September 6

Episode 138: Leading Through Change With Curiosity And Wins


In today’s episode, Mike talks with Ted Konechne, President of the East Region for AIS. AIS offers inspection and engineering services for home builders, helping them speed up construction without compromising quality.

Ted shares how he focuses on connecting personally with employees during mergers, being curious about regional differences, and celebrating small wins daily to drive accountability and momentum.

Ted Konechne’s Bio

Ted Konechne is the President of the East Region for ARCXIS, an industry leader in engineering and new construction inspection services. He has nearly 30 years of experience in the residential building industry, previously working with Pulte Homes, Beazer Homes, and running his own HVAC design/installation business.

Ted is passionate about helping homebuilders deliver quality, energy-efficient homes faster and more cost-effectively. He has been actively involved with the National Association of Home Builders at local and state levels. In 2011, Ted won a National Home Quality Comfort Award for a geothermal home design in Texas.

In This Episode…

  • Be curious – ask questions and listen to understand others’ perspectives
  • Celebrate small wins daily to build momentum and confidence
  • Lead by example – model the accountability and initiative you want to see
  • Connect personally with employees to understand their needs and concerns
  • Provide clarity around objectives so people feel confident moving forward

Links & Resources Mentioned…

Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to Get Unstuck and On Target. I'm Mike O'Neill. Whether it's our team at Bench Builders working with a company, or it's me coaching a CEO one-on-one. Getting leaders in companies unstuck is at the heart of everything I do, and that's exactly what this podcast is all about. Each week, we invite incredible guests who share their hard won experiences of getting themselves or others unstuck.

Back on target and moving forward, and I hope it gets you unstuck and on target as well. Joining me is Ted Konechne. Ted is the president of the East region of ARCXIS. ARCXIS offers comprehensive inspection and engineering services for builders by eliminating risk. Their [00:01:00] team creates a smooth building process enabling their clients to speed up the construction process without compromising quality.

I wanted to spend some time with Ted because the industry that they support is an industry that it's tough under the best of circumstances, but it's particularly tough now. And what I'm most interested in is to kind of tap into Ted's background of his company is growing and as y'all acquire and you bring companies in and employees in.

Lessons learned that you have had and how to do that best, and that's what the conversation today is going to be all about. Ted, welcome. 

Ted Konechne: Thank you so much, Mike. I'm excited to be here with you. This is a great topic. 

Mike O'Neill: Ted, tell us a little bit more about your company. I gave a brief description, but how close did I come to getting the high points about that?

Ted Konechne: Very, very well done. ARCXIS is a, [00:02:00] a group of companies across the US in 26 states. We work primarily in the residential new construction space. Our top customers are probably the top publicly traded residential home builders in the United States that you see. If you looked on any listing on the internet.

Our focus areas are, there's several areas that we can influence and help build quality for those customers. Primarily we're an engineering firm. We can do residential design work foundations, frames mechanical design, electrical design, plumbing design for architectural seats. We can do all of that work and our approach is different in that we do all that work in the effort to kind of create a, a high quality code related product for that builder.

But then we want to add the inspection elements to it to get our people out there to review those components and those elements and make sure that the things that we talked about doing get done. And that continues throughout the ARCXIS company as a brand, is that we attach an inspection and a verification to all the things that we recommend.

Our [00:03:00] field verifiers inspectors, we have energy modeling folks who can help with energy compliance in different states where it's needed. And the big pitch of course now is, is the Energy Star program has now received the ability to, if you complete Energy Star, you can get a, a federal tax credit if you're a builder.

So that's a, a big focus for builders who don't typically do that type of work. Are interested in our consultancy and our energy modeling and analysis to go in and find out, you know, how can they comply, how can they achieve that status, and, and then, and then in turn receive those tax credits. So that is kind of a cradle to the grave of the construction of that home, or cradle to grave is probably not appropriate, but cradle to maturity of that home would be a better way to say it.

But following through that whole process, design, inspection, insulation. Final fit and finish code related items, certifications for tax credit and everything at the end. So that builder gets a high quality product and they've got a lot of value [00:04:00] built in that they can give to their customers. 

Mike O'Neill: Got you.

So Ted, you shared with me in our prior conversation a bit about your company, it's growing, that you are acquiring. Other companies and bringing it kind of under the umbrella, and it's that part of your job that really intrigues me most, and I'd like to spend most of our time on here, and that is when you're out there looking at a potential company to bring in under the umbrella, what goes with that is the people side and, and as.

In terms of kind of where you're, you're already surfacing an industry that really has been hit hard. We're recording this podcast in late summer. And you know, I think the building trade, it's just, it's just really, really tough dealing with a lot of different things. In what ways has that kind of affected y'all's strategy of growing?

Ted Konechne: [00:05:00] Yeah, it, it has certainly been that way. Now, the construction industry has historically, always had challeng in getting qualified help. Our, we are very closely related to that industry, and so we're not a lot different. In terms of the companies that we bring in, we do look for companies that fit our, our culture and our values.

We're, we're looking for people who like to do it right. We're looking for qualified intelligent people, and we wanna retain the best talent. We continue to recruit the best talent. So we're always on the lookout for those things. And some of the recent integrations we've done have been really great businesses, localized to the regions, and those great businesses have really great people in them.

Those people then are attached to that kind of smaller culture. So all of those have been great choices. All of those have brought us really high quality talent. The challenge then is, is that. Now we've got a lot of talented people and we have to be able to align them around our core values of perform, align them around our processes and [00:06:00] get them lined up on how we execute on our deliverables that we, we have for our board and for our company intention.

So, That is in and of itself getting stuck in the, Hey, why don't they understand what we're doing? Right? So you go to the, you go to the fundamental easy things. Well, we just need to train them on our methods. We just need to train them. A lot of managers in the world today have lost a lot of steps or have, or have gaps in training.

You know, they say, well, I'm going to train him. I'm going to show him what we do, and then he should know how to do it right. You know, show one. Teach one, do one is how we try to approach that. You know, that gets you the training completed and you start to engage with teams. So our structure is by market.

We've got an area manager and he has an inspection team that's with him. That team has to achieve certain qualifications. Our company has an excellent internal training department where we can get a new hire that comes in and, and we can line them up on that [00:07:00] training group. That training group then can get that person through certification, prepare them for the day-to-day fundamentals of the job.

That local manager can say, Hey, here's how your day is going to look as an inspector for us, and whatever market it might be. So you get the mechanics of that down. We're very, very good at that. Then it's a matter of simultaneously kind of engaging the manager and the person, the candidate. Around the, the passion for the job itself, which is, you know, we want to go out, we wanna look at buildings, we wanna communicate with our builder customers and we wanna solve problems, review and verify, you know, deficiencies.

How do we improve quality, how do we add value? How do we perform for that customer? Those are all things that we try to instill in our everyday discussions to create the velocity around some of us in the senior leadership team. We understand it very well. And we think, man, this is, this is all we have to do.

And we forget that there's a, there's an [00:08:00] emotional connection that has to happen with your employees. Not the one where you say, Hey, we're one big family. because I think that's a little bit disingenuous, but the one that says, Hey, I understand you're here with us and we promised you a career path and we have shown you a way for your earnings that you, that you feel like is good.

We've got certifications we can give you, and all of that. And, and help people progress in a company to get their goals achieved, whatever that might be. Where those connections get lost is where we're trying to put the people together, where we're trying to put the personalities together, where we're trying to plug in the communications together.

We have so many different walks of life represented in the construction industry anymore. I mean, you know, there was a time Quite a while ago, frankly, when I was in the construction business and you know, my managers and my operators of the construction business on the east coast were not a lot older than me.

They were pretty young, but they had some good experience and the guys over them had a little bit more age. They had pretty good experience. And so you [00:09:00] can notice this cascaded understanding about the processes that if you engaged and you watched it happen, it, it really made sense. It became a kind of a progression into, okay, this is the job and this feeds this guy's role, and that feeds that guy's role.

That's becoming harder, I think for us to do today. You know, given the things that we've endured the last three years, let's say, you know, let's just say since what we would con conclude the end of our, our pandemic crisis, and we'd say, Hey, now we're done with that. Now what? That fundamentally changed things that gives people.

Different concerns that we used to have had. They have different needs that we used to have, you know, working from home, man, we would've never thought of that. Five, six years ago wouldn't have been a discussion point. We really would've never even considered those things. Our teams primarily operate independently in the field, so they're alone a lot.

They get up, feed the dogs, take the kids to school, potentially breakfast with the wife, whatever it is. And then they're out on the road in the vehicle to go to their first set of inspections. Our [00:10:00] inspectors will carry on the lightest of days, probably six or seven inspections. The longest of days would be, I don't know, some up to 12.

Mike O'Neill: Well, help me understand something, Ted. If the nature of the work let's, and we're talking about now about the inspections, is they have to be folks who know their stuff. You're going to reinforce it with high quality. Technical training, but the nature of the work strikes me as you need people who have the self-discipline.

To go do what needs to be done. How do you screen for that? 

Ted Konechne: That's a, it's a great question. We spend a lot of time trying to train managers around the tactics and processes for that. What I tell my folks is, you know, Try to get to know them on a relatively loose level. Is this a guy you wanna kind of hang out with?

Is this a person who kind of, seems like you seem our, our interview process is typically very relaxed. Where we can, if we're in [00:11:00] market, we try to meet them out face to face. Because of the fact that we're remote, we're not bringing people into an office and we try to engage them in an experience level, obviously, you know, we're going to try to find someone who looks like someone we would want, which is a previous construction experience, industry experience, maybe distribution experience, maybe previous energy testing experience, another company.

And try to create those shared connections and say, Hey, will we, we do this? And I saw you did that. And then it really boils down to attitude. If they feel engaged about it. You talk about the things that you know are risks to the job loneliness, you know, conflict management with our customers. You know, the builders get upset and you're out there by yourself and how do you handle yourself?

How can you, you know, carry yourself? All of those transactions of value for us happen one-on-one in the field. So it's crucial that we have a person that we feel like, Hey, you know what? I like Mike. Mike is, he's responsive. He has good habits that I've noticed. He's interested and [00:12:00] passionate about this work.

He has some ideas for how to contribute to our processes and a word, I guess we, we, we kind of burn it down to is this the kind of guy you'd like to sit down and have a, have a beer with? The answer is, yeah, I would do that with them. Then that's, that tells you that you need to start moving into the next layer of qualification for that person.

Mike O'Neill: You mentioned through acquisitions, we've talked about just bringing employees and bringing them up to speed, but you also are acquiring other companies, companies that might have cultures that are different. If you were to describe what type of culture have you found most difficult to try to integrate into your culture, what, how would you.

How would you describe, what have you found doesn't marry well with the culture? 

Ted Konechne: My personal experience is we've had pretty good luck with blending of cultures. Because our selection process and that acquisition is related to, hey, are the services [00:13:00] lined up? So you sort of kind of go in knowing, hey, I think it's going to be okay.

But in some cases, instances outside of our region where we've talked to someone they're, they're geographical. They're regional and they're, and they're sometimes driven by the local municipal code base or the, the building attitude of that sector of the country. So that's interesting. Everyone wants to pick on California, and I'm not going to do that.

So California listeners out there raise an eyebrow, fear not, I am simply saying that we all know that Southern California is a very different place than Columbia, South Carolina. If you've been to either one or neither one, trust me, they're just very different movements, so. That cultural difference is rooted in, Hey, this state has more oppressive requirements for certification of a structure.

They have a different way to certify and seal documents and deliver them to the customer. They have a, they have a different attitude or approach to this work product or this deliverable. And so therein lies the issue. It's not so much the [00:14:00] people, it's more the, their environment and their geography that they're located in, where it might present a challenge.

Other parts of the country have just got, you know, we joke all the time in the company in the north, they have this thing called snow. Now I grew up there in that part of the country. I was born in South Dakota and I was raised, you know, born in southwest Minnesota, raised in in South Dakota.

Since moving, I don't shovel snow anymore. I haven't hardly seen any for I don't know how many years. So we don't worry about snow days. We don't worry about trying to get around. You know, that's not an issue up there. It's a, it's the only issue you know, for a good half of the year. So that is an example is, is that, hey, this is just a market operating difference that we have to focus in on and understand.

And our company based in Texas and primarily operating. Again, lots of states, but primarily in the lower 48 and the 'smile' states. We're up into Seattle, Washington and we're in Utah and we're in Minnesota and we're in some of those places, but we have to remember that hey, okay, you [00:15:00] know, heating dominated climates in the north is important, so we have to think about that differently.

If we're in, in Texas, we worry about cooling dominated climate, so our building science and our application and our knowledge, Of that subject has to be, you know, we have to think about it being different. So when we say, Hey, this is how we do it here. They say, well, we don't do it that way here. And so I think as a leader manager that is looking to get that done, you really have to stop and listen.

Practice active listening. Ask questions. Be curious. I'm sure everyone has seen the famous quote from Ted Lasso show. You know, be curious, ask questions, don't make assumptions of things. That is something that we talk about a lot in my region. It is amazing to me what you can learn if you just continue to ask questions and resist the urge to make a judgment.

So if you're questioning a candidate or a company or a process, Somebody somewhere will unfold the part where it says, this is why we do this. And then you can say, now that I know that this is the thing that you have to do [00:16:00] because you guys think that's important, let me show you the part that I do that is aligned with that and that we can build that common ground.

I think that's one of the small little areas where lights start to come on. Folks start to realize, you know, oh, this is going to be okay. Oh, this guy is like us. Oh, he does understand this review process or this approach that I'm going to take to this because we found alignment. 

Mike O'Neill: Yes. You know, you used the term Be curious.

Ted Lasso was out and a lot of people said, Mike, you got to watch Ted Lasso. And I, and when I sat down, I couldn't stop it. It was, yeah. There's so much packed into those episodes. But you're the president of an entire part of the country and we've been talking about, you know, how do you integrate businesses?

You've acquired the people who come in, in recognition of the work is diverse. Yes. You're spread geographically. [00:17:00] And you're trying to instill, be curious, and you used the word active listening. You've got a lot of people who report into your organization. How do you find is the best way to instill that curiosity in the people who report to you and they, the people who report to them?

What has worked best for you? 

Ted Konechne: That's a good question, Mike. I. Continued, repeated conversations around the question for me have been working. So I've been out here a little over two years building this region in terms of creating a footprint that looks just like the other regions using our business processes and where we have.

Partners join us and we bring in new pieces to the business, or we bring in a new service to that business. There's this automatic suspicion from folks who kind of were like, well, you know, I'm not sure how it'll be here. I remember when we did you know, in Florida, those guys see this podcast, they'll find this money, but they were very concerned about, Hey, [00:18:00] my life is this way.

I have these things that I like. I am concerned you're going to change that. Because this is new and that's, that's human nature. We see change. Things are not going to be the same as they were. I might not like it. I was getting pretty comfortable. So actively listening to the, to the person, to the people that you're bringing into your organization, and then having them be, be heard and just let them say what they're concerned about.

And then addressing, addressing it point by point. But for my managers that are internal, that might be reaching out or getting in new people. A lot of times the, the thing that I hear the most from my managers is, well, I heard this person say this to this person, and I'm concerned that this is what this person is feeling and doing or thinking.

And I, and I, and I encourage everyone as best I can to say, man, then you should give that guy a call. You should say, I feel like this is what's happening. And let give them a chance to clarify. Asking those questions. Hey, I, I [00:19:00] heard that you're upset about the equipment you got, potentially.

What's wrong with that equipment? Well, this, that, asking those questions, going through those progressions with that person, one, creates an engagement that this person caress about my concern. Two, it gives you tons of data about what the real issue is. And that real issue might be something tactical that you need to get corrected, you know, might have a piece of bad equipment or you might have an issue that's legitimate.

And so rather than just quoting the here's what the rule says or here's what we're going to do there's tons of great books out lately about military leaders executing change in their organization through all these different processes. And what I feel like many of them boil down to is, You have to have a genuine concern.

And then you have to ask the questions, and you have to run it kind to, to the end of its course. And then you have to decide to take action on those questions and answers. And once you've executed that action, you're checking it with that person to say, Hey, I, I get this, I get that, but we're going to do this.[00:20:00] 

Are you good with that? And typically, once a person feels like they've gone through all of the things that they're concerned about they feel heard, then they're ready to partner with you to execute on that strategy. Then we build on conversations around velocity, about how we're going to get there, what we have to go do.

Then they become more engaged to go on the ride with you, to push forward on things.

Mike O'Neill: Ted, you and I have had a chance to speak and you know, that I gravitate towards those companies that are growing, but because of that growth might be experiencing growing pains. Growing pains come in different ways.

More often it gets described to me as people problems. That is a kind of a catchall phrase, but you are leading a division for a growing company. What have you found is the biggest challenge to sustained growth?

Ted Konechne: Certainly personal accountability. And I'm not talking about making [00:21:00] your better, tying your shoes, I mean, being able to show up and participate around the issue, right? We, we, we talk in our group every week on our senior teams. All of our individual markets have their managers in this, in the senior team leadership talking about topics.

We've formed a very specific set of things that we wanna discuss. Then we have an open forum for inspectors where if they have issues, so if they have a builder that has a, you know, they, they're struggling with something, that they bring that issue up, that we address that issue and we let them know that we're going to get that solved.

But the accountability is, is, hey, if you bring it here to us, we have to solve it. We have to close that issue. And with my team that I try hard to do, and I hope someday that I'll be able to look back and feel like this was successful. Is, is, Hey, you can help too. It isn't a top down, it's not a strange chain of command.

We all know what we have to do to sustain the growth and provide you know, answers to the directives. We all know what needs to be done to serve the [00:22:00] customer. We all know what a positive output looks like when those interactions occur. We all know what we want it to show, you know, end up like, and we all can make an impact on that.

We all can do the right thing and the little things, and it's, this may seem silly, Mike, but it's. You show up in a clean shirt, you're tucked in, you're squared away, you're getting attention paid. That's the very least we can do. And as we go up the chain quick responses to emails, providing the information that was requested, and we try to celebrate people who have taken on initiative and, and just demonstrated personal accountability.

You said we're going to do that. I got that done. He, he was good with that. We got that finished, that accountability, delegation. Accountability and owning it and taking it forward creates what I talk about all the time, which is velocity. A manager of managers of teams, of other folks and resources gets too broad at the base.

If you want to pick up velocity in your world, more of you have to get on the shovel. [00:23:00] More of you have to know where the dirt's going to go. More of you have to know that if all of us get our hands on this thing or work through this issue quickly. Then we'll start to pick up some speed, then growth becomes much easier to accomplish in that you all have confidence in your teams executing on the goals.

Mike O'Neill: I'm so glad you went back because I was going to follow up. I don't normally keep up, but you'd mentioned the word philosophy at least three times, and now I have a better understanding of what you mean by that. I love the illustration of more hands on the shovel. It's visual, but it makes. Sense. But let me go back to something you said a moment ago to make sure I did hear that correctly.

And that is, it's one thing to talk about it, but what you're trying to do is see that this cascades through your leadership team by modeling it, right? Right. And, and, and so you're basically saying this is the expectation. If this is what you want someone who reports to [00:24:00] you to do, you need to be clear.

You need to effectively model it. And you said something that caught my attention is when they do and when progress is made. You recognize when that actually happens. Do you find that that oftentimes can get pushed aside in just the pace of every day? We forget to recognize when things go right.  

Ted Konechne: Yeah, absolutely.

In my years of previous consulting, you know, clarity creates confidence, chaos, and creates confusion. We have to have clear communication, C channels. We have to know that we won and when we win we need to say that was a win. Good job way to get that done. When we agonized around a process that we were trying to sort out, we are kicking it back and forth and all of a sudden the smoke clears and we have a diamond.

We need to recognize that velocity is important in that. People then feel like they've made their contribution and if they can see [00:25:00] if everyone makes a small contribution and that results in a project moving at a certain distance and it starts to pick up some speed, then you have enthusiastic folks who want to keep that thing moving.

You know, that is where we try to stay focused on that accountability piece. You can help Mike, you can get this going. Here's your piece of that pie. Once you bring in that part and you add it to the, the, the sum of the total, and we, and we start to get wins, if you will. Another consultant told me once, one day, he says, you got to celebrate wins every day.

Even if you don't think you can find any, if you got up and put the right shoe in the correct foot, that's a win. Count those up. You know, we, we wanna do that in an organization because there are so many challenges to the work. It's a technical complex work. It's a code related work. It's there's, there's plenty of conflict in the field, but if we can execute on those deliverables, if we can get things done for the customers and they feel value in our efforts.

Then we wanna go do it [00:26:00] again, then we want to get it done tomorrow, then we're going to do some more next week. Then we're going to expand this service to a bigger project on the following week. And people do want to move. They do want to be unstuck. They do want to accomplish things. My, one of my personal mantras is, is very important what we leave behind in this world.

Not in terms of statues or or or podcasts or news articles. It's very important that the people behind us pick up good habits and that they can carry that good habit. And so that if I'm not here tomorrow for whatever non morbid reason, they can say, Hey, this is how we used to do it. This is our habit.

This is how we show up, and this is then kind of reinstituting Good work. Our people and giving them a way to say, Hey, yeah, I, I'm going to do that. I'll answer quickly. I'll sort that out. I'll close that loop. I'll get that velocity on that project because I think somebody who's worked hard all day and provided lots of velocity and answers comes home rested and confident that they [00:27:00] accomplished some stuff.

Maybe it wasn't everything you wanted. Maybe we didn't get all the way to the goal line, but man, most days, if you can kick the extra point, that's a good day.

Mike O'Neill: We have had a pretty far ranging conversation, but this is an unscripted conversation, as you know, as our regular listeners know. As you reflect on what you've shared today, what do you want to be those takeaways?

Ted Konechne: I think I would like people to take away with the idea of being curious, asking questions, engaging with your folks.

On, on that personal level, even if we're only a little while, right? We got to check in with our folks. We got to see how the day's going and that we should be clear with our objectives for that person and for that day we should, we should be very, very clear so they're confident what they've got to go do.

And be mindful of those efforts for your people when that win occurs and celebrating that victory. That [00:28:00] celebration, that clarity, that understanding and those wins every day, I think will result in noticeable velocity in your teams. You'll be able to move forward quickly. You'll see them starting to gel together.

You'll see them starting to align around things that you're talking about. Most of all, if. They see that you are passionate and driven. If they see you are genuine and honest in those efforts, if that all happens, I think those are the ways to help move our people in a more positive direction. Get more done and feel better about doing it Mike. 

Mike O'Neill: Well done. In terms of recap, you know, folks who are listening say, I wanna learn more about Ted. What's the best way for them to link up with you? 

Ted Konechne: Well, you said at LinkedIn I spend a lot of time on there reading I get a lot of knowledge and information from people like you and, and people in the industry sectors, and there's always plenty on there.

You can always find me on there if you can see how my name is spelled, you're open to find me on there and, and, and reach out with anything anybody would want to talk about. 

Mike O'Neill: [00:29:00] Spell your name for those who, who heard me pronounce it, but I wanna make sure that they can see it. 

Ted Konechne: Yeah. Yeah. It's a killer. So I was in fourth grade before I could spell it myself, so don't feel bad.

I can't get it right the first time. Konechne, K O N E C H N E. And as my mother would say, it's phonetic. It's co nich, N E C H ne, N E, the bohemian name. It's my father's fault. 

Mike O'Neill: Well, Ted, I'm delighted you joined us. This has been a real treat. 

Ted Konechne: It's been great to be here, Mike, I appreciate the time.

Mike O'Neill: I also wanna thank our listeners for joining us today for even more insights about getting unstuck and moving your business forward.

You can subscribe to this podcast by going to Unstuck Show, but while you're there, you can also sign up for our weekly management newsletter called The Bottom Line. So if you're losing employees that you want to keep, or if you're stuck in the weeds of the day-to-day and you're failing to [00:30:00] execute on your long-term strategy, let's talk head over to to schedule a call.

So I wanna thank you again for joining us, and I hope you have picked up on some quick wins from Ted that'll help you get unstuck and on target.

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