Namiera asked:

Some of my friends pay $25/hour for their VAs. I pay $55. And because I pay so much, I expect perfection from her; zero mistakes. She says it’s unreasonable of me to expect that. What do you think?

With the greatest of respect intended, you pay for many things, but you don’t pay for perfection. It doesn’t exist, and unless your VA has promised that (and if she has, please have her call me so I can help her with that!), it’s entirely unreasonable for you to expect it.

What you can expect, though, is that errors will be corrected when found. That’s entirely reasonable.

There are three kinds of mistakes; only one of them has the power to kill a relationship in a hot second. Do you know what it is?

I know that in my far-distant past, I held tightly to the idea of perfection. It was exhausting and it made me a bitch. Relaxing into life—in all it’s finery and messiness—allowed me to create more flow, more enjoyment of my work, and deeper connections with those who help me, which ultimately also led to fewer problems and errors. But first I needed to learn a thing or two about errors, relationships, and the interplay between them.

Once I’d grown a bit, relaxed my iron-clad grip on things, and understood the nature of errors, my experience became nearly free of upset or disappointment, and I’m grateful for it. My hope in sharing this with you, Namiera, is that it helps you reach a place more like that; I promise it’s far more rewarding!

Let’s talk about how you might reasonably orient your thinking about mistakes.

To start, I think that my lack of disappointment, in great measure, is due to three things:

I choose my VAs for fit, first, then for willingness and openness, and then for skill.

Monkeys can learn hard skills. But fit can’t ever be faked. Neither, really, can willingness or openness. Having my VAs be my compliments makes things so very nice and ease-filled. And I’m all about ease. I can help them learn anything we need to have them learn if the other things are present in spades.

I know that there are just three types of mistakes, and I am ok with two of them.

 More on this in a second.

My VAs and I work under hold-harmless relationship agreements.

 These aren’t the same as the hold-harmless legal agreements. Instead, these are agreements we make to have each other’s backs, and to always offer the other the benefit of the doubt when something goes sideways, a little or a lot.

Some would say that it’s an assistant’s job to do that, but not the client’s. I think that’s beyond foolish, not to mention, arrogant, if #1 has happened.

Because if fit is there, then #3 is a natural.

I’ve written about fit before. You can learn more about that here, and here.

But let’s look at errors and why they occur.  There are just three types:

  1. Intentional

It is not the mistake that is the concern here, but the attitude.

Intentional mistakes have, at their core, a blatant disregard for the relationship.

This is the only kind of mistake I won’t tolerate. And I think that’s a policy you should adopt, too.

Intentional mistakes create such a breach in trust that even one can (and probably should!) kill everything good about a relationship. And you can’t tolerate them in your business because the damage being done may extend to your customers. It’s one thing if you want to make excuses for someone who is intentionally hurting you (unwise, but relationships are complex!), but another, entirely, when your business is on the line.

  1. Systematic/Repetitive

These are mistakes where a system has problems (or holes). Generally, there are three causes:

  • Inadequate resources (money, materials, human just aren’t enough)
  • Inadequate training (training was provided but wasn’t enough for the person to really “get” it)
  • Inadequate administrative structure (policies, procedures, processes, and/or the way to give feedback isn’t clear and/or is ineffective)

When one of these elements is present, mistakes happen repeatedly, even when someone has the best of intentions. The only way to end the errors is to fix the problems.

  1. Random/Human

As long as there are people in the mix, there will be mistakes. We’re human, flawed, and perfectly imperfect. Shit happens in our lives and we mess up sometimes—even when we’re doing our best to get it all right.

We can’t prevent mistakes of this sort, but we can learn and grow from them, change how things happen and why they happen, and do whatever is possible to have them not happen again.

A friend’s grandmother used to say, “Girl—if you insist on making mistakes, it would be much to your credit to make a different one each time!”

We hear ya, Grandma.

In a partnership between you and your VA, both people need to truly understand that there will be mistakes—on both sides! What needs to happen, then, is for the two of you to work together to minimize them, but also, as much as possible, create the “hold harmless” atmosphere I mentioned before.

Let’s look at that a bit.

 Hold Harmless Atmosphere

I said something about this above, but here’s a bit more on it. Working within a hold harmless atmosphere means that both people in the relationship know and trust that the other has the relationship’s best interests at heart and would do nothing, purposefully, to damage it or the goals of the relationship. It also means that when something goes awry, the person who is upset remembers this, and immediately and absolutely gives the other the benefit of the doubt, asking about it, rather than assuming anything.

As such, there’s a freedom given to take risks and to make mistakes. And with that freedom, growth and movement happen. That’s what I want for myself and my business and my life. So I’m happy to extend it to my trusted sidekick—my VA.

To that end, when my assistant Nicole first started working with me, I let her know that, from my perspective, she’s free to take chances, and risk making mistakes without worry about how it’s going to land for me, as long as she’s acted with my best interest at heart (meaning that there are no intentional mistakes).

On my end, when something goes differently than I expect, I don’t even think about it as a mistake. Instead, I first believe that there must have been a hole in a process or procedure that prevented things from happening as planned. And I approach things with her from that place.  Usually, that’s exactly what it was, and I know that when we plug up the hole, that thing won’t happen again. And the occasional human error? I believe that if I’m not willing to roll with them when they happen, I shouldn’t have a human assistant. When they do show up, I simply mention what I’ve noticed and ask for it to be corrected. She does the same for me when I make mistakes (and I do!). Easy-peasy.

One more note, the more time that’s put into the finding and choosing the right VA to work with, the easier all this stuff on the back-end becomes. That’s where the investment really needs to begin.

I hope this helps!

And as for others of you who are reading this, how about you? Do you choose a VA in such a way as to minimize challenges? And what do you do when they show up, anyway—whether created by her, or you?