Nothing but net, part 2

Sep 18, 2017

Success in recruiting is relational, not transactional, so keep those contacts warm and be prepared to wait for that all-star to join your team.

Last year I had the privilege of watching the courting of Kevin Durant once he decided to leave the OKC Thunder for greener NBA pastures. In early July 2016, there were several days of recruiting and negotiations by some of the biggest teams in the NBA that all wanted what Kevin had to offer. In the end, the Golden State Warriors prevailed and ultimately won the NBA Championship with their new star. I wrote about this in a previous TZL article. I highlighted the efforts that every team undertook to try to get Kevin to join them and ultimately how the Warriors won the recruiting battle. The bottom line? When recruiting good candidates you need to pull out all the stops and make it happen.

Fast forward to this year’s free agency season in the NBA. Outside of some of the monster salary extensions received by a few of the NBA’s biggest stars – James Harden comes to mind at about $248 million – one of the best off-season recruitment efforts came when the Boston Celtics were able to lure away NBA star Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz. Over the past seven years, Hayward proved to be a diamond for the Jazz. Picked up in the early part of the first round of the 2010 draft, Hayward had just come off a remarkable sophomore season with Butler where he lead his team on a fairy tale romp through March Madness and a date with the Duke Blue Devils in the Championship game. They lost in an epic battle, but Hayward and the Butler Bulldogs both made a name for themselves.

I know a lot of you are wondering where I’m going with this article. Please bear with me. I’ve spent the past few years telling everyone who would listen that successful recruiting is all about relationships, marketing (branding), selling, and an eye toward the future of talent acquisition. I even went so far as to craft a course around the subject called Becoming a Better Recruiter.

One of the foundations of recruiting is developing relationships both for the short-term and long-term. The story of how Hayward ended up with the Boston Celtics and how he has helped to position them for another deep run in the NBA playoffs in 2017-2018, possibly even a run to the NBA finals, is all about relationships.

I’ve always said that people work with people they like. It’s a pretty simple concept. Here are three steps that you should take to improve your firm’s talent acquisition efforts:

  1. Look for and see the promise in everyone you run into. I know that’s a loaded statement, and not everyone turns out to be a great find, but you never know until you get to know someone. This is true for those who work for you as well as those working elsewhere at a competing firm, or looking to get into the design and construction industry altogether. Celtics coach Brad Stevens was Hayward’s coach at Butler University during the team’s run to the NCAA Championship. He saw promise and recruited Hayward when the lanky teen was still a high school tennis player and thought he could be something special. Hayward’s NBA draft stock rose after that successful sophomore season. He sought out Coach Stevens, family, and friends to ask what he should do next: leave for the NBA or stay another year or two in college. Coach Stevens ultimately said it was his decision, but he was there to support Hayward in every way during the process. Obviously, it would have been in the coach’s best interest for Hayward to stay, but Stevens remained a sounding board and sympathetic ear.
  2. In the war for great talent, a hiring manager has to be willing to let some people go if they need to move on to greener pastures. They may eventually come back. We see it a lot in the industry when talent moves to another firm with the hopes that there are better days in front of them – only to find out that what they saw wasn’t a great opportunity. If you treat people right through this process and focus on the relationship, you may eventually win the war. Over his first seven years in the NBA, Hayward emerged as one of its top stars and a force to be reckoned with, whether shooting three-pointers or driving to the hole for a thunderous jam. He quickly helped the Utah Jazz become respectable again. All they needed was additional talent. Even with the players the Jazz assembled around Hayward over the years, they still had a steep hill to climb in the stacked NBA Western Conference.
  3. Work to keep your lines of communications and relationships intact with any and all potential candidates you come in contact with. Build a simple database of names and stay in touch with them any way you can, even if it means a simple card during the holidays or a LinkedIn birthday greeting. With social media and technology being what it is today, there is no excuse for not staying in touch, even if it’s automated. You never know when you will get the chance to call on a talented individual to again join your firm. That chance came for Coach Stevens this Summer. Hayward was looking at the prospect of a max contract with the Jazz (the player’s current team can always structure a deal to pay that individual more money than any other team to encourage them to stay), or look to join another team. After a lot of soul-searching and time with family and friends, Hayward ultimately chose the Boston Celtics and his former college coach, Stevens, for the next chapter of his NBA career. In his article in the Players Tribune, Hayward wrote about his decision. He mentioned one of the driving factors for him to leave a team that he spent seven years with was the relationship he forged with Coach Stevens and the fact that he was always a non-judgmental and sympathetic ear for the rising star.

Next year I may write a follow-up to this article where I mention the fact that the relationship that Coach Stevens and Hayward built up over time led them to the heights of NBA success or the Warriors could dominate the league once again.

Only time will tell.

What we do know is that two people who have a lot of mutual admiration and respect for each other are now working together. The sky’s the limit for them.

I want to encourage you to look at every point of contact, especially potential hires, as relational ones and not transactional. Relationships always last longer than transactions. Just ask Coach Stevens and Gordon Hayward.

To find out more about the Becoming a Better Recruiter seminar and to learn how to build solid relationships for your firm through talent acquisition, please reach out to us. We look forward to helping you any way that we can.

Randy Wilburn is director of recruiting strategy at Zweig Group. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.