It’s not easy to master all of the skills you need to run a highly successful self-storage property. Facility managers must wear a number of hats on a daily (if not hourly) basis, but almost no one is equipped with a complete skillset to tackle all the tasks for which they’re responsible when first hired into the position.
Many of the skills necessary aren’t innate qualities, so how do self-storage managers obtain the knowledge to perform proficiently, especially when confronted with tasks with which they’re uncomfortable or inexperienced? Let’s explore some practical ways to improve your management skills.
Reading Is Fundamental
One of the first things I would suggest is to read voraciously, as if you’re starving for any knowledge you can absorb. Reading is free, and there are many great industry resources from which you can glean helpful information.
As you’re reading, make note of the authors who resonate with you, and find more materials they’ve written. When I’m reading an article and realize I’m nodding in agreement, I’ll pick up the phone and call the author or send an e-mail of acknowledgement and make a personal connection. This is similar to the meet-and-greets you attend at chamber of commerce functions or other community events; it’s just a different avenue for making a useful connection.
Also consider going to school. While you don’t need to seek a graduate degree, don’t be afraid to enroll in community-college or adult-education courses. Consider classes covering topics that may provide peripheral skills you’ll need to do your job, such as marketing. There are also online courses available from a variety of sources including the Small Business Administration.
Keep your brain engaged by feeding it information and knowledge. As you build your skillset, apply what you’ve learned back to job functions and customer engagement.
Another way to improve your management skills is to find a mentor. One option is SCORE (previously known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives), a nonprofit association that offers business tools, education, mentoring and workshops through 320 chapters nationwide. Also consider joining organizations or service clubs where you’ll meet people who possess the skills you want to learn.
For example, ask to shadow your favorite marketing person to get a better idea how to implement and track promotions. If you’re looking to boost your organizational skills, find someone you admire, such as an accountant, home stager or meticulous mechanic, and emulate his neat and efficient processes.
There are many industry associations and related events that can help you boost your proficiency as a manager. While I encourage everyone to attend at least one conference and tradeshow annually, a storage-specific event isn’t the only avenue to increase your skills. Organizations such as Dale Carnegie Training, Toastmasters and other business schools host an abundance of events. Think outside the box to acquire skills that’ll help you handle different scenarios likely to come your way while on the job.
While all of these avenues should provide outlets to help you become a well-rounded manager, there are some specific skills every manager should work on to improve his job performance:
Communication and listening. The most critical skill you can hone is effective communication. This involves two parties interacting and actually conversing, and requires you to be adept at the second most crucial skill you can develop: listening.
When you listen, you learn; and we all know knowledge is power. Listen to your customers, co-workers and superiors. Hear what they’re saying. Don’t focus on what you’re going to say—listen. This is a great place to start improving your management skills. If you can listen effectively, you can learn and adjust appropriately to any situation.
Organization. A good self-storage manager is also well-organized. Just about anything you can think of related to the position—customer accounts, maintenance projects, marketing, the office, payroll, the physical property and reports—is much easier to deal with if it’s well-ordered and easy to access.
Leadership. To be an effective leader, you must know all the parts you want others to play in your world. If you want to hire a great janitorial person, know what tools are needed for the job, how long tasks take and what’s involved. Good managers never asks subordinates to perform tasks they’re not willing to do (and have done) themselves. Be willing to step up and fill in should the need arise. Co-workers appreciate managers who roll up their sleeves and work side by side with them more than those who sit high atop a self-erected pedestal.
Empathy and compassion. Facility managers who develop these sentiments for their teammates tend to be successful at increasing loyalty and trust. We’re all human and prone to fail at times. Learn to recognize when an employee needs a little something extra from you.
Teamwork. As the cliché says, there’s no “I” in team. Train yourself and your staff to work in tandem, not as loners. Similarly, there’s truth to the adage that “misery loves company.” An unpleasant task is handled more efficiently with someone to share the burden. At any given self-storage property, many unseemly tasks are made more bearable when someone works with you to accomplish them.
Number knowledge. To be an effective manager, you must understand the business status of your facility and learn how to read the various reports available through your management software. Take a financial course if you need to, but understanding accounting principles, budgeting, economic occupancy, property value and other metrics, as well as how they interrelate, is important to success. It can actually be quite fascinating once you get over any fears you may have.
No matter what, keep learning by any means possible. Whether you take a creative approach or curl up with a book, keep your gray matter sharp and make skill improvement part of your growth process. Remember, the more often you do something, the more comfortable and natural it becomes. There are so many ways to train, learn and grow, but you must take that first step.
Gina Six Kudo is general manager of Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif. She has more than 16 years of self-storage experience, and a strong customer-service and sales background. She’s also a moderator on Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. For more information, visit www.cochranestorage.com.