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Building Your Perfect Company Culture: Insider Advice for Self-Storage Owners

By Don Clauson Comments

There are as many ways to run a self-storage company as there are personalities within the organization, but developing the right culture will make your team more creative, purposeful and successful. That said, developing a healthy, productive culture can be a long and potentially difficult process. The truth is it never really ends.

Over the last 17 years, my company has grown from a staff of 15 in Southern California to 165 employees operating self-storage facilities in two states. Our growth came with mistakes and learning moments. We took our losses and victories in stride, and always tried to learn from the positive as well as the negative. We may not have thought we were developing company culture in the early days, but these shared experiences shaped our values and policies.

Along the way, I met people from across the industry who exposed me to new ideas and perspectives that took our company to the next level. What follows are a few of the lessons I’ve learned. I hope you find these thoughts helpful when developing your own company culture.

Don’t Be a Dictator

How long can your company last with only a single person providing all the answers, direction and motivation? At a point, an organization needs to recognize what it does well and where there are gaps. By giving all team members ownership of their specialty, you begin to fully leverage your organization’s potential. In our case, this means creating a higher quality of life for our employees and a better rental experience for our customers.

All of us are smarter than any one of us. Informed leaders surround themselves with people who’ll give them the information they need to make decisions. This is especially important during a company’s early days because decisions will often need to be made quickly and with limited resources.

Communication within a dictatorial company flows from team members on the ground toward the decision-maker. The main shortcoming of this culture is no matter how informed the executive team is, everyone else is left unempowered. This means you’re failing to leverage the talents of your team.

This model is easy from an organizational standpoint and probably necessary if you’re bootstrapping your own operation. It worked for us in our early years, and we created a lot of value during this period. Even with our initial success, however, we knew there was more to be done. We began searching for that special something that could take our company culture to the next level.

Develop Organic Values

No matter what your culture becomes, it needs a starting point, which should be rooted in your team’s shared experiences. It should be shaped by the individuals within your organization and the local community as well as your processes and procedures, and other factors unique to your experience.

At the beginning, team members in top management positions will likely lead the charge in terms of exploring and spreading company culture. Enlisting participation from other staff will be more difficult, but this contribution will give them a feeling of ownership they probably haven’t felt with other companies.

When each member contributes in his own way, it benefits others and allows everyone to draw from shared experience. This breaks down silos of information and creates an open ethos of communication. Employees become relaxed and are better equipped to develop meaningful relationships. A shared cause rooted in shared experience is the only way to create an authentic culture. This is how you get people to care about a company and join for a common good.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, ask yourself:

  • What is your company’s decision-making process?
  • Do the people most familiar with a situation have a platform to voice their opinions, even and especially if they’re customer-facing?
  • How do you facilitate communication between team members and departments?
  • When was the last time you implemented an idea that was brought to your attention by a facility manager?
  • What kind of corporate citizen do you want to be?
  • What’s your company’s mission, and does it align with your business goals?
  • Is your passion for that mission real and authentic?
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