Communicate and disseminate

Rolling Out Operational Improvements Across Multiple Self-Storage Locations

As you expand your self-storage portfolio with additional locations, it becomes more difficult to roll out new operating procedures and improvements. Here are some strategies to successfully implement positive changes company-wide, no matter how many properties you operate.

As your self-storage portfolio grows, it becomes increasingly complicated to roll out improvements successfully across all locations. There are more people with whom to collaborate when developing new operating procedures, more staff with whom to communicate about changes and more employees to train. Furthermore, your team isn’t clustered nicely at a single office, but spread out over a growing number of facilities. Following are some ideas to help you implement positive changes throughout your expanding empire, no matter how many properties it includes.

Strategy 1: Identify Superstars, Duplicate Their Success

The best place to look for success strategies is within your own company. If you already have a standout management team that’s achieving the results you’d like to see at your other stores, you have an opportunity to observe them working their magic. Compare the way they do things to the way tasks are “usually” done. You should be looking for key behaviors that can be adopted by the rest of your company.

Years ago, my company wanted to get a greater portion of new self-storage tenants to sign up for automatic credit card payments. One of our managers was a superstar in this area, so we asked her how she achieved such great results. She said she was trained to always ask new customers for their identification at the time of rental. She soon realized that if she asked for photo ID and credit card at the start of the process, nearly everyone would produce both cards, as most consumers are accustomed to similar requests from hotels and vehicle-rental companies.

While the tenant reviewed and signed the rental agreement, the manager would fill in the automatic-billing authorization form using the card details. Once the customer signed the lease, she’d explain the pre-filled application and ask him to sign. When the offer was presented this way, the number of people enrolling in automatic billing increased dramatically.

With this insight, we had two new behaviors to teach the rest of our staff. First, we would start asking for photo ID and a credit card at the beginning of each rental; and second, we’d pre-fill the authorization form for the customer to make it easier to complete.

Strategy 2: Define Key Behaviors

Many managers make the mistake of defining success only in terms of a desired outcome, such as increasing occupancy or reducing delinquency by a certain amount. A more helpful definition focuses on performing specific actions. In other words, you need to communicate and train your team to adopt key behaviors that lead to positive results.

For example, if you’d like to increase the revenue you generate from the sale of boxes and other merchandise, setting a sales goal would be a start. However, that number doesn’t communicate to your manager what he can do to meet that goal, other than to “try harder.” If your employee isn’t effective in the way he approaches merchandise sales, trying harder is just a recipe for frustration and dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, when you augment your goal with specific actions that lead to increased sales, you’ve opened the path for your staff to succeed. Key behaviors are observable and duplicatable. They can be modeled for new employees. They can also be described and documented. Then, competence can be demonstrated.

Strategy 3: Create Opportunities to Practice

Adopting new behaviors usually takes practice. Ineffective multi-site supervisors make the mistake of explaining the outcome they want, adding some incentive and assuming that’s enough. Those who are slightly better explain what needs to be done and then model the behavior. The best explain what needs to be done, model the behavior, and then give their direct reports opportunities to practice in an environment where it’s safe to make mistakes and learn.

For example, when showing a manager how to clean out a storage unit and prepare it for the next customer, you can describe and demonstrate how you want the job done. Then you can have your employee practice the skill while you observe and provide feedback. This process continues until he can demonstrate competence with the new skill.

Strategy 4: Make it Easier With Job Aids

You’ll get faster change and more compliance from your multiple teams if you make it as easy as possible for them to embrace new behaviors. Don’t confuse this with motivating them with incentives. In this case, you’re focused on making the task easier to complete rather than on boosting your managers’ drive to work toward the desired outcome.

One way you can make it easier is to create a job aid that helps people remember when and how to do things. Some examples include checklists that ensure all the necessary steps are taken, fill-in-the-blank forms that make it clear what information is needed and where it should go, and written or illustrated procedures that show step-by-step how to complete a task.

Job aids can be even more effective if designed to be obvious at the right moment. For example, if you want your employees to keep the contents of a customer’s file organized in a specific order, place a diagram on the file cabinet rather than bury it in a procedures manual.

Strategy 5: Study Success

By studying the methods of those who are already succeeding, both inside and outside your company, you can find the key behaviors that lead to the results you desire. When you don’t already have a role model, enlist the help of your store managers and experiment until you’ve figured it out for yourself.

As you roll out your improvement plan, you’ll have faster implementation when you explain and demonstrate appropriate behaviors and make it easy for employees to adopt them. By creating a safe space for your team to practice, you increase the speed at which they’ll succeed.

Kenny Pratt is a principal at the self-storage investment firm Crescendo Properties and its operating company, Crescendo Self Storage Management. He and his partners acquire, develop and manage self-storage facilities. For more information, call 916.481.2600; e-mail kpratt@propertymanagement.storage; visit http://propertymanagement.storage

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