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Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rick Barry made his mark on the world of college and professional basketball. He was a skilled small forward who averaged 37.4 points per game during his senior year at the University of Miami, and he was the second overall pick in the 1965 NBA draft. But he’s best remembered as a prolific free-throw shooter: he led the NBA in free-throw percentage for several consecutive years. When he retired in 1980, his free-throw percentage (.900) was the highest in NBA history.

So what was the secret to his success? He did things a little bit differently. While the vast majority of basketball players shoot overhand free throws, Barry was famous for his unorthodox underhanded shots. This technique was not only incredibly effective, but it also set him apart as a player and contributed to his popularity.

Construction companies can learn a lot from Barry’s strategy of doing things a little bit differently to achieve success. Most companies don’t need to worry about their employees’ free-throw techniques. But all of them need to set themselves apart from their competition and establish strong reputations in today’s highly competitive market.

Prioritize People Over Processes

One easy way for leaders to get a leg up on the competition is by paying special attention to the most important part of their company: their people. When most companies implement improvements, they focus on their processes: streamlining scheduling, improving safety training and updating HR policies are all common examples of changes companies make to their processes. While keeping processes streamlined and efficient is absolutely important, the truth of the matter is most people who leave a company do so because of the cultural aspects of a company, not the processes. When it comes to how a company treats its people, there are two major areas that usually need the most improvement: onboarding and retention.

It All Starts with Onboarding

When it comes to onboarding, don’t make the same mistake many companies do and assume that onboarding starts and ends in the first few months of a new employee’s start date. A manager is establishing their company’s reputation and setting the tone for a candidate’s entire career in the company from the very first time they meet with them, so it’s important to start making them feel special right away. 

Keep an open line of communication throughout the hiring process, and avoid canceling or rescheduling interviews whenever possible—leaders want to show the potential new hire that they are a priority to the company. Put the best offer on the table right away; managers don’t want to risk insulting or losing out on a candidate by low-balling them over a few thousand dollars.

Once the employee starts, remember that new employees are needy—and they should be. On the list of life’s most stressful events, changing jobs ranks third, after losing a loved one and getting a divorce, so even an excited new employee is likely experiencing a high degree of stress during the transition. At least 20% of employee turnover happens in the first 45 days of employment with a new company, so that time period is critical. Touch base with new employees frequently to make sure they’re settling in, and remind them of how excited the team is to have them on board.

Retention is Key

After an employee is successfully onboarded, the risk of turnover may decrease, but it doesn’t disappear. To strengthen a company’s retention strategies, there are a few simple (and inexpensive) places to start. Make sure that company leaders are connecting with every employee at the company, from the field team to the C-suite. Keep salaries and benefits competitive in the market. Include employees’ families in company events, and make sure to tell every employee how valuable they are to the company.

Just like basketball player Rick Barry, construction companies will find that doing things a little bit differently can make a huge difference in their success—and help ensure a lasting legacy. And remember: companies don’t have to do everything perfectly, but if they put in the effort to make small improvements in these key areas, they will be doing a much better job than the average company.

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