From Cupcakes to User Operations Team Lead

Cooking up a Career: Allie sold cupcakes and burgers on her way to become a User Operations Team Lead at The Predictive Index.

Allie is originally from New Jersey, just a short distance away from New York City. Before being User Operations Team Leat at Predictive Index, she enjoyed attending a vocational-technical-focused county school. It was recently  distinguished with the honor of being named the number one public high school in the country. Every student had to select a focus, so Allie chose culinary arts and hospitality. Learning under a chef she admired, Allie absorbed as much knowledge as she could about the industry.

“I think I didn’t realize at the time, it wasn’t the food I loved as much as it was meeting people through food. I didn’t figure that out until later.”

During high school, Allie became a camp counselor. She loved being a counselor so much she continued throughout college. It was an early introduction to the field of support.

“That’s a different set of people being upset because it has to do with their kids. I was good with diffusing and de-escalation.”

She’d work there every summer to save for a car. At the same time, she worked for a catering company as part of an internship required by her high school. Being busy didn’t bother her, Allie enjoyed the challenge.

Was it baking she loved?

Thanks to her career concentration in high school, Allie was accepted to Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island for Bakery and Pastry Arts and Food Service Management. Providence was a place where she could carve out her own space.

“Providence was so small, so intimate, and had really good communities. It was like my college jungle gym.”

She found those hard-to-discover yet impossible to forget gems that made the city feel like home.

Making cakes and pastries was Allie’s specialty. During her junior year of college, she worked at a cupcake shop — right at the height of the cupcake craze.

“The tricky thing about internships in food service is, an internship, in theory, isn’t supposed to be a position of its own. Someone is supposed to mentor you and show you how to do things. But in food service, it’s labor. It’s free labor for them.”

During her shift, she’d be making desserts in the back and have to dash to the coffee shop out front to serve customers. It was a lot more involved than most internships.

While working these shifts, sometimes she was at the shop solo. As with any job, there were the odd times when something would go awry. This is where Allie gained some of those hard to teach customer support skills.

“Every so often, I’d have to deal with someone who was upset. I remember one time in particular, my boss had two cupcake towers booked for events on the same day. She accidentally booked them to use the same tower, and we only had one piece of equipment.”

When her boss discovered her mistake, she took the tower and instructed Allie to use a different one for the other event.

“I’m looking at the towers and thinking, ‘They’re not even remotely the same.’ I’d be pissed.”

When the customer came to pick up the tower, she was understandably upset. Booking and paying for one thing and being given something totally different can be disappointing. Allie did the only thing she could; she went and grabbed every tower they had in the shop and started suggesting combinations. The customer was still miffed but realized that she had to make a choice. A manager arrived and helped her choose.

“I think when she left, the woman was pretty lukewarm about it. That was frustrating for me because I felt like I was left to figure it out with the angry person. I knew I didn’t have what I needed, so there was nothing I could do.”

Yes, that’s a frustrating situation. But Allie remembers how awful it felt to be left in a lurch, and it’s something she keeps in mind in every role she’s had since. It’s always annoying to learn from those what not to do situations, but sometimes those are the most valuable as you grow in your career.

“That experience was what made me realize I didn’t want to run my own business. I don’t want to be the person that is hanging their team out to dry when something isn’t the way it should be.”

Point taken, but Allie is so on top of things that I doubt she’d be double booking like that.

Opening a Shake Shack in Pheonix

Starting her career - not in User Operations, but at Shake Shack

The more she learned about the food services industry, the more she started to find her place in it.

“In college, I figured out that it’s not strictly the food. It’s the people. The community. It’s the relationships that are so easily made around food.”

After getting her associate degree, it was time to specialize. She loved making cakes, pies, and cookies but was less enthusiastic about things like chocolate and sugar work. That’s why she decided to pursue the food services track and was toying with the idea of working for a hotel or cruise ship.

However, when she attended a job fair and noticed Shake Shack was there, she changed her mind.

“I knew of Danny Meyer. I knew that restaurant group would be a good place to work and look good on my resume. And that’s when I got the job offer here in Boston. I said to myself, ‘Let’s do it. Game on. We’re going to Boston.’”

Boston was a significant change. She was used to having her places — the ones she felt happiest in — and that can be hard to rebuild in a new city. It took her a few years to adjust, but now she has built that up and feels a lot more settled. Allie began working at Shake Shack as a salaried manager. Even though she knew she was qualified based on her degree, her only experience in the food service industry was at the cupcake shop and that part-time catering gig in high school. This was very different.

West Hollywood Shake Shack opening party with THE Jamie & Kelly

The first 6 months

“I spent the first six months thinking I was killing it. But I was so not killing it. I was picking up on everything the other managers were teaching me. But when it came to seeing what was happening on the shift and being able to direct people and getting things to run smoothly — I was very fly by the seat of your pants.”

Her first real bosses, Jamie Connelly and Kelly Runnals, called her out on it one day. After a miscommunication, they challenged Allie to do all of the work a GM & AGM needed to do in a day. Her boss said:

“I’m going to make a list of everything that Kelly and I would accomplish today, you’re going to sit up here in the office and do it, and we’re going to go have fun with the team in the kitchen.”

“I looked at the list and thought, ‘I don’t know how to do any of this.’”

She completed the list, but it took her two weeks to finish. That was eye-opening for Allie. After taking a step back, Allie realized that completing her role’s checklist was one thing, but being proactive was something else entirely. She wanted to be preemptive, have strong follow-through, and stop leaving loose ends. Learning what the people above her did every day helped Allie to become focused and purposeful as she moved forward in her career.

Stepping up

Around the 9-month mark, things started clicking. Allie was tapped to help open a new restaurant, which turned into helping with a second and third location as well. All of this experience allowed her to see the big picture.

“The good thing about Shake Shack is that they have such a good culture around hospitality. The core of it is that while it’s a cycle with all of our stakeholders in it, we take care of each other first.”

This sense of personal accountability helped Allie manage personalities as there were straightforward guidelines to point to when something went wrong.

She also learned about what they called the credibility meter:

“Everything you do strengthens or diminishes somebody’s impression of you. If you walk by a full trash can, that says to somebody, ‘I don’t have to deal with that.’”

This also taught her a lot about management and making sure issues were addressed correctly; otherwise failing to acknowledge them also sent a message. Allie started to realize how much she enjoyed putting out fires and organizing chaos.

Opening a Shake Shack in Boston

Eventually, the work/life balance (or imbalance) got to her. Working nights and weekends and never seeing family or friends started taking its toll, no matter how much she loved the job. That’s when a former coworker from Shake Shack mentioned an opportunity that sounded interesting.

The company was a back-office system for restaurants.
As the role required restaurant industry experience, Allie knew she’d be a great fit.

Allie interviewed for their support team, even though she hated to leave Shake Shack and her mentors. This new job offered her a more fixed schedule so she could balance things better. Unfortunately, the job wasn’t the right fit for her.

“The thing that kills me to this day about working there is that every time I would have a 1-on-1 with my boss, I would say, ‘What can I be doing better? What can I be doing differently?’ and every single time they’d say, ‘Nope, you’re good.’ It hurt my soul every time. How was I supposed to get better?”

Without direction, she wouldn’t be able to grow.
Sure, if she only wanted to coast, that job would have been great.

That’s not Allie’s style.

Allie earned a Legendary Leaders award and was promoted to Assistant General Manager

Making it as a User Operations Specialist

It was time to find a job where she could grow and genuinely be herself. Essentially, she was looking for a culture that was more like Shake Shack but would still give her the time to have a personal life. Luckily, a friend who was working at The Predictive Index referred her for a User Operations role.

First, she took PI’s behavioral assessment.

“I got mine back, and I was psyched because I was a maverick. The tagline for mavericks is ‘undaunted by failure.’ It definitely spoke to me. I’m always willing to try new things in a professional setting and venture out there to learn. I was excited to see that come through because that’s how I felt about myself.”

After doing a few more interviews, Allie landed the job. She was especially excited because as she went through the interview process they were already talking to her about her future and possible growth paths within the company — what a refreshing change!

When she started her role as a UserOps* Specialist, she noticed a little empty box on the organizational chart for another team lead. She wanted it.

“I told my manager, ‘You can put my name there. I’m coming for it.’”

Three months after she started, the team lead position opened up. Allie already tried to act as if she had the role, taking on extra responsibilities and learning all she could. Despite being slightly nervous that she hadn’t been in the organization long enough, Allie applied and got the promotion.

*User Operations

Advice for support people starting out

I asked her for advice for support people (or really anyone) who starts in a new company and quickly finds another internal role they’d love to have.

“Speak to it early. PI does such a great job of personal development and career pathing. The way we have it, everybody has a plan, and everybody knows each other’s plans, so when an opportunity comes up you can say, ‘I know who would be great for that, and they’ve been planning for it!’ "

"I would say speak your mind early and really try to do the job before you expect to get the job. That’s a hard one for hourly versus salaried employees. You have to be careful not to ask people to do things out of their pay range. But to me, that’s always been the easiest way. You take something off your manager’s plate because you’re learning their job, which makes it easier for them and gets them one level up. Also, have somebody to pull up right behind you — have a succession plan.”

Now, Allie’s manager is Jamie, who you might remember from a recent CX Profile. Allie works with two other team leads to manage the day-to-day of the phone, chat, and email queues. They plan who will be working on specific channels and different cases each day, ensure there is coverage, and monitor the queue to check that everything is going smoothly. That’s just part of the job. Allie also works on process improvement, training, communicating and working cross-functionally with other departments.

Each team lead also has their own specialty.

Allie’s focus area is the product.

Working as a product-focussed User Operations Team Lead

“What I’ve been doing lately is gathering all of the case data that we’re getting, pulling it apart, and identifying trends. I serve it up to the product and engineering teams to add to the roadmap for their upcoming product improvements.”

“It’s funny. Eventually, I think I want to be on the product team. I really enjoy all of the conversations I have with them. I love talking about how the application should work or how we could make it more impactful. Part of me wants to move to the product team. But when Jamie came on, she is such a powerhouse. It’s really cool to watch. We are restructuring, reorganizing. I think I want to hang out in User Operations for a while longer.”

How amazing is that? Having a manager so wonderful that you can’t wait to see where they take the team!

Allie will certainly follow Jamie’s lead and make every role her own. She’s already working on improving the feedback flow and looking deeply at voice-of-the-customer/product improvement processes. With excellent guidance and her maverick spirit, Allie’s on-track to becoming a manager that will create real change and invite loyalty at PI, and I can’t wait to see her flourish.

Have a question for Allie about how to move forward in your career with confidence? Leave a comment below or reach out to her here.

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