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Self-Storage Employee Performance Reviews: Stop Dreading These ‘Difficult’ Discussions!

Providing feedback can be tough, particularly in the workplace. Some people simply aren’t comfortable with “difficult” discussions. But the fact is, engaging in regular performance reviews with your self-storage staff is critical to their professional development and satisfaction, which directly impacts your business. Here’s advice on when and how to conduct them.

Eric Mees

January 5, 2024

7 Min Read
Self-Storage Employee Performance Reviews

Staff performance evaluations are an integral part of the employer/employee relationship. They’re doubly critical in the self-storage industry because owners, district managers and other supervisors often don’t interact with their facility staff all that frequently. In this article, I’ll discuss the value of holding regular assessments, the frequency and content of these conversations, and how to provide productive feedback that benefits both team and company.

Why Staff Reviews Matter

Most people dread performance reviews. Common complaints from employees include supervisor bias, poor communication and inaccurate ratings. On the other hand, bosses fear giving negative feedback, setting deliverables and committing their valuable time.

These apprehensions can be exacerbated in the self-storage industry, especially when district managers or owners aren’t at the facility regularly. That said, the success of any operation still hinges on its employees, so both sides owe it to each other to meaningfully take part in the process.

Performance appraisals can help you determine how well a self-storage employee is doing in their job, plus uncover if and where additional training is needed. They also keep staff engaged and motivated as they understand what’s expected from them.

Circumvent the perceived negativity of these conversations by creating a culture of communication. Supervisors should make themselves available and talk with staff frequently, even if there’s “nothing to talk about.” That way, when issues or teaching moments arise, they can be discussed and resolved promptly and effectively. At my company, we encourage our district managers to schedule one-on-one meetings weekly or bi-weekly to add structure and predictability.

Frequency

Formal evaluations are often held quarterly or bi-annually, with an annual review to determine raises or promotions. My company created a quarterly check-in process to focus on behaviors and goals. Of course, there are other factors that may determine the cadence of these conversations such as employee workload, history and proximity. New hires as well as probationary or recently promoted employees should be evaluated more frequently until a supervisor feels comfortable with their ability to operate on their own.

As for who should be providing a review to your self-storage staff, it depends on the structure of your organization. As a rule of thumb, it should be the employee’s direct supervisor; but in some cases, especially if the staff member is going to be disciplined, it’s a good idea to have a human-resources representative present, if your company has one.

What to Cover

Effective evaluations should go beyond day-to-day facility operation. The aim is to establish where an employee is relative to their career path, chart the person’s progress relative to the goals established for their position, and identify how they can advance to the next level. These assessments aren’t the sole responsibility of the supervisor, either. Employees need to participate.

Overall, these assessments should track what a team member does with their time, milestones they’ve achieved, things they could’ve done better, and what they want to do next. The content of a review should never be a shock to a self-storage employee. Sure, they can be pleasantly surprised if a bonus is forthcoming, but there shouldn’t be an instance in which the team member thinks they’re doing a great job but the supervisor’s evaluation lands somewhere on the spectrum near “needs improvement” and “there’s the door.”

Before the review takes place, it’s important for supervisors and employees to be on the same page in terms of expectations. To begin, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and make them part of every evaluation. In the self-storage industry, these might include things like returning lead calls within a certain timeframe or selling a certain amount of retail merchandise. Metrics like these not only offer a quantifiable measurement of performance over time, they help establish targets and milestones and ensure company decision-makers are better informed.

Also, focus on the behaviors that are desired as part of your work environment and overall company culture. These might include things like communication, situational adaptability and accountability. Of course, they might differ depending on the person’s role within the organization.

Staff evaluations should also chart the employee’s growth over time. A recap of their progress is important because it can uncover trends. It’s easier to see the improvement of a staff member who initially struggled but has turned into a shining star compared to one who might simply be doing the bare minimum.

It’s also essential to establish goals for the near and long term. These generally focus around the employee’s KPIs and core responsibilities, however, it’s also good to create “stretch goals” that encourage them to explore tasks and skills outside of their usual routine and comfort zone. Achieving a stretch goal should always be acknowledged or rewarded, and can be the tipping point in determining whether the team member might make a good candidate for advancement.

Quick note: If an employee doesn’t show interest in advancement, that doesn’t automatically mean you need to part ways with them. It does signal, however, that you may need to have your eyes and ears open for long-term employees who’ll be willing to step up in the future as next-level positions become available.

Employee Input

Because it’s rare that a self-storage employee and their supervisor are completely in sync when it comes to performance reviews, ask your staff to complete a self-evaluation before you meet. An easy way to do this without taking up a lot of their time is to provide a star or numeric rating in areas like customer interaction, quality and quantity of work, company values, and goal progress; then ask for a sentence or two about how they feel things are going for them in your organization.

If an employee gives themself five stars for everything but the metrics show otherwise, it’s imperative to review their actual performance and create an action plan for improvement. On the other hand, someone who rates themselves as “average” but is clearly doing above-average work needs to be recognized and potentially built up over time. In both instances, seeing these kinds of things on self-evaluations can be a signal that the owner or supervisor needs to be more directly involved in the operation of the self-storage facility.

Finally, ask your team for input on how the company can better support them. Store employees are on the front line and hold valuable information and insights on their customers, facility operation and marketing tactics, whether they realize it or not. In fact, a shrewd self-storage manager will always spot things that may need to change at their location or within the larger company.

The Question of Compensation

Employee performance reviews are often used to determine if a raise is warranted. Because merit increases and bonuses are tied to evaluations, use specific metrics and make sure employees are clear on what they need to achieve throughout the year to be eligible. Always be transparent about eligibility, criteria and timeline.

Regardless of a team member’s tenure, it’s critical to establish a timeline for advancement. It benefits both the employee and the company by having regular check-ins to determine progress, answer questions and ensure they’re on the right track.

Final Tips

All self-storage employees can benefit from immediate feedback, so don’t wait for the next review period to give praise or discuss areas for improvement. A teaching moment from an incident that happened three months ago holds little to no sway. If you provide feedback in the moment, when it comes time for your review conversation, you can instead focus on the team member’s progress.

Take note of milestones, comments and events as they occur for inclusion in evaluation discussions. You can send yourself an email, jot a reminder on a calendar, or put notes in payroll software to recall the highs and lows more easily. You can also read your online facility reviews, ask for feedback from other team members, or even talk to your call-center agents to get a feel for an employee’s interactions with staff and customers.

Feedback should always be positive and align with company values. Incorporate goals into the narrative—personal and professional—and provide actionable items to help your self-storage team member attain them. Even if this job is only a waypoint on an employee’s journey, the more they’re respected and supported along the way, the more they’ll contribute to the organization.

Eric Mees is content manager for Winter Garden, Florida-based Store Space Self Storage, which owns, operates and third-party manages more than 100 properties in 22 states. A graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver, Eric joined the company in 2020 after more than two decades in various digital-marketing and journalism positions. For more information, email [email protected].

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