The most important success factor in any self-storage business is the mindset of the management team. Your facility can boast the best technology and flashiest curb appeal, but if your staff is haunted with negativity, they won’t produce results. Conversely, your property might not be in the best location or have all the bells and whistles, but if your managers are unwavering in their positivity and have a goal-oriented outlook, it can outperform in the market and set the standard for competition. It all comes down to attitude.
As a self-storage operations manager, I travel to different facilities each week, spending time with the various managers. I have the unique opportunity of seeing employees in their own element. Each has his own strengths and weaknesses. My goal is to play up the former and help them overcome the latter so they can be as successful as possible in their role and professional life.
One of the most interesting things I witness when visiting each location is the culture and mindset of the team, particularly the lead manager—the store “captain.” He may have rules to follow, goals to achieve and standard processes in place, but his outlook determines the overall success of the facility and affects the general ethos there. Some of the conflicting mentalities I see are:
- Positive (can-do) vs. Negative Nancy
- No excuses vs. full of excuses
- Opportunistic vs. defeated
- Servant-minded vs. self-interested
- Goal-oriented vs. unstructured
Some of these temperaments are obviously more desirable than others. Sadly, while you can often teach your team skills, you can’t teach attitude. That must come from within.
So, how do you create a positive mindset and culture at your self-storage facilities? Your first step is to hire for positive characteristics and recruit candidates who have a proven track record for leadership. You want someone with experience who can maintain a positive outlook in the face of adversity—and demonstrate it.
Positivity is easy when everything is going well, but we really want to see how a person reacts when the going gets tough. This is where true leadership shows. When you interview candidates, look for relevant examples on their résumés and ask them to present scenarios or tell a story about their experience. Your goal should be to get them to open up about how they behaved in a time of difficulty.
Lead by Example
Leading by example will help those you hire understand how to act. One of the biggest mistakes an owner/leader can make is to expect one attitude/behavior from staff but exemplify the exact opposite in his own demeanor. If you want staff to model positivity, you must lead them with it and foster an environment that breeds it in others.
To implement the right culture, lead by example, coach the traits you desire and demand that people follow. If you’re showing employees how you want them to act and asking them to duplicate your conduct, you’ll instill an environment that fosters natural leadership.
Create Accountability and Incentive
Establish a policy of “no excuses” at your self-storage facilities. You want your team to understand there’s no room for passing on responsibility.
Accountability starts and stops with your designated leader. If he has a habit of blaming others or making excuses when bad things happen, you have a problem. No one is perfect and even the best leaders make mistakes, but you want your managers to own their errors and acknowledge the areas in which they can improve. This creates an open space where employees can grow and learn together as a team.
Holding performance reviews with your team leaders and encouraging them to conduct them with subordinates is also critical. Schedule regular reviews to keep your people on track and ensure they’re growing in their role and abilities. Creating this constructive relationship will also establish a model for how you want them to lead. Performance reviews can be a great tool for offering praise and constructive criticism in a way that creates actionable feedback.
It’s also wise to implement a system of rewards. Providing small bonuses for employees who get five-star customer reviews, for example, is one way to promote a positive work environment.
Watch for Red Flags
What should you do if you see trouble signs in your lead manager? Addressing red flags quickly is a must. If you see difficulty brewing, privately confront the issue with your team member and let him know his actions or behavior aren’t aligned with the company's values, vision or goals. Provide feedback to change and adapt.
If you don’t quickly see improvement, it may be time to explore an alternate position for that person, perhaps a non-leadership role. It might even be time to terminate employment. The key is to address the issue swiftly and not let it create a disruption of your company culture.
If you notice an employee has potential but is having trouble finding direction, it might be beneficial to implement a performance-improvement plan (PIP). This can outline where the person can improve, steps to take, resources to use and when certain tasks should be complete. A PIP can provide team members with the structure and guidance they need to improve their skills. It’ll also provide accountability. Our employees are our No. 1 asset, and we need people who want to grow professionally.
Move in the Right Direction
Again, manager mindset is the biggest success factor in any self-storage business. You can get most things wrong, but if your manager is a rock star, you’ll still probably do well. Alternatively, you can have an amazing facility, but if your team is lacking in core values, vision, purpose and positivity, your organization will struggle.
Whether you’re an owner or supervisor, spend time evaluating your team and your own leadership style and skills. Identify a few areas to improve and define those where you and your staff are strong. Seek feedback from your team for support, too. It’s never too late to make a move in the right direction. It all starts with your mindset!
Joseph Biard is operations manager for U Storage, which operates four self-storage facilities in Arkansas. He leads a growing team of facility managers and works to develop the company’s operational framework. He has experience in team development, sales and marketing management, budgeting, and facility maintenance. To reach him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.myustorage.com.