.

Hewlett discusses the need to focus on the talented individuals in an organization; not to take them for granted. While the stars may not be the target of a layoff, they may still leave after one due to work stress and other issues. For many of these individuals, their top reward is not necessarily money but instead often challenging/ stimulating work and high quality colleagues. For women there are also additional draws of recognition and respect.

Layoffs and recessions may create a bunker mentality amongst the "survivors", bringing on stress and health issues which affect efficiency. Safety nets at home may also be suffering. Only 31% of high performing women are married to men who make more than they do.

A key solution is for leadership to communicate openly, honestly, and frequently. It can take eight or more viewings of a message before it sinks in, even in ideal situations. In rough economic times the listeners can often be, understandably, distracted.

It's hard to overemphasize how critical the leadership skills of each person in management are. When people join a company, they look at its overall reputation, its benefit package, and other larger issues. However, when people leave a company, it is often due to their relationship with their boss. A strong relationship can help them weather a wide variety of other issues.
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