Don't Forget About Your Relief Managers

Speaking to many relief managers in the self-storage industry I have noticed they all share the same trait: being forgotten. Many owners and supervisors see part time managers/relief managers as employees that are only there a few days so they do not need to be trained fully or not as important. Part-time managers, after being hired, are trained for a few days and expected just to learn as they go or will tell the tenants that the full time manager will be back soon. That mindset of owners and supervisors is hurting everyone involved.

We all joke about how self-storage managers are most likely watching their favorite streaming service rather than being proactive during slower days. While it may be true, owners and supervisors take half of the blame. If the supervisor doesn't take time to train or check on their employees, what else can we expect the managers to do?

Most relief managers work a few days to give our full-time managers a break. That is a given. Those two or so days shouldn't be a time in which the company moves backwards but rather forward. It is an opportunity for them to show what they know and take ownership of the position.

We first need to get into the mindset that relief managers should be seen as managers first and not anything else. Drop the terms "assistant, relief, part-time" or whatever you have. You are already giving them the impression that they are not as valuable and their expectations should be low. They are on the payroll and expected to represent the company just like the full-time manager. We are doing a disservice to our company, our tenants, our full-time managers and of course, our relief managers.

Relief managers should bring actual relief to the managers. They are not called delayed task managers.


How It Affects Our Company

In most cases, relief managers work two days. That means that they are answering questions, taking calls and showing the property to potential tenants around 30% of the total time the business is open. Depending on the average lifespan of the tenant, the company can be missing out on thousands of dollars every year just because they were not trained property.

Think about it: You are a prospective tenant looking for storage. You call around to different locations or even stop by. If that manager is stumbling around information, not able to control the sales call, is leaned back watching the newest episode of The Masked Singer, chances are your image is going to be tarnished. While to some it may seem like no big deal, you, as an owner, you are losing money and respect. Word of mouth spreads like wildfire.

Another way to think about it: if something were to happen to our full-time manager, would anyone be ready to step up and take their place that is currently at the company? While a company can go through the hiring process and can scramble to find someone to fill that void, is the relief manager a good candidate to take over? If not, why? Is it because they are not trusted? Is because they do not have the experience? Is it because they haven't been trained? All those things can be quickly fixed with a proactive training program that is continuous throughout their storage career.

Think of backup athletes in any sport of your choosing. While they do not get most of the reps, they are still trained the same way, the still know the plays and they are ready to step in when needed. Of course, it may take some time to adjust, leadership has given them the tools to be successful. Even if they do not become full-time managers, they still should be ready to perform the same duties on the days that they are there.


How It Affects Our Tenants

Have you read your reviews or spoke to tenants that have dealt with your untrained relief managers? If not, now is a great time to start. It would only take a few moments to pull a report on all payments, move in's, move outs, etc on any given point of sale software. Call them and ask how their interaction went. I dare you. Results will amaze you. It is not to get them in trouble but rather to ensure that you are putting them in the best position possible to be successful.

When talking to tenants in this situation, I have noticed that many of them actually state that the part-time manager is very nice but that they will get confused on more complicated tasks.Part-time managers are trying their best to do all they can but usually do not have tools to do so. Depending on how long the manager has been there, they should know everything that the full-time manager knows. Are your supervisors so busy that they can't simply train the employee on something, let's say once a month?

Tenants are paying a lot of money to store their belongings at your location. They are expecting well-trained professional staff overseeing the facility. All managers should be able to review cameras, read gate logs, walk the property and answer questions that they may have.

Remember, all staff members are a reflection of your company.


How It Affects Our Full-Time Managers

Imagine walking into work and seeing that many tasks were not done. You left many notes, you ensured everything was supplied and you were ready to start the work week. Instead of moving forward in helping the company draw consumers, you are stuck double-checking work, following up tasks that were not done and trying to calm down angry customers. Would that be a place were you would feel like you were respected, were productive and appreciated?

Our full-time managers have a lot on their plate. They are wearing a lot of different hats and our expectations on them are high. They are the face of the company 70% of the time. We all say we want dedicated staff members that will stay for years to come. We, however, don't give them the tools necessary to be successful.

One of those tools we can give them is having a productive manager on their days off. Instead of thinking about work on their days off, they should be enjoying their family, enjoying what life has offered them and given a break from everything "storage." One of the interview questions I ask when hiring a relief manager is simply "What would you do if you needed information and you were the only one here?" Some would say they would read notes, others would say they would call a supervisor and the other group would say they would call the manager directly. While it is not a disqualifying answer, the third response always worries me a bit. The question can be useful to see how a relief manager would handle something new thrown at them.

It is a sad thing that our full-time managers feel like they can't have healthy boundaries in discussing how they feel with leadership. At a previous position, two-thirds of the full-time managers stated that they were stressed out because their assistant managers did not do tasks that were left for them. They would state that they would personally drive by to check on things because they felt like they couldn't really trust the relief manager. That is alarming. How can we keep good managers on our team if they are feeling like this? There should always be an open discussion to see how their relief managers are doing and what the company can do to improve the situation.


How it Affects Our Relief Managers

Now, that we talked about how our full-time managers are feeling, let's talk about the relief managers. While some may like the lack of responsibility, others may feel like they are forgotten. One part-time manager comes to mind. He had been at a location in Reedley, CA for approximately two years. The only thing he knew how to do correctly was take payments. He was unsure about sales calls, didn't really know the lease very well and would leave simple tasks for the manager to do. I could see the full-time employee was dedicated to their position and just wanted to make it better. She was the type that would drive by at different times during the night just to make sure everything was well.

For those who like the lack of attention, it is great for them. They are getting paid decent money to sit behind a desk, perform a few tasks and head home. Others, the ones we want to be part of our team, are quite annoyed. A good candidate most likely made the choice to take the position with your company over another. They probably had a vision that they would learn the industry, would make a difference and would be able to make choices as they grew in the industry. Instead, they are talked to once a month on random visits and winging situations because they were not trained. How important and productive can they feel?

I challenge you all to see what your relief managers know and get their feedback on how they feel about it. Do not push them to say the things you want them to hear but rather how they truly feel. If they are not trained, I can guarantee their responses will surprise you. Build a standard that all team members should follow. Anyone who has any business sense will tell you that important factors for employees are: to feel like they are learning, making a difference and are utilized correctly.

Relief managers are an investment. They are talking to your consumers every day that they work. They should share the same vision as the other manager with your company's goals in mind. Get them involved to make decisions and work with their schedule to ensure they are always learning.


How Can We Train Them

After the initial training phase which is usually a week or so, many supervisors or owners find it troubling to continue the training. They will have the relief managers push the tasks to the full-time manager once they return to work. While time is limited, there is still an opportunity to ensure they are learning.

The first thing I would do is see if my supervisors were utilizing their time effectively. Each employee should get the same attention from those in charge. If they are not, I would recommend alternating schedules of leadership to ensure relief managers are trained and there is a system in place to check on learning.

If time is an issue, there are things an owner can do to ensure their full staff is on the same page. Technology makes it easy for us to present training for free. Some things I have done in the past is conduct conference calls on days in which relief managers were on duty, recording training videos using our software with Youtube, asking the relief manager to work with the full-time manager at least once a month and creating a chat feature were questions can be easily answered by those who were working. This built an immediate connection and trust among the employees. All too often employees never talk to each other. How sad is that? We stress importance of team building but yet do not give them the tools to work together.

A final and simple thing we can do is utilize checklists and goals. While that may seem simple, few do it. Managers, owners and supervisors get into the mindset that they are too good or know enough already. It gives everyone clear expectations that should be followed.

Relief managers are worth your time!

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