About a half year ago, I was sitting in a pitch meeting trying to impress a potential client to win an important mandate for a project that would take two years to close. The meeting was attended by top management of the company and by its founder. We discussed all the technical aspects, our past experience with similar projects, and how we worked as a team. We were hoping to come across as a unified team and show that we knew what we were doing. It was already the second round, so we focused on chemistry and relationship-building. At the end of the meeting we devoted a lot of time to discussing how important it is to be open and honest. I told the client that we would not just agree with them all the time – we would be honest with our fees upfront, we would tell them if we thought they were doing something wrong, we would treat them as friends and partners, we would tell them if we thought their instructions create more work than necessary, and, most importantly, we would always have smiles on our faces, even if we needed to tell them they are wrong.
Afterwards, we asked the client why they had selected us for the project, and they said that, apart from our experience, they felt we would form a great team with them. And this again showed me how important it is to be honest and open and build trust with clients.
The same is true about trusting your people, your colleagues. For example, we implemented flexible working schedules three years ago in our Prague office. There were many people, both inside and outside of our firm, who told me that you have to control your employees and that flexible working structures would not work. My answer was that if you trust your people to do the best work for the clients, you also have to trust that they will work the same from home, from the office, or from their holiday house. You cannot imprison people in the office and expect them to feel empowered and trusted. So, when the pandemic hit us this past spring, not much had to change in the way we work; we adapted well to working predominantly from home. We are now planning to move to new and bigger offices next year, which will be fully agile and provide people with multiple options of how and where they can work. And I am happy that the trust in our people has allowed us to implement this important change.
Last year, I discussed the pricing structure on a deal with a colleague of mine from an Asian country, and he said that the competitors would offer low hourly rates to win the tender but would invoice more hours than they really worked to make the project profitable for them. We agreed that this is something we would never do, and we put in a realistic fee quote that reflected the actual scope of work and realistic time expectations. We lost the pitch – but I later learned that a couple of months after they won the mandate the partner from the wining firm had been arrested for corruption (in an unrelated matter). And I again realized how important it is to trust your values. It would have been tempting to win the mandate by being dishonest with our fees, but it would be against our values. And I believe that trusting your values will, in the long run, always prevail over short-term benefits.
And the last example, which is fairly visible at this time, shows us how important it is to trust in facts and science. Since February we have been facing one of the greatest pandemics in modern history. You hear and see a lot of disinformation and conspiracy theories on the Internet and among people. I am a big believer in facts, science, and numbers. You see in many countries in our region – as across the Western world – that many populist politicians do not act based on facts because many of their voters do not trust the facts; they want to trust their common sense, but the solutions to complex problems are often counter-intuitive.
All these examples show me how important it is to build trust with others, to trust your own values, and to trust the facts. It is often difficult, but for me, always worth trying.
By Prokop Verner, Partner, Allen & Overy