I’ve owned and operated self-storage for two decades, but before that, I was an insurance agent. When I began that career many years ago, I took over a small agency. It had a nice location, a solid book of clients and one team member. I got it all!
I was happy with my new business; however, I struggled with my inherited team member, Bonnie (I don’t like the word “employee”). She knew the clients, which was great. She also knew why each didn’t need additional coverages. She knew why people walking down the street wouldn’t do business with us. She knew why my advertising ideas wouldn’t be successful. Bonnie had 60 years of experience in the town to which I had just moved. The problem? Her negative attitude, which prevented us from making sales.
Unfortunately for me, putting food on my table depended on sales. So, I had trouble. I needed Bonnie to “get with the program,” and it was up to me to get her there.
I won’t tell you everything I tried. I worked to convince her it wasn’t a lost cause. I provided her with personal and online training. I brought in specialists from other insurance agencies to work with her. I hired and trained additional team members in the hopes she would follow their success. Nothing improved. I was failing to change her behavior. That didn’t sit well with me (or my dinner table).
A New Perspective
After about six months of struggling, I went to a development program for new insurance agents. It was designed for people like me to come and share achievements and challenges with peers and mentors. Boy, was I ready!
At one point, I unloaded my story. I was looking for guidance on how to mold Bonnie into the ideal team member. I knew there was a miracle answer; I just couldn’t see it! Then one of the seasoned mentors, Bryan, leaned back in his $1,000 suit and asked me, “Do you shower in the morning or the evening?” Excuse me? You want to know my hygiene schedule? But he was the expert, so I answered, “Morning.”
Then he leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. He looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you have Bonnie in the shower with you?” What? You’re accusing me of adultery? With Bonnie? She was old enough to be my grandma!
He saw the rage building in my face, so he immediately added, “The shower is personal time for me. A cleansing time. A relaxing time. And if I find my mind drawn to work or family issues, well, that’s a sign that I need to take some action. Is Bonnie disrupting your shower?”
I had to admit: She was. Bonnie was in the shower with me. Her issues were hijacking my relaxing, personal time. Long before I walked in the door to my office, she was dominating my brain, and I was getting worked up about the challenges she presented. Maybe Bryan was on to something.
I drove home that night encouraged. I had a plan. I knew what to do. I finally knew how to correct the problem.
First thing the next morning, I met with Bonnie and explained I was moving forward without her. I thanked her for all she had done for me, but it just wasn’t working the way I needed it to. She cleaned out her desk and closed the door. And I felt … great! Happy! Relieved! Best day of my life!
No, I wasn’t able to impress new ideas on Bonnie. I couldn’t correct her flaws. But ultimately, I fixed the problem. I learned some people couldn’t be trained in my image, and that’s OK. It was only a failure if I persisted in trying beyond a reasonable point. More important, I had restored a piece of my sanity.
Staff challenges happen in self-storage, too. If you’re struggling with a team member, consider the moral of this story: If you find the person invading your shower, it’s past time to take some action!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.