The perfect spiral pass lands cleanly into the waiting hands of a receiver, who has just bolted through a seemingly solid wall of defenders. A field goal kicker puts one through the uprights from midfield with seconds left on the clock. A defensive line saves a win by refusing to give an inch on fourth and goal.

At crunch time, the gridiron pros make it look as natural as breathing. But none of the jaw-dropping athleticism displayed during the game happens by accident. It's the result of untold hours of body-bruising practice, whether the players are hot, cold, tired, sick, or emotionally drained. Day after day, year after year, elite athletes drill the basics until they are mastered. And then they run the drill again.

For builders, the current market conditions are no game and the stakes are nothing less than survival. You can't afford to drop the ball because there just aren't that many opportunities right now to put points on the board. That's why it's critical to master the fundamentals of the business: hiring and hanging on to good employees, holding a customer's hand through the sales process, controlling your jobsite, and building customer satisfaction through warranty service. These are the basics that builders keep saying they have to get back to. They're critical processes that have to be practiced every day until they're so ingrained, they're as natural as breathing. And then it's time to run the drill again.

Building Winners

The best building companies have owners and managers who know how to recruit and maintain talent.

Want a team that consistently goes for the gold ring? One way to assure your company's future is to always be on the offensive, recruiting the best people.

Bill Carpitella, CEO of the Sharrow Group, an executive search firm for the home building industry based in Rochester, N.Y., says the companies that have the most success hiring the best talent push the recruiting chores back to the managers who are closest to the construction process and back-office activities.

“Who better to know who fits into the company's culture than the people who already work for you?” Carpitella asks.

The consultant says your company's top managers should always be studying the competition to spot people who would fit in well with your organization. You should also encourage rank-and-file workers to make recommendations.

“Spell out the company's priorities and needs and tell [your] people you'll pay them $1,000 if they bring in somebody the company needs,” he says. “Make a big deal of it when employees serve up ‘A' players,” Carpitella adds.

So few builders recruit in any systematic way that you're liable to gain a huge competitive advantage by getting your employees more involved. Here are six ideas for building a strong team:

PROFESSIONAL HELP: Expect to hire an outside recruiter to get in touch with top-flight financial  or information technology people.
PROFESSIONAL HELP: Expect to hire an outside recruiter to get in touch with top-flight financial or information technology people.

1 Use multiple recruiting sources. Building a winning staff takes a broad mix of skills, so it's really important to reach out to as many sources as possible. Jason Schaeffer, president of Tim Schaeffer Communities in Berlin, N.J., says he finds good administrative people from the local newspaper, but if he needs to hire a CFO or a controller, he either uses a local or national recruiter or his own personal network of contacts. For recruiting project managers, Schaeffer says it's important to work with subs and trading partners, because they know who's really good and may know if someone is looking to change jobs. Another option is to see if a local university or community college offers construction management courses. The advantage of hiring recent graduates is they have the academic training, don't ask for too much money, and often can be trained more easily to fit into your company's system.

2 Train your people—and promote from within. Not every builder has a formal training program, which is why it's huge that Gemcraft Homes in Forest Hill, Md., set aside a specific training room that features the latest projectors and video equipment for Gemcraft University. New employees go through a one-day orientation and are also required to learn “soft” skills, such as how to deal with difficult people. Computer classes are also offered several times each month during work hours.

The training for salespeople and construction supers is very stringent. Salespeople train over eight to 18 months to obtain the title of community sales manager. Here's a sampling of some of the requirements: The trainees must work with at least two different sales managers for three to four months each; sit in on eight to 12 start-of-construction meetings; learn how to fill out the company's cost estimate sheet and sales contracts; and attend at least two walk-throughs with a super and home buyer. Sales managers must also learn how to use Microsoft Outlook and create documents and flyers in Microsoft Word.

The construction training is a 16-course program that's geared to turning assistant superintendents into full-fledged supers. Most of the in-house courses are a half day to a full day, and the average employee takes about one year to complete the training and pass the exam. The program includes classes on presettlement walkthroughs, preconstruction meetings, insulation, framing, and site and grading. Supers must also complete an outside proficiency test in the following four areas: preconstruction meetings, foundations, framing, and walkthroughs.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Dallas, TX.