6 ways to make your relationships with employees the best they can be - and your business more profitable

Stuart Cohen

Courtesy of Stuart Cohen

Stuart Cohen.

  • Stuart Cohen is the owner of Invisible World, an apparel company that began as a small store in Juneau, Alaska in 1985; he's also the author of four novels.
  • He writes that any entrepreneur has to rely on others - and having good working relationships can make both your work life and business better.
  • You should be clear about employee expectations and deal with issues that arise face to face.
  • Know when you're wrong, and learn how to apologize; if you have to fire someone, do it with grace.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

You're the typical entrepreneur: You have a vision, you know how to get there, and you know that you can do every part of your business better than anyone else.

Except that you can't.

After enough 60-to-80-hour weeks you realize that you're going to have to depend on others to keep your business growing. Your relationship with your employees (or online contractors) - like your relationship with your suppliers - will determine not only whether your business grows and prospers, but also how much you enjoy your working life.

Here are some tips that will prevent those awkward moments when you show up at a dinner party and a person you fired is sitting across the table. (Yes, this has happened to us.)

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Be clear in your expectations

Be clear in your expectations

One of the worst things you can do is give an employee (or online contractor) an ill-defined task and send them off. That drama always ends up with you venting that they did the wrong thing — while they seethe in frustration at your hazy guidelines. This erodes relationships and destroys initiative.

Show respect for your coworkers by taking the time to think through the task and outline both it and the follow-up clearly in written form. Let them know when they may need to check in with you. Spending 20 to 30 minutes making things clear is the key to helping your employee succeed.

Talk face to face about sensitive issues

Talk face to face about sensitive issues

Some issues have to be grappled with face to face. That list includes money, mistakes, poor performance, or interpersonal problems between employees. Those issues tend to fester — and can be downright explosive if handled poorly. Never deal with them by email, text, or even telephone.

Make an appointment to discuss it in person, possibly away from the workplace. Do it after the person's work day is over, never before or during; that way they have a chance to take a night to think it over before having to face colleagues or customers. Never call someone out in front of other employees. Don't complain about one employee to another. After things are resolved, write down the resolution and provide a copy to the employee.

Two short rules: Never let anyone "text" in sick. Never send an angry email or leave a snippy sticky note.

Learn to apologize

Learn to apologize

This falls under the general heading of "be a real human being." People want and deserve to be treated as equals, even if you pay their salary. When you are criticized, listen thoughtfully. When you are wrong, apologize, even if no one has taken you to task for it. Don't ask for favors unless you are clearly offering to compensate them, and, even then, ask rarely.

Be a compassionate judge

Be a compassionate judge

Problems between employees are inevitable, and if you don't have an HR department with a 60-page handbook, you are going to be the person who has to sort them out. Always be discreet, and try to deal with things in a general way first.

For example, if one employee complained that another employee was barging in on the sales floor, our first step would be to take some time at an employee meeting to go over the rules of honoring other people's sales. If the problem persisted, we would talk to the offending salesperson privately about how to behave on the sales floor. If we continued to receive complaints, we would deal with it more specifically, but we rarely have employees confront each other unless it is about deeper interpersonal issues that only they can work out.

According to research by LeadershipIQ, only 23% of employees said that their employers "respond constructively" when they share their work problems. Employees who said their employers always respond constructively were 12 times more likely to label their company as a great employer and fantastic company to work for. In other words, responding constructively to employee feedback and criticism can increase employee satisfaction.

Fire gracefully

Fire gracefully

Sometimes things just don't work out and you have to let people go. While never pleasant, I always think of firing as setting an employee free to do something they're good at. Fire in private. Be kind, be clear, be honest. Don't fire by email or text: It's disrespectful and cowardly.

Be interested in people

Be interested in people

People are fascinating and should be a source of joy and support, including when they are business associates or employees. Whenever I hire a contractor in another country, I google their town and walk the streets, just so that I can imagine what it looks like and how their life is. People want to be recognized as more than a cog in your success machine.

Finally, don't forget to praise. As Ken Blanchard put it in "The One-Minute Manager," "catch them doing something right." Show your appreciation of their intelligence and conscientiousness and they will reward you with more of it.

If you manage these relationships well, you will end up with a more profitable business and — equally important — friendships that will make your life better. And even if you run into someone you have fired, you may find you still have many other things to talk about.

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