Employee Evaluations? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Many years ago, I sat down in an office for my yearly review. My manager at the time then proceeded to give me the worst personal review I have ever received in my life. Below is my story which might help self storage owners how to conduct proper employee evaluations.

I felt like a complete and utter failure, and I was devastated. After the shock of my review was over, I began to read it and discovered how completely inaccurate it was. The more disconcerting matter was the fact that the simple things that I received poor marks for had never been brought to my attention until the time of the review. I asked my manager, “This stuff was no brainer stuff. Why didn’t you just tell me?”To which she had no real response. Of course, this affected my pay for the year and ultimately, my direction in the company.

Luckily I had a great mentor to help me stay the course, and get me where I am today. To me, this example epitomizes what is wrong with yearly evaluations. Employees are not given the tools they need. When they are, it is often a surprise and too late. The need for employee evaluations is obvious. They create a platform for a two-way conversation for the growth and change of the employee. There is a better way than the “old school” yearly evaluation.

Hopefully, you will be able to discover some helpful ideas to create that platform for your employees. I want to suggest two performance evaluations per year and two official “feedback” sessions. The performance evaluations would be a more formal written evaluation, and the feedback sessions would be less formal. This way, the employee is getting some manner of feedback every quarter, no matter what. Giving feedback isn’t an easy thing to do as an employer or manager.

Setting up a system like this will force you to commit to a process that ensures you will have conversations every three months with every staff member. Many companies tie employee evaluations to pay increases. This adds another level of tension to an already tense situation. The purpose of the meeting is to have tough conversations, to encourage, to help, and to engage.

When you introduce pay increases into that mix, everything else will become white noise and what matters to the employee will become the focus. I would recommend, if and when, you have pay increases, to have them on the employee hire date.

Conducting an evaluation

The goal of performance evaluations is to have no surprises. Thanks to the ongoing feedback meetings, you have encouraged and corrected any issues along the way, the performance reviews now become a much easier meeting to have. They are now a written summary of what you have already identified. All evaluations should be documented, which will help your company if any legal action comes from a former employee. Consider the following ideas when conducting your next evaluation:

  • Prepare – Do yourself and the employee a favor and take time to put together a well thought out evaluation. The employee will feel valued and will understand the time and effort you put in.
  • Self-evaluation – A week before the evaluation, send the employee the evaluation and ask them to fill it out. They might be able to identify items they are struggling with that you were not aware of. In the meeting, let them lead this section of the conversation.
  • Lead with the positive – As with feedback, it is best to connect it with specific examples. The clearer, you are the better. Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
  • Discuss the performance– Focus on the issues that matter. Make sure that the discussion is two way and that employee understands the issues.
  • Make a plan– We have what we call “Personal Development Plan” Each quarter we come up with a plan for the employee to work on for the next quarter. Usually, this plan ties into an overall theme of development that employee needs to work on. In the evaluation, ask the employee to come up with the plan. It puts the responsibility on them and also creates ownership in the task. Help if they need it.
  • Follow-up- Hold your people accountable. You are only as good as your ability to follow up.

“Feedforward”

Let’s discuss the importance of the consistent need for feedback. I was attending a conference, and a speaker referred to feedback as “Feedforward.” The concept is compelling. When you think about it, the idea for feedback is that we want our people to be better in the future. This is a great frame of mind to have as you examine feedback in terms of moving people ahead. Feedback is one of the biggest paradoxes. People love feedback. It gives them direction, it helps them, and when it is given correctly, it will make an organization into rock stars.

If people thrive on it that much, why is it so difficult to give? Therein lies the paradox! While we love feedback, it’s not easy to give feedback. You fear hurt feelings, causing drama, or feeling uncomfortable. Guess what? You like to know how you are doing in your job, so buck up and do the same to someone else! You must have feedback for your people, and you need to have it often.
Consider these guidelines:

  • Don’t make it personal – Imagined slights and malice are poisonous. It is incredible how a simple statement or action with no ill objective can be taken as a malicious action. Acknowledge this and be the bigger person, even when it’s difficult. When giving feedback, focus on the behavior, not the character of the person.
  • Be specific – Tell the person how the behavior is affecting you or the team. Avoid using terms like “you always…” and “you never..” Those terms automatically put the other person on. The other person can’t read your mind, so you need to tell them how you actually feel in order to make a change.
  • Give it often – If you attend a college football game, people don’t wait until the team scores to cheer. It’s a consistent mix of celebration and hanging your head in embarrassment. The point is – it’s done over and over again. Praise good performance right away. When negative feedback is required try to talk to the employee within 24 hours. The sooner, the better. Don’t wait a year!
  • Outcomes – One of the best ways to start a feedback conversation is by putting the focus on how it affects a business outcome. Good or bad, this enables you to develop talent, better phone skills, improve customer service, or any other goals you might have. It also helps the employee save a “little face.” It makes it less like a personal criticism toward them and more of an opportunity to resolve a business issue. Ultimately the goal is to progress your business by improving your employee.

By combining formal reviews and scheduled feedback sessions, you are forcing yourself to do the hard things. It is much easier to have a sit down once a year, give an employee 15 minutes, and be done, however, if you are like me, you see a vision of a more significant way to help your employees to be better. I know it isn’t the easy way. I struggle with keeping that vision all the time. Nevertheless, you owe it to your employees to do everything you can to help them become better.

What Makes a Great Self Storage Manager?

If your professional goal is to get ahead, you’ll never get there by being mediocre. The only way to gain footing is to create more value for your employer than your role requires.

During a recent monthly review with one of our self-storage facility managers, the conversation drifted toward the topic of pay and his opportunity for advancement. Since he was a “low man on the totem pole,” his concerns were valid and timely.Over the next hour, the discussion revolved around two primary topics.The first was how to be a value creator, and the second was how job titles are labels that inhibit growth and creativity. Both concepts are applicable to pretty much any position.

If you fully understand them, not only will you advance your career, you’ll find fulfillment in your work life.

If your professional goal is to get ahead, you’ll never get there by being mediocre. The only way to gain footing is to create more value for your employer than your role requires.
The typical storage manager has several basic responsibilities:

  • Answering phones
  • Giving facility tours
  • Collecting rent
  • Serving customers
  • Maintaining the property 

(The keyword here is “typical.” The term “manager” could be replaced with the role you hold, whether that’s district manager, associate, or whatever your position may be.) While the typical manager might do a good job, does he create more value than the role requires? Generally, no. At the end of the day, your career is a concept of your mind. Your mental development is under your control. 

To move foward, you have to put on your grown-up pants and take control. No one will do it for you. No one is coming save you. You are responsible for your life. 

Create Value

Everyone within a company has a specific role. Most self-storage managers look at the role and guidelines others have placed upon them and accept these as hard, unchanging truths. If you think that way, you’re running on an old operating system, which can hold you back. If you want to get ahead, it’s time to upgrade your thinking. Why can’t you rewrite the definition of what a facility manager does? If your corporate policy manual states that a facility manager does A, B, and C, that’s fine. You go and do A, B, and C, as well as E, F, and G. By doing so, you’ll add company value in three ways:

  • You’re making new things happen.
  • You’re creating value within yourself, setting yourself apart from what’s “typical.”
  • You’ve begun down a path on which many start, but few stay the course. You’re doing something more with your station in life.

People frequently live on autopilot because it’s comfortable and easy. If you stick to moving beyond the status quo, it’ll positively impact your professional and personal life. You’ll want to become better, and you’ll rewrite the roles life has written for you. Start small. On average, companies today provide employees with 32 learning hours per year. Where does your company stack up? If you’re with a small company, what can you do to help provide 15 hours per year? This is how you create value and forge a path to advancement not because you have to but because you want to.

Atomic Manager Challenge: Ask the person above you about his biggest professional problem or struggle. Then, do what you can to make that go away. I’ve never met a boss or employer who devalued problem-solvers.

Stop Labeling Yourself

Don’t let your job title define and cage you. In my career, I’ve met many people who were above me in the professional hierarchy, and yet I was more qualified to do their job. As such, I’ve grown to view titles as labels that limit growth and creativity.During the review with my facility manager, his main concern was he was somehow unable to initiate or try new things because of his junior status. That label was affecting his personal growth.

There is little difference than if he had been labeled fat or anorexic, grumpy or crazy. Labels are for files, not people. This is a life lesson it took me years to learn. Achieving a certain label was important to me. My ambition turned negative and self-serving. Rather than look out for the interest of others, I was only in it for myself. My great grandfather used to say, “You meet the same people going up the ladder as you do coming down.”I eventually learned that little is gained by seeking titles.

Instead, much is gained in seeking relationships and serving others with no expectation of reward. If my manager chooses to add value to the company and help others, greater compensation and advancement is a natural next step. Whether he’s a junior or senior manager makes no difference.

Keep Striving

As our conversation unfolded, I asked my manager what prevented him from pursuing some of the things he wanted to do and embracing his development. He said, “I did say something one time, but someone didn’t like the idea.” This was a great learning moment. For whatever reason, he made the conscious decision to allow that incident to change the way he voiced his opinion.I showed him how that decision had a lasting effect on the course of his career. Because he took that moment as someone not valuing and listening to his opinion, he applied that viewpoint to other aspects of his job.

Within a company culture that values innovation and people taking charge of projects, a mindset like his can have extremely negative results. In the ideal work world, every employee would have an amazing, customized development plan to help in personal and professional improvements. Everyone would say things in the most constructive, edifying manner. Life would be nothing but rainbows and puppy dogs.

However, we know the truth. If you want good career development, much of the legwork needs to be done by you. Talk to your supervisor and let him know you’re interested in growing your skillset. Do more than what your job description requires. Expand the learning in your field to other areas. If you try new things, you’ll find value in yourself as well as your job. When the value is found, it’ll be returned to you. Keep trying. Always. Every day.