By Pamela Alton
I’ve heard it said that performance reviews are like fruitcakes: They usually come around once a year whether you like them or not! But unlike a fruitcake, a performance review for a self-storage manager shouldn't be limited to the end of the year. These evaluations have many benefits, providing a chance to offer constructive feedback, praise and advice for improvement. Ultimately, a review enables an open, frank discussion about the company's goals and employee growth within the organization.
Here’s some advice for self-storage owners or supervisors on preparing for an evaluation, what the meeting should cover, topics to avoid and more.
Choose a Review Type
There are basically two types of performance reviews. One is usually given at the end of the year as a kind of summary. This is generally when your manager expects to hear about a pay raise or a bonus program for the new year. The other type of review is more detailed, discussing a manager’s goals, accomplishments and areas for improvement. You can combine these discussions into a one-time event, or do multiple reviews throughout the year.
For example, you could conduct one review at the end of the year to discuss next year's goals and the time frame for achieving them, as well as to offer the employee an increase in wages and an outline of his new bonus program. You could then conduct another review mid-year or after the completion of a large project, such as a facility expansion. There’s no right or wrong time to give a performance review so long as it happens at least annually. Otherwise, how can you and your manager determine if he’s on target to meet his goals?
Many supervisors will sit down a few days before a review to begin their notes. This is a mistake. Rather, you should be making notes throughout the year in each employee's file. It might include examples of when a staff member went above and beyond his job duties, such as a demonstrating a willingness to help co-workers or spearheading a major project.
You should also cite any complaints you received from tenants or other employees. Not everyone is perfect all the time, but we tend to forget the negatives. Making note of—and addressing—incidents as they occur will give your manager time to improve and allow him to demonstrate how well he can overcome adversity.
During the review, never surprise an employee with a laundry list of improvement items that weren’t previously discussed. If you bring up information that’s totally new, he might say he was never told about certain company policies, or that he was unaware that he wasn’t reaching his goals. A review is a recap of things that have occurred during the year. If you address a situation when it happens—good or bad—it’ll alleviate tension during the formal performance evaluation.
Write It Down
Human-resources professionals agree an employee review shouldn’t involve only on a face-to-face meeting. It should also include a written component so you there’s a document to which to refer, for all parties. It helps everyone involved to track progress.
A quick note about forms: While it’s good to have a pre-designed performance-review form, be careful about choosing one that isn’t specific to the self-storage industry. Fortunately, even a generic form can usually be tweaked for your purposes. It should specifically address your business policies and procedures.
Be Honest and Comprehensive
One major mistake supervisors often make is writing reviews that are too vague and full of compliments to avoid a confrontation or uncomfortable situation. You need to give an honest, balanced review, providing positive and negative feedback about your manager's job performance. If your reviews are all "fluff," they could be fodder for a lawsuit if the employee is later fired.
Be specific and give examples of what he’s doing well or areas where he excels. James E. Neal Jr.’s book, "Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals: A Guide to Successful Evaluations," includes five words and phrases that will help highlight an employee's contributions to you and your facility:
- Achievement: For example, incorporate this into a statement such as "achieves optimal levels of occupancy while retaining rentals and reducing delinquency."
- Communication skills: Saying something like, "effectively communicates with the home office staff," or "excels in tenant relations" will go a long way with an employee.
- Creativity: Appreciating employees' creative side can make for happier, more motivated staff. In a performance review, try "seeks creative alternatives, such as [example: designing a new marketing plan] that drove [results: an increase in business rentals]."
- Improvement: Employees like hearing they’re improving and it's being noticed. "Continues to grow and improve" and "is continuously planning for improvement" are two constructive phrases to use in a performance review.
- Management ability: Having leadership skills and the ability to manage others is key for employee success. Incorporating phrases such as "provides support during periods of a manager change at other locations" or "provides team with support through [example]" will carry a lot of weight with your employee.
Also, discuss areas where the employee may need to improve, such as collections, customer service or site maintenance. Ask open-ended questions like the following, which will spark an honest conversation that allows you to each to see the other’s perspective:
- What would you do to improve the situation?
- How do/did you see the situation?
- What is your desired result?
Next, offer solutions to help the employee achieve better results. If you’re a mid-size to large company, you may want to let him know that if he improves, there could be a chance for a promotion to area or district manager. Always look to promote from within. The manager already knows your company, its philosophy and policies.
A performance review isn’t just a time to give your staff "grades.” There’s nothing worse to your employee than listening to his supervisor run down a form and recite scores. Use this time to sit down in a professional atmosphere and have an open, honest discussion and solve any problems. In the end, this will help him be a better employee and improve the company’s revenue.
Try a Self-Review Session
I did this once with my staff. I gave them each a review sheet and asked them to evaluate their own performance. It wasn’t at all what I expected. They beat themselves up much worse than I ever would have! They were all doing a good job. However, I had a few minor issues, and each one knew exactly what those were; so they came to the meeting with solutions to improve their performance.
If you elect to do this, consider giving your manager a few questions to answer in advance and bring to the review. These might include:
- How was your work performance this year?
- What are your goals for the coming year, and how are you planning to achieve them?
- What can I do to help you build your skills and achieve your goals?
Always end your review on a positive note! Offering encouragement and letting your manager know you appreciate what he does for you, your facility and tenants gives an added boost to a good review or lifts spirits after a less than encouraging one. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in giving your manager the confidence he needs to achieve higher profit-driven results for the next year. Remember, a pat on the back doesn't cost you a dime!
Finally, it’s critical to follow up with your manger after the evaluation. Always give him a copy of the written review and follow up with an e-mail summarizing what was discussed along with any stated goals and improvements. Then, start planning for the next appraisal!
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management Services, a company that has been placing self-storage managers in positions all over the United States since 1991. She also offers staff training, operational consulting, and facility audits and inspections. For more information, call 321.890.2245; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.mini-management.com.