March 1, 2003

5 Min Read
Seven Steps of Grief

You're the kind of self-storage owner who is trying to make the best of his investment. You are looking for new things to do to help your business--and new ways of doing them. You find an idea that looks good and you want to implement it. You meet with your store manager and tell him about the process. He looks back at you with fear in his eyes. He stammers as you tell him about it. You wonder what the heck is going on.

You may think each initiative you introduce is an improvement to your operation and, hopefully, it is. But how do your managers perceive it? Many times, their first reaction is, "Oh no, here he goes again!" Your initiatives give your managers grief. This being the case, you will need to help them cope with the seven steps of grieving.


When a new process or idea is implemented in a self-storage operation, at first the manager is confused. He isn't sure what you are really up to. He's seen initiatives come through before--what is this one going to be like? You can assist him through the confused stage by providing him as much information as you can about the change or program. Help him understand the benefits to the operation as a whole and him specifically. Help him understand the day-to-day processes that will affect him.

Many initiatives are fairly simple to integrate into your operations. Help managers see how this will happen. Don't just call and leave a message on the answering machine or an e-mail saying, "Starting tomorrow, we are going to be using ABC Co. to process credit-card transactions." You will throw your staff into a state of confusion.

Feeling Threatened

If you have done a good job explaining the new initiative to your manager, he will no longer feel confused, but he may feel threatened. Does the new initiative mean you don't trust him to do his job or that he is doing a poor job? Does it mean you will cut back his hours or replace him?

In most cases, the savvy owner is making changes to help managers be more effective and efficient. If you thought your manager wasn't doing a good job, you wouldn't invest in him; you'd probably let him go. Explain your motives to your manager. Let him know the change is meant to assist him. If you can make this point understood, he will no longer feel threatened. He may, however, still resist the change.


You hire people to run your stores who take an emotional ownership in the operation. You do this because you know they will take care of the place and really apply themselves. But this sort of individual also tends to think he knows what he is doing and, in many cases, he does. When you introduce a new initiative, your manager may think he already has that portion of the business under control. For example, if you tell your manager you want him to start making photocopies of each tenant's ID, he may think this is unnecessary because he is very cautious to whom he rents. If you can list the benefits of the new program from the manager's point of view and provide duties and routines that ensure the program works correctly, the manager's resistance will likely dissolve.

Feeling Tentative

The tentative stage is a tricky one--it is where the new program will sink or swim. You might think you have done all you can to help the manager get over whatever "grief" the new initiative has caused, but if he remains hesitant in his support, you will never get an honest appraisal of the change. The program will not be approached with enthusiasm, and you will hear mostly negative feedback. Your job is to get the manager through the tentative stage and to the point that he is curious about the new mode of operation.


If your manager shows curiosity in how a new program works and how it will affect him, you will both begin to see positive results. The manager will work with greater effectiveness and enthusiasm, which will create a more satisfying outcome.


If you can get your manager to the point of excitement, you've made it almost completely through the grieving process. The excited stage is where all sorts of good things happen. Managers begin to find ways in which the program is beneficial--ones you hadn't even foreseen. They become fans of the new initiative and start selling the idea to other employees. Now is when you can find out all sorts of information about how the program can really work. Your manager now has a wide perspective of the situation and can objectively weigh the good, the bad and the indifferent.


If you have shepherded your managers through the grief process and had the foresight and patience to see them through to excitement, you are just about home free. You will eventually see the excitement fade and the initiative blend into your operational procedures. This is a great place to be. This is bliss, because your managers no longer think about or question the program--they just work it. You have already established your managers as good customer-service personnel interested in the success of the store. When they internalize a change and operate it from rote, it only adds to their personal achievement.

When your manager has experienced the seven steps of dealing with grief and memorized and internalized your new program, you will hardly see the ball drop. It will not happen overnight, though some managers will evolve through the progression in a matter of days. The process is very real and needs to be addressed in a positive training atmosphere. A manager who is initially confused, threatened and resistant to a change can become one of its biggest fans, living in blissful harmony with a program that, not too long before, caused him nothing but grief.

Tron Jordheim is the director of the PhoneSmart Call Center, which serves the self-storage industry as a rollover off-site sales force. He has started several successful businesses from scratch and assisted with acquisitions as general manager of the Mid-Missouri Culligan Bottled Water franchise. For more information, call 866.639.1715; e-mail [email protected].

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