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Policy and Procedure: The Lifeblood of Your Self-Storage Operation

When was the last time you reviewed your self-storage operation’s policies and procedures? If there’s an inch of dust on these manuals (yes, plural), it’s time for an update! Here’s some insight to writing, implementation, compliance and more.

When’s the last time you took a good, hard look at the way you do things at your self-storage facility? Many people love the “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” rule, however, there’s one critical area that often gets overlooked—sometimes for years!

Policies and procedures are the lifeblood of your organization. As the framework for your daily operation and a reflection of your values, they guide employees to success. Because they define standards for conduct, they play a large role in creating your company culture. They can also equip you to meet strategic goals, reduce risk and identify opportunities for improvement.

So, why do so many self-storage operations lack written staff requirements? Could having a formal set of guidelines positively impact your business? You bet!

Policy vs. Procedure

As you consider your policies and procedures, it’s important to understand the difference between the two. According to “Risk Management” Magazine, policies are high-level principles that “set the directional tone” of your organization. Procedures, on the other hand, define lower-level processes. People often refer to an employee handbook as a “policy and procedure” manual, however, these should be addressed as separate resources.

It can be difficult to know where to start. Writing can be a long, involved process. Much of the work is preparation; but because these documents impact everyone at work every day, it’s important to get them right. Keep in mind that getting these foundational pieces in order can prevent more work for you and your team in the long run.

It’s helpful to keep the end goal in mind. Don’t make up stuff just for the sake of having a larger manual. Consider why you’re writing your new standards and let that inform the specifics along the way.

Writing

Using a standard template will make your policy documents clear and organized, ensuring they’re easy to understand and navigate. Adhering to a structure will also streamline the writing process and save you time.

In addition to organizing your policies, you’ll want to determine which sections and information to include for each. Here are a few to consider:

  • Header: Include the policy title and any effective/revision dates.
  • Introduction/purpose: What is the policy about and the reason for having it?
  • Policy statement: What is the position of your organization in regard to the topic?
  • Definitions: It’s important to define terms as you go, especially for words and phrases that can have multiple meanings. This will make policies clear and could help prevent you from arguing about definitions if you ever face litigation.
  • Procedures: Include step-by-step instructions for routine tasks and operations. Visuals are recommended. For example, use screen shots of software, leases, forms, etc.

Don’t try to tackle every policy at once. Create a list of new policies that need to be written and existing ones that need revisions or updates. They can be developed in anticipation of and in response to change and growth. Your organization must constantly assess its activities, responsibilities and environment to identify the need for new best practices.

Ensure the wording, length and complexity of each policy are appropriate for those who’ll be expected to understand and implement it. To ensure your policies and procedures make sense, you need to see them in action, too. It’s always a good idea to go back to the employees who do the daily work and get their feedback.

For those of you who don’t have the time to create your own manuals, look to industry resources to get started. If you buy or “borrow” someone else’s manual, customize it to your organization. You certainly wouldn’t want employees to see a different company name in those pages, or a policy that doesn’t relate to your business.

Implementation and Compliance

Writing your policies and procedures is just the beginning. Next, you need to come up with an implementation plan to ensure compliance.

The first step is distribution. Housing your important documents online means employees will be able to access them anytime from anywhere, making it easier to search for the information they need. You can ensure your team reviews and understands your policies by having them electronically sign these documents. While this is easiest, there’s also nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned binder at the store as well.

Remember, it isn’t enough to simply send employees a bunch of documents and expect compliance. You need to develop and provide training, so staff understand your expectations.

Updates

Because laws and best practices are always evolving, your policies likely will, too. Part of a healthy, robust policy-management process is establishing timelines for review. Some policies, such as those that relate to technology and social media, might need frequent review, while others might only need to be examined annually or once every few years. Forward planning will ensure your policies are never out of date.

Whether you’re reviewing and revising old policies or developing new ones, be attentive to detail and keep the big picture in mind. Your manuals set the tone for conduct and ultimately define your daily operation. By taking the time to ensure their success, you’re taking a big step toward positively developing your organization.

Susan Haviland is the owner of Haviland Storage Services, which specializes in auditing, manager training, market studies and operational reviews. She has more than 32 years of industry experience, from serving as a site manager to acting as vice president of operations at Extra Space Storage Inc. and Price Self Storage. She's a frequent speaker at industry conferences and tradeshows. For more information, call 760.401.0297; visit www.havilandstorageservices.com.

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