No matter how carefully you hire, inevitably your employees will differ in important ways. Some will be good-humored, intelligent, have a strong work ethic, and always be eager for new challenges. Others will be less so, or worse. You want to do everything you can to keep the first group, because they are critically important to the company's success. Here are five things you should do to retain your top performers.

1. Pay Them Well (And Not Just With Money)

Let employees at every level know that they will be compensated fairly for their efforts, and be sure to follow through with your promises. But don't assume it's all about paychecks and bonuses. Find out what compensation means to them, and also what other things affect their satisfaction. If they want advancement, find a way to provide them with opportunities. If they want a flexible schedule that promotes a work-life balance, find a way to work out a mutually beneficial solution. Remember, if they don't feel valued for their contributions, or if they do not have the incentive to put their efforts and ideas to work for your company, they will move on. There are many creative ways to compensate them and it's worth your time and attention to develop a robust approach.

2. Encourage Them to Take Risks

Create opportunities for your best employees (actually, all your employees) to question the status quo, challenge conventional thinking, and offer new and wild ideas without the fear of reprimand. With encouragement and some latitude, capable employees naturally look for better and more creative ways of doing things. Your goal is to encourage a culture of "Why not?" and then provide them with the support to pursue their ideas. While they may occasionally make mistakes--or even fail from time to time--don't hesitate to press important assignments on to your high performers.

3. Recognize Their Restless Energy--and Channel It

Employees who excel are smart, industrious, and curious. Often that means that they become bored with routine and hunger for something new and interesting to do. They thrive on new challenges. Harness this restless energy and use it to your advantage. Provide your talented performers with a constant stream of interesting assignments that have impact on your customers and your operations. Give them your most perplexing problems and challenge them to find solutions. Offer a few guidelines and a deadline but don't tell them what to do or how to do it.

4. Give Them Time to Play

Children aren't the only ones who need time to play; so do your employees. This may seem at odds with the push for productivity, but planned playtime can be healthy for your organization. Your best performers may come up with a brilliant new idea when given the chance to step outside the daily routine. Encourage your top performers to connect with other talented people in your organization and trust that great things will come from spontaneous playing, tinkering, and experimenting.

5. Lead by Example

Remember that as the leader you are highly visible to your employees. Your approaches to day-to-day challenges, longer term strategic issues, and everything in between do not go unnoticed by your organization. Top employees benefit from working with a mentor who can provide advice, career guidance, connections, and a model to aspire to. Set a good (and consistent) example and your top employees will consistently exceed your highest expectations.