#BeBetter Podcast with Michael Kurland

An Expert Must Have a Passion for Life-long Learning

Be willing to learn from everyone, including your team members and your children.

Dr. Ashley McConnell is Vice President of Operations for OfficeTrax, a leading provider for Computerized Maintenance Management (CMMS), which helps management teams simplify and streamline their maintenance operations. Ashley has a passion for learning and for helping organizations streamline operations, information and communications so that team relationships can be strengthened.

Portrait of Dr. Ashley McConnell

“At the end of the day, my staff are my eyes. They’re experts because they keep it going.”

—Dr. Ashley McConnell


11. An Expert Must Have a Passion for Life-long Learning

Key Takeaways

  • Never miss an opportunity to learn something new.
  • Value your employees every day as they are your eyes and ears.
  • Be a good listener by being an open communicator.

Social Links


Dr. Ashley McConnell is Vice President of Operations for OfficeTrax, a leading provider for Computerized Maintenance Management (CMMS), which helps management teams simplify and streamline their maintenance operations. As a passionate change agent, Ashley thrives on seeking out ways to continuously improve business processes in order to achieve the strategic goals of her customers.

“Being an expert is knowing that you’re always learning and that you glean everything off of everybody and always be a sponge.”

—Dr. Ashley McConnell


Podcast Transcription

Michael Kurland (00:00):

Hello, I’m Michael Kurland, CEO and Co-Founder of Branded Group. Welcome to the #BeBetter Podcast. To me, our company’s mantra to “Be Better” is more than a tagline; it’s a culture that permeates our organization, propelling our team to Be Better to each other, our customers and our communities as well as to ourselves. Each week on the #BeBetter podcast, I interview leaders who authentically exemplify how they are being better in their professional and personal lives.

Welcome to another episode of the BeBetter podcast. I’m your host, Michael Kurland. Today, I am very excited to welcome a special guest. We have Ashley McConnell, PhD, Vice President of Operations for OfficeTrax. Ashley, welcome to the show.

Dr. Ashley McConnell:

Thank you, Michael.

Michael Kurland:

You’re welcome. We’re happy to have you here. We really would like to know what do you do and why do you do it? We’re going to jump right in.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (00:33):

I’m Vice President of Operations for OfficeTrax. My background is change management, and as you said, I’ve got a PhD. I toyed with the idea of staying in academia and then realized that I’m pretty much more of a solutions orientated character wanting to help people. I want to listen to their issues that they’re having and translate that into something that’s beneficial for them. So I was given the opportunity to come across from Northern Ireland all the way to Canada, to work for OfficeTrax. The first side of the gate was to look at what they do, understand what they do. Then that was the starting point for my career with OfficeTrax. Right now I’m delving right into looking at the different customer bases that we have and translating their needs into a computerized system. That’s going to help their maintenance software solutions. So every day is a different day, it’s different challenges, different personalities, different customers, and different needs. I just absolutely love working with the customers and trying to figure out some solutions for them. That’s ultimately going to make their business better.

Michael Kurland (01:47):

I mean, clearly you came across the Atlantic Ocean and just uprooted your whole family to come work for a CMMS. So you must really love it. What about that? What drove you to do that? Just the fact that you wanted to help people, help customers?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (02:07):

It’s twofold, right? So it’s your professional and then your personal. Canada has so much to offer. Right. I think for me, it was about this, be better. So it’s be better for my career and where I wanted to go and, and the solutions, but also be better for my family. So I think the key thing is there’s so much to do and explore.  I’ve been in Canada only for a year and my girls, we just love to go and explore it. To be honest with you, it’s been better for us, for a family, we got to spend a lot more time together and really just get out there and see what the world has. So that was the driving force for moving across and opportunities.

Michael Kurland (02:50):

Right. So you have to take them whenever you can. It’d be better for your family. That’s great. So I don’t know much about Northern Ireland. Is it not a great place to raise a family or is it just a lot of hustle and bustle?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (03:00):

A lot of hustle and bustle. Northern Ireland is fantastic in itself and has so many places to explore as well. But with it being such a small place, the opportunities there are narrow. So that’s why Northern Ireland struggles a lot to try and keep the students that have gone through university. They’re trying to find those opportunities within companies. So this is the opportunity for international and globalization and that’s really the basis of what my first degree was. It was international business. I always knew that that’s where I wanted to go and being a Canadian, it was like coming back home. So I went to Northern Ireland to be better with the education system. I ultimately brought that back to Canada to help the Canadian and the U S marketplace to be better too. So there’s always that opportunity that I can take that back to Northern Ireland.

Michael Kurland (03:57):

You’ve had dual citizenship your entire life. I too lived in Canada for three years in my mid-teens. I think we’ve discussed this and I was in Richmond Hill. Fun time. Canada was great. I loved it. I would go back. It’s just too cold for me.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (04:18):

Too cold. Ironically, we love it. I didn’t think that my kids would enjoy it, but we’ve been skiing and we’ve been snow tubing on everything. So it’s where most people hide and hibernate over the winter. We’ve been those crazy, crazy people that have just been outside enjoying it. So it’s good for the mental health.

Michael Kurland (04:41):

Yes. Outdoors are great for the mental health. So my next question for you is what are you curious about right now?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (05:03):

I think this is perfect timing. COVID-19 okay. I don’t think anyone ever expected something to have such a huge impact right across the world. I look at it from a professional standpoint, how it’s impacted our customer base, and their operations, how it’s impacting ours. Especially as a leader in an organization with a lot of our staff working remotely, trying to support them. But then also from the personal aspect is probably every parent’s nightmare right now, is the kids are not going to return to school in September. I think to myself how am I going to be able to be a great leader of an organization, but also be a great mom and, and ultimately a homeschooling teacher too.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (05:51):

So it’s which hat do I wear at whatever point during the day?  I think that’s something that I’m pretty curious about as to how I’m going to deal with it, but also there’s people within organizations that are going to try to strike that balance too, of homeschooling and working remotely and even living in shared environments and trying to work remotely. It’s a challenge. So I’m pretty curious as to what the new normal is going to look like because ultimately this is a huge change for everybody. I’m pretty curious as to how everything’s going to change in operations wise. So that’s what I’m curious about at the minute.

Michael Kurland (06:37):

I mean, how do you balance the time of, you said you have two girls. So how, how old are your girls? What grades?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (06:47):

They are nine and 11, so grade three and grade five.

Michael Kurland (06:51):

Two elementary school girls that you have to homeschool Monday through Friday, and also do your nine to five, 40 hour a week job from home as well. So how does that all fit into a normal 24 hour day? That’s the big question, right?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (07:11):

Yes. I think it’s just pure chaos. Right. I think at the start I tried to be very routine orientated. I had said this with other people. When you’re working, you’re working, right? You don’t have the kids running around in the background of the phone calls and then the Zoom meetings. That just went straight out the window, like day two. I have kids who are just as curious as I am,  what’s going on in the world and,  they’re coming up to the Zoom meetings and want to see who’s there and asking questions and some of my staff has also helped with the home work. Please don’t tell my boss. I know he’s probably watching this anyway, but it’s the normality now, that they’re coming and asking you questions, they’re trying to be independent.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (07:58):

You’re trying to encourage them to try and undertake things by themselves. You still have to provide support. That’s almost exactly the same in the workplace as well. You’re encouraging your employees to be independent, but also provide them support too. So it’s just  a different age group, but it’s interesting. I get to see what they’re doing in school. They get to see what I’m doing in school and my youngest has really shown an interest in what we do as and so she’s been on a programming course for the past couple of weeks. So that’s been pretty cool. Working from home is an opportunity for me to see what they really, really are interested in and who knows? We might have a new programmer in a couple of years’ time working for OfficeTrax.

Michael Kurland (08:43):

Give it another 10 years and there you go. She’ll jump into the programming. I personally don’t have kids, so I don’t have that to deal with that, but I’ve  got a couple of buddies and they’ve been homeschooling their kids the last couple of months. Towards the end of the year they all said the same thing. It was just a nightmare of trying to balance work and homeschool. There were days where, well, homeschool lasted 30 minutes because the kids’ attention spans were just not there. I mean what are you going to do? It’s a new balance that I guess we have to find a way to be better about. But I think maybe it’ll change the structure up and allow for a lot more creativity, from both sides, it is going to be interesting. I don’t think this is not going away anytime soon. I know they talked about a vaccine possibly being ready by the end of the year, but even then, who knows if that’ll be ready and that’s probably another, I would say 12 months of this, if I had to guess. Canada is handling it a lot better than the U S I believe, right.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (09:59):

We are. Not to gloat. Just straight out there with they’re pretty regimented. I respect that, you know? So even with us being back in the workplace, we’ve got the mandatory masks in the common areas and it is a little bit strange, especially if you’re wearing glasses.  I look halfway through the day where you’re fogged up, but it’s trial and error with these masks.

Michael Kurland (10:30):

So you guys are back in the office? You guys are fully functioning back in the office?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (10:35):

We have.  We have them on rotation,  just to keep it safe. Part of that was trying to support, as everybody was moving back to some sort of normality and stores were opening and our customer base needed us. There was a growing need to support them. We work very much as a team. I think for us to work better, we missed that socialization of getting up and going into the office and chatting. I know that the first people that wanted to be back in the office were those with kids, so it was topped out. So it was almost like, please let us back in..

Michael Kurland (11:17):

So we did the same thing here. We aren’t open. We have a very small rotation and you have to sign up ahead of time and there’s only four spots for the whole office and that’s have an office that normally holds 85 people. Because we’re not fully opening. I don’t know if we’ll ever fully open back up for a while. I haven’t been to the office in four months, because I just have no desire to go. I can do all of my stuff from home. It’s funny. The four rotating people either have kids or like something on their home life that they’re just like, “I just get into the office.”

Dr. Ashley McConnell (11:56):

Equivalent to a restaurant or a bar at night. So that’s the way I look at it sometimes too. Coping mechanisms.

Michael Kurland (12:15):

So let me ask you this. What motivates you to be better? What is your driving force?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (12:51):

I think being a role model. That covers being a role model to my kids and being a role model within work. To be honest with you, my kids are the most important. I’m showing them how important it is to be at work and organize and have routine and just delivering. That’s really what motivates them. I see two kids who watch me daily and it’s amazing what kids observed throughout the day. The Zoom meetings. My youngest and the eldest, they have to do them with school and they were able to do it themselves because they had watched me. It’s amazing what they gleaned throughout the day, but also being better and helping keep some sort of normality for our staff.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (13:44):

It is stressful. It is super stressful right now. I just want to make sure that if I can alleviate any pressure for my staff, then that’s what I’ve got to do. So that really motivates me to be better about. I’m also that type of person that’s always striving for perfection. Characteristically professional is always something that’s really important to me. So anything happens, look at it and lessons learned, right? Typical project manager. What did I do well? What did I not do? What could I do moving forward? What have I learned from that situation? So that’s essentially how I work as an individual. I’m driven by the fact that my two kids, that I just want them to see where they can go in this world.

Michael Kurland (14:35):

Well, again, I don’t have children, but I’m sure when I do, they will be the driving force for me to be better. But currently I can relate to what you’re saying about your staff. I’ve got a staff of between furloughed and unfurloughed, 85 people that I just don’t want to let down. We want to make this company thrive, especially during the current times. It’s hard, but we actually are starting. I don’t want to say we’re starting because with everything that’s starting and stopping, who knows it could take two steps forward one step back, but we’re in a good place still. We haven’t been able to bring everyone back, but we’re working towards it. That’s our goal. These are people that have families and rent and mortgages and bills to pay and we don’t take that stuff lightly. We want to make sure that Branded Group is this rock that’s there for them to come back to. And so a lot of everything I do is just making sure that I’m doing the best for, I guess, my extended family. Right? So I get it. Totally. I can totally relate to that. Let’s move off of the work and talk a little bit about you. How are you being better to yourself at these current times?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (16:00):

So the key one for me is I would be a self-confessed workaholic and this is my family and colleagues always tell me, it’s work, work, work. Lately I’ve been driving myself to try and find that balance. So taking holidays, which I very rarely do and making sure that when I take the holidays that I’m not answering my phone, I’m trying to turn it off. Sometimes the temptation is crazy because I want to support them and make sure that everything’s going to plan. But for me, that’s the first. I know we said we were moving away from work, but unfortunately it just seems to be my life circulates from work. I’m not very good at trying to shut it down. So key other things are when I’m coming home, it’s switching my phone off. We’re doing organized games nights with the girls and different activities and I can get in my walking and focusing on my mental health as well, and spending time with my kids and try and understand how they’re feeling with this situation.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (17:09):

Because for me, we’ve moved to Canada. We moved in June and then come March, everything just changed for them. So they were transitioned naturally into being at school and a whole new system. Then all of a sudden it’s everything’s up in arms. So for me, the focus is on being with the kids and I’m trying to support them through that massive change in their lives. Ultimately that’s making me a better person because sitting down with them, understanding their needs and their emotions and just taking time is where I’m trying to get to right now. So they’re right at that age too.

Michael Kurland (17:50):

I remember I moved a couple of times when I was a youngster and they didn’t just move down the street to the next city. They moved across the pond. So making new friends and probably just started making new friends and now having no access to new friends other than Zoom calls, which I don’t know if that’s normal for children these days. That just makes you have to be a better parent, right? You have to find a way to keep them entertained and all that stuff. I think mental health is very important. I think that it’s something that we don’t put enough time and effort into. I too, am guilty of once being a workaholic and 80 hour weeks. If my success was measured by my bank account and it led to a very empty one sided life, and that’s why I moved to California. That’s why I started Branded Group with that entire be better mantra. Now, I make time to meditate on a daily basis. I make sure I get my workouts in six days a week in some fashion, whether it’s a hike or a walk or something like that. I think you’re doing the right thing and holidays, or as we in the U S call them vacation…

Dr. Ashley McConnell (19:13):

Vacation, sorry, still have to meet that transition.

Michael Kurland (19:18):

I’m guilty of it too, checking my phone. I’m sitting poolside somewhere. When I finally do get away and I’m still checking my phone. When this thing went awry, let me call this person. All that stuff is still going to be there when you get back. There’s nothing so critical that’s going to happen that you’re going to lose your entire business overnight. So you have to take that time to disconnect. You got to take that time to recharge the battery so you can be better for your employees and for your kids. So anyway, just my thoughts. So now we will go into a work related question. How are you being better professionally? What are you doing? What are you bringing with this? You said you’re a change management agent. What does that mean and how are you being better at that?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (20:18):

I think to be honest with you, change is typically planned, right? For most organizations and for the COVID-19 it was right on the back foot. So you had one day to prepare. So we had been away for the RFMA conference. We came back and we had a day to turn around to get everybody working remotely. So there wasn’t much planning in place. We had some new employees started with us. The key thing was the lack of planning. You just had to respond accordingly. To be honest with you, the key thing for them is communicating effectively. What are you guys working on? What do you need help with? Now, you’ve gone from seeing people who are like knocking on your door and seeing their demeanor and understanding if they’re having a good day or a bad day and now you’re on the other end of the phone. It’s really, really hard to judge, are they stressed? Are they happy? All of a sudden my phone’s constantly ringing and I’m seeing them like beeping through the line and I just can’t get to everybody. I went through a period where I felt like I had abandoned some of the staff, because I’m trying to do customer calls and then they’ve got 101 questions. For me to try and be better with them is like planning that time. Send me a meeting marker. This is your time. This is your 30 minutes or whatever it is that you need to run through and catch me at these period of time throughout the day. That’s what I’m having to do to help be better for them.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (21:56):

But it’s listening, right? The key thing is listening to what their issues are and then trying to put solutions in place. Sometimes I realized that – my boss says to me all the time is you can’t solve all the problems, right. You can’t get to yourself. You can’t get down because you can’t do that. So sometimes you just have to help whoever it is that has the problem to let them work through it and figure out what their solution is. So present them with some ideas, and then being there is essentially what I’m trying to do for the employees. But that’s why I’m glad we’re getting back into the office. Because I’m very much like body language. I can tell when they come in, what I need to do and bring my humor.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (22:41):

So I think that was one of the things that I try to help with is we’ve got some stressful situations and I bring my humor in there and I also try myself to alleviate the stress that they have and try not project the stress that I have onto them. That’s a huge thing that I’m trying to do to help with my staff. As any leader in an organization is. There’s a lot of stress there and you don’t need to project that onto your employees.

Michael Kurland (23:14):

You’ve covered a lot right there. Definitely projecting stress as a VP and for me as a CEO, you deal with a lot more than everyone else is dealing with. There’s some stressful days where a client is mad and they may want to pull their account or something like that. You’re trying to work through that, but then you got three different people that need 10 minutes of your time, like you said. You need to be able to be present and focusing, listen, which was a really good thing that you said. I think being able to listen as a sales person, that’s the biggest skill that you possess as a sales person is to be able to listen, but I digress.

Michael Kurland (24:02):

So just being able to stomach all that stress or chest load that stress and not portray the frustration of something else going on because someone else needs your time as a leader in the organization. So I think scheduling is also great and being back, all these things are good. All these things are good. I like it.  I want to talk a little bit more about this change agent. Where did this come from? I love the title change agent. What makes you a change agent? How are you changing? What is that?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (24:51):

The whole basis of my research for my PhD was about making sense of information. I think the key thing to that is listening, I think people forget about communication and how different people have different communication needs and how you communicate with them, how frequent you communicate with them is important. I’m taking that into a workplace scenario as leaders of organizations are concerned about the change of their organization, right? How it impacts the company and the processes. Obviously the financial impact there too. But realistically, employees don’t care about that. They want to know how it impacts them. So it’s being able to identify the differences. When we’re trying to communicate to the employees, what they’re more interested in and what they don’t care about. Making sure that you’re open and transparent with them as well is so important.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (25:54):

That’s what we try to do within our organization is making sure that there’s that two way flow of communication. I think there is a lot of arrogance amongst a lot of organizations that those leaders are the professionals. They’re the experts, but like you said about me being the expert, I have to say that I depend on my experts and they’re my staff. They are. They know that business inside out. They know the processes. They know the customers. To me, I may be an expert in keeping everything going and changing and reacting to the change. But at the end of the day, my staff are in my eyes, the experts, because they keep it going. They keep that business running from the ground up. That’s where the knowledge is. So I may be an expert in being able to identify, extract and utilize that information. When we have changes, the first place I go to, well, what ideas do you guys have? What do you think? That’s just the way that I operate. So what I do then is take that information and translate it into something that’s workable.

Michael Kurland (27:19):

I think you touched on some great points. There’s a lot of organizations out there where the arrogance, like you said we’ve always done it this way. This is the way we’re going to do it and do your job, go to your desk, be quiet. Or go to your home computer now and be quiet. But I think the newer, more agile organizations are what you and I are both experiencing, which is you are making the changes for the employees. They’re the experts. They know how to do these things. They don’t want to feel this outside fluff. But we’re still making moves to keep up with the times and be agile and roll with things like pandemics and still be able to move forward. So I liked that. I liked that a lot.

Michael Kurland (28:07):

I think that’s very interesting to me, change agent. I feel like it’s what I do too. I read the people and I’m able to read the body language, read the moods, the feelings. It’s a sixth sense, I guess, that I’ve always thought that’s made me very successful, that I’ve been able to tap into. One form of discipline may work for employee A and it may make employee B want to quit and run the other way. Right? So you have to be able to reach your audience which I guess is changing. Right? Because you have to be able to give them what works best for them. So this has been a very interesting interview. It’s been great having you on. I’ve got to ask you one last question though. What do you consider yourself to be an expert at? And what is your best advice to our audience to become an expert at said thing?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (29:08):

I think everyone thinks right away because I have a PhD, I’m an expert. I think any expert would know that they’re not going to be an expert in anything so that’s probably not the answer you’re looking for. Being an expert is knowing that you always have learning today and that you glean everything off of everybody and always be a sponge. So don’t be arrogant. Every day is a learning day. Joking around, me asking you yesterday, what time zone am I in?  Being an expert is realizing you’ve always got to learn. Relationships are so important in everything that you do in walk of life. Don’t be arrogant and not listen. So that’s key to success in my opinion.

Michael Kurland (30:17):

I think that’s great advice. I think stay humble and always use everything as a learning experience because you never know. I’ve picked up books off Uber drivers. I’ve learned different things from random people that I just have met in passing. So always be open. Always be real, be honest.

Dr. Ashley McConnell (30:38):

That’s it.

Michael Kurland (30:39):

Ashley, thank you so much for coming on. If our audience would like to get a hold of you or OfficeTrax, how can they do that?

Dr. Ashley McConnell (30:49):

They can find me on LinkedIn. I’m Ashton McConnell on LinkedIn and you’ll probably find me if they’re following you. They can also email me ashley.McConnell@officetrax.com and look forward to hearing if anyone wants to follow up.

Michael Kurland (31:05):

Great. Thanks Ashley so much for coming on today. It’s been a pleasure and audience, thank you for tuning in. Until next time.

I’d like to take a minute to thank you, our valued listeners. My intention is for this podcast to inspire you, in some way, to be better.  Change starts from within and radiates outward. Therefore, start with being better to yourself and only then will you recognize how to be better others and your community. Thank you for joining us today! If you want to learn more about Branded Group, then visit us at www.branded-group.com. From our website you can follow us on social media. Also, always feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Until next time, Be Better.

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