Retention rules: How to keep your top employees

October 27, 2010: 3:55 PM ET

How four companies are keeping their best during tough times.

1. Start a talent agency
Yum Brands started a Talent Scout program last year to recruit outsiders. Selected top performers nominate at least 25 people; they get cash when a recruit is hired. Global talent VP John Kurnick says 25% of the finance team's 2009 hires came from the program. While it wasn't designed for retention, "it's been the most gratifying for the scout," says Kurnick.

2.  Change up bonus time
In 2009 software maker Intuit moved its annual restricted stock grant up from July to February. There was so much economic uncertainty that Intuit's human resources team wanted the grant to make a big impact. Says program manager Eileen Fagan: "It took one more worry off people's plates. It was a huge incentive for feeling good about the company."

3. Send them abroad -- if it fits
When it's all doom and gloom in the U.S., global opportunities can energize top performers, says Ari Bousbib, former executive vice president of United Technologies and now CEO of IMS Health. During the downturn, he says, UTC ramped up expatriate assignments (for those whose family situations allowed it) as bonuses came under pressure.

4. Expand the brain trust
A few companies have asked top performers to convene before board meetings to discuss a similar agenda. Indian conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra has "shadow boards" that advise the executive committee on new strategies and products. "It's a not-so-subtle signal to let them know we value them," says executive board member Rajeev Dubey.

See also:

How to keep your star employees

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