The Apprentice Week 9 – Ready, Steady, Gone

The Apprentice Week 9, Ready, Steady, Gone

Alex, courtesy of BBC

Alex, courtesy of BBC

This week, our 7 remaining candidates had to design a ready meal and pitch it to 3 leading retailers. The results were interesting. One team got the packaging right, but the product was poor, and the other team got the opposite results.

It seemed like Karma that the big egos, and even bigger mouths, of Luisa, Neil and Francesca were working together in the Group of Death. Neil took on role of PM, and his first decision was to allow Luisa to convince him that Francesca should do the meal preparation (despite protesting that she never cooks). Luisa, who runs a cake business, claimed she doesn’t do savoury. This was later shown to be untrue. This left Lu and Neil (who don’t get on) to do the brand work.  The team decided on a fusion theme, blending Caribbean and Thai.

Alex finally got a chance to be PM, as he was appointed by Lord Sugar to lead Myles, Leah and Jordan. Myles and Alex worked on the theme and brand, with Jordan and Leah doing the preparation and testing.

Alex pushed hard for an educational geography theme, based on meals from around the world. Myles wanted a horror Theme that would appeal to children. Myles chipped away at Alex, who eventually caved in. Alex reasoned that as Myles has children, he couldn’t ignore his instinct. This proved to be a mistake, as it would cost the team the task.

Over in The Group of Death, Francesca proved she is no cook when she managed to produce the most bland meal, and got feedback in testing that it was neither Caribbean or Thai. Francesca had followed Lu’s recipe (yes, she can cook) but her lack of confidence / experience meant she was unable or unwilling to adjust the flavour. The impossible happened, and I found myself feeling sorry for Francesca! Surprisingly, peace was declared between Lu and Neil and their branding was half decent.

At least there was cohesion in their group. Marketing guru Myles, now leading the brand team, pushed for packaging that the kids loved. The kids also loved the product, so it must be a winner right? No. My sixteen year old son pointed out that it is parents, not children, who buy the food. Going for packaging that appealed to the children, including a skull more usually associated with poison, was a fatal error. So good product, but the wrong packaging.

In the pitches, Neil made the best of a bad job by telling retailers the product would be improved if they placed order! Eh? In the real world, the retailers would say come back when you have a finished product, but this is not the real world.

Jordan saved the pitching for the other team, where PM Alex took a back seat, and first Myles and then Leah were poor.

In the boardroom, Neil’s strategy won as they secured the most orders. Poor product, Good packaging, Clever Pitching. Not real world, but the Group of Death lives on. Luisa was even praised by Karen for her improved / toned down performance.

In the losing Team, Jordan comes out with most praise and is excused from the FInal Three. PM Alex sees Myles as to blame, and wants it to be a Final Two. If only he’d been that decisive in the task. Sugar’s having none of it, and Leah has to come back too.

Anyone watching the programme would agree that Myles was to blame. Alex went against his instinct based on sound logic (Myles experience in marketing and the fact he is a parent). Of course, Sugar has his own agenda and ignores the facts. Alex is fired, less for his performance this week and more because Sugar feels he is too young, and changes his mind / direction too easily. This may be a fair assessment of Alex, but based on the task, it is Myles who should have gone.

Jordan continues to shine, but Neil and Myles took backward steps this week; Neil for putting Francesca in the kitchen (surely Luisa working on her own in her area of expertise was a gift opportunity?). Luisa actually looks a better candidate, but her refusal to work in the kitchen shows that actually the leopard hasn’t changed it’s spots.

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The Apprentice Week 8 – Functional or Dysfunctional?

The Apprentice Week 8 – Functional or Dysfunctional?

courtesy of BBC

courtesy of BBC

What next for The Apprentice? After last week’s double firing and the ongoing personality clashes, the candidates in this year’s programme are certainly standing out, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

This week, it was a case of functional versus dysfunctional.This was in relation not only to the contrasting team dynamics, but also to the website of winning PM Jordan. The opposite team, led by Jason was the epitome of dysfunctional, with 4 individuals all pulling in different directions. Not only did they lost the task, but along the way they lost a PM.

Jordan led a team with clear focus, direction and teamwork, giving a master class in project management and leading form the back through effective delegation. Or as Sugar seemed to categorise it, hiding at the back. The main criticism of their dating website was that it was too corporate and at odds with the rest of the campaign and the light hearted advertisement. This could have been an issue, but in the end Jordan came out as competent if not exciting.

Jason volunteered for the unenviable task of leading the strong personalities of Neil, Francesca and Luisa. He championed the idea of a dating site for over 50s, but wanted it to have the energy of a site for over 30s. The over 50s idea was received with lukewarm enthusiasm by the team, principally due to the fact that they had little knowledge of the market.

Mistake number one by Jason was to pair himself with Luisa. She has proved to be a real snake in the grass, with a massive ego and no scruples. While they worked on  argued over the logo, Neil and Francesca set off to do some market research.

Mistake number two was allowing the research to be done with a blank piece of paper and to a small number of people. Jason had a clear vision, and this should have been tested by offering choices, not asking for general opinions. This reflected the lack of comfort with the idea by the sub team. This led to a conflict between the vision that Jason had and what the poor research suggested the customer wanted. At this point, Jason, seemed to lose interest in the project and stopped fighting his corner.

Mistake number 3 was in Jason’s leadership at this point. He effectively wrote a suicide note when he stepped down as PM due to Luisa’s constant sniping. His time management didn’t help, and brought out the worst in Luisa’s Driving Social Style. I’m convinced this was because the project was going in a direction his heart told him was wrong. He needed to be stronger and stick to his idea. In the end he put the team first, which is praise worthy, but looks weak to Sugar who would never do this. Luisa gets her wish to lead the team, and Jason slips back into the role he is most comfortable with – team player.

The rest of the task proceeds without too much incident, though the pitch from Luisa was a mistake and Neil would have been better based on past experience.

In the boardroom, it is revealed that  the Jason / Luisa experiment  didn’t work and they lose the task.

Mistake number 4 was Jason bringing Francesca instead of Neil. Neil would probably have supported Jason to get rid of Luisa, who he may see as more of a rival in the long term. In the end, the girls gang up on Jason, and although neither comes out well, especially Luisa, who is now in the last chance saloon, it is Jason who is, with regret, fired.

The question is not so much was it right that Jason was fired, but rather whether he should ever have been in the programme. I think Jason allows corporate life to hold a mirror up to itself. The contrast between his thoroughly decent behaviour and that of the more obvious, selfish candidates allows us to decide whether we would want to work in corporate life.

For me, it reinforces my decision to go it alone and set up my own business.

The Call Centre – Different Strokes for Different Folks

The Call Centre – Different Strokes for Different Folks

MP910216392Amongst the jolly japes going on in this week’s episode of The Call Centre (organising Strictly Come Prancing, a piss up in a brewery and a football match against a rival Call Centre in Cardiff) we saw that the management of “Saving Britain Money” does have teeth.

The focus of this change of style was Chickenhead and his mate, Griff. Both have been superstars in the call centre, hitting bonus on a regular basis. But in this episode we see that Chickenhead in particular has “lost his Mojo” and is starting to drift. It was reassuring to see this dealt with in an appropriate way, as the Call Centre Manager is brought in to do a bit of Performance Management. his style, in contrast to the paternalistic Nev is much more business like. One can imagine that being called into a meeting with him is a warning in itself. Chickenhead takes his verbal warning on the chin, but it does not appear to make any difference.

This leads to an intervention from Nev.He uses his knowledge of Chickenhead to design an incentive to give him his Mojo back. He uses Chickenhead’s love of football to get him to organise a match with a rival call centre in Cardiff. Although his team loses, in a tight mstch decided by penalties, the process of organising such a prestige event so well seems to have the desired effect, At tleast in the short term.

It will be interesting to see how this classic use of away motivation (stick or in this case, the disciplinary process) and towards motivation (carrot or in this case, trust and recognition to organise the football team) works for Chickenhead. I guess we will finfd out over the next few weeks.

It was reassuring to see that the image of an anarchic organisation that makes up its own rules is not quite the full picture. Nev’s enthusiasm and unorthodox approach is coupled with a clear performance management policy and senior managers who are happy to use it. This is how it should be in every organisation. Individuals need to know what is expected from them and to be held to account to deliver those things.

The Apprentice Week 7- Caravan of Love

The Apprentice Week 7 – Caravan of Love

Your fired

This series of The Apprentice is really standing out for me. Not for the quality of the candidates, as of the original 16 only a few seem to have anything to offer. No, for me it is the more overt personality clashes. We expect this in the interview segments, but even in the tasks it is clear that some people can barely tolerate each other.

We’re back to a selling task this week. The theme is holidaying and recreation, specifically around caravanning. They have to identify items to sell at a camping and caravanning expo.

Neil joins Evolve as PM to balance the numbers. In Endeavour, Kurt gets the nod, due to experience of caravan holidays, over Alex who also wanted his chance. He is disappointed to be overlooked and displays a bit of immature petulance.

Both teams seem bemused by the choice and function of the available items and can’t disguise their contempt for the whole idea of caravan holidays. They also observe that the demographic at this expo are generally the retired, over 55s.

First task, they have to be able to convince the designers / suppliers to allow them to sell their accessories. Myles in particular excels with enthusiasm and insincerity in equal measures. Luisa performs the same task in Evolve.  Both teams find it difficult to get the designers to move on price. But Leah and Natalie, working with Myles,  push hard for a discount, with no joy.

Eventually both teams go for the same items, an electric bike and children’s box.  Despite Myles charm, Endeavour get both products. Leah’s  lack of enthusiasm and pushing hard for discounts is blamed by Myles. As alternatives, they are left with  the boat box and a camping chair.

In a great example of contrastive analysis, Neil and Jason work together to source a high ticket item. Neither seems able to stand the other. Eventually, they opt for the folding camper. sold on the sales potential by the designer,  as it is targeted at the older customer and sales have been steady at the expo.

Kurt and Jason are also working together. and go for the higher priced retro camper. This is an interesting choice, given that it is aimed at the 35-45 ages group, and there aren’t many of them around.

When it comes to selling, Neil shows his experience and seta targets and wants to see competition. Kurt divides up to team and chooses Myles to sell the camper van, despite Alex’ wanting to do it. Again, Alex is not happy.

Jason’s “camp” style seems to go over well with the punters, who are mostly older, and he makes the first big ticket sales. Myles finds selling the retro camper difficult, but even his charm can’t sell an item aimed at 35 year olds to an audience of over 50s.

Both PMs struggle to get their own sales going, as does Jordan, but Natalie and Jason flourish selling their accessories. Leah sells one of the boat-roof boxes and towards the end of the day, she is drafted by PM Kurt to try and sell the retro camper. His strategy here is to use Leah as eye candy, but she is brought in too late.  Leah nearly gets a sale, but runs out of time. Neil gets a late sale for the folding camper.

In the boardroom, Myles blames Leah for them not getting their preferred items and is supported by Natalie. Alex reiterates his unhappiness about being frozen out. Endeavour is clearly not a happy ship.

In Evolve, Neil reviews his sales plan, in particular why he rejected the retro camper because it was wrong for the demographic they were selling to. He is proved to be correct,when it is revealed that they sold 3 of the folding campers and outsold Endeavour on the accessory items. Not surprisingly, Endeavour sold no retro campers.

So Evolve wins, and Neil has to be given credit on a number of fronts; his business skills in rejecting the the retro camper, and his overall team management. Despite getting neither of the accessories they wanted, they still outsold Endeavour.

As Evolve are leaving, Jason is called back to be congratulated by Sugar for selling one of the folding campers. We’ve waited a long time for Jason to be anything other than good TV, but he did well in this task.

Back in the boardroom, the dysfunctional nature of Endeavour is revealed. Kurt realises his position is weak,  and is rightly criticised for choosing the retro camper over the folding camper. Fingers are pointed in every direction. Leah is horrified when Nick reveals that she was brought across to sell the retro camper as “eye candy”. Maybe this is why he makes the bizarre choice to bring back Natalie and Alex into the final 3, despite the fact that Leah was blamed for scaring the designers off with her pushy negotiations and Myles sold nothing?

Sugar wonders if Kurt is bringing Natalie back for tactical reasons (she is in the last chance saloon) and challenges Kurt on this. Both Alex and Natalie put up a robust defence, but Alex is partly blamed for the choice of products.

Not surprisingly, it is Kurt who is fired. Not only did he bring the wrong people back into the boardroom,  but his choices throughout the task have been poor. Sugar does spring a late surprise and Natalie is fired also, just when she may have thought she had got away with it.

This week has been a bit of a leveller, with Neil looking a strong candidate. His instinct for business is good, and he is a strong leader. Jason has also finally shown he has a little ability, but both Jordan and Myles were poor and Alex’ lack of maturity came through. For the girls, I’m losing confidence in my early favourite Leah and Luisa still has plenty to prove.

The Call Centre Week 2 – SWSWSWN

MP910216392The Call Centre – SWSWSWN

This week at the “Save Britain Money” Call Centre in Swansea the focus is even more on personality.

Last week we got an insight into Nev Wishire’s style of leadership. Nev is an extrovert, and the programme suggests he likes to surround himself with similar outgoing personalities.  Of course, expressive personalities make for better television than the more reflective, introverted style, so it is hard to know how much of what we see is down to editing and how much is real? This week we see examples of how this preference can create issues and burn out. But do you agree with Nev’s approach? Well, as the man himself likes to say “Some Will, Some Won’t, So what? Next (SWSWSWN).

We see Nev’s Paternalistic Leadership Style  in action once again this week but with mixed results. First, he tries to rescue high maintenance, poor attendee, but occasional top sales performer Ania, who has anxiety issues. We saw a similar approach  last week with Hayley, who was promoted (?)  to tea lady after her sales started to slip. Hayley seems to thrive in this less demanding role, so Nev tries to repeat his success with Ania, by making her a tea lady, doing a 2 week holiday cover. This time it doesn’t work out and she ends up leaving.

Nev’s efforts to help Ania are contrasted with his attempts to get George a date. The programme makers would have us believe that George is atypical in Nev’s Call Centre. Nev himself describes George as a hard worker, a slogger and dependable. So, he’s a bit more steady in his sales, but with fewer peaks and troughs than the more excitable Ania. Unfortunately for George, who didn’t ask for Nev’s help, the scheme backfires, with even desperate-for-a-husband Alex turning him down. It is interesting to see how Nev equates George’s lack of success in getting a date (6 years and counting) to his lack of confidence. It is more likely that working in an environment with so many extroverts he is not going to find someone to like him for who he is.

Can we conclude anything from these vignettes? Nev is passionate about creating a “unique atmosphere” in his call centre. This is characterised by energy and enthusiasm, something that extroverts can deliver in abundance. The difficulty is maintaining that energy, and the programme concentrates on the lengths that the management team, led with gusto by Nev, go to keep the energy up; from speed dating, to a rock band, to a Voice of Wales Call Centres competition. It is probably necessary to have a mixture of extroverts (Anias) and introverts (Georges); the former give the centre energy and drive activity, the latter give a solid performance foundation that is more predictable in terms of results.

The third theme of this week is in relation to The voice of Wales Call Centres, and there is success for Save Britain Money, as former actress Heledd is successful, firstly in the centre and then in the whole competition. Heledd is actually somewhere between the extremes of personality seen in Ania and George. She has the confidence of the extroverts and the measured approach of the introverts and is successful with it. The 300 word poem she composes to win the competition is superb and she also demonstrates a knowledge of the fundamental premise of selling; focus on the benefits to the customer, not the features.

Extroverts, like Ania and Hayley bring energy to organisations, but their performance is often characterised by peaks and troughs. Introverts like George provide a steady, but unspectacular performance. But it is those who sit somewhere in the middle, like Heledd, who posibly represent the best bet in sales. Heledd is the current face and voice of Call Centres in Wales and is the perfect choice.

30 skills a teacher should have

This may be a couple of years old, but is still relevant. At least half of this list apply to Trainers as well as Teachers

In the pICTure

Yesterday a member of our team pointed me at this interesting post on the ‘30 skills every IT person should have‘ and asked what I thought. Well most of the points in the list made a lot of sense and as an ‘IT Manager’ of sorts, I hope I scored pretty well (you’ll have to ask my colleague how I really measure up!). But since most of my career was spent in the classroom, it also got me wondering what a similar list for teachers might look like. So I thought I’d use the original list as a starting point (Hope Richard the author doesn’t mind; there are after all some universals on there) and adapt where necessary. Here’s my stab at it:

  1. Model learning … often.Apprenticeship worked for hundreds of years and still does. If you want your students to become better learners, show them how…

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The Apprentice Week 6 – Child’s Play

The Apprentice Week 6 – Child’s Play

Kick MeThe teams are tasked with organising corporate team building away day this week. The task will be judged on customer satisfaction and value for money (£5000).

Sugar mixes up the teams and decides on the PMs again. Miles goes to Endeavour, where Leah is PM. Francesca is appointed PM of Evolve.

As a professional trainer, the key to success in training events (of which this is an example) is to start with what you want the participants to understand, agree with or do after the event. This has to come from  the client. Only when you know where you are going, can you design games, exercises etc to take you there. Unfortunately, both teams went for a theme first, and both teams suffered as a result. Evolve go for a school theme, and for Endeavour, Leah ignores the vote and pushes for a history theme.

Leah’s sub-team is then late for a meeting with the corporate client (Barclays), because she is still arguing about the theme. Her pitch for a medieval theme is wooly, to say the least. Meanwhile the other half of the team try to source activities such as archery, whilst squeezing the costs. Leah then decides that a military theme is more likely to meet the client need to improve communication. This just reinforces the point that deciding on the theme is secondary to the point of the away-day.

The rest of the day shows the various sub-teams bitching about each other and what tasks to do. Again, there is no evidence  of the learning coming before the task. Having fun seems more important than developing communication skills, which the client has requested.

At the end of the day, the teams get together to discuss progress. and it is clear that both teams have issues with focus and direction. Neil persuades / bullies Leah into allowing him to do the motivational speech, whereas Francesca insists on bringing in a professional costing £600.

Next day, the teams set up and run their events. The reaction of the participants suggests that they are struggling to see the point of the various games (as are we). However, for Endeavour, Miles and, especially Neil, step up here and rescue the task by linking in themes of communication and listening to the games. There is no such link or joined up thinking in Evolve.

In the boardroom, both teams are asked to refund the client. Endeavour are asked to give a refund of 25% due to no contingency for rain. Similarly a £1250 refund for Evolve due to lack of business focus. This reflects how poorly designed the days were by both teams.

Endeavour win and Neil comes in for special praise from the client. He has proved to be the difference between the teams.

Francesca decides to bring back Luisa(doesn’t like the Corporate world)  and Rebecca (pushed for the professional speaker and the wine challenge). Francesca is challenged on why she brought Luisa back. Luisa’s attitude is challenged by Sugar. In the end Sugar describes Luisa as a “bombshell”(?).  The failure of the task is attributed to Francesca’s poor  leadership, but it is Rebecca who is fired, as her only contribution was to champion the more expensive items (wine and professional speaker). This is a bit harsh, as it is unclear who could have done the speaking from within Evolve. Overall Rebecca has been a weak candidate, but this week, Francesca should have gone.

Of the surviving candidates, Neal has to be taken seriously, as does Miles. Leah has had a bad couple of weeks and needs a strong performance in the coming weeks. Luisa is a dead (wo)man walking, and Jason is still only there for comic relief.

The Call Centre – Smiley, Happy People (Sell)

The Call Centre – Smiley Happy People (Sell)

negotiationWelcome to a new fly-on-the-wall documentary series which follows the staff of a Call Centre in Swansea. This programme is going to split opinion, as 10 years on from The Office, we see that David Brent is alive and kicking in the form of Nev Wilshire, CEO.

Although he claims never to seen The Office, Nev appears to have the same leadership philosophy; “Happy People Sell”. Its hard to know what impact the cameras have, but the staff working for Nev appear to love him. I’m sure his approach is marmite, and those who stay thrive in it. Those who don’t leave. We did see Nev’s “gut feel” approach to recruitment in action, where he is apparently more interested in character and personality than ability. This approach is consistent with Nev’s yellow/Expressive Social Style. That the business is thriving suggests he’s on to something.

What Nev does have is a clear vision of the type of organisation he wants (“Happy People Sell”) and the values that spring from this vision; energy, fun, and loyalty. Each of these values is illustrated in the programme;

  • energy with Nev getting the new recruits to start their training with a compulsory karaoke  of The Killer’s “Mr Bright Side”
  • fun with the speed dating set up to get Kayleigh in admin happy again
  • and loyalty to Hayley, who cannot cut it as a telesales agent, but finds her niche as the tea lady

On the evidence of the programme, it is shown to have some success, but encouraging laddish behaviour is also shown to have its downsides. Witness a prank taken too far with Hayley’s teabags, sugar and spoons being hidden from her. The joke is carried on too long and she ends up going to her line manager in tears. Neve states that HR “totally despair of me” and exist to keep him (and everyone else) on the straight and narrow.

This was a good first episode which soon progressed from The Office to a more meditative essay on management and leadership and the cost of running your own business. Nev has had his up and downs (millionaire at 28, business failure at 38, successful but divorced at 53) . It becomes obvious that his work is his life, and he acts like a benevolent parent to his children/staff. I can’t wait to see how this series develops over its 5 week run.