Kaela Tuttle-Royer on ReOps lessons from Dropbox, Spotify, and Airtable
Navigating layoffs, building strong cross-functional relationships, and tracking impactful ROI and metrics with a successful ReOps leader.
ReOps leader Kaela Tuttle-Royer joined the Rally team on Feb 9 for an AMA to discuss the lessons she’s learned in her Research Ops career. Kaela has helped build and refine the Research Ops functions at companies like Dropbox, Spotify, and Airtable and covered topics like navigating layoffs, working with cross-functional partners, and tracking the ROI of research.
If you missed it, or want a refresh on what Kaela shared, we’ve put together highlights from some of the questions she covered. If you’d like to watch the full AMA, click here and we’ll email you a copy of the recording.
🔑 If you get laid off, instead of focusing on what you may have done wrong, focus instead on what you accomplished, what you’ve done, and what you’re proud of.
🔑 When looking for a new role, take contract roles seriously. Don’t be afraid to work with agencies or recruiting staff.
🔑 As ReOps, you may be the only person a user will ever meet at a company so make sure to embed care and delight for the user into everything you do.
🔑 Establish places where you can consistently track metrics. If you can’t do this, a contract worker can step in and help lay that foundation for you.
🔑 It can be scary to start telling people they’re doing things the wrong way. Do that with care, but when you feel comfortable doing it, do it with numbers.
🔑 When hiring ReOps for B2B you really need someone who can build trust with internal partners who will then provide you access to users.
🔑 To make people believe in ReOps, you must be able to quickly tell the story of the impact that ReOps is making for the company, the product, and business growth.
Who is Kaela Tuttle-Royer?
“I wanted to be a researcher at Gatorade — that was the dream,” said Kaela. Instead, she found herself at Fitbit, where she learned a lot about research and specifically how to protect users’ anonymity and privacy.
Kaela made her way to Dropbox where she discovered her love for participant management. “I knew it inside and out and could do it in my sleep.” She enjoyed her time at Dropbox but wanted to do more with the strategy of Research Ops. “I wanted to elevate the craft of research for both researchers and the organization.” So she took a chance and went to Spotify.
“I was the Global Insights Operations Manager and spent time thinking about the research process as it related to market researchers, user researchers, and data scientists — all the people who come together to make research happen,” she said. “I loved it.”
Kaela’s next ReOps adventure was at Airtable where she focused on building a ReOps program from scratch. “I spent time using research to influence enterprise growth,” she said. She also worked on democratizing research, “something that I’ve touched in all my roles.”
Unfortunately, Kaela’s time at Airtable was cut short when she was laid off. “We have to be honest about it — being laid off is traumatic, jarring, and destabilizing.” Kaela is currently on the hunt for her next opportunity to share her expertise and experience to help build and elevate User Research and Research Ops.
How do you navigate layoffs?
“The best thing to do is whatever will make you feel like you’re back in control,” she said. “I took a literal minute and thought, what’s going to make me feel better today than what I’m feeling right now in tears on my couch?”
For Kaela, that meant looking to her network. “I got on LinkedIn and immediately began reaching out to people explaining my situation and inviting them to network,” she said.
If you experience a layoff, Kaela recommends you
- take a breath
- figure out what’s going to get you through
- lean on your network
Then once you get some space from everything, think about the impact you’ve made in your career.
“Once you get laid off, it’s very easy to think about what you could have done differently, what you did wrong, what your team did wrong, etc. and that’s not healthy,” she said. “It’s better to instead focus on what you’re proud of, what you’ve done, and what you’ve accomplished. Then you decide how you want to go and put that impact into other places.”
Start looking for places where you want to share your value and skills, and ultimately where you’ll feel happy. “At the end of the day, we can’t control layoffs, we can only control how we respond and what we will do when we land our next role.”
Specific advice for Research layoffs
“Right now is a time when there are a lot of layoffs across tech. It can be really scary,” said Kaela. Here’s her advice for people experiencing, affected by, or worried about impending layoffs:
- Take contract opportunities seriously.
- Consider working with agencies and recruiting staff.
- Find metrics that attach to impact.
- Get advice on and refresh your resume.
- Lean in and take risks.
- Take every phone call to heart.
- If possible, network before the layoff.
- Make a routine of being in LinkedIn at least once a week.
- Attend events like this and use them to learn and network.
- Take every message in your inbox with care.
“Ultimately, you’re a human and you have feelings,” she said. “They can be ugly, but just know you have value and the next company will be even luckier to have you.”
Lessons Kaela has learned throughout her career
“I’ve grown up in Research Ops and it’s an ever-changing field,” she said. “Being able to see what has come from ReOps and the amazing people that have made it happen has been really humbling and a blessing in my career.”
In her roles at Dropbox, Spotify, and Airtable, Kaela has learned a lot. She walked us through her time at each, the impact she made, and what she learned.
Dropbox — Be confident, know your stuff, and love your users
“I learned everything I know about participant management from my manager at Dropbox, who really took a chance on me.” Kaela was an early ReOps hire and helped build up the participant recruitment process. Here are the lessons Kaela learned from her time at Dropbox:
- As an early ReOps hire, you need to learn two things early on: Who are your researchers and stakeholders, and what do they care about? “If you don’t know that information, you can’t really be an effective partner.”
- You also have to understand your users — who they are and what they care about. “That is going to become a superpower and make you someone who not only grows your career, but also grows the function of ReOps within your org.”
- Know your stuff and become a subject matter expert. “When you do that, you’ll be able to drive programs and start to really tackle things like democratization.”
- Love your users and treat them as humans, not just numbers. “That was something extra special about Dropbox, we fell in love with our users.”
- Embed care and delight for your users. “As ReOps, you may be the only person a user will ever meet at a company,” she said. “You’re the only face they can put to these big fancy household names.”
Spotify — Build for cross-functional partners
“At Spotify, I saw what it means for ReOps to expand into other functions,” said Kaela. “Research does not happen in a silo. We have data scientists, designers, product managers, engineering managers all touching research.”
- Make sure your processes speak the language of cross-functional teams. “You aren’t just creating a process for a researcher, you’re also creating a process that needs to make sense for a data scientist or a product manager.”
- Treat your users like you’d treat your mom, particularly when it comes to privacy and ethics. “Think: How would I want someone to talk to her, treat her, and take care of her data?”
Airtable — Track success and uncover what Research means for your org
“At Airtable, I learned how to build systems that can track our metrics and drive impact,” said Kaela. “I also learned how to tell the story of the importance of Research Ops.”
- Set up systems that will consistently track your metrics and impact. “You should be able to go every month and show how certain numbers are proving your success.”
- Always try to measure your success against company objectives.
- An important part of your job as ReOps is to deeply understand where Research sits within a company and find out how to elevate it. “You have to really understand what research means to your org.”
- Take feedback you’re hearing and do something about it. “If someone is saying research is slow, figure out what that means, how you affect it, and how to find metrics to prove or disprove it.”
How to track the metrics and impact of Research Ops
“Look at your tools,” said Kaela. ReOps is often tasked with managing tooling, budget, and vendors. “My mind goes to ROI,” said Kaela. “And how do I prove it?”
Here are some questions you should ask when it comes to the ROI of your ReOps tools:
- How do we currently determine ROI of our tools? Both financially and based on quality and satisfaction?
- What is my role in affecting the ROI?
- What’s my total budget spend compared to the usage of each tool? (Ex: Say you are spending X amount of dollars on Qualtrics — are you using all your seats? Are you utilizing every license under this account?)
- What tools can we live without?
- What can we backfill to other teams?
- How do we make sure that when we come to contract renewal, we come in with a strong case for why we need to grow or cut back?
“A lot of this is financial modeling, digging into the numbers, and working with your AEs to pull data,” said Kaela. If this isn’t your strong suit or you don’t have the appropriate skillset, Kaela recommends finding a contract worker to help. “At Spotify, I worked with an incredible contract worker who came in and made sense of the numbers.”
It’s important to establish places where you can consistently track metrics. If you can’t do this, a contract worker can step in and help lay that foundation for you.
Once you’ve determined the ROI of your tools, you can then scrap programs, have a say on how money is being spent, and identify what isn’t adding quality to your teams — all things that Kaela said show real value and metrics for Research Ops. “It can be scary to start telling people they’re doing things the wrong way. Do that with care, but when you feel comfortable doing it, do it with numbers.”
How to determine ROI metrics that leaders care about
“Through conversation,” said Kaela. “Researchers and leaders often have a different understanding of what ROI means. And that understanding will often differ from other teams as well.”
Because of this, it’s important to know what ROI means for each team. Here are some questions you should ask that can help you understand what ROI means to financial teams, your directors, and your researchers.
💰 Financial Team: What should we be spending money on and what amount of money should we be generating?
🎬 Directors: Is the money we’re spending and the tools we’re using allowing researchers to get into different markets and conduct the research that we need?
🕵️ Researchers: Are our current processes and tools making researchers’ jobs easier?
Once you’ve determined the answers to these questions, through conversations with each team, identify who is feeling the most pressure and prioritize that team.
How to utilize cross-functional partners
“The best setup I’ve seen is data scientists alongside user or market researchers, sitting together to solve problems, hold each accountable, and drive the same business goals,” said Kaela. “When those teams are organizationally motivated to help each other and their success depends on each other, that’s where you’ll see the magic happen.”
When it comes to cross-functional relationships, it’s not just about collaboration. It’s important to share insights quickly and in a way that is meaningful. You should also be spending time learning from each other. For these relationships to be successful, you have to speak the same language.
To start speaking the same language, investigate these two things:
- how do we share knowledge?
- how do we create a glossary to understand each other’s language?
If you aren’t in a situation where people are organizationally motivated, Kaela recommends identifying and creating discipline groups.
How to create discipline groups
Discipline groups are a great way to drive resources and create processes that help your cross-functional teammates and in turn help elevate research. So, how can you create these groups?
- Find a few people from each team that understand what research is and have a handle on what’s going on at the company.
- Make sure the people you choose can adequately escalate and advocate for the voices of their team.
- Bring those groups together, give them a seat at the table, and allow them to talk with each other.
What should you do when you bring these groups together?
- Check your processes and priorities.
- Disseminate your solutions down through the representatives from each team.
“Everyone will benefit from each other in a symbiotic way and that’s when the magic can happen,” said Kaela. “This positions ReOps in a special place that allows you to understand how your processes, decisions, and initiatives affect not just your research, but other people involved or affected by research. Then you can really identify how to add value to the business.”
Advice for ReOps roles in a large, embedded org structure
At Spotify, ReOps sat under R&D Operations in a horizontal structure with researchers deeply embedded into specific business units. Kaela was working with 75 embedded researchers and trying to determine how she, as one person, could solve the problems that all researchers were having despite their various functions and focuses.
Here’s how she recommends tackling this type of org structure:
- Ask the right questions: What’s the lay of the land? What are my powers? How do I get strategic about resourcing what’s available to me? How do I make the biggest value add for the research team and the company?
- Meet with as many researchers as possible to understand what they are struggling with and to know what to tackle first.
- Lean on leadership.
- Build your discipline groups by gathering representatives from each team (see 👆).
- Elevate the stories of those discipline groups.
- Ensure information is being taken by those representatives and delivered down to their teams.
7 tips for first ReOps hire at orgs with nascent Research practices
- Find your Northstar. Ask why you’re here and dig into your job description and responsibilities.
- Meet with people — not just your researchers. Meet and build connections with people in privacy, legal, security, and even L&D.
- Talk to your researchers. Ask: what can we do better, what do you want from me, and where are you coming from? (Determining where your researchers are coming from, whether it’s from a startup, a huge company like Meta, an agency, or even academia, will help you know how to influence them to adopt your solutions.)
- Do an analysis to determine the trends. (Ex: Researchers feel they can’t properly plan with their partners because timelines vary too much and it’s creating stress.) Determine what trends you can affect and how that fits into the reasons you were hired. “Make sure to be realistic about what you can affect.”
- Start producing quick, big impact wins. Break things down into bite-sized chunks that you can quickly deliver. “You should never be working on just one initiative in the early days.” An example of a quick, high-value add could be creating a simple guide like “how to get access to Qualtrics.”
- Set up feedback loops. “I use feedback loops at every stage of my work. I embed them into my forms, my websites, etc.,” she said. “I’m constantly asking in team meetings if anyone wants to provide feedback.”
- Tip on asking for feedback: When asking for feedback, be very clear about what you’re asking for, why it’s important, and what the outcome will be. If you become a time suck they will not help you.
- Make sure researchers feel like they have some ownership in Research Ops. “Never come in and say, ‘this is how you do it’ instead say, “we want you to do it this way because we think it’ll make it easier for you to do your work.”
Hiring your first ReOps teammate
Here are some characteristics Kaela recommends you look for when hiring for ReOps:
- comfortable talking to people
- able to represent themselves well
- confident in what they know
- competent in their craft
- understand operations philosophies
- have a high level of care and understanding of your users
Kaela said you don’t necessarily need to look for someone with a ReOps background. “I have hired people who have never done ReOps before,” she said. “But they knew ops and could tell me what a good ops professional looks like.”
Another thing Kaela recommended is to properly set expectations during recruitment and hiring. “Make it clear that this role is meant to stay ReOps and that it’s not a trajectory into research.” Though people can move from ReOps to a research role, you want someone who is dedicated to ReOps and not looking to use it as a stepping stone.
Differences in hiring for ReOps in B2C vs. B2B
When hiring for ReOps in a B2C org, you should look for people who care about people, Kaela said. “The processes you’re designing are putting a researcher in touch with the user and with a real human being,” she continued. “You want to really make sure that you have someone who has compassion for both your users and your researchers.”
When it comes to B2B, before you look to hire, Kaela recommends you do two things:
- identify your strengths and hire someone who can fill in any gaps
- talk to your sales team
Why talk to your sales team? Because they are often the ones who have access to your users and who ReOps will need to partner closely with. Ask what type of people your sales team would be willing to work with. Then you can decide if you want to incorporate that into your job description and recruiting process.
Ultimately, when hiring ReOps for B2B you really need someone who can build trust with internal partners who will then provide you access to users. “You almost want someone who has a sales mentality,” she said.
How to build strong relationships with sales and customer success
- Conduct a survey to determine if these partners have engaged with research.
- Using their answers, figure out what would make them more likely to engage with research.
- Give them a seat at the table.
- Share bite-size insights that they can actually use.
Communication is key. When trying to determine what insights to share, first ask these partners what they want to get from your research and what their goals and priorities are. Then you can use that information to inform what you share and how you share it.
How to encourage buy-in from researchers on new process or tools
- understand what your researchers need and where they're coming from
- get your leaders on board
- onboard managers and directors and make sure they know why this new process or tool is important
- pilot everything
- hold and record frequent trainings
- build and embed consistent and fresh onboarding resources
- practice what you preach
- be confident in what you’re asking researchers to do and be clear on the why
It’s important to start at the leadership level and give them the opportunity to tell you what they think. “But then you also have to be able to say no,” said Kaela. “You have to be able to say ‘I hear you, but I'm a subject matter expert in ops. I know our partners and I know what's going to work and what's not going to work.’”
Once you get leadership’s buy-in, then adoption and education on new processes and tools can trickle down to your researchers.
How does Kaela see ReOps evolving?
“There are a million places that Research Ops can go,” she said. “We’re just scratching the surface.”
Here are the ways Kaela sees ReOps evolving:
Kaela sees Research Ops becoming the connector of all partners. “I see ReOps sitting right in with Design Ops, with Product Ops, and with Engineering Ops.”
For Kaela, success will come when you bring ReOp into the sales and enterprise side of the business. “Right now, Research Ops sits on the research side,” she said. “If we can build out into the enterprise side, I think we're going to see even more enterprise growth and a greater research impact not just on business and product growth, but also within sales teams.”
“When I first joined ReOps it was just participant management,” said Kaela. “And now we have roles like Research Library Managers.”
Kaela thinks there will be a lot more growth in the responsibility of ReOps to not just build repositories but also to disseminate the information across the team and track the value of that information.
Compliance & GDPR
Privacy is a blocker for a lot of organizations, she said. “I think we’ll see more roles like Privacy Program Managers who are focused on compliance and GDPR.” Kaela also thinks more companies will begin involving ReOps individuals in meetings with legal and privacy to help dictate policy.
“Obviously, we're not lawyers, but we have an opinion and we know what will work or not work for our users,” she said. Involving ReOps in these policy-setting meetings will help build trust and encourage researchers to be compliant.
Position within an org
“Research Ops should be the operational center of excellence within an org,” she said. “ReOps differs from other operations teams because they are accountable to not just researchers, but also multiple cross-functional partners, and most importantly, users.”
What Kaela wishes she’d known at the beginning of her ReOps journey
Not everyone believes in Research Ops.
“That’s something I’ve sometimes had to learn the hard way,” she said. “When you understand this, you’ll realize you need to do things that will level up your company as a whole and help the company see the high-value impact of ReOps.”
To make people believe in ReOps, you must be able to quickly tell the story of the impact that ReOps is making for the company, the product, and business growth.
Know your critical partners.
Early on, identify who your partners are and why. “Keep them in mind when you’re trying to increase headcount, grow, and request resources.”
Enable strong cross-functional partnerships with Rally
Choosing the right tool can help you to elevate research within your org. At Rally, we’ve built a User Research CRM that helps teams of all sizes have a centralized view into their participants and allow non-researchers and important cross-functional partners to responsibly take part in User Research. If you want to learn more, join our waitlist!
We absolutely loved having Kaela share her experience building her career in Research Ops. If you’d like to watch the full webinar, follow this link to get it sent directly to your inbox. 💌
Connect with Kaela
“I love to talk and could talk forever,” said Kaela. “Please reach out on LinkedIn. I’m happy to keep the conversation going, help out where I can, and even use my network to help anyone else who’s out there in my position looking for that next full-time opportunity in this crazy world.”