The Apprentice 2015 Week 1 – Nice Guys Finish First

The Apprentice 2015 Week 1 – Nice Guys Finish First

The Apprentice returned to BBC1 screens this week with 18 scarily enthusiastic and self-believing candidates, just in time for Halloween. Not only that, but we had the even scarier prospect of the ghost of The Apprentice past (Claude Littner) replacing Nick Hewer as one set of Lord Sugar’s “eyes on the task”. I suspect that some of Claude’s frightening reputation will be diminished in his new role. Just like (Bruce) the shark in “Jaws”, the more you see of Claude in this series, the less scary he will become. This is because fear of Claude is based on the way he has cross examined candidates and destroyed their self esteem through pithy put downs. The problem here is that Claude is a silent observer. We, the audience, get the benefit of his opinions, but the teams are protected. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

Carrying on the horror movie theme, just like in a slasher movie, I am not inclined to spend too much time examining each of the 18 candidates. Some will be dispatched and fade from our memory minutes after they have been fired and appeared on “You’re Fired” (by the way, Jack Dee is an excellent choice of host to replace Dara O’Briain). The editor of Week 1 agreeed, because only about 9 of the 18 got any significant air time. Unfortunately, some of those we did see were not very impressive.

The task this week was to buy fish from Billingsgate Market and turn it into lunch time snacks to sell. The team with the biggest profit wins.

Lord Sugar made things interesting by mixing up the teams. Rather than starting with the usual gender based teams, 3 boys and 3 girls made the move to mix things up. We ended up with a blue team (they wore blue overalls for the task) called Versatile and a yellow team (you guessed it, yellow overalls) called Connexus (because if you sat it fast it, you know, “connects-us”). I’ll stick to blue and yellow.

In Blue, it was a case of everyone take a step backwards when selecting Project Manager. Selena Waterman-Smith was last to do this and, reluctantly, became PM. The scramble to avoid being PM in both teams will embarrass some candidates as they watched this episode, but over in Yellow, Driving-style April Jackson was decisive, volunteered and was swiftly accepted before she could change her mind. Actually, changing her mind was not something we saw a lot of from April in this episode. Selena on the other hand was indecisive, but even0handed with it.

April decided that fish cakes and Salad Niçoise would be the products Yellow would sell and immediately cut off any other opinions. Over in Blue, the team eventually agreed on Calamari and fish finger sandwich, without much direction from Selena. Claude observed Blue and Karen followed Yellow.

The rest of the task went more or less as expected – April making all of the key decisions for Yellow without any obvious consultation or strategy. For instance, Yellow bought the first tuna they came across; no checking of alternative options, no negotiating. Typical of the Driving-style (from Social Styles) it was all about results and keeping to time. Quick decisions, few facts. Over in Blue there was more delegation but also more indecision. Ex-Royal Navy (but now running her own hair and beauty salon) Blue team member Charleine Wain took control of some of the decisions, but the whole thing was much more democratic. The decision to buy the cheapest squid proved a poor choice, but using coley as a cheaper alternative to cod showed an eye for a profit.

So the scene was set; two different leadership styles (autocratic Yellow, democratic Blue). Which would win out? Fortunately, Blue made the better choices (location, pricing, delegation of tasks) and despite carrying a few Muppets (Mergim Butaja trying to sell fish to a vegan restaurant comes to mind) they managed to turn a profit of £200, despite, the calamari going off and having to be disposed of because it hadn’t been kept below 5 Celsius!

In Blue, the editing focused on three characters; April’s leadership style (her non-negotiable pricing strategy was laughable – £9 for a tuna salad), team leader in the kitchen Brett Butler-Smythe (also ex-navy, but obsessed with following the “specifications” [sic] of the recipe) and hapless Dan Callaghan – who owned up to not being able to sell or cook in the boardroom. It was no surprise when we discovered they made a profit of only £1.87 [sic]! Yellow missed the lunch time rush because Brett (organising and preparing fish cakes) and Dan (in charge of calculations for ingredients) took too long to prepare the fish cakes and didn’t produce enough.

Fired this week - Dan Callaghan

Fired this week – Dan Callaghan

Having lost the task, it was no surprise that April brought Dan and Brett back with her. Brett and April fought their corner, but nice guy Dan as just too honest (and naïve in admitting to his short comings), so it was natural that he was fired. However, Brett and April were both lucky. They were worse than Dan and will have to learn soon or face being fired. Dan at least was a nice guy and seemed intelligent. But, in The Apprentice, nice guy’s get to finish (the series) first.

The Apprentice 2014 Week 8 – Hot Water

Home-spaThe Apprentice 2014 Week 8 – Hot Water

This week on The Apprentice may prove to be a watershed for many of the candidates, with poor leadership and fear of defeat provoking candidates to reveal more of their real selves.

The task was to sell 2 debut products at the Bath and West Country Show, along with one established product. In Summit, multiple business owner James Hill persuaded his team mates that he has the passion and drive to be PM. For Tenacity, lawyer Felipe Alviar-Baquero is preferred to fitness entrepreneur Katie Bulmer-Cooke who also put herself forward.

The contrast in Leadership styles is plain to see throughout the episode, with neither PM covering themselves in glory. Felipe has a cool, approach, using analysis to correctly identify what to sell and who should work together. Unfortunately, he struggled to manage the ongoing conflict between pub quiz company director Daniel Lassman and digital marketing sales manager Mark Wright. James, on the other hand, made decision on intuition. Both end up with unhappy teams and there is no doubt whoever lost the task would be in for a bumpy ride in the boardroom.

In the end it was two members of the Tenacity team that ensured they got a massive win; firstly Katie, who is paired with Daniel, coached him to take a softer approach in negotiations after two pushy meetings, and they secure their first choice established product, Hot Tubs. Secondly, Mark manipulated Felipe, with whom he has spend the first day identifying 2 debut products, to allow him, not Daniel, to sell the Hot Tubs. This was a high risk strategy, which completely derailed Daniel who went into full blown meltdown on Day 2 (selling). There is no way he would have survived if Tenacity had lost the task, but Mark would have been vulnerable too. However, they won with 10 Hot Tubs sold, including 7 to one customer sold by Mark. Katie was impressive throughout the task, as was Mark when selling. Felipe was too nice and spent the day arguing with Daniel to such an extend that it kept customers away and they sold little.

Over in Summit. James showed his immaturity and, possibly, his true nature. He completely ignored the recommendation of the sub-team sourcing debut items to sell, despite not seeing the items, and refused to discuss why. This left the sub-team to sell items they didn’t believe in (folding wellies and a swinging chair). Not surprisingly, they struggled. Next, he completely ignored any advice from accountant Roisin Hogan, and his wide boy approach cost them the chance to sell  the Hot Tubs he desired. They end up selling Tractors, mostly due to James’ lack of attention to detail. He even managed to call the Hot Tub customer by the wrong name! Where is Felipe when you need him?

Autocratic doesn’t quite capture James leadership style; people had more freedom in the Soviet Union than the team members in Summit! In an amazing development, James commanded Roisin not to tell the sub-team that they lost out on the Hot Tubs, but to allow him to tell the team he changed his mind. She reluctantly agreed, but said she won’t lie if asked directly. In the end, the fact doesn’t come out until the boardroom. James showed himself to be immature, self serving with no regard for the team, with dubious ethics and deluded.

In the boardroom,  it is revealed that Tenacity had won the task. Daniel is saved and Mark’s profile is strengthened, but it is Katie who made the most telling contribution overall, with her timely coaching and back seat leading of the team at key moments.

Sugar informs Roisin that he wants to hear from her, and she gives it with both barrels. Roisin delivers a passionate, well argued and evidenced dissection of James’ (lack of ) leadership. She is brought back into the final three by James for her “attitude” along with Sanjay Sood-Smith, who again failed to contribute much, barely selling anything. The only surprise is that Sanjay survives, as this is nor merited, but inevitably James is fired. Right to the end, James is trying to manipulate Sugar into

James Hill - autocratic leader, was fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

James Hill – autocratic leader, was fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

a stay of execution, playing the victim and sharing that he started with nothing. We’ve seen Sugar manipulated in this way before (Baggs the Brand, anyone?) but though he is fired “with regret”, he is still fired. Rightly so. He has been great TV but was found out many weeks ago.

So, 8 candidates remain. For me, Katie is the best all round candidate, with Mark and Roisin looking strong. Daniel, Felipe and Sanjay are dead men walking. Solomon, who again used his charm to sell, and Bianca are yet to convince me.

The Apprentice 2014 – Week 1- Poisoned Chalice

lord-sugar4The Apprentice 2014 Week 1 Poisoned Chalice.

The Apprentice returned this week, slightly later in the year than usual, but with a bumper cast for its 10th Anniversary. Yes, we have 20 Candidates at the start of the series, but with only 12 weeks of competition, expect a regular occurrence of multiple firings.

The Candidates consist of the usual motley crue from assorted backgrounds, both commercial (several business owners) and non commercial (social workers, lawyer). I won’t go into detail, as it would just take too long, but you can check them out here. What did strike me from Episode 1, in which the teams (boys v girls) had to maximise the profits by selling a variety of items, was just how weird the bunch are. Let’s be honest, this is TV, and Reality TV at that, so they have been recruited for their personality as much as for their business idea, possibly more so. But the first task was like watching a car crash in slow motion!

Task 1 is usually a poisoned chalice. Here are a few tips for surviving Task 1;

  • Never volunteer to be project manager, as you don’t know the team yet
  • If you do end up being PM, do a quick audit of strengths in relation to the task and try to allocate people to their strengths. This was a challenge in this task with 9 team mates you’ve just met
  • Get everyone to understand that if you cooperate and win the task, no-one in the team will get fired.

In Task 1 the boys’ (now called Summit) PM was Columbian lawyer Felipe Alviar-Baquero and he demonstrated excellent organisation and management skills, but too much trust in his appointment as sub-team leader  Chiles Cartwright. Chiles had a different approach (more autocratic) and despite already running several successful businesses, some pretty poor business decisions. In the end, in fighting with former social worker  Steven Ugoalah and a cock-up with selling tee shirts cost the boys the task. Steven is very annoying, but he did have some valid points to make about the tee shirts. Unfortunately, no one was prepared to listen to him. He will need to adapt or die.

The girls (running with team name Decadent) were led by ex-PA Sarah Dales whose idea of strategy was to get the girls to glam up (yes really) and wear short skirts. See what I mean about the candidates? The girls didn’t really win the task, so much as benefit from the incompetence and in-fighting amongst the boys. On this performance, Sarah is unlikely to last long.

Once it was revealed that the boys had lost the task, Sugar rumbled that there was a plan to point the finger at Steven and more or less told them not to bring him back. Given the debacle with the tee shirts (poor planning, none sold) Felipe brought back Chiles. He also brought back Robert Goodwin, who has ambitions in high fashion and dresses accordingly. His mistake was to try to glam up the hot dog sausages, which was ridiculed by Sugar. His card was marked by Sugar, but he survived as did Felipe for being generally ok. In the end Chiles was fired. Based on what we saw it was the right decision. The girls got off relatively lightly, though they were instructed to change the team name.

Courtesy of BBC

Chiles Cartwright. Fired in Week 1. Courtesy of BBC

Early Star I was impressed with Aussie Digital Sales manager Mark Wright


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.

Margaret Thatcher; Saviour or Style Victim?

margaret_thatcherMargaret Thatcher; Saviour or Style Victim?

The death of Margaret Thatcher has brought a deluge of comment and opinion (just try googling her name). But what type of leader was Margaret Thatcher? Was she a Saviour, as some people have suggested, or the Devil made flesh? To me, Thatcher was a victim of Style. Communication or Social Style that is.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece on the Driving Social Style, as typified by Lords Alan Sugar. You read about this style here . In that article, I mentioned that Margaret Thatcher is the other (stereo)typical example of the Driving Style; needing to be in control, hiding their emotions, apparently cold and, even, uncaring, with a strong preference to get the job done, even at the expense of relationships. With an expression like “the Lady’s not for turning” you almost get the mission statement for the Driving Style.

Several of the comments from people who actually knew her, rather than just being exposed to her public persona, have said that  although she could appear hard in public, in private she had a caring side. This was evidenced by her apparently personally writing to the families of every serviceman who died in the Falkland’s crisis. Maybe what we saw is not exactly who she was, but it is natural that we judge a person by what they do. This is where the Saviour or Demon labels come in; it depends where you are looking at that behaviour from, and how it relates to your personal values.

Margaret Thatcher may have been disliked by many people (possibly even hated) but the majority of commentators have indicated that, even amongst her enemies, she was respected. Interestingly, she is possibly more revered outside of the UK than in it, and she certainly defined a certain British image associated with her time as Prime Minister.

But what of her legacy? What impact did her style have on those who followed? John Major is the archetypal Analytical Style; Blair is harder to pin down, being either versatile or inconsistent, depending on how you look at it, but probably responds more to “people” than either of his predecessors. As such, Blair is possibly an Amiable, with a strong need for acceptance and wanting to achieve consensus. His body language, is however, ambiguous and hard to read.

Gordon Brown is another Analytical in the mold of Major, and this style is the really cool and aloof one, though attention to detail is a strength, which is why history may say both Brown and Major were better Chancellors than PMs. Neither were blessed with great charisma. Blair had Charisma, but more style than substance? Perhaps.

David Cameron is interesting, as he is somewhere between Blair and Major. Amiable-Analytical perhaps? Like Thatcher, he is leading the country at a difficult time, but seems to want to project an image of someone who makes tough decisions, but with compassion. Time will tell if this genuine, or  not, as the majority of public opinion on Blair seems to believe.

For me, Margaret Thatcher defined my youth and early career. I learned a lot form observing her leadership style. What works and what doesn’t. Thatcher possibly lacked versatility and was a victim of her style, but this undoubtedly helped her to achieve what successes she had. It also probably hindered her from taking more people with her on the journey.


The Apprentice 2012 Week 2 – Girls do a Stirling job of self-destruction

The Apprentice 2012 Week 2 – Girls do a Stirling job of self-destruction

Second task, second loss, and Maria – she of the bizarre eye-liner – pays the price. In reality (TV) we sat observing not one, but two car crashes in this week’s Appentice.

The task was to design a new gadget and pitch it. Simple you might think, but what we really learned this week was that this bunch of “Britain’s Next Great Entrepreneur wannabes” are anything but. This was an opportunity for individuals to shine by coming up with something new or better than is already out there. Remember, this is how Sugar made his name – looking at the market trends and coming up with a (cheaper) alternative and making money out of it. Instead as one of the boys said they “invented the bin” (actually a food waste ecompactor) and the girls ignored the market research and gave children the means to write on the bathroom wall with felt tip pens.

The whole thing was a shambles. For Phoenix, Azhar volunteered as PM and the atmosphere was lively, but upbeat and they quickly agreed to Duane’s food waste compactor idea. Apparently.

In Stirling, Jane and Katie (no doubt aware that she needs to be seen to contribute more) pitched for the role and immediately battle lines were drawn. Jane got it and described her style as “leading not following” and that even her son calls her “bossy”. She lived up to this description. Jane introduced lots of structure to ensure control and focus, as her Driving style tends to do. Unfortunately the girls coundn’t come up with any ideas for a long time, before Laura suggested something to stop water splashing at kiddy bath time. Surely this is what makes kids want to have a bath? The second choice was pillow/cosy/ tap cover.

Both teams set up sub teams to do market research, and promptly chose to ignore what people told them. However, they each did it in their own way. For the boys, Adam led a mutiny against the compactor, not voiced earlier, and suggested scourer-Marigolds. He then selectively ignored any negative comments from the focus group! They fed back that the focus group hated the compactor (they didn’t) and unanimously loved the gloves (they didn’t). PM Azhar ignored them anyway in such way that he reinforced the mutiny! War lines were drawn here too.

For the girls, the focus group loved the tap cosy, but were not sure about the splash screen. PM Jane did not want to hear this, especially from sub-group member Katie, and went with the splash screen.

The end result is two teams following poor process, clear on the task but not really acting as TEAMS and with individuals feeling excluded. This is a perfect example of how best to ignore the Adair “Action Centred Leadership”model that I personally favour.

At the pitches there was a lack of polish in both teams, but the girls had added lack of clarity around a pricing / profit strategy that they managed to share with the clients (Amazon and Lakeland). The boys managed to exclude the most passionate supporter of the compactor from the pitch – Duane who came up with the idea. He eventually jumped into the Amazon pitch and probably saved the day for the boys.

In the boardroom, the boys lack of unity (2 teams not 1) came to the fore, led by Aggrieved Adam, and yet they still won. Jane saw this as an opportunity to bring back outspoken Maria (who was caught taking a quick snooze in the car during one of Jane’s pep talks) and Katie (the lame duck) until Lord Sugar remiinded her to focus on the task and not personal feelings. With this in mind, Jane brought chum Jenna, who made a mess of the costings, back with her and Maria. Sugar was in a real pickle as to how many and who should go, such was the debacle on show. In the end, Jenna backed Jane and Maria was fired. Interestingly, she wasn’t bothered and stated to camera that she will get she funding elsewhere. That is a Real Entrepreneur. And in real entrepreneur style, she will do it on her own.

This week, either team could have lost as they had poor products, ignored the market research, were not united as teams and had poor leaders,. No wonder Lord Sugar was gobsmacked. He must wonder if he can work with any of these people. It is going to be a greast series as, for the first time, we are seeing individuals and agendas on show. Egos will clash.

Lord Sugar – Social Style Profile

  Lord Sugar – Social Style Profile

In Social Style terms, Lord Sugar is often used as the typical example of the Driving Style. This is borne out when profiling him. Lord Sugar (AMS) is high on the “tell assertive” axis, with strong eye contact, a direct approach to communication and a tendency to tell you what he thinks, rather than ask what you think. His verbal communication is relatively fast, and the voice is used to emphasise key points, often in combination with hand gestures, such as finger pointing. Generally, tell assertive people are relatively higher energy in their body language, in comparison with more ask assertive types.

When we focus on the responsiveness axis, we see that AMS is towards the Task rather than People side. This is evidenced by relatively smaller size of gestures, a more monosyllabic vocal style and a tendency to get right down to business without the need to “get to know you” first.

This combination is called the “driving” style, and AMS shares it with Margaret Thatcher.

The Driving Style has a need for results. They like to have options, are willing to accept risks and want to move quickly. They also need to have the final say in decisions. In relationships they may appear uncommunicative, independent and competitive. Drivers seldom feel the need to share personal motives or feelings. They tend to initiate action and like to provide direction. This is part of their nature to seek control over their environment.

To get the best from the Driving Style;

Let them feel they are in control

Don’t work around them

Focus on the issue or objective

Get to the point

Minimise excuses by others

Make their life easier

Realise they are impatient

Be timely in all things.

The Apprentice Week 7 – Lord Sugar engineers a firing

The Apprentice Week 7 – Lord Sugar engineers a firing

This week’s Apprentice task involved the teams designing a new, free glossy magazine (called Fremiums) and selling advertising in it. Lord Sugar appointed Natasha to lead Team Logic, and moved Jim to lead Team Venture, with Leon moving in the opposite direction.

For once the task proved to be as bit of a red herring. Yes, it determined which team lost, and yes, there was a clear difference in Leadership style, but it had no direct bearing on who got fired.

Natasha has a very tell assertive, directing leadership style. She decided her team was going to do a lads mag, and over ruled or simply ignored the work and advice of her team. Had they lost, I’m in no doubt the team would have rounded on Natasha.

Jim’s style was a complete contrast, very consultative, ask assertive, ensuring that he was less exposed by making sure everyone was in agreement. Team Venture targeted the Over 60s market. And yet, Jim still made some key decisions that ultimately lost the task. Jim refused to negotiate in the first pitch, ignoring Susan’s concerns and then changed his approach with the next 2 media companies.

In the Borardroom, with Venture losing the task, Jim started to apportion blame, and looked vulnerable. As in previous weeks, Jim came out fighting rounding on Glen for not being willing to do the pitching, and Susan for claiming she was not behind all of the team’s decisions. In relation to negotiating, this was backed up by Nick.

Jim brought Susan and Glen back with him and found his style described as “passive aggressive” Karen and Nick. He was also described as “manipulative”.

Things were looking bad for Jim, but Lord Sugar had a card up his sleeve and fired Glen because he’s … an engineer! Yes, Lord Sugar informed us that he’s never met an engineer who can turn his hand to business and fired him. Lord Sugar hadn’t seen enough fron Glen, and amazingly Jim survived.

So, in the end the firing had nothing directly to do with this week’s task, and more an accumulation of observations against Glen and a prejudice against engineers.

Quite simply, this week the wrong person was fired. Early favourite Jim has been exposed and should have been fired.

Current favourite to win – Helen, who still hasn’t lost a task.

Influential communication – does body language matter?

The fundamental purpose of influential communication is to persuade others to behave the way you want them to. This has numerous applications in sales, marketing, leadership and management. A key question in trying to do this is “does body language matter?” The simple answer is “yes it does!”

The Social Styles model was developed over 40 years ago and has been refined and expanded since that time. Social Styles can be used to influence the behaviour of others, and at the heart of this model is the reading and adaptation of behaviour; first our own, then that of other people. But where does the evidence come from that adapting body language is important?

Back in the 1970s, a researcher at the University of California in Los Angeles identified the importance of body language to verbal communication. Now, the work of Professor Albert Mehrabian has often been misquoted and used to explain / justify much beyond his original work, but the gist of what he found is as follows: getting our message across to other people is about much more than just choosing the right words.

In fact, Mehrabian showed that words only contribute about 7% to the effectiveness of communication, with tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%) being much more important. In particular, it seems that we need more than just the words to decide whether we believe the speaker (or even to decide if they believe what they are saying ).

That is not to say that the words are unimportant. Change the words and you change the meaning. However, the words are not enough on their own.

Still not convinced? Well, just think about how the intent behind the words becomes more ambiguous as we move from face-to- face communication, to telephone, to e-mail and txt!

Notice that according to Mehrabian, over half of the message we take from verbal communication comes from reading body language. Now, most of this is going on at a subconscious level, but it does make sense. For instance, we are able to discern possible danger to ourselves by interpreting body language, and this has been a vital survival mechanism throughout human evolution. You disagree? Well, next time you see someone coming towards you with a bloody knife and a deranged expression on their face what will you do; take precautions, or wait to confirm your worst fears with a simple verbal, “do you intend me some harm?”

So, body language does matter and Social Styles allows us to maximise the 93% of communication that Mehrabian says is vital to understanding and influencing other people. Clearly this is key to successful sales, marketing, leadership and management.

Learn more about Albert Mehrabian