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Six Strategies For Strengthening Employee Competence And Morale 

No matter how new, secure, state-of-the-art, or fabulous the self-storage facility, it’s unlikely to be successful without personable, knowledgeable staff on board to oversee operations and assist customers. And, with increasingly competitive markets, it’s more important than ever to adequately invest in your employees.

Without a doubt, providing your employees with excellent training, benefits, and bonuses can decrease turnover and increase motivation. Therefore, here are six surefire ways to keep your staff inspired to bring about the best possible results for your business:

  1. Train them. Most self-storage businesses have some sort of training in place for new hires, but are you offering enough training to make your employees feel competent and confident in their positions? For new hires, training programs should be thorough and practical in order for them to learn all of the ins and outs of the storage business. In addition, new skills should be applied and/or tested to verify that the procedures are being understood. Manager certification courses are one of the preferred training programs among storage professionals.

    Orlando, Fla.-based Personal Mini Storage, has had great results with a mentoring program in which each new hire is paired with a seasoned employee throughout the new hire’s training period. According to Marc Smith, the company’s president, new hires typically feel more comfortable asking peers questions instead of supervisors. Personal Mini Storage also makes every employee a “team leader” of a certain business aspect, such as marketing, sales, maintenance, telephone skills, etc., depending upon their area of expertise. Smith says this practice gives everyone a mastery trait and creates interactions amongst peers as they can seek specific advice from each other based on their defined expertise.

    Of course, training shouldn’t stop after the new hire period has expired. Ongoing training is vital for growth. Employees should be given access to a wide range of industry-specific educational materials and opportunities such as training courses, webinars, tutorials, publications, videos, conferences, and seminars. “Join associations and encourage them to attend meetings and conferences,” says Ken Nitzberg, chairman and CEO of Devon Self Storage. “They need to get perspective.”
  2. Compensate them. A large part of finding higher quality candidates to hire—and then retaining them—is offering sufficient compensation. Obviously, salaries or hourly wages fall into this category. Keep this saying in mind when determining how much to offer: You get what you pay for. Indeed, one shouldn’t expect someone to move mountains for minimum wage if the position deserves $20 per hour. Wages should be based on local living costs, the candidate’s experience/education, the job responsibilities, complexity of the position, and the supply/demand of talent in the area.

    In addition to pay, there are many other benefits that can be offered as part of compensation. Some of the most common include retirement or 401(k) plans with company matching; health insurance with or without vision and dental; life insurance; sick leave; vacation, holiday, or paid time off; maternity leave; and bereavement time.   

    At Move It Management, on top of the company’s health insurance plan, employees have access to individual health savings accounts. “The health savings accounts are fully vested and portable,” says Tom Maxfield, director of operations. “We pay into them monthly. We want our employees to know that they are respected, and we want them to be well.” That’s why the company also provides its employees with access to 300 online self-improvement courses for free.

    Another useful benefit is financial advice. The Storage Group provides its employees with free access to its financial advisor. “Our employees can schedule time to speak with our financial advisor,” says Steve Lucas, the company’s COO, who adds that they can discuss anything that impacts their finances such as home mortgage options and debt management.

    Lucas also mentions that The Storage Group enables its employees to work from home—an appreciated perk in areas with challenging commutes. “We have an open workplace with a work from home option. It’s an honor system of sorts as there is no time clock to punch,” he says. “We get good results with it.”
  3. Acknowledge them. Sometimes the only extra motivation an employee needs is a back on the back, so to speak, for a job well done. “People want to feel that they are doing well,” says Maxfield. “Talk with them and give them feedback.”

    Many companies have recognition programs and/or award ceremonies that serve as both a reward for the outstanding employees and a motivational tool for the average or subpar employees. At Devon Self Storage, employees are acknowledged through the company’s quarterly newsletter as well. “We give employees props through the newsletter’s ‘Facility Spotlight’, ‘Top Five’, and ‘Employee Anniversaries’ sections,” says Nitzberg. And the newsletter has a large audience; it’s distributed to thousands of investing partners, employees, friends, and family members of Devon Self Storage.

    In addition to professional achievements, take the time to acknowledge personal occasions that matter to employees such as births, deaths, marriages, and retirements with handwritten cards or flowers. Small tokens that show you care, such as sending condolences or congratulations, can cultivate long-lasting gratitude. 
  4. Reward them. While some achievements only require a written or spoken word of praise, stellar performance should be rewarded through bonuses or promotions. Within the self-storage industry, many companies have their own unique bonus programs. At The Storage Group, employees are given end-of-year bonuses based on the company’s profitability and client retention. As another example, M. Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training, and development services at Universal Storage Group, suggests implementing a reward system for phone shops that involves compensating employees for calls that exceed a score of 90.

    Regardless of how you choose to reimburse your employees for reaching or surpassing their goals, Nitzberg says that owners and operators should establish bonus programs that are “simple and frequent” as well as achievable. “People should be rewarded for exceeding expectations,” he says, “but bonuses should be based on something the manager can figure out. They should be clear, understandable, and calculable.”

    Nitzberg adds that bonuses should be paid monthly instead of annually. “There is too much turnover to pay them yearly. It’s not a motivator.”

    What’s more, enabling employees to climb the corporate ladder is another great way to keep them with the company long term.  
  5. Engage them. In addition to being recognized, most employees appreciate when their voice is heard. Ask employees for their input on business decisions and seek feedback for the processes/procedures that are currently in place. There are always new efficiencies to be discovered, and you never know who may have a better idea.

    “Some of the best ideas come from those who aren’t on the leadership team,” says Lucas. “Ask for suggestions and input. Most employees want to be engaged and have a say in the business.”

    As an example, charitable fundraising events are a great way to engage employees. From selecting the charity to soliciting donations, employees relish in doing good deeds through their companies for the communities in which they reside and interact.

    On another note, Nitzberg says that keeping employees engaged could be as simple as giving them additional responsibilities or moving them to a different location for a “fresh, new start”.
  6. Support them. Similar to ongoing training, support can help employees grow and manage challenges that arise. Offer them the ability to seek both professional and personal guidance through their direct supervisors, the human resources department, or another source supported by the company. For example, some businesses provide free access to confidential, 24/7 hotlines that connect callers to trained crisis counselors.

    Whether you invest in your employees via pay, perks, or praise, keep in mind that sometimes you need to spend money to make money. And, because your employees—especially your property managers—are representing your company, the great ones are certainly worth the expense.    

Low-Cost Compensations

While some employee benefits can cost a pretty penny, there are plenty of inexpensive ways build morale at your workplace. Here’s a dozen ideas to get your creative wheels in motion:

  • Holiday, birthday, and anniversary parties
  • Flextime for employees to attend family activities
  • Employee contests/giveaways/raffles
  • Drawings for tickets to sporting events, concerts, plays, etc.
  • Employee picnics, barbeques, and ice cream socials
  • Monthly networking events at different locations/days/times
  • Quarterly catered lunches
  • Seasonal celebrations
  • Logo gear such as hoodies, polo shirts, hats, and jackets
  • Random surprises such as a box of doughnuts or bagels in the employee lounge
  • Commemoration of the company’s formation
  • Celebrations for milestone anniversaries such as 10 years in business or five years without an accident

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.

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