ISS BLOG - Average Is Bad and Subpar Is Worse! Why We Self-Storage Operators Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Fire

It isn’t a pleasant thing to have to do, but terminating an employee is sometimes necessary for the health of your self-storage business. A fellow owner explores the reasons why facility operators sometimes drag their feet on firing and how he managed to change his own mindset for the good of his operation.

Gary Edmonds, Owner

June 7, 2024

6 Min Read

Most people are familiar with who the U.S. Navy SEALs are. This organization’s activities are never publicly disclosed, but between TV shows, movies and the media, we’ve all heard at least something about their orientation-training program, which is known for being physically and mentally rigorous. With a completion rate of only 10% to 20%, the course is failed by most students who take it. In fact, many of the most successful military outfits in the world have a huge rate of attrition.

So, why are we self-storage operators so resistant to let go of underachieving facility employees? Why do we regularly accept poor performance? Often, the termination process is delayed or put off entirely. There are a few reasons for this. Let’s explore what they are, and I’ll share my personal experience.

Fear of the Unknown

Let’s say you have a C-grade self-storage employee. They show up, but they don’t make much of an effort. They never create any real value, but they’re consistent in their work and handle some tasks reliably. You may be wondering, if you let them go, will you be able to find someone better? You may also be thinking about the fact that if you fire them, you’ll have to hire and train someone new, and you don’t have the time or energy. So, you keep them on the team because they aren’t the most pressing problem. There’s always some other issue that takes priority.

But that employee affects everyone, and as the facility owner or supervisor, you find the problem is always in your mind. This person’s coworkers ask themselves why they should be high achievers because, clearly, it isn’t necessary to stay employed with your organization. The average work the poor employee produces represents the capabilities your company. They set your culture as much as the top performer does.

You can’t have an excellent self-storage business if you have average employees. To be great, you need great people. If you resist making changes or taking the chance to improve your operation, you’re doomed to being mediocre.

The Impact of Human Resources

This one really gets me. HR is always full of reasons why we can’t do things that need to be done. They’re always saying things like, “Maybe additional training…” or “Did their supervisor document…” or my favorite, “Perhaps we should look at extending their probationary period because…” Too often, the company is blamed for failing the employee when it’s the employee who isn’t the right fit.

The first overall pick in the 2023 National Football League (NFL) draft was Bryce Young. He had a fair year for a novice quarterback. The second pick was CJ Stroud, who went on to become the Rookie of the Year. Were the training manuals for Stroud better than the ones Young had? Did Stroud have a more supporting environment in which to learn? I doubt either of those things had anything to do with it.

At some point, performance is about the employee, not the company. If we’re to preach accountability, then everyone must be held responsible. Some people learn faster or slower than others. That isn’t your problem. Your problem is performance.

When HR is in charge, progress is slowed. Change is halted out of fear of unemployment insurance or paperwork. Don’t allow this to be a bottleneck in your self-storage business. Make good decisions that benefit your entire firm and let HR clean up the mess (if there is one).

Hiring Hassles

Hiring has been a challenge in all industries over the past few years. It’s a tedious process. You have to create a job posting, place it on the right platforms and then sort through dozens or hundreds of horrible applications. You must then schedule interviews that applicants don’t bother to show up for and evaluate the few who actually put forth the effort. Finally, you spend time trying to figure out which candidate might actually be capable of doing the job and will show up on the first day.

So, you offer the position to the best choice and get rejected. You offer it to your second candidate and they accept, but then they don’t show up for work on the first day. Rinse and repeat. It’s exhausting and easy to make excuses to avoid the process. But that’s the choice that sends your self-storage operation down the path to mediocrity.

My new philosophy is to hire fast and fire fast. Traditionally, people say you should take a hire slow, fire fast approach, but I’ve come to disagree. How much can we really find out about a person ahead of time? Candidates provide references they know will say good things about them. Personality testing is risky. What defined metrics do we really have?

During the NFL draft, teams spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars on the evaluation process, which begins as soon as the previous year’s draft is over. Some have scouting departments and physical measurements to evaluate talent. In 2021, there were three top picks, all quarterbacks: Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance and Zach Wilson. Two ended up being failures—when they could even get on the field. The third has been average at best.

If NFL teams spending millions of dollars can miss the mark that badly, can you really expect to do better for your self-storage business? What’s the solution? Do interviews. Conduct your due diligence. Have applicants complete personality profiles, but don’t drag out the process. If you have two applicants who appear to be close, hire them both rather than having endless meetings to discuss them.

The Final Move

When it’s time to terminate a self-storage employee, it’s best to not talk too much. Everything you want to say is really more for your benefit, not theirs. Simply say, “We’re going in a different direction. We’re going to let you go.” Finito. The employee is terminated. Do you really think they care if you say, “It was a really tough decision” or “I’m sure you’ll be able to find another opportunity, as you’re such a great person”?

I don’t enjoy letting go of an employee. Sometimes they’re a friend or they’ve been with us a long time. The impact is felt deeply. But as the company leader, I’m not ashamed to admit it feels good because I just did something that might make my business better. It’s the same feeling I get when we land a new client or onboard helpful technology. Accomplishment. Progress. It’s good.

Twenty-five years ago, I had a team member who wasn’t a good fit. I inherited her from my predecessor, and she was resistant to any change. I tried to help her see the benefits of doing a few things my way. During an offsite management session, someone asked me if I thought about this employee outside of working hours. Yes, I did. He asked if I got frustrated when I thought of this person. Again, yes. He said, “You already know what needs to be done. You’ve just been talking yourself out of it.”

I went back and let her go the next day. I felt so relieved. The amount of internal stress I was under because of her performance was incredible. I was then able to find someone who forced me to level up, as she was that much of an improvement. While it was hard to make that final move, my self-storage company and I experienced a huge boost in performance and health. Letting go of an employee will never be easy, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Gary Edmonds is the owner of 22 self-storage facilities in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 2020, he launched The Storage Manager, a third-party management company specializing in remote operation. With nearly 20 years of industry experience, Gary has extensive knowledge related to running unmanned properties. To reach him, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Gary Edmonds

Owner, Pike County Storage

Gary Edmonds has been the owner, manager, janitor and lawnmower at Pike County Storage in Pittsfield, Ill., since 1999. He and his wife, Diane, also own All-Star Mini Storage and Puro Mini Storage in Peoria, Ill., and U-Store-It in Macomb, Ill. With a background in banking, financial services and construction, Gary strives to be surrounded by people who are smarter than he is. He can be reached at [email protected].

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