Sowing seeds of trust–slowly

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

After Charalambos Vlachoutsicos advised a private equity fund to invest in a Romanian flour mill, the real challenge began. Suspicious of the mill’s new owners, the Romanian employees worried they’d be laid off.

In an attempt to allay their fears, Vlachoutsicos and his team left the local staff in place. They also instructed the mill’s Romanian managers to adopt an internal auditing system used by the mill’s new parent company in Greece. The Romanians resisted, claiming that Vlachoutsicos wanted to impose the new auditing system because he didn’t trust them.

He tried to reason with them and assure them that the Greek stock market required its member firms to use the system.

A Romanian friend warned Vlachoutsicos, “The more you try to convince them with words, the more sus­­­­picious they become.”

Heeding his friend’s advice, Vlachoutsicos says he “stopped talking and started thinking and acting.” He embraced transparency, sharing the mill’s monthly financial data with the Romanian managers.

Four months later, he took three Romanian managers to Greece so that they could see how the mill’s parent firm used the auditing system. The Romanians realized the benefits of the system—and concluded it had nothing to do with lack of trust in their work.

 “At first they found it hard to openly admit in writing their omissions and failures,” he recalls. But they learned that by monitoring their own productivity, they gained a better sense of how they could improve.

— Adapted from “Increase Accountability Without Incurring Distrust,” Charalambos Vlachoutsicos.

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