Attitude. The one little word that independent retailer Binda Tatla values above all others. For Binda, who owns a Budgens store in Hampton Hill, Surrey, "a positive attitude is a priceless possession" and a member of staff with a good mental attitude is worth their weight in gold.
Because of this, Binda devotes a large amount of his time to training his employees' minds and teaching them to think positively.
"You can spend weeks and months teaching your staff best practice, but if they don't have the right mental attitude it won't make an ounce of difference," he says.
"I recently had to let a member of staff go as he didn't have the right mindset," explains Binda. "He believed that he was doing his job just by turning up and working for a set number of hours, but it's about what you achieve during those hours that counts. He just had the wrong attitude."
Words of wisdom
Binda is an avid reader of motivational publications and over the years has complied a veritable cornucopia of books and audio tapes on personal empowerment, development and people management.
Staff at Binda's store are encouraged to supplement their standard training in customer service, health and safety, and food hygiene with lessons in personal and social development from Binda's books.
He is in the process of having the entire collection, worth an estimated £20,000, digitalised, so that all the books' teachings can be accessed on one easy-to-use CD.
"One man who works for me said that reading the books was like switching on a light in a dark room," says Binda. "It changed the way he thought about his life as well as his actions in the workplace."
Binda's favourite read is the best-selling How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
The book is packed full of advice on how to deliver improved business results by increasing the performance of the business' key assets - its people.
Its teachings have clearly influenced the way in which Binda carries out staff training.
He is opposed to lengthy formal sessions and prefers to conduct his training on a one-to-one basis over a cup of tea. "I like my staff to feel comfortable and relaxed when they are training as they take in more that way," he says.
Binda is also supremely conscious of the words and phrases that he uses when teaching staff, or asking them to do something. "I never say 'do this' or 'do that'. Instead, I'll always ask them what they think they should be doing."
He also takes care to explain the reasons behind any of his instructions. "For example, I won't just say 'restock that shelf'. I'll explain to them that a well-stocked shelf gives customers a favourable impression of the store, which in turn benefits the whole team."
The key to successful staff training, Binda says, is to foster a climate of mutual respect between managers and employees. "An employee who feels that he is respected and is an important part of the business will do his job better. That's not because he has to, but because he wants to," he says.
Binda tells his staff that when they are serving behind the counter, they are "the face of the store".
"In the customer's eyes, the man behind the counter is the owner, so it's important that they act like it. Telling them this makes them feel respected and important," he says.
Binda also advises his staff to use a similar technique when refusing an age-related sale.
"I tell them not to simply refuse the sale, but to explain to the customer that they are sorry, but they are obliged by the law to refuse it if a valid form of identification has not been produced. By taking this approach, customers feel that you are being respectful towards them, and they in turn will respect you for it."
Binda's store has been open for less than a year, so as yet he hasn't signed up his staff to any formal training courses, but plans to in the future as his business expands. Having just one store, and very few part-timers, enables him to conduct training on his own at present.
"I want to help my staff develop their skills in any way that I can," he says. "I want them to have ambitions, and I want to help them achieve these. My message to them is that you can achieve anything if you try."
In fact, so helpful is Binda that he even holds finance clinics with his staff to help them become more moneywise.
"As well as helping them earn money, I teach them how to save it," he says.
He has even been known to lend staff cash when they were feeling the pinch. "They always pay it back as soon as they are able to, because I'm more than just an employer to them - I'm also a friend."
And as a "friend" Binda ensures that he does his fair share of dirty work in the store.
"I make sure that I take an active part in everything. I even scrub the toilets and the kitchen on a weekly basis," he says.
"You can't train your staff to do something and then not do it yourself. You have to practise what you preach, and lead by example. At the end of the day, staff are only as good as their manager."
Binda's management style is heavily influenced by the teachings of American lecturer Dale Carnegie and his award-winning book How To Win Friends and Influence People. Below is a summary of its core ideas on how to build positive relationships and motivate your team.
l Make others feel important
l Remember people's birthdays and other important details
l Take an interest in the hobbies/lives of others
l Praise their strengths and they'll strive to reinforce your opinion
l Frame requests in terms of what others find motivating
l Begin with praise and honest appreciation - it's easier to take criticism after some praise
l Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person - it's motivating to hear that another person has overcome the same challenges
l Always try to give criticism in private
l Make faults seem easy to correct and new skills easy to learn
l Praise each improvement, however slight it is
l Ask questions instead of giving direct orders
l Be empathetic by trying to understand what others want
l Focus on any benefits that the other person might receive.