What This Project Manager Learned Working at Wendy’s

When I was in high school back in the 1970’s, I got my first “real” summer job working at the local Wendy’s.  This was a big change from babysitting young children on the weekends or having a lemonade stand at the corner in the summertime.  Many of the basic skills and attitudes that I bring to my project teams today came from what I learned those two summers working at Wendy’s.This job meant I worked as a member of a team, wore a uniform, was expected to be there on time and was expected to eat the food we were selling.  I actually experienced the saying “the customer is always right” firsthand and it was an eye-opening experience for me as a teenager.

Working on a team meant that everyone had their primary and secondary roles to perform.  Not only did we have to produce good food for our customers, we also had to do so in a timely fashion and keep everything in the store sparkling and clean. My managers had one important rule “Don’t just stand there, do something!”  If you had a moment to catch your breath, you were expected to pick up a rag and start wiping down equipment or go back in the back and slice that next bin of tomatoes to put on the burgers.  There were no idle hands at Wendy’s.  Everyone always did their job and filled in for others as required.  This sense of urgency and the requirement to always be “doing something” has stayed with me and translates into my project plans and my personal project approach as well.

Wearing a uniform was a new thing for me.  I had to be sure to have a clean pair of navy slacks, a white shirt and a Wendy’s smock ready to go. Sometimes I would have to do laundry after I got home late from closing the store at 11pm.  My mother was amazed that I would actually do my own laundry as needed.  This was a change for me, too.  Today, making sure my business casual clothes are ready to go into the suitcase is not a problem.  And I am very good at doing my own (and everyone else’s) laundry!

Working in a restaurant with long hair also meant wearing a hair net and keeping my hair pulled up and back off my face.  I don’t wear a  hair net these days when I am off training or consulting, but I certainly have my long hair up and back.  When I am busy working, I don’t need the distraction of playing with my hair or wondering if my hairstyle is holding up.  Looking neat and put together is never a bad thing in the workplace, particularly if you are an external consultant brought in to be an “agent of change”.

Timeliness is a wonderful thing.  This skill was the easiest one for me to master since I grew up with my mother telling me “if you aren’t 5 minutes early then you are late.”  The bigger challenge of working at Wendy’s was factoring in enough time to get dressed, ride my bicycle to work and still have enough time to collect myself and take a breath before starting my shift.

I am still an “early bird” when it comes to being somewhere.  Occasionally, one of the key stakeholders I am gathering project requirements from will tank me for being so prompt.  Sometimes being early even gets me more time with someone I really need to talk with about a project issue or the current status of things.

Eating the food made me a “quasi-customer” of the Wendy’s where I worked.  On my lunch break, I would get in line to order my “free lunch” and then find a table where I would sit down in my uniform and eat that lunch.  I can’t begin to count the number of regular customers who would speak to me during my lunchtime.  They asked me about the food, the job, the weather and sometimes they just asked me questions about myself.  I was the unofficial “marketing guru” of the store, and it was always nice to be able to say “Yes, I eat here and I like it!”

I didn’t understand just what “the customer is always right” meant until I experienced it first hand.  Whether I was making sandwiches, cleaning the dining room, filling containers with french fries or making change at the cash register, the customer’s needs were paramount.  The first time a diner returned their half-eaten burger and told me that it wasn’t what they ordered, I wasn’t quite sure what to say or do.  My manager stepped in, took the burger, apologized for the error and instructed the sandwich maker to build a new burger exactly the way the customer wanted it to be. Wow. I wish it could be this straightforward to define our customer requirements and meet their needs and expectations on my projects.  It certainly should be and I try hard to make that happen.

Those two summers at Wendy’s taught me many things about being part of a team.  How to work hard, how to deal with customers face-to-face, how to work the cash register, how to deal with issues, how to be on time, how to “dress for success”, how to be a team player and most importantly, how to meet the customer’s requirements and be proud of the work you do, the products you produce and the company that you work for. Amazing indeed and very, very helpful.

Thank-you, Wendy’s, you gave me a great start in the business world and some great skills that translate well to any workplace and to all of my projects.

Susan Weese

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