During the downturn you likely worked hard to keep your best performers on board. Now that conditions are improving, your retention efforts are even more vital, especially for top talent.

Highly skilled employees who have stuck with secure positions may now be taking a fresh look at their options. And even those who aren't actively seeking new opportunities are hearing plenty about them from their friends in the industry.

Don't wait until you lose a key team member to make retention a priority. Here are five ways to keep your most important employees engaged and motivated.

1. Equip them well

IT professionals who feel hindered by outdated technology or limited resources can quickly become frustrated and bored. That doesn't mean you should devote half your budget to providing the latest toys and gadgets. But it does mean you should selectively invest in tools that will keep your team challenged and stimulated.

The freedom to explore emerging technologies, even those that don't yet have an obvious business benefit, can yield very practical innovations.

2. Frame their work

Make sure employees understand the why of their work, not just the how. Remind your team of your department's impact on the organisation as a whole and, in turn, the organisation's impact on the community or industry.

When introducing a new project, explain how it will ultimately help the business better serve its customers and meet its goals.

3. Invite input

Waiting for problems to be brought to your attention gives minor annoyances the chance to grow into major grievances. Seek constructive input, not just on the group level, but also one-on-one.

If a team member seems reluctant to share, cite an example of a difficulty that was overcome because it was brought up and addressed early on. Even if an issue can't be solved immediately, giving voice to it can limit its potentially damaging effects.

4. Update compensation

Regularly re-evaluate salaries and benefits to make sure they're in step with, or ideally a step ahead of, industry standards. While compensation isn't the most important factor for every employee, inadequate pay is the surest way to nullify your other retention efforts.

5. Unleash their potential

To stay motivated, your most valuable employees may require more freedom than they currently enjoy. Grant trusted team members the freedom to take reasonable risks and try new approaches to projects and problems. Encourage an atmosphere in which occasional failure is viewed as a necessary cost of doing business. Your top performers will appreciate the challenge and develop a stronger sense of ownership of their work.

Retention methods like these aren't just about encouraging your most productive workers to stick around. They can also boost your organisation's recruitment efforts.

When you invest in keeping your team engaged and establishing your organisation as a great place to work, you turn employees into ambassadors. As they talk about their jobs with friends and colleagues, their first hand experiences and impressions carry more weight than any recruiting material an employer can provide.

That kind of edge will become increasingly valuable as competition for the best people continues to heat up.