I get this question in various forms when working with clients and colleagues who are hiring their teams to support their businesses. And even when I hire for my business I struggle with this question – is there a “perfect” assistant out there? Can I find the perfect person who is affordable and affable and available?
Let’s demystify what most entrepreneurs mean by “perfect” and how that actually translates to working with your team.
Most people are looking for the ideal person who will complete every task just as you would, cares about the business as much as you do, is available 24/7, delivers every project on time, pleasant to work with, cheap, has unlimited skills, a wide ranging network of equally perfect people and anticipates every need before being asked. And while you may be able to develop this team over time, it’s naive and foolish to think you can create this in a week or even a month.
I’m not good at sugar coating the truth so let’s just be honest with each other:
There are no perfect VAs because there are no perfect people. (And that includes you.)
As we strive for excellency, we must remember that there is a lot of room for mistakes because we’re human. We get things wrong. We try and fail and try again. But setting up the expectation of perfection will only leave you disappointed. Most of the things you want in your perfect team are learned skills and must be communicated.
The perfect VA might write an email just like you would after months or years of learning your style. The ideal assistant may be able to anticipate you want a full day of rest after a week of business travel but only if you tell your assistant that is your preference. And sometimes our expectations are way out of line with reality.
Just a week after the New York Times article on life/work balance was released my own assistant was absent for several days. This was unusual and when we touched base again on Monday I discovered she’d experienced a death in the family and had been unable to email me with updated availability. 24/7 instant access is fine if you’re working with robots but people need to eat, take care of families, rest and serve other clients.
The most important aspect of knowing if your VA is the right person is their ability to grow and learn.
Does it mean that we love mistakes? No, but it does change how we view them to take problems as a growth opportunity. When you understand there are no perfect VAs, then you are more willing to invest the time in training and clearly communicating what you need from your team. But is the VA able to learn? Understanding that there are several types of errors can help you determine if your VA is capable of learning such as:
error of omission – when a task hasn’t been completed then there are two things I look at first. Consider how clearly you asked for the task and the deadline given. If you didn’t give a deadline then it’s your error. Second, if you didn’t get confirmation that the deadline were feasible then address that communication breakdown first and reassess how many hours are hired or distributed throughout the week.
error of addition - when something has been done you didn’t ask for. Sometimes this is great, especially when you team begins to anticipate your needs. But if they’ve sent emails on your behalf or even scheduled meetings you don’t want to attend it can be a problem. Start by clarifying the scope of work, hours needed and job responsibilities.
simple mistakes – this is probably the most common problem when something hasn’t been done exactly the way we want. For the first few months of a new VA relationship I keep a very close eye on how things are done, stepping in to make adjustments frequently. Systems are created and refined, updated to reflect directions that were ambiguous or incomplete. It’s only if those instructions continue to be misinterpreted or ignored do I consider changing the relationship.
Communication is easy to overlook.
It’s easy to get caught up in the flow of business, talking about projects and tasks and then hang up the phone without clarity on what’s happening next. Clearly assigning tasks with deadlines and resources will not only help you relax, knowing that tasks are being taken care of, but give your team clarity to move forward.
And at times we make mistakes, assigning someone who is otherwise very capable to a task outside of their capabilities or giving too much too quickly. Because I hire primarily for the learning and growth ability, carefully looking to find the right person who is teachable, if the tasks are not working out I’ll shift things around first before starting over with a new person and clean slate.
Developing relationships with your team takes time and patience, unless you hire mind readers and miracle workers then it’s up to you to give clear direction and expectations, follow up on tasks and provide feedback, and build the long term relationship that will serve your business for years to come.
If you haven’t yet hired a team you can get my free video training on this page and get started with 5 Days to Find Fabulous Help for Your Online Business including a video on what to do if your team screws up!