In the current market as a self storage owner, investor, or operations manager you are facing a number of obstacles: a battered economy, a weak real estate market, an increase in delinquencies, decreased occupancy, decreased NOI, and more competition than ever before. As in years past most of this is cyclical and the strength of our regional areas will recovery, in some areas this recovery has already begun. While the economy is in recovery, there is still need to set a positive and inviting tone with our customers as well as with our facility managers. One of the obstacles in dealing with lackluster economic conditions is keeping facility managers motivated without letting complacency take over. Motivation starts with hiring the right manager, setting the right goals, along with having positive leadership and rewarding your employees when they go above and beyond the scope of their position.
The easiest type of manager to motivate is a manager who is motivated intrinsically. The standard definition of intrinsic motivation is simply motivation that comes from inside a person rather than any outside reward such as a bonus. Typically, this type of facility manager is motivated by the satisfaction of completing a job well rather than a bonus on the amount of units rented or inventory sales. An intrinsically motivated storage manager will take “ownership” of their facility. For example you may have a facility manager that consistently creates and implements new marketing ideas without direct solicitation, keeps the grounds around the facility in impeccable condition, makes the rental office a calm and inviting place for customers, decorates the office for the holidays, always has a bright and positive attitude, and gives the facility their personal touch. The drive to succeed is not typically something that is trainable, a manager usually has this motivation or not. During interviews, look for managers that are motivated internally. Often potential managers will provide letters of recommendation along references. These should be used to gauge not only the qualifications of a potential candidate, but to find out what kind of facility manager they will be overall. Look for potential managers that have been in a position where intrinsic motivation is expected such as a former business owner, former military, or an apartment manager. Remember, an intrinsically motive manager is one of the best types of managers you can hire.
One of the easiest ways to motivate a facility manager is to provide goals that are clear, concise, and realistic. In my previous life in the corporate world, I would regularly get financial and customer oriented goals. Often times I would know right away whether a goal was attainable or a complete work of fiction. Nothing will demotivate a manager faster than looking at a set of goals, whether they are financial or customer oriented, and knowing they have no possible way to attain them. This does not mean to lower operating standards or allow a facility manager to talk you out of a goal that is attainable but difficult; it means to keep your perspective in the present economy. Each facility manager should be given a list of goals and an operating budget, which should be reviewed regularly. As an operations manager, work with your facility managers and discuss the goals of the facility. Allow your facility managers to work with you as 2010 operating budgets are completed. How much of an occupancy or NOI increase do you expect for 2010? How much do you expect in inventory sales? What kind of closing percentage for customer leads are you expecting? What percentage do you expect to decrease expenses? Is your payroll going to increase or decrease? How much will your marketing budget increase or decrease? Allowing facility managers to work with you in creating their goals will give them a sense of responsibility towards attaining those goals. This works especially well if a facility manager’s bonus structure is tied to the goals you have both agreed.
The current economic situation we face as operation managers is tough. Not only does it affect our facilities in terms of income, delinquencies, NOI, and other facility metrics, it affects the performance of our facility managers. We all know as the economy struggles, so do our customers and facility managers. Our facility managers are very much like “bartenders” without the alcohol. They hear every customer’s problems from the domestic disputes, to customers moving because of foreclosure, the family member that did something wrong, and the story of another customer being laid off. Mix these issues along with the fact that most facilities are not performing as many people had hoped; it can psychologically overwhelm a person quickly. As an operations manager your job is to keep moral and motivation high. Even with tight budgets you should be taking care of the managers that do a great job for you and treat them well. During one of your visits, take your manager to lunch, point out the items that your manager has excelled on, maybe cover the facility one day and give your manager a paid day off, or give them a gift card to a local restaurant or store. Different types of motivation work for different people. Small acknowledgements, whether monetary or not, will go a long way in keeping your managers spirits high during a difficult economic time.
As we move into 2010, none of us will soon forget the challenges of 2009. Motivating our facility managers will continue to be a challenge. If you are hiring a new facility manager this year, look for one that is intrinsically motivated to get things done around your facility. Work with your managers on realistic goals for the coming year; allow them to be a part of the budgeting process. Lastly, provide the moral support and leadership skills needed to keep your manager’s upbeat, their spirits high, and on track for a strong finish this year. Motivate your facility managers correctly and you might be surprised with the long term success of your facility.
Matthew Van Horn is Vice President of Cutting Edge Self Storage Management. Cutting Edge Self Storage Management is a full service management company specializing in Management, Feasibility Studies, Consulting, and Joint Ventures within the self storage industry. For more information, contact our main office at 866.970.EDGE or visit our website at www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com. Follow us on Twitter at Cuttingedgemgt.
You can convey it over the phone, in person, by a facial expression, or by the tone of your voice. It can turn people off, turn them on, or send them running for the hills. It can be the difference between someone renting a unit at your facility or renting a unit at your competitor’s facility. It can be the difference between getting a positive review or having someone bash your facility on Facebook and Twitter. It can be the deciding factor in a promotion or other life changing event. Your happiness matters. It matters to your family, your customers, your coworkers, and even your dog.
Scientists have been researching everything from how to power our cars and homes to what makes us truly happy and productive. Recently scientists have confirmed what most hiring managers have known for a long time, that if you are happy and have a great attitude, you will be more successful at work and life. How many times have you shopped a competitor? Which competitor’s stick out the most in your mind? Yes, there are always the “super self-storage facilities” in every market. The stores with all of the bells and whistles, look like 5 start hotels, and give you a Ferrari when you rent a unit…but which ones do you truly remember? For me, it’s always the facilities that have the best managers. I can’t even count how many facilities I have visited in my career, but I do remember which ones made me feel at home, secure, and comfortable. I remember which managers smiled, treated me with respect, were polite, smiled, and took the time to understand my situation. I remember the managers that were happy and looked like they loved what they do, versus the one that couldn’t wait for me to leave so they could go back into their apartment.
I love to read, it’s a personal passion of mine, especially when it involves the discipline of Psychology. I am currently reading the book “The Happiness Advantage”, by Shawn Archor. Now this is not Pseudo Science, this was an actual study conducted at Harvard University in regards to our happiness. So what makes us happy? According to Mr. Archor, we have had the following statement hammered into us since elementary school “If you work hard, you will become successful, and once you become successful, THEN you’ll be happy”. The argument against this line of thinking comes in the very next paragraph of Mr. Archor’s book “If success causes happiness, then every employee who gets a promotion, every student who receives an acceptance letter, everyone who has ever accomplished a goal of any kind should be happy. But with each victory, our goalposts of success keep getting pushed further and further out, so that happiness gets pushed over the horizon”. In a nut shell this entire process is backwards. The book goes on to state “we now know that happiness is a precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement-giving us a competitive edge”.
The research has shown that when you hire someone, only 25% of their job success will be educationally/technically related. So, for example if you hire an accountant only 25% of their job success will come from knowing how to complete an income statement or a balance sheet. The other 75% comes from their attitude, personality, and overall happiness. Just a little food for thought when you are looking to fill a position at one of your self-storage facilities. Even more food for thought when you are reviewing your facility’s overall performance. Unfortunately I don’t have enough space in this blog to review the book fully, but if you take one thing away for this discussion understand that happiness and attitude is a bigger precursor to success then knowing how to run your facility’s management software or cleaning a unit. Remember the manager of a facility is the single most important part of the operational success of your facility. He or she is not a robot. If you haven’t taken the time, sit down and get to know them, take them to lunch or a ball game. In the end it could pay more dividends then a bonus check.