My Name Is Ashley Thompson — This Is What I Achieve at Aha!
What is the best way to accelerate your career? Work in a high-growth company that challenges you and puts learning first. An unwavering motivation to continue improving and achieving is also key. The highest performers constantly pursue new ideas and seek to understand the experiences and motivations of the people around them. We can learn a lot from them.
Curiosity fuels growth — which is why we want to bring you personal stories of achievement from talented people. Our hope is that some of their ideas are useful and maybe even inspirational as you work to become your best.
Meet Ashley, a senior manager of operations and events on the Aha! people success team. She is motivated by the challenge of bringing our fully distributed team together twice a year for a week-long company "onsite." We talk about goals and progress, plan for the six months ahead, and strengthen our relationships.
Ashley lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, three daughters, two dogs, two cats, a lizard, and a guinea pig. (It is a full house!) She loves camping, playing tennis, and painting.
Read on to learn more about how she finds meaning and joy in her work — in her own words.
What energizes you about your work?
"Helping to create strong relationships from afar and then bringing our company together for onsites truly energizes me. We do such a great job of building relationships in a remote environment and it shows when we get together in person. No one at Aha! is a stranger and the energy is through the roof. I love to look around the room and see people connecting, especially cross-functionally. We all come away from that week energized about our work, full of new ideas, and ready to take on the world together."
What has been the most rewarding thing about joining the Aha! team?
"Being a remote company means we need to make an extra effort to connect — checking in with each other over Slack, scheduling 1:1 chats, and finding time to have fun. Our onsites understandably paused during the pandemic, but getting back together this past June in Beaver Creek, Colorado was the ultimate reward.
A new teammate told me something at the end of the week that really struck me. They said, 'I was looking forward to going home with one or two new friends. Instead, I am going home with so much more than I expected — an entire company of friends.' It made me so proud to be part of an event and company that puts people first."
Which recent accomplishment at Aha! are you most proud of?
"Our most recent onsite was magical. We had not been together in person in over two years — almost 50 new people had joined the company in that time and had never met outside of Zoom.
It had been so long since I planned an in-person event that it almost felt like starting from scratch. And this onsite came with a new set of challenges — like making sure we had policies in place to minimize health concerns. I tried to anticipate every possible scenario so we would be prepared to make any pivots we might need. Staying flexible and patient was key. It was so rewarding to see how fantastic the week turned out."
What is the most surprising but useful career advice someone has given you?
"Several years ago, someone told me that 'done is better than perfect.' I was in disbelief. I could not imagine trying for anything less than perfect. Then I took on the role of conference director for 1,500+ people and realized that person was right. You cannot agonize over all the tiny details of a multi-day event that has literally thousands of to-dos.
Although the onsites I plan for Aha! are smaller, I remind myself not every little thing will go according to plan. Of course, I live in the details and care deeply about doing an exceptional job. But I have to roll with any hiccups and stay focused on the big picture. When you let go of perfection, you realize it is still possible to create perfect moments — bringing people closer together in shared achievements and values."
What advice do you have for an aspiring or early-career operations or events manager?
"Operations and event planning is a high-pressure career that comes with great expectations and strict deadlines. An events manager in particular has to perform several different roles — from negotiator to catering supervisor to health and safety manager (sometimes all in the same day). Every event comes with challenges. It is just the nature of the job. Often these are things beyond your control — think flight cancellations, attendee illness, bad weather at an outdoor activity, or audiovisual issues before a keynote presentation."
"Think of yourself as a swan — cool, composed, and calm on the top of the water while paddling furiously beneath it."
"This is why you have prepared for weeks in advance, why you have a backup plan, and why you surround yourself with a supportive team. Deep breaths. You have got this."
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