Within the self-storage industry, many of the most successful operators live by the notion that their property managers are their greatest assets. Considering that the managers represent “the face” of the facility, interacting with a site’s customers on a regular basis, it makes sense to invest in their wellbeing to ensure they portray the brand in the best light possible.
But one industry veteran, Kraig Haviland, co-founder of San Diego, Calif.-based Haviland Storage Services, takes that concept one step further. He suggests “treating employees like your best customers.”
“It’s a good business practice,” says Haviland, who served as the director of operations and then as the director of property management for San Diego Self Storage for the past 15 years. “We developed an unbelievable team with that.”
Why does treating employees like the best customers work so well? Everyone wants to be valued.
Typically, customers are regarded as the most valuable component of business because companies would go belly up without them. However, the outcome would be similar without employees to do the work. Therefore, by extending that same level of respect and appreciation to employees, companies are setting the example for their own expectations.
Essentially, it’s an extension of the Golden Rule: Treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers. And according to Haviland, making more deposits into an employee’s emotional bank account than withdrawals is the kind of investment that results in richness.
A Good Balance
During his tenure at San Diego Self Storage, Haviland implemented unique ways to make deposits into his team members’ emotional bank accounts. For starters, the company established a program that enabled its self-storage managers to give back to charities that they valued as individuals. Every year, each manager was given a big check for $1,000 to donate to their charity of choice. These acts of altruism foster goodwill within the communities they serve and allow managers to make a heartfelt difference in causes that mean the most to them. In turn, the donations create positive publicity for the company through photo opportunities and media coverage. Haviland notes that the program has permitted San Diego Self Storage to support numerous “great, local charities” within the San Diego area.
Haviland also used education to invest in his teams’ personal and professional growth. He taught classes on topics that employees would find beneficial, including one that covered his favorite self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Haviland introduced Covey’s principles to his employees and held discussions on how they could be utilized for their own betterment. Empowering his employees with this knowledge has had a profound impact on their lives. In fact, employees have often shared their Covey-related success stories with Haviland over the years.
This article won’t dive into the details, but the habits listed in his highly recommended book are:
- Be proactive.
- Begin with the end in mind.
- Put first things first.
- Think win-win.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
- Sharpen the saw.
While Haviland provided two great examples, there are countless kinds of deposits employers can make to invest in their employees’ emotional bank accounts, many of which do not require significant expenditures. For instance, small gestures of recognition, such as sending birthday cards, thank you notes, sympathy cards, and anniversary gifts, are inexpensive deposits that will likely be remembered and appreciated. Moreover, praise and compliments are free, so throw them around like confetti.
The point Haviland stresses is this: It’s important to make deposits so the eventual withdrawals are less taxing on your relationship with your employee. The withdrawals he mentions include asking for favors or corrections, such as requiring an employee to work late, cover a shift, or fix a mistake. Other kinds of withdrawals consist of being late for meetings you scheduled, missing a deadline, needing a quick turnaround time on a project, ignoring suggestions, and turning a blind eye to low performers or negative behaviors. Of course, that isn’t a comprehensive list, but being aware of the kinds of withdrawals you tend to make can help you adjust your actions to prevent you from draining the resources in your employees’ accounts.
When withdrawals outnumber deposits, employee performance and job satisfaction diminish. And sometimes overdrawn emotional bank accounts push employees to seek employment elsewhere. As for employee turnover, Haviland follows this rule: Always try to replace the employees or managers who leave with someone better.
Though it may be tempting to hire the first able body available to fill an exiting employee’s shoes, Haviland suggests holding out for someone who possesses core values that align with your company and its mission. At San Diego Self Storage, everyone on his “diverse team” had the same “universal” values that he believes are a natural fit for self-storage. They were reliable, dependable, coachable, and accountable employees with positive attitudes and inviting personalities. His team members also enjoyed working independently, with minimal supervision, which is essential when managing a self-storage facility.
“They try to be a part of the solution,” adds Haviland. “They also need to be aware of the example they set.” Obviously, a manager who’s on his/her personal phone during company time is setting a bad example for other employees. Therefore, managers who are training staff members should practice what they preach if they expect others to adhere to the rules.
Another quality Haviland has noticed about his best team members: They have a large “circle of influence.” Going back to Covey’s book, a person’s circle of influence is simply the items over which he/she has influence. Increasing one’s circle of influence takes time and effort. Haviland says those with larger circles of influence are inclined to attend company events and meetings, volunteer to do tasks or presentations, make suggestions, take initiative, assist with interviews, and actively participate in their community.
Here are five other ways to expand your circle of influence:
- Join self-storage communities, groups, and/or associations to make new connections.
- Be curious. Feed that curiosity with knowledge and exploration.
- Be teachable by being open to new ideas and grateful for those insights.
- Be relatable. Share your values and see the value in others.
- Be generous (with your time, attention, knowledge, etc.).
The Big Picture
Now more than ever, with ever-increasing competition, having a good team in place is critical to a successful operation. Though it has become more difficult to attract and retain employees, Haviland is adamant that it is possible to build a team that will outlast your tenure.
“Sell to your employees that your company is worthwhile,” he says, noting that the potential for career growth is a carrot worth dangling in front of both prospective and current employees. “Promoting from within eliminates turnover, mistakes, and problems.” Haviland adds that long-term employees generate positive reviews from customers, which is so important these days.
“When the team is strong you can get on to the fun, meaningful work,” he says.
Decades ago, residential managers were the norm. It was considered advantageous to have a manager or management couple living on site to provide an additional level of security and round-the-clock customer service. Over the years, the industry began phasing out on-site apartments in favor of more rentable square footage. However, Haviland points out that in larger cities, especially those within California, on-site apartments are seen as an attractive perk of employment. Due to rising housing costs and a lack of availability, managerial apartments have been enticing applicants and reducing turnover.
“It’s a huge benefit to attract good candidates,” says Haviland.
But before you spruce up an unused on-site apartment, or consider building one on your site, be sure to review your state’s eviction laws (should you need to terminate employment), calculate a reasonable salary that would account for the space’s rent and utilities, and hire an attorney to create a rental agreement for the apartment
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, Self-Storage Canada, and MiniCo Publishing’s annual Self-Storage Almanac.