In just 11 years, Joshua McKee’s Atlas Staffing has grown to five western U.S. locations, having launched with one in Spokane, Washington. The company serves a burgeoning light industry niche, but to McKee, success stems from its core values. “Embrace growth” is his favorite.
Explaining the term, he told me, “A person with a growth mindset finds meaning in the journey and looks at failure as an opportunity to learn and as a stepping stone to the next success.”
Values matter to McKee. I should know. He was a co-founder years ago of Beardbrand, my company.
He and I recently discussed his impressive Atlas Staffing journey. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Give us a rundown of Atlas Staffing.
Joshua McKee: We’re a light industrial staffing company. We’ve been in business for 11 years. We have five locations across the western U.S. and just opened our newest branch in Phoenix. It’s been a long, hard 11 years, but I’m proud of what we’ve built.
We’re a big believer in the Entrepreneurial Operating System [EOS]. We implemented it years ago in our business. It was an important first step to getting serious about core values and goals and making sure they flow to everybody in the company. It’s been essential to where we are today.
We have clear core values and behaviors and work hard to communicate them to all employees.
We meet our recruiters at the branch level every day. We have weekly huddles and Monday morning meetings like the EOS prescribes. During those meetings, we discuss our values. We want our team to bring stories about candidates who have embodied those values. We celebrate when we hear those stories and share them on our company intranet.
We try to create and communicate parameters, such as, “This is the behavior and values we expect. This is the goal, and this is the core process. If you’re following those, everything else is up to you.”
We want people to express their uniqueness because we learn a ton from them. We don’t have all the wisdom in the world. We do not command and control. We want to see people take risks, fail, and make choices that perhaps our executive team wouldn’t make. But we know what values and behaviors help a recruiter be successful. We want to ensure that those values are entrenched early in someone’s employment with Atlas.
Bandholz: What are those core values?
McKee: I’ll start with my favorite: “Embrace a growth mindset.” It stems from Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset.” It’s not about financial growth. It’s about looking at challenges and obstacles in your life. A person with a growth mindset finds meaning in the journey and looks at failure as an opportunity to learn and as a stepping stone to the next success. We want people to have the mindset of falling short, learning, and moving forward.
“Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” That’s another one. We want people to do the hard thing first. It’s easy for folks in a sales role to chase what’s easy at the moment. “Eat the frog” is another way we phrase it.
And then we have, “Always protect the team.” That one’s straightforward. We look at the team as the business. A rising tide lifts all boats.
“No optional-ism” is a made-up word that we like. It means, “I made a commitment. I promised something.” We want people to follow through with their commitments, promises, and goals.
Bandholz: What are your core values around customers?
McKee: “Obsessed with customer success.” We want to keep the outcomes of the customer in front of us. If you forget the customer, you’re missing the point.
We have two types of customers: our candidates and the companies that hire them. We have different marketing strategies for each. On the client company side, marketing is more of sales enablement, making sure our team has the swag and the collateral to get in front of a prospective client.
On the candidate side, we’re asking, “What are our candidate acquisition costs? How are we reaching them? Is our messaging on point?”
Traditionally, staffing has been more sales-oriented and less marketing. I heard one executive of a huge company say, “Marketing’s sort of a hobby. It doesn’t do much for the business, but I enjoy it.” To me, that sounded like an opportunity. We’ve decided to spend the money to understand how our candidates are searching for work and how we can reach them.
We currently have upwards of 35,000 candidates in our database, and it’s growing. Marketing has helped us understand the value of that database. We can dig into it instead of going to Indeed or Talent.com or buying Google Ads. We’ve got candidates in our back pocket. It seems obvious, but it’s new in our industry.
We’re still a small company. We don’t have a dedicated chief marketing officer. We have a fractional marketer who’s been phenomenal in helping us understand our metrics, such as what investments are paying off. We do a lot of email marketing and automation. Now we’re using bots to correspond and re-qualify candidates in the database. That’s been helpful as well.
Bandholz: When should companies use a staffing agency versus hiring employees directly?
McKee: Every business has to decide its core activities. Ecommerce companies have many activities and functions that are core.
If the task of hiring is not core to a business, then staffing makes sense. There are all kinds of staffing specialties. An industrial staffing company could help locate the right logistics person. Other great firms specialize in marketing talent.
Bandholz: How can listeners connect with you?