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Evaluating Self-Storage Employees: Strategies for a Positive, Productive Process and Better Business

Self-storage owners who arent conducting some sort of employee-performance appraisal at least once per quarter are doing a large disservice to their employees and their business. Here's an overview of the employee-evaluation process, pointers for your role as supervisor, and strategies for making the experience as positive and productive as possible.

June 16, 2012

12 Min Read
Evaluating Self-Storage Employees: Strategies for a Positive, Productive Process and Better Business

By RK Kliebenstein

An employee evaluation is all about letting employees know what they're doing well and where they can improve. If youre not conducting some sort of performance appraisal at least once per quarter at your self-storage facility, youre not only doing your employees a large disservice, youre neglecting your business.

If an employee doesn't know what hes doing wrong, how will he get better? If hes not working to improve his job performance, isn't that detrimental to your operation? Your employees are not mind readers. To improve, people need input from their supervisors.

Establish Communication

So what are you looking to accomplish in a formal employee evaluation? First you need to establish better communication. Employees need to know youre approachable. They need to understand their performance review is only for their benefit. You want them to see youre not trying to be critical, youre just pointing out areas that can be improved. With communication should come better understanding between you and your staff.

Once youve established good communication, give a thorough review of job performance. Remember, youre not trying to berate staff and destroy morale. You need to point out the good performance as well as the bad. Identify where they could use more training and determine ways to provide it.

Remember this is two-way communication. Employees need to know they can speak up and they have a strong voice in the process. You want them to be willing to identify areas in which they feel weak or would like to learn more.

As much as possible, you want to document the key points of your discussion so you can refer to them during the next evaluation. This will allow you to clearly see where there has been improvement and what areas in their training are still behind. Keep in mind your performance appraisal should be used as a guide to future promotion and raises for employees. Most people want to know if they have a future with your organization. If you run your business with an eye toward promoting from within, then this is important to both of you. If your business is growing, youll need to determine who might be your key employees in that growth.

If youve ever worked for someone else, you likely wanted to know how well you were performing on the job. This is especially true if youd been thinking of what your long-term future with the business might be. Holding evaluation sessions is a key to the long-term growth of your business. Even though you may consider it a task you dont care for, it still needs to be done, for the good of your employees and your operation.

The Role of Supervisor

The effectiveness of any employee evaluation is only as strong as the supervisor who conducts it. Most important, the supervisor needs to understand the evaluations purpose. It is not to browbeat the subordinate or pass blame. Any good appraisal is part of an organization's esprit de corps, and should be equally devoted to touting and extolling the virtues of good performance as to disclosing deficiencies.

The evaluation process is perhaps a supervisor's most important of task. He must learn to give effective feedback and maximize the outcome of an appraisal. He must learn how to set goals that are fair and realistic, and how to clearly communicate corporate and individual goals. Problems with evaluations can range full spectrum, from the supervisor who blasts the employee with information, all the way to the one whos afraid to be candid about employee performance and dismisses the process. These problems occur for a few reasons:

  • The supervisor lacks confidence and sees the employees behaviors as shortcomings driven by the supervisors inability, or there has been insufficient training, modeling, coaching and supervising.

  • Theres a fear of disclosing operational deficiencies the supervisor will have to answer for, much like an audit.

  • A friendship exists thats beyond the acceptable parameters of the workplace, and a candid evaluation is not possible.

There are huge differences between previous verbal communications and the written evaluation. This is particularly true when the delivered verbal prompts have been good or glowing, and issues have been swept under the rug and not discussed with the employee because the supervisor has not wanted to deal with specific behaviors or performance standards.

Supervisors fear their value will be diminished when they document the strong performance of their subordinates. They dont want to use the evaluation as a tool for creating pathways to promotion for the employee, which could manifest in a pay raise, the assumption of additional responsibilities, or the issuance of specific rewards and commendations. Because supervisors are often reluctant to offer honest criticism until a performance problem is too serious to salvage, they must learn how to be more assertive and forthright.

The Process

A fair and effective performance evaluation and appraisal is a never-ending process of communicating not only ideas, but specific performance details, driven by data. Its incumbent on the supervisor to adequately research the statistical data and articulate the review periods goals and criteria achievements. The great appraisal is an ongoing process supported by verbal queues delivered during the evaluation period, which will support the written evaluation. A quality appraisal has the following characteristics:

A good hire. The appraisal process starts before the employee is hired with a good job description, communicating to employees what their duties are and whats expected of the position.

Clear performance goals. Before an employment agreement is reached, and preferably before an offer to employ is extended, the performance goals should be clearly communicated in writing to the prospective employee, and there must be consensus. The goals should not be nebulous but specific. For example: "ABC storage should maintain a physical occupancy level greater than the minimum of 75 percent, and the target physical occupancy should be 87 percent. The store manager is expected to spend a minimum of four hours per week marketing the store outside of the property to drive leads and sales. Copious and exact records for sales calls must be documented on the companys S-1 form, which details sales activity."

These standards should be written, and should be in 100 percent compliance with corporate goals. This is as important for a single-store owner as it is for a multi-facility operator.

Ongoing feedback. Whenever employee performance fails to meet or exceeds expectations, the supervisor should immediately counsel the employee to identify the issues and suggest exact ways to improve performance.

Disciplinary action. If poor performance is an issue, use the company guidelines regarding the disciplinary-action process.

Formal evaluations. These should be scheduled at least annually. All evaluations should be in writing.

Employee input. The review process must be acknowledged by the employee. Its important the employee signs for the receipt of the evaluation, and be given an opportunity to comment on the appraisal. Those comments become a part of the employee file.

Review of written appraisals. The supervisors boss typically reviews each appraisal. If the supervisor isnt experienced in conducting appraisals, his superior should review the appraisal before delivery and coach the immediate supervisor on the process and evaluation skills.

Training, coaching and counseling supervisors on their performance as appraisers. This is a skill developed over time and with experience. Certainly a multi-facility operation gives the supervisor more experience and opportunity to perfect his evaluation and appraisal skills than the single-store owner who may only have two or three employees. However, the process is no less important.

Supervisors should be evaluated on all aspects of their appraisal responsibilities, including communication of expectations, ability to recognize high and low achievers, ability to criticize constructively, and whether theyre fair and objective in their assessment of performance.

Senior management should be on the alert for supervisors who may not give higher ratings to their subordinates than they themselves received. Its also important to note that employee evaluations are never graded on the curve, but are relative as a comparison from standards to performance.

An Honest Review

There are a number of reasons its important for an employee to receive an honest evaluation of his weaknesses and strengths. Honest criticism tells the employee what he should do to improve. The supervisor can assist by indentifying the areas in which the employees performance falls short of the company's, team's or customers' needs.

If an employee is performing below standard but his supervisor believes he deserves another chance, its incredibly important to set this forth on the evaluation form in clear, concise language. The supervisor should deliver a clear explanation of substandard performance and indicate that he is willing to work in a cooperative effort to achieve improvement.

A sincere evaluation genuinely helps the employee by informing him fairly and honestly where he stands and creating a plan for performance. These are often referred to in large companies as PIPs or Performance Improvement Plans, and are an integral part of the ongoing evaluation process. The supervisor also helps the company by:

  • Mitigating and reducing the risks of unjustified lawsuits from disgruntled employees whose termination is unexpected

  • Documenting and enabling the company to assert the fairness of a dismissal if the employee does litigate under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or other state or federal laws

  • Recognizing, highlighting and commending the contributions of satisfactory employees by distinguishing their work from the work lesser performers

  • In some cases, enabling the problem employee to achieve higher performance

Changing Behavior, Not People

Christine Null, director of human resources for Metro Storage LLC, which operates 100 self-storage facilities nationwide, summarizes the employee-evaluation process succinctly: The most important thing is the relationship. Give employees dignity. Dont be condescending. Respect and encourage them. The bottom line is you want changed behavior, not a changed employee.

Here are two steps self-storage operators should keep in mind when it comes to employee evaluations:

Minimize risk. One of the greatest risks in terminations is a retaliatory discharge. This is almost always messy. When there are performance issues, it usually has tentacles in multiple areas such as interaction with the supervisor, performance after a qualified worker-compensation injury, time off via the Family and Medical Leave Act, etc. Although they may be unrelated, it's important to ensure issues are kept separate and emotions of performance issues do not co-mingle.

Action plan. Close the process and follow up. The performance evaluation can also be a tool for the subordinate to give feedback to his supervisor. This is often referred to as a 360-degree evaluation process. In large organizations, the feedback process can be anonymous, giving an opportunity for a more truthful evaluation of supervisors by subordinates, where the feat of retribution is removed. In a small-company environment, as often found in self-storage properties, the 360-degree review process is much less effective.

Employee Goals and Rewards

An evaluation should culminate in a compensation reward. Any deficiencies noted in the appraisal should have a clear plan for correction and work toward the eventual reward. If the employee and employer are working toward the same goal, it has a much higher likelihood of being achieved.

Create a specific plan for correcting any issues that are noted in the review process. The goals should be clear, succinct and, most important, absolutely achievable. In some cases where bonuses or incentives are paid annually, quarterly reviews can be used to monitor progress and keep employees motivated toward achieving the goals. Its critically important the plan for achieving goals be clear and within the reach of the employee.

One of the best practices is to ensure issues are discussed with the employee at the time of occurrence and not stacked for later discussion or held until the evaluation. The supervisor should coach the employee verbally and follow up with a simple e-mail or note. Refer to the e-mails and notes when preparing the annual evaluation. Do not trust your memory to recall the incidents that occurred during the past quarter or year.

Supervisor Incentive

In multi-store operations, supervisors should be clearly trained and counseled on conducting employee evaluations. Equally important, the supervisors compensation should be tied to the success rate of the employees they supervise and evaluate. If the supervisors compensation is based on the satisfaction and achievements of his subordinates, he'll work toward mutual accomplishment of the goals. This motivates supervisors to create pathways to success for team members. If the evaluation issues arent creating risks, failure of the staff to achieve goals is an indication the goals were not realistic, or the supervisor failed in motivating the employees to reach them.

Whether your organization is large or small, flat or deep, the importance of letting each employee know where he stands and how he can improve or continue is critically important to his personal development. The pride in knowing a job is well done will go a long waysometimes even a greater distance than compensationin encouraging an employee to go the extra mile to build the business.

Saving an employee from discharge may be one of the most important things you contribute to his life. Not only do most of us rely on a job for income, many are defined by our careers, and we rely on our work for identity, self-confidence, self-worth and motivation. Work is important to our entire life experience. Theodore Roosevelt once said, Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

RK Kliebenstein is the author of How To Make Money in Self-Storage and How to Make MORE Money in Self-Storage, and countless articles on self-storage ownership and operation. Hes currently the vice president of business development for Metro Storage LLC. To reach him, e-mail [email protected].

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