Employee Evaluations: Giving Your Self-Storage Staff Feed-Forward Instead of Feedback

Employee evaluations create a platform for a two-way conversation, for staff growth and change; however, providing feedback isn’t always easy for a supervisor. Here are some guidelines to help smooth the process.

October 30, 2016

6 Min Read
Employee Evaluations: Giving Your Self-Storage Staff Feed-Forward Instead of Feedback

By Rick Beal

Once upon a time, many years ago, I sat down in an office for my yearly employee review. My manager proceeded to give me the worst evaluation I ever received in my life. I felt like a complete and utter failure, and I was devastated.

After the initial shock, I began to read and study the review, discovering how completely inaccurate it was. The most disconcerting part was the items for which I received poor marks had never previously been brought to my attention. I said to my manager, “This is no-brainer stuff. Why didn’t you just tell me?” She had no real response. Of course, this affected my pay for the year and my direction in the company. Luckily, I had a great mentor to help me stay the course and get to where I am today.

This example epitomizes what’s wrong with yearly evaluations: Employees often aren’t given the tools and feedback they need to be successful in their position. When they are, it’s often too late to correct the behavior. Evaluations create a platform for a two-way conversation, for staff growth and change. However, there’s a better way to use this old-school tool. This article aims to provide helpful ideas that will work for you and your self-storage employees.

Commit to a Schedule

I suggest speaking to your employees regularly about their performance to allow for open communication in a casual (less stressful) setting. In addition, hold two official performance evaluations per year and put copies in the employee’s file. This way he’s getting some manner of feedback throughout the year, no matter what. Giving feedback isn’t always an easy thing to do as an employer or manager. Setting up a system like this will force you to commit to a process and ensure you have quarterly conversations with every staff member.

Many companies tie employee evaluations to pay increases. This adds another level of tension to an already anxious situation. The purpose of the evaluation should be to have tough conversations, encourage, help and engage. When you introduce raises into that mix, everything else will become white noise. If and when you discuss pay increases, do so on the employee’s hire date. Try not to combine performance evaluations and wage-based issues.

Conduct the Review

The goal of performance evaluations is to have no surprises. Thanks to your ongoing meetings, you should’ve encouraged and corrected any issues along the way, and your performance reviews should be much easier. They’re now a written summary of what you’ve already identified and a document of the employee’s improvement. It’s also important to understand that these reviews will help protect your company if any legal action is brought from a former employee.

When conducting an evaluation, follow these steps:

  • Prepare: Do yourself and the employee a favor and put together a well-planned review. The employee will understand the time and effort you’ve invested and feel valued.

  • Ask for a self-evaluation: A week before, send the employee a self-evaluation form and ask him to fill it out. He might be able to identify items he’s struggling with of which you are unaware. In the meeting, let him lead this section of the conversation.

  • Lead with the positive: Start with some positive, reinforcing feedback, and connect it with specific examples. Avoid being vague.

  • Discuss performance: Focus on the issues that really matter. Make sure the discussion is two-way and the employee understands any problems being discussed.

  • Make a plan: At my company, we use what we refer to as a “personal development plan.” Each quarter, we come up with a new plan or project for the employee to work on. Usually, it ties into an overall theme for improvement. As part of the evaluation, ask the employee to come up with the plan. That puts the responsibility on him and creates ownership in the task. If you need to help, do so.

  • Follow up: Hold your people to account. The outcome of the evaluation is only as good as your ability to follow up on the action items discussed.

Feed It Forward

I once attended a conference where a speaker referred to feedback as “feed-forward.” The concept is extremely powerful. When you think about it, the goal of feedback is to help our employees improve. You want to help them move forward, not back.

People often love feedback. It gives them direction and, when given constructively, can turn employees into rock stars. If people thrive on it so much, why is it so difficult to give? Because supervisors often fear hurt feelings, drama or feeling uncomfortable. But if like to know how you’re doing in your own job, you must buck up and do the same for your staff. Here are a few helpful guidelines:

Don’t make it personal. Imagined slights and malice are poisonous. It’s amazing how a simple statement or action with no ill objective can be taken as mean. Acknowledge this and be the bigger person even when it’s difficult. When giving feedback, focus on behavior, not the employee’s character.

Be specific. Tell the person how his behavior is affecting you or the team. Avoid using terms like “you always” and “you never.” Those terms tend to automatically put the other person in defense mode. He can’t read your mind, so you need to tell him how you actually feel to effect a change.

Give feedback often. If you attend a football or basketball game, people don’t wait until the team scores to cheer—it’s a constant stream of encouragement or disapproval. Similarly, when it comes to your staff, praise good performance right away. When negative feedback is required, try to talk to the employee within 24 hours. The sooner the better. Don’t wait a year!

Focus on outcome. One of the best ways to start a feedback conversation is to put the focus on how it affects a business outcome. Good or bad, this enables you to develop better phone skills, good customer service or any other goals you might have. What it also does is help the employee save a little face. It makes it feel less like a personal criticism and more of an opportunity to resolve a business issue. Ultimately, the goal is to progress your operation.

By using a combination of formal performance reviews and scheduled, more casual feedback sessions, you force yourself to do the hard things. It’s much easier to have a sit-down once a year, give an employee 15 minutes and be done. However, if you’re like me, you see a greater way to help employees improve. I know it isn’t easy; I myself struggle with keeping that vision all the time. Nevertheless, you owe it to your employees to do everything you can to help them progress.

Rick Beal is the district manager and part owner of Cubes Self Storage in Salt Lake City. He discovered his passion for the self-storage industry a number of years ago. Since then, his goal has been to help operators embrace new and innovative ideas. His approach to constant industry changes are based on a practical “rubber hits the road” application. His professional motto is “Storage is a business of inches not miles.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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