Career Advancement

Managing Your Way to the Top: Peer-to-Peer Career Advice for Self-Storage Facility Operators

As a self-storage manager, it can be easy to feel restricted by your job title or function. If you’re ready to grow and take control of your industry career development, follow this advice from a fellow operator.

During a recent monthly review with one of my self-storage facility managers, the conversation drifted toward the topic of pay and his opportunity for advancement. Since he was “low man on the totem pole,” his concerns were valid and timely. Over the next hour, the discussion revolved around two primary topics. The first was how to be a value creator, and the second was how job titles are labels that inhibit growth and creativity. Both concepts are applicable to pretty much any position. If you fully understand them, not only will you advance your career, you’ll find fulfillment in your work life.

If your professional goal is to get ahead, you’ll never get there by being mediocre. The only way to gain footing is to create more value for your employer than your role requires.

The typical storage manager has several basic responsibilities: answering phones, giving facility tours, collecting rent, serving customers, maintaining the property, etc. (The key word here is “typical.” The term “manager” could be replaced with the role you hold, whether that’s district manager, associate or whatever your position may be.) While the typical manager might do a good job, does he create more value than the role requires? Generally, no.

At the end of the day, your career is a concept of your mind and its development is yours to own. Unless you have a great mentor, supervisor or role model, chances are you’re going to have to put on your grown-up pants and take control.

Create Value

Everyone within a company has a certain role. Most self-storage managers look at the roles and guides others have placed upon them and accept them as hard, unchanging truths. If you think that way, you’re running on an old operating system, which can hold you back. If you want to get ahead, it’s time to upgrade your thinking. Why can’t you rewrite the definition of what a facility manager does?

If your corporate policy manual states that a facility manager does A, B and C, that’s fine. You go and do A, B and C, as well as E, F and G. By doing so, you’ll add company value in three ways:

  • You’re making new things happen.
  • You’re creating value within yourself, setting yourself apart from what’s “typical.”
  • You’ve begun down a path on which many start but few stay the course. You’re doing something more with your station in life.

People frequently live on autopilot because it’s comfortable and easy. If you stick to moving beyond the status quo, it’ll positively impact your professional and personal life. You’ll want to become better, and you’ll rewrite the roles life has written for you.

Start small. On average, companies today provide employees with 32 learning hours per year. Where does your company stack up? If you’re with a small company, what can you do to help provide 15 hours per year? This is how you create value and forge a path to advancement—not because you have to but because you want to. Ask the person above you about his biggest professional problem or struggle. Then, do what you can to make that go away. I’ve never met a boss or employer who devalued problem-solvers.

Stop Labeling Yourself

Don’t let your job title define and cage you. In my career, I’ve met many people who were above me in professional hierarchy, and yet I believed I and other junior associates were more qualified to do their job. As such, I’ve grown to view titles as labels that limit growth and creativity.

During the review with my facility manager, his main concern was he was somehow unable to initiate or try new things because of his junior status. That label was affecting his personal growth. There’s little difference from if he had been labeled fat or anorexic, liberal or conservative. Labels are for files not people.

This is a life lesson it took me years to learn. Achieving a certain label was important to me. My ambition turned negative and self-serving. Rather than look out for the interest of others, I was only in it for myself. My great grandfather used to say, “You meet the same people going up the ladder as you do coming down.” I eventually learned that little is gained by seeking titles. Instead, much is gained in seeking relationships and serving others with no expectation of reward.

If my manager chooses to add value to the company and help others, greater compensation and advancement is a natural next step. Whether he’s a junior or senior manager makes no difference.

Keep Striving

As our conversation unfolded, I asked my manager what prevented him from pursuing some of the things he wanted to do and embracing his development. He said: “I did say something one time, but someone didn’t like the idea.” This was a great learning moment. For whatever reason, he made the conscious decision to allow that incident to change the way he voiced his opinion.

I showed him how that decision had a lasting effect on the course of his career. Because he took that moment as someone not valuing and listening to his opinion, he applied that viewpoint to other aspects of his job. Within a company culture that values innovation and people taking charge of projects, a mindset like his can have extremely negative results.

In the ideal work world, every employee would have an amazing, customized development plan to help in personal and professional improvements. Everyone would say things in the most constructive, edifying manner. Life would be nothing but rainbows and puppy dogs.

However, we know the truth. If you want good career development, much of the legwork needs to be done by you. Talk to your supervisor and let him know you’re interested in growing your skillset. Do more than what your job description requires. Expand the learning in your field to other areas. If you try new things, you’ll find value in yourself as well as your job. When value is found, it’ll be returned to you. Keep trying.

As a self-storage professional, Rick Beal’s goal is to help a historically slow-changing industry embrace new, innovative ideas. His professional motto is, “Storage is a business of inches not miles.” Connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/storagerick or rick@hoytlink.com.

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