When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. ~Buddhist proverb
Many of us enjoyed watching the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. For these events, the attention is traditionally focused on the accomplishments of the athletes. What often gets lost are the contributions of the coaches who have labored behind the scenes to help the competitors hone their skills. Even a super-star swimmer like Michael Phelps has a coach by his side to objectively point out areas that can be improved and keep him focused on skills he's already mastered.
Now we're starting to get into the new NFL season and baseballs post-season drive toward the World Series. As I watched NFL pre-season games, I looked at the number of coaches and assistant coaches working in the Washington Redskins organization. In addition to head coach Mike Shanahan, I discovered 18 offensive and defensive coaches and assistants. This made me reflect on our "athletes" in the self-storage industry, our front-line facility managers and assistant managers, and who they turn to for coaching.
During my 28 years in self-storage, Ive met a few owners who have admirably served that role for their employeesmotivating and inspiring, providing constant and concrete feedback, offering suggestions and direction to improve performance. The truth is those owners are rare. Self-storage is not always an owner's primary investment, and the variety of business skills necessary to be a successful manager are often beyond the knowledge of the folks signing the paychecks.
Ive also met a number of owners who understand the positive impact an employee mentor or teacher can make on bottom-line results. Its easy to identify these enlightened owners by simply looking at their operating budgets. There youll find a line item titled manager training. These funds are being used to send employees to state association meetings and conferences, or to allow them to participate in industry webinars or online training courses.
But where does that leave the majority of managers who still want to improve themselves and the success of the facilities they operate? Here are a number of low- and no-cost avenues to help you find that coach you need.
My first recommendation is to join the ranks of the more than 5,400 self-storage owners and managers from around the world who support each other via Self Storage Talk (www.selfstoragetalk.com), the official online community of Inside Self-Storage. As a moderator for SST, Ive watched folks who have years of experience become beacons of information. Their insights and practical knowledge, gained from years of time spent behind the counters at their respective offices, have created an invaluable dialogue.
Even though forums are wonderful places to gather information and learn from one another, I still feel strongly that theres no substitute for face-to-face interaction. So consider stopping into a local Toastmasters meeting. This is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills. There are no instructors; instead, members evaluate each anothers presentations. Participants can also offer information on various topics and develop skills related to timekeeping and grammar.
We spend all day interacting with customers and prospects on the phone and across the counter, so improving communications skills is a constant journey, not a trip with a destination. You can find a local group meeting near you at Toastmasters.org.
Chamber of Commerce
If your company is a member of the local chamber of commerce, keep an eye on its upcoming events. Chambers often offer inexpensive or sponsored business workshops you can attend. Your local Small Business Administration (SBA) office or Small Business Development Center will also host periodic programs. In addition, the SBA offers a variety of free online programs at http://archive.sba.gov/training/index.html.
Some self-storage managers like to circulate books and articles theyve read with others. Like the participants of Oprah's Book Club, they use their readings as a basis for personal interaction. It's another method to help each other learn and grow.
Let's not overlook a the need to seek mentors who can help you with your personal and business growth. While you can certainly take advantage of all the avenues mentioned above, attendance at a national self-storage conference is the best dollar-for-dollar investment you can make in your business career.
Yes, the education sessions are important, and the tradeshow aisles are filled with some of the most knowledgeable experts in the business. However, whats truly unique is the opportunity to sit and talk with folks who have invested their lives in self-storage just like you. It's a great place for owners and managers to meet and share information. These relationships often grown into teacher-student connections.
Some owners go so far as to select an industry expert to serve as a coach for themselves and their managers. The insights provided can more than pay for the coachs fee through additional rentals and the ability to troubleshoot problems that emerge in day-to-day operations.
Jim Chiswell is an industry veteran and owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com.