Joined at the Hip

Being employee-centric and working collectively leads to a high-performing culture

Locum tenens staffing provider Austin Major Group empowers its people to participate in the success of the company, its clients and its providers — and that fosters an exciting environment of collaboration where everyone shares in both the wins and the losses.

“Everybody is pulling in the same direction,” explains Travis Redman, who works in account management. “Everyone wants everybody to succeed. We celebrate others’ wins just as much as if we ourselves make a deal. We all take that winning mentality, and everybody gets excited for the same things.”

When CEO John Buffa and President Gabe Heckt co-founded the firm in 2015, they sought to hire the right people to develop a staffing provider based on a “high-quality” model.

“The high-quality model really is reflective of getting everybody together, talking about what our clients’ needs are, what our providers’ needs are, and what our employees’ needs are. I believe that starting by being employee-centric allowed us to be client-centric and allowed us to be provider-centric,” says Buffa, who was previously CEO of healthcare staffing provider Martin, Fletcher — which HCA Holdings Inc. acquired in 2012.

Widespread collaboration between people throughout the entire office is unique in an industry that can be quite competitive, even within a firm’s own four walls. To keep internal competition at bay, Austin Major holds meetings and discussions centered on both its successes and its failures, enabling everyone to learn from each other. And someone with more expertise in a specific specialty has no problem helping others with that specialty or with a specific provider.

“A great training methodology is sharing our successes and our failures with each other,” Buffa explains. “You are not slapped on the wrist. In sharing, we all learn.”

Austin Major keeps an open environment, both in the physical office set-up and with information. It fosters an atmosphere where anyone can feel comfortable sitting down with leadership to ask for support or make suggestions.

“As long as it makes sense from a financial standpoint, of course they are going to support you and are happy to help you,” says Redman. “A lot of the companies I have worked at have talked about ‘servant leadership,’ and this is one of the first organizations that I have been a part of where I have really felt that.”

For example, Redman approached Buffa and Heckt with the idea of having a biweekly lunch for recruiters where individuals would speak about what they do well and how they do it. They quickly approved the program, which started eight months ago and has proven beneficial for everybody involved. “We all have experience, but like in anything else, you have strengths and weaknesses,” Redman explains. “When you get up and talk about your strengths, people who have that as their weakness get valuable tips and information on ways to address problems they may encounter.” In addition to sharing information, the company is also open with staff about financials and taps them for input regarding growth strategies. This includes direction on specialties that Austin Major should target and states it should be in. The method seems to be working; the company has grown exponentially and now operates in about 15 states and expects revenue to range between $11 million and $14 million this year.

‘Equally Yoked’

Austin Major operates on a three-desk model where recruiters, account managers and business development all get paid the same commission. This makes everyone “equally yoked” in the success and failure of a search, explains Vice President Jason Bishop, who joined the company about six months after it launched. The model stitches everyone together at the hip, especially in a smaller office; for all to succeed, business development must bring contracts in, recruiters must conduct searches, and account managers must put deals together. With this structure, money never gets in the way and no one gets left out in the cold.

“When there is a success, all three celebrate it together,” Bishop says. Because they must work closely with each other, the structure bolsters the relationships and communication between the departments.

“You treat everybody like they are your customer and respect them and what they bring to the table,” Bishop explains. “And when you treat somebody like that, it’s amazing how your words change and your tone changes. It’s not like it’s Disneyland all the time, but I’ve done this for 14 years and I’ve never been in an office where people treat each other with as much common courtesy and respect.”

First-Round Draft Picks

Turnover is rare at Austin Major, and the same recruiters have been there for at least a year. Because everyone at Austin Major plays an important role in its success, and collaboration is such an important part of its culture, the company is particular about whom it hires and seeks to avoid any possible disruptive influences that may dampen its “a rising tide raises all ships” mentality.

Using a sports analogy, Buffa explains that anyone they hire, or even interview, is considered a “first-round draft pick,” and candidates are interviewed by multiple people to make sure there is a “good cultural mesh.” The company looks for people who are not afraid to speak up and willing to participate in a team atmosphere, and avoids the “hire 10, keep two” mass-hiring strategy.

“We hire one and put the effort into getting that person ramped up,” explains Bishop.

Life Is Not a Spreadsheet

“Life is not an Excel spreadsheet,” Buffa likes to preach. “We’re not looking at an Excel spreadsheet and saying, ‘This is our bogie, this is where we have to be,’” he says. Instead, the company examines the quality of work it does, and that quality of work is what dictates its growth. Buffa’s theory is that if Austin Major continues down its same path and maintains its quality, the same clients and the same providers will come back.

“We want to slow down how locums is done, because we want to treat each provider correctly,” he says. “Every one of them has unique needs. We want to treat clients the way they deserve to be treated, taking into account that each of them has different needs.”

From a growth standpoint, he looks at, “What are we going to do different? How good can we be?” He will ask the staff, “What can you do differently? What can we do better collectively?”

As a whole, working differently and working collectively has made Austin Major a firm on the rise — and a great staffing firm to work for.