How Being a Problem Solver Transformed Me from Receptionist to Director of Operations in Three Years
In June 2012 I found myself staring longingly at a lakeside cabin for rent hoping to convince my dad to help me make this desire a reality. I was a jobless art school graduate with a prestigious degree who had the misfortune to graduate in 2007, right before the recession. He did offer help but not in the form that I wanted. He offered me a job as the receptionist of his fire sprinkler company.
Agony fell over me. I couldn’t imagine giving up my dream of being a full-time artist trying to achieve grand, world-changing accomplishments. What could a little receptionist job at my family’s business really get me? I had fought so hard to get to this point in my life, but after five grueling years of struggle I had no other option. I agreed to his offer, but with the condition that I would only be there one year and not a day over. Never could I have imagined that three years later I would find myself the director of operations with a deep passion for our company and the fire sprinkler industry. How did I get here? I believe the answer to this lies within my desire to be a problem solver. If I was going to be stuck in this new reality, I sure was going to make the most of it!
Finding problems was easy. Upon my first day of work, I had entered the frantic world of non-stop emergencies and disorganization. The issue wasn’t that people weren’t aware of these problems, it was that they needed help solving them. As a newcomer swept into this stressful life, it was easy to focus only on the problems. However, I soon realized that in doing so I was blind to all the good the company had achieved over 25 years of being in business. I had a decision to make: while away my year at this company complaining about problems and being a drain on those around me, or I could become a positive force for change that would empower myself and my coworkers. I chose to be a force.
With my new perspective, I started to see the lives of those around me. They had been fighting this fight for years that had seemed so unappealing to me previously. If I was going to make a difference here, I would start with them. I began by accepting all tasks that anyone needed help with. Not only did I accept them, but I also made sure that everything got done the same day or the very next. Word quickly spread around the office that if you wanted something done, and done right, just ask Tiffany. Within weeks the negative, frantic energy in the office had changed to one of positivity and potential.
My secret agenda was to learn as much as possible. By arming myself with this knowledge, I was able to think beyond finding problems and work on solving them. I started small, such as programing everyone’s speed dial and implementing a file-naming protocol for our electronic files. Progressively, I made my way up to larger solutions thanks to the reputation and respect I was earning. Within six weeks I had instigated two of my more meaningful contributions: going completely paperless and implementing an online project management system.
Now I don’t mean to make it sound like a walk in the park. I often would spend numerous hours at home researching systems and strategies only to hit the walls of resistance and skepticism. The two key factors for me were that I never gave up and I never held any idea too precious. The few ideas that I did hold onto too tightly ended up being the solutions that were not the right fit for our company in the long run. By listening to others, rethinking solutions, and biting off smaller pieces, I was able to make huge changes.
Out of total desperation I had taken this job. And now, I felt the greatest sense of accomplishment in my life. I had made a serious impact in all of the lives around me, allowing our company to more than double in size, thanks to the increase in efficiency and productivity that I had created. The atmosphere at work was full of potential and excitement, a new environment I loved being a part of.
I spent the next three years jumping from one department to the next, learning everything I could, streamlining our processes and ensuring they were implemented correctly. Over time, I found myself managing all our operations across the company as a whole. My abilities as a problem solver had made me an invaluable asset to our company.
As for the cabin, it ended up being cold, full of bugs and the lake flooded it in the winter. It was not the dream locale that I thought it would be and decided to move on after only a year. I had been a girl longing for a home who took a job as the means to an end. Instead, I found a home in the most unexpected of places – at my job. I am currently the director of operations at Moore Fire Protection and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tiffany Moore is director of operations at Moore Fire Protection, a family-owned fire sprinkler company since 1987. She is heavily involved with the AFSA Pacific Northwest Chapter and is an AFSA Next Gen member. Contact Moore via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.