The Building Code Takeover: A conversation on talent with Brandon Patterson and Joe Christensen

On this episode of “The Building Code,” guest hosts Brandon Patterson of the Iowa Skilled Trades and Joe Christensen of Cardinal Crest Homes will be discussing the very important topic of talent. Tips for hiring, what to look for and how to hold onto good people.

Tune in to the full episode to hear about their experience with hiring in the construction industry and what they’ve learned about hiring and retaining top talent.


“And the one thing I’ve noticed is that … well, it actually is an ongoing process, and I’m sure you see that, too. I mean, how have you seen it with, it’s something that you can’t start and stop, that’s what I’ve noticed. That it can’t just be, hey, I do need to hire two people today, and I’m regretting not actually doing that six months ago.” – Joe Christensen

“No, I agree with that 100%. And I’m glad you said that because, I think, I haven’t really thought about it like that before, but you can’t stop recruiting, you have to keep that funnel open at all times. And I think as an industry, maybe we’re not so great at always keeping it open. We kind of go in spurts of like, hey, we need people open, now. Then you close it off, and then you need it again. But like you said, it’s too late.” – Brandon Patterson


“A big thing I look for right now is, a self-starter, decision-maker and culturally fits. I don’t really care if you’ve got a resume that says you’re skilled, and you’ve got some experience, great.

But if you’re a self-starter, you can make decisions and you’re going to fit culturally, boom! Because people can have a huge resume, and they could really fall flat on that cultural thing and decision-making thing. And so, I look for those three things, huge, when I’m hiring.” – Joe Christensen


Joe Christensen and Brandon Patterson | Cardinal Crest Homes and Iowa Skilled Trades

Brandon Patterson:

Hey everybody, welcome to “The Building Code.” My name’s Brandon Patterson, I’m with the Iowa Skilled Trades. I’m here with Joe Christensen of Cardinal Crest Homes. We’re here this week as part of “The Building Code” Takeover series. We’re really excited to be here on week three. Joe, will also be speaking at the Building Better Summit next week.

This first ever Summit presented by Buildertrend will feature the latest trends, showcase industry insights, and give you tools for bettering your business. So, hey Joe, how’s it going? Getting excited for this Summit?

Joe Christensen:

For sure, I’m definitely excited. I’m looking forward to speaking at the Summit with some really heavy hitters, and it should be an awesome time. I’m really excited, it’s going to be a great event.

Brandon Patterson:

Today, we’re going to talk about talent, your team. It can be a challenge to find skilled workers these days, I know that for sure. So, what goes into finding top talent, and how do you keep them? Let’s go ahead and dive into that.

Joe Christensen:

That is a really good question, and I would love to share some of my insight and some of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year, specifically. Well, not just this year. So, this is part of the contractor plague, we all start as like this handy guy, remodel guy, whatever you want to be in the trades sometimes. I’m more of a GC now. And we work ourselves up through the different pathways, and somehow we find ourselves with being a boss. The first time sometimes.
And then eventually you have to start hiring people, and it’s a challenge because usually you do this once, it’s like being a dad, right? You know, prepare to be a dad, all of a sudden you become a dad, and it’s fire hose to the mouth. And I feel like, for me at least hiring from the team that we started with, just my business partner and I to now, 12 plus people, there was some ups and downs and a lot to learn about how to hire, how to recruit, all those different things.

And I know, with your background, with the trades, and what you’ve been doing to promote that, that’s a whole other level that I’m not even involved in. But recruiting is difficult. And the one thing I’ve noticed is that … well, it actually is an ongoing process, and I’m sure you see that, too. I mean, how have you seen it with, it’s something that you can’t start and stop, that’s what I’ve noticed.

That it can’t just be, hey, I do need to hire two people today, and I’m regretting not actually doing that six months ago.

Brandon Patterson:

No, I agree with that 100%. And I’m glad you said that because I think I haven’t really thought about it like that before, but you can’t stop recruiting, you have to keep that funnel open at all times. And I think as an industry, maybe we’re not so great at always keeping it open, we kind of go in spurts of like, hey, we need people now, open. Then you close it off, and then you need it again. But like you said, it’s too late.

So, always recruiting makes more sense, even if it’s just doing things like job shadows or school to work programs or something like that, where maybe they’re high schoolers, they’re not necessarily ready for the workforce yet, but you’re still building that pipeline, even if it’s not 100% somebody who’s going to come on board next week type of thing.

Joe Christensen:

Well, it’s funny that you just said that, too, with job shadowing. I was just talking to a young man last night, and he’d done a little bit of college, he’s going to go back, and he’s thinking about a construction management degree. And I said, well, I had an internship, I can totally bring you on board. And he was really like overthinking it. And I’m like, listen, we’re not hiring for CEO position, we don’t need to have six interviews, you can just come on board and job shadow.

And I could sense some reluctancy of it, and I started to think, and you made me think right now, there’s sometimes, I didn’t job shadow at all in high school at all, and I graduated in 2001, and there wasn’t … that seems scary. And I could tell with this young man, he was scared about it. He was like, oh no, I don’t know what my schedule. Like hey, it’s just a quick lunch, we’ll tour some sites, we talk about it, it’s not a big deal.
And it was interesting to me thinking how big of a deal it was for him to like do this internship, or maybe even job shadow, and I was like, this is how you kind of learn, now that I’ve seen it from both sides. Just get on board and go to lunch with me a couple of times and see if you like it or not. But it seems there’s kind of a disconnect on getting into the field sometimes.

I’m sure you’ve seen that a lot with the younger people of just like, it’s not that big of a deal just to job shadow, or to jump on a site and see what it’s all about.

Brandon Patterson:

Kind of going on top of that topic too, since you do have these students, and people that just don’t know what’s involved in our industry, there’s so many positions and so many kinds of like skills that people can have, and pathways that people can take in this industry. What do you think is kind of like what some of those must-have skills when you’re entering the workforce, and then also, what can we do to make people understand that you’re not always just a plumber?

You’re not always in a hole, you’re not always under a sink, there’s different pathways within the plumbing industry itself that you can be in, and you know you’re still in the trade, but you might not just be the, maybe the guy who’s or the gal that’s doing like the self-performing the work. There’s other things like CFO, COO, CMO, there’s all these different things that are actually involved in our industry.

Joe Christensen:

Totally. So, let me give you a rundown of my business real quick, staffing that I have, and I probably will fumble over my own words, I should have brought like an organizational chart. Not that I’m that big, but I just, anyway, so. When I started with a business partner, we remember doing half the trim work in the first couple of homes. We finished electrical, we did that stuff.

And at the time it was awesome, we loved it, music was blaring, we just were happy to be doing business like every first entrepreneur. And to now, where I find myself, now I’m over business development, sales or client acquisition and kicking off some of our commercial side of construction. But with that, so now we have a pre-construction team, and they handle all the drafting.

I have a draftsman, that does the drafting and estimating, I have my business partner who oversees the whole pre-construction selections and estimating side. We have an interior designer, and beyond that, we have a finance manager. We have an office manager, we have a production manager, we have a project manager, who’s over the rough end of homes, we have project manager on the finish of home, so I could kind of keep on going.

But what it is, is the finance manager, he gets to see construction all the time. He gets to see what’s going on, he knows the lingo, but I mean, luckily this guy could actually hang a door, he’s pretty skilled, but he doesn’t even do that. He likes construction, but he wasn’t even introduced into the field until we hired him. And it’s interesting now because he’s just finance, he handles all the finances.

The same with the interior designer, she loves the field, she loves the work, but she is over design and loves the design part of it. And it’s so interesting that just like when you’re building any project or home, there’s like, 60 different trades, and hundreds of different materials and suppliers that make this orchestrated event happen. On my side as a GC, the same thing is happening, but in the office and in the field, and it’s got different compartments and different things in order to show you the different people’s skills that are focused to make it happen.

And yeah, I think, to kind of give you a short answer to my already long answer. A big thing I look for right now, self-starter, decision-maker and culturally fits. I don’t really care, if you’ve got a resume that says you’re skilled and you’ve got some experience, great.

But if you’re a self-starter, you can make decisions and you’re going to fit culturally, boom! Because people can have a huge resume, and they could really fall flat on that cultural thing, decision-making thing. And so I look for those three things, huge, when I’m hiring.

Brandon Patterson:

So, you mentioned culture, what makes a good company culture? It seems to be one of those kind of words that’s come back up in the conversation lately, and maybe even especially over the last year and stuff, with everything that’s happened, we don’t need to name what’s happened, we all know what it is.
But culture might’ve been one thing in 2019 or in 2020, but I think it’s really going to change with kind of like this virtual thing like we’re doing now. What makes a good company culture, and where do you see it going in the future?

Joe Christensen:

That’s a great question. And I, at first would probably say, man, look at, last IBS. It actually happened Buildertrends like, live bus is like hop in. I would have to have them chime in either. They’re like Marty, every second, I want to be part of them. What am I doing? No, but I think so to give you a little story, two years ago, a company culture became a huge thing with Cardinal Crest and it didn’t happen overnight. And we didn’t even notice it until we actually let somebody go. There became a divide between the pre-construction and the production team. And the divide became so big that there was like some massive bitterness where we had a couple jobs come up and things were just not done because there was some bickering of sense or blaming of sense.

And it wasn’t intentional. That was the thing that I noticed items that were just like, you know what? I don’t have the detail for that. And that’s not fully vetted out. So, the production team’s not going to do it. And a lot of it became that they just became so busy that they weren’t, that it was like, well, this, the pre-construction team, or it should have figured this out. And I didn’t, we didn’t really see this. And it kind of seeped in slowly, like all of a sudden that we were like, people aren’t happy right now. And it was kind of the COVID started happening as well. Right. And that didn’t help. I’m sorry, I said it Brandon, I’m sorry I did it.

But we actually started hiring. We started, we’ve hired another person. And at this point it was a production manager and he was a, just a thing positive, just like one of these guys that are super extrovert and just super positive. Like he’s got a ton of one-liners like, I feel like that says, like his mission in life. He’s just got, I can tell you he’s got so many good one-liners. I feel like I’m saying them all the time now. And he like all of a sudden, when he came on within the first month or two, I was like, we have had a cultural issue in art. We’ve had this bitterness in this growing, this a … systems problem and not talking to each other enough and being positive that we had this, just this divide. And that’s when it really hit me. Like in this, it was about a year and a half ago.

It was like, well, we need some cultural standards. We need to start like mixing in with each other a little bit more. We need to have a little bit month to month. Hey, let’s go, let’s go skeet shooting. Let’s go see a Royals and Chiefs game. Well, we need to do that too, but COVID, so we started mixing a little bit more beyond just the work and I, it’s been black and white, and I haven’t figured out the cultural key or cultural, how to really crack that code. But I have noticed that it’s easy to get a bad culture. It really is. And it’s really hard to produce a really good, well, not hard, but it takes effort. It’s just like recruiting. It takes constant effort. And as an owner of a company, you can’t just think it creates itself.

Brandon Patterson:

No, I think I agree with that too. It is easy to create a bad culture. And I think when we look at some of the issues that we’ve had within our workforce and things like that, and a lot of the stigmas that we have, especially maybe on the diversity side and bring in like women into construction, it’s because we’ve allowed some of this bad culture to exist. And maybe it’s just one person that’s messing everything up. But that one person is maybe like a project manager where he’s out in the field and he’s on different job sites and he’s spreading some of that stuff.

And I agree. It’s easy to have a bad one. So it’s, I’m glad to hear that you’re working on it and it’s that you’re working on these team building things so that, it sounds like you go to these games, you go out and you’re probably doing some axe throwing, and I can tell you, you’re probably like a double axe guy, but so do you do a lot of that stuff because you had that divide. Do you do these things? Did you have some of that? I don’t know if you want to call it, animosity and stuff too? And with the, in the field people versus the, in the office people, it always seems like they’re two different worlds sometimes. Like how do you bring them all together? How do you create those relationships?

Joe Christensen:

Right. Like, the quote, a little bit of a Gary V he calls it like clouds and dirt. He says this a lot. And I think it’s very much like that with free construction versus production. In pre-construction, we’re all just ideals and like dreams and making, planning it and making the scope. But the production guys is where the rubber meets the road. And so, there can be a little bit of like, the pre-construction guys are interior designers and architects they’re in dreamland of production guys are like, oh yeah, that’s not possible what you just dreamed up. And I don’t have that detail. And yeah, it can, it can create some, like you said, animosity, I think the big thing, there’s a book that I read about culture, that they, they defined it as collisions.

And if you can create more collisions in inner working in groups like pre-construction to the production, have them collide with each other more that, and that’s within some type of like lunches, activities, meetings, the more they’re knowing each other, the more they’re understanding their two realms, the better it is. And you know what’s interesting is you sparked my thought on that, is this same culture problem? I’ve seen it happen even on the trade side. And we noticed that this a couple of years before this, and it, as a business owner, you often get like, after it’s all done, you get these epiphanies, of course you don’t see it why it’s happening because you’re just in trenches. But I had the same thing happened with a trade. I won’t name the specific trade, but they, I could tell the owner was always on board.

I’d call him and be like, hey man, we’re having some issues with some guys. And specifically, we’re still kind of working through some of these is I’ll just tell you tool belts, you know? Okay. I’m just going to have to say it. I’ll talk to him later. If he finished electricians with tool belts and finish electricians, we’re doing some really nice kitchens that have some really great cabinetry details. Appliances, finish electricians, love to wear their toolbelts still. But what happens is they get on top of that, a kitchen Island or, or right by it. And they’re just doing like a little bit of a shimmy around the eyelid, and they’re just digging it up here and there a little bit here and there. And we’ve noticed there was like a divide between even in their company to the way they worked with us, that the owner was on board.

But the onsite guys felt like we were just like harping on them all the time. Or maybe their owner was harping on them. And we weren’t communicating directly with the guys in the field. Like they felt like, gosh, Cardinal Crest is, they’re just on top of us about this? They wouldn’t let us wear toolbelts. I mean, they’re not letting us do our job. And until we stepped back and said, you know what? It’s not about the guys in the office with this electrician. It’s about the guys in the field. We need to start communicating and really become friends with them so that when they get to our jobs, they’re like, yes, I’m doing a Cardinal Crest home. And yeah, it’s on. This is going to be fun, they don’t like us to wear tool belts, but they’re cool guys, the job site’s ready, we might get a gift card.

I get free lunch. If we do a good job, let’s do it. And I really realized, too, like culturally, it’s not just internally with what’s going on with Cardinal Crest, but the trade side, I want trades that come to my job site and be pumped. The last thing I want is them to be like freaking every Cardinal Crest home, the sites of disaster. Schedule’s a disaster. These guys changed their mind a thousand times. And so, that’s another hard, it’s a hard divide. We’ve been trying to conquer it because that’s not your company. Right. You have less control of that.

Brandon Patterson:

And I definitely liked the word, the collisions piece, because that’s, I feel like that is how we’ve gotten better at what we do as Iowa Skilled Trades, as like people are like, well, how do you have all these relationships and how you do what you do well, it’s through going out and actually actively doing things with the department of education or with the skilled trades businesses and things like that. Or with these different unions and things like that, where before we didn’t have those relationships. So we weren’t having those interactions. Now, we have those interactions often and frequently, and it’s built those relationships. So, you’re the boss. Tell me what it means as far as, what’s your day-to-day look like, and what kind of weight does that carry to be the boss of Cardinal Crest?

Joe Christensen:

We often joke I’m a co-boss and there’s other co-bosses below the co-boss.

Brandon Patterson:

It’s like the mafia.

Joe Christensen:

Yeah. It kind of set up like that. Well, so, my day-to-day, I have a couple of days that I reserved specifically, like to just start with this, cause this is the fun things. Friday is my site visit day. And that’s at least every Friday, I get to visit a bunch of these sites, get a pulse on things, talk to the production team and really see again, what’s truly going on. On a Monday, now, backtrack on a Monday, we have a couple coordination meetings between the different groups that I’m in, to kind of catch a pulse on the schedules, finances, and different things. And then we have like, what we call is a little bit of a department head meeting where we’re getting together and seeing what’s going on and really part of these meetings on Monday that we try to make a brief, we don’t want to have a meeting just to have a meeting, but we’re trying to create, like you just said, those collisions between the different people and say, okay, what’s working and what’s not.

And sometimes we have an agenda, those meetings. Sometimes I think important thing is when you’re having any kind of meeting that you let like the organic conversations happen. And if somebody like says a concern and they’re passionate about something, you let them, give them room to speak and not worry about your agenda and schedule at that moment. That’s a perfect meeting in my eyes. When you like, someone feels vulnerable enough to bring something up, that’s really important to them. And you don’t steamroll it with an agenda or a time and say, okay, that’s great. We didn’t touch on yada yada yada, and the schedule and blah blah blah. And I won’t say I’m perfect at that. That’s learned from lessons of not doing that, but then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are involved with, as far as client acquisition on the homes and commercial side, I’m meeting with potential clients and developers and talking about different jobs and working in, in different phases like pre-construction. What it means to be a boss? It is an ever growing, changing thing.

Brandon Patterson:

What does it mean? I’m going to relate back? What does it mean to be a dad sometimes?

Joe Christensen:

Say that, but like, you have to be like, again, like for me, like this is my first company, and it just organically grew to what it is now. And so, did I expect to have 12 plus people and be hiring more? Not, I mean, I did and I didn’t and like, here’s a good story, what does it mean to be a boss five, six years ago. This was when I was a new … the former president had been around for 10 years, actually last month was our a 10-year anniversary. So …

Brandon Patterson:

Happy Anniversary!

Joe Christensen:

So, like five or six years ago, there was a new hire. He was young. And we were training him to be a superintendent, not a ton of experience, but we were training him to be a superintendent. Nonetheless, and at that time we didn’t really have a good training onboarding kind of, like program as a little company and most companies don’t, right?

Onboarding is like, okay, he was this. And we use Buildertrend, and we got a vehicle for you. And do you have tools? Can you use those until we figure something out? And then there’s a job site, go ahead, go. And there was this item I, when we get into, because this is like a low point, I’m getting long-winded here. The low point in Joe’s career, he, there was an item that he kept forgetting and the developer was on me about this item. It was a sidewalk repair and it had pavers is really nice sidewalk. They had all these things and we tore it up and it just, they were on me. And so, I kept being on hand. I wrote Post-It notes. I said, hey, we’ve got to get this fixed, job kept going, didn’t get fixed.

And finally, came to a breaking point for me. And I was like, man, he, I mentioned to him, he said, no, I still haven’t done it. In the office, in front of everybody. I was like, man, you suck at this. And I said it out loud. And like, as soon as I said it, it was like that momentum was already coming out. And I was like, ah, and he saw it in my face and I saw, he just, this, this guy just crumbled. And he was younger than me. And he just crumbled. And I was like, gosh, dang it. I’m going to pay for that. So bad. Sure enough. He made me pay for it. And he made me feel like in a great way, like garbage. I felt it. And that was later that day he took me aside and was like, man, like that was so inappropriate in front of everybody.

And he was so, he was so professional about it. And I was like, you’re dead right. You’re dead right. I, this is my first time being a boss. I don’t know what it’s like when I say that out loud with six other people listening, what that means. And right then and there, I was like, gosh, I’ve got to watch what I say. I got to like treat. I got to have one-on-ones I got to have more collisions, like we say, with these people.

And I can’t be, you can’t be so hard, so you can’t be just a loose cannon on those things. And I crushed on that day. He was, it took a little bit, I could tell it took weeks to kind of get that rapport back. And that was a moment, like a pinnacle moment of being a boss. Realizing what I say is really, it carries weight, and you don’t discover that. It’s like this. You don’t discover that like with your first hire, like all of a sudden, yeah, I’ve got to, I used to have like a little BB gun now I have a 20, I have a 12 gauge now when I say things. And so, it is a hard lesson and I’m still learning those.

Brandon Patterson:

Wow, it’s good to hear those stories though, of how you come up. And then one thing that’s not really on here, but I think it’s important to like cultures and teams and systems and stuff. So, do you operate like do you have an EOS or anything that you run there at your office or, obviously you have Buildertrend as one system. What other systems of things do you have in place to keep kind of everybody on the same page and keep your business running?

Joe Christensen:

That is a great question. And so, no, I don’t have that, but you called me out and I know I need one. I mean, we use Buildertrend a ton, and we use a lot of different, we use every single tab on that thing. I think we’re part of the annoying ones who are like, always on their message board. Like, could you add this? Can you add this? Like, this doesn’t work very well. Can you do this? As far as other things, I mean, we use a lot of between Buildertrend, different Google docs and Google sheets, but no, like HR things, we’re lacking in that. And like, we always joke like, oh, we’re going to tell HR on that. Oh, like talk to the HR guy. And usually, it’s the guy that says inappropriate things and has a foul mouth. We say, hey, that’s HR department. Talk to him.

You know, we don’t, and I’m discovering more and more, why you need those things and why there is, I mean a need for those different systems, but as far as no.

Brandon Patterson:

Awesome. Well, I think that pretty much covers everything we’re going to talk about today. Hope everybody kind of enjoyed what we talked about a little bit about workforce, a little bit about talent and recruitment and systems and employees and creating relationships. Before we go, Joe, do you want to talk a little bit more about the Building Better Summit?

Joe Christensen:

Yeah. So, it’s going to be, the Building Better Summit is on April 27th. I will be speaking with five other industry experts, and we all have like an in-depth session. And then there will be a live panel after that. We all have different types of topics. I know there’s some, there’s topics about different company management, even site management, some different, Matt Risinger’s on there, Brad from AFT, they all have their different kind of expertise in different things they want us to focus on. I’ve got my own, which is going to be more actually, you talked a little bit about systems, but mine is specifically on systemizing some of that and creating that cohesiveness between sales, pre-construction production, and we learned some lessons on that. So yeah, we’re super excited. You can go to a to learn more and sign up. It’s pretty easy, and I’m stoked about it.

Brandon Patterson:

It sounds great. This looks like it’s going to be an awesome lineup. And I know some of those guys personally and may teach me things every time that I pay attention to what they’re doing. So, well, that’s a wrap on this episode of “The Building Code.” Don’t miss next week, it’s a Takeover of Buildertrend CEO, Dan Houghton and Frank Blake from The Home Depot. Think he needs to hook me up with some Milwaukee tools.

Joe Christensen:

Let’s do it. See you later.

Brandon Patterson:

Thanks, everybody.

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