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Self-Storage Manager Training: Creating a Reliable, Repeatable Program With Consistent, Desirable Results

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Every self-storage hire is unique, with different skills and learning styles, which can make it tough to create an effective training curriculum. Here are ways to build a program that leads to reliably good results.

Developing a successful training program for your self-staff operation can be tough. Sometimes, you have to put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know anything at all about the industry. Mix in unique personalities, varied learning styles and first-day jitters, and it can be a tall mountain to climb.

To think through exactly how the business should run and document all processes in a way that can be clearly understood by anyone is difficult. It’s why many owners outsource their training or rely on tribal knowledge. But investing time and effort to develop a strong program pays big dividends. First, staff can learn and do their jobs faster. Second, an organized, documented process makes it easier to train up a new team member when necessary. Your success should never be dependent on a single manager.

Building a training curriculum also forces you to take a hard look at how your self-storage is currently operated vs. how it should be operated. It reveals inefficiencies. It’ll take time to fix all the incomplete or broken information that’s been cobbled together over the years, but it’s worth it.

Create Context

Before deciding on the content and style of your training program, think about the desired outcome. Not only do employees need to learn the steps to run your self-storage business, they need to understand the reason behind each step so they can make smart decisions if a problem or new situation arises. You want them to make the call you would make in the same scenario. Providing context behind your operational processes will help staff understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, which will translate into better judgement.

Combine Training Types

Next, consider the type of self-storage training to provide. Take it from someone who’s tried every program imaginable: It matters! On one end of the spectrum, I’ve trained up new staff in two hours, wished them luck, and gone about my day. That didn’t end well. On the other end, I’ve developed PDF manuals with step-by-step instructions so detailed even a 5-year-old could follow them. That was a waste of time for me and too much information for the team.

Confucius got it right when he said, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” The best training is a blend of auditory, visual and experiential learning. Research shows that we retain:

  • 10 percent of what we read
  • 20 percent of what we hear
  • 50 percent of what we see and hear
  • 70 percent of what we discuss
  • 80 percent of what we experience
  • 95 percent of what we teach others

If your training program is a binder sitting on a shelf, your staff won’t learn much. I don’t know about you, but I want my people to retain more than 10 percent.

A great approach is to create written instructions accompanied by video to satisfy the “see and hear” requirement to achieve 50 percent retention. When training is further tailored to discuss what was learned, with role-play during each section, employees can even more fully absorb new knowledge, retaining 70 percent to 80 percent. So, develop a program that first lets them see and hear through written instructions and video; then discuss the why, what and how of what they learned; and follow it up with role-play, which allows them to experience the new knowledge. Finally, to get to that 95 percent retention rate, let employees teach what they’ve learned to someone else.

Create Materials

Now that you understand the flow of a good self-storage training program—introduction, explanation, practice and forward teaching—you need to think through all the necessary elements and create your materials. This will take time and effort up front, but it’ll satisfy the see-hear-do pattern of learning.

Create written instructions and videos for anything that has clear, repeatable steps. Explain what to do, how and when. The goal is to have zero gray area. Ask yourself: Could an employee use these materials to complete the task unsupervised?

If a manual or video can teach it, then you don’t have to, and you can spend your time with new staff talking about more important things like facility-access rights, when to offer discounts and specials, how to provide excellent customer service, etc. This is a much better use of your energy than walking a new employee through the steps of taking a rental payment, for example.

Your training program should be built with intention and iteration, and adjusted with every new staff hire until it provides the desired outcome with consistency. The results will be a better-trained staff in less time. New employees can absorb the information faster and ask better questions, which leads to smarter conversations. A good training system will also free up time to discuss staff goals and ideas for the business.

Use Sections

Developing good training that works for multiple people, with different personalities and ways of thinking, isn’t easy. Organizing your program into sections that address similar types of tasks and processes will lead to a better experience for all.

It’s helpful to start with some confidence-builders. For example, taking a payment in any management-software program is pretty basic and can be learned in a few minutes. Things like conducting a property tour, handling phone calls and completing a move-in are a bit more complicated. Batch like processes together, and then role-play until your employee gains confidence and fluency. As he masters each section, you can move on to the next.

Make Time to Refresh

No matter how good your training program is, some people will plot their own way. Often, this is perfectly OK. After all, we want employees to think and act for themselves, so we don’t have to do it for them. If they deviate too far from policy, however, it becomes a hazard.

Refresh your employees’ skills and understanding with ongoing training. If someone strays from the path, it’s much easier to retrain right away than to let him create a bad habit. Regular audits will reveal whether your methods are being followed, but there’s no substitute for being on property, having conversations with your team. Don’t abdicate this responsibility and be an absent owner.

Talk to your self-storage staff, stay engaged and provide continued training. This will create the right mindset and improve their decision-making abilities. It’s what good leaders do.

Magen Smith is a co-founder of Atomic Storage Group, a boutique self-storage management company, and owner of Magen Smith CPA, an outsourced accounting firm specializing in self-storage. She’s also a partner in Safe Space Development, which builds self-storage properties. Magen started in the industry as a facility manager and has held nearly every operational role. She has a passion for the industry, helping owners improve their businesses, teaching asset management and conducting self-storage audits. To reach her, e-mail [email protected].

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