The Apprentice 2016 Week 1 – Nebulous Titans

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Lord Sugar courtesy of BBC

The Apprentice 2016 Week 1 – Nebulous Titans

 

It’s back! Another 12 weeks of madness, mayhem and just a little (sometimes a very little) bit of business acumen. On the evidence of the first week, the latest bunch of competitors to be Lord Sugar’s business partner ( and earn £250K along the way) are just as entertaining as in the previous 11 years. But, who is the real deal and who is just there for entertainment value? We will discover this over the next 3 months.

The first episode saw the traditional unveiling of the 18 candidates. Working in gender teams, the task was the familiar variation on “Bargain Hunt”. Both teams were given to a lock-up with many items, some were rubbish, but there were apparently some hidden gems too. Sugar made it clear that the winning team would be the one that made the most money (cash not profit). Of course, to do this you need to know the value of the items, and each team was given the opportunity to select items to get valued by experts in the field.

The first task was to appoint Project Managers (always a bit of a poison chalice in the first week as you don’t know your team). Paul Sullivan seemed happy to take on the role for the boys (who named themselves “Titan”) where as  Michelle Niziol was more reluctant to lead the newly christened “Nebula”. What makes candidates think these names are good??

Many years ago, Bruce Tuckman came up with his theory of Team Development. The first stage of team development (when the team comes together) he called the “Forming” stage. It is characterised by “ritual sniffing” where members cautiously get to know each other. Behaviour is generally positive, but the team looks to the leader to give clear direction, so a direct almost autocratic style of leadership is desirable. Paul took this to heart and led his team with confidence in his own abilities and a very decisive style. On the negative side, he was not too interested in listening to feedback from the team. Michelle, on the other hand, was initially far more democratic in her approach, often steering or guiding, rather than setting a firm direction of travel. Where as Paul was very clear about strategy, Michelle was more vague, at least at first. This was most readily characterised in the approach to valuing and pricing the items. The girls, especially in the Market team led by Alana, had NO pricing strategy. They had no idea of the value of items, so set prices at random and made no attempt to really negotiate. They were definitely going for volume rather than value. The boys approach was the opposite. They carefully priced the items and led by Market team sub-lead Sofia Khelfa and were strong negotiators, being prepared to walk away rather than sell for less that they valued the item.

Michelle did eventually reveal her directive side, when she bizarrely decide to ignore the expert advice to sell to traders at Portobello Road and go to Camden instead! Michelle attributed this, and other decisions to “gut feel” and this approach eventually led to their downfall.

In the board room it was revealed that the girls had lost the task. Some poor leadership, and possibly a bit of fortune for the boys (they were awful in trying to sell to Trade, going to the wrong area (Chelsea) and trying to sell to the wrong people i.e. not the decision maker) cost the girls and all that remained was to identify who would be fired.

michelle-niziol

Michelle was on a sticky wicket (losing PMs in Week 1 often pay the price for failure) but chose to bring back Rebecca who was anonymous in the task, but came out fighting in the board room. She also brought back sub-team leader Alana, who was responsible for the disaster at the Market. Inevitable, Michelle was fired. It was the right decision. Michelle made 2 critical errors; firstly she adopted the wrong leadership style. She needed to be more directive. Secondly, she mistook “abdication” for “delegation”. Michelle was unaware of the disasters at the Market, and as such she was more guilty than the ineffective Alana. What do you think?

So, one task down, eleven more to go. More next week

 

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The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right

The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right

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Connects PM – Sam Curry courtesy of BBC

As we approach the midway point of this year’s “The Apprentice”, this week’s episode allowed us to study the art of Leadership. The task was for each team to design a children’s book and audiobook and sell it. The team with the biggest profit would win. However, the real focus was on what makes a good leader.

Personal Tutor Sam Curry was drafted into Connexus by Lord Sugar with a strong hint that he should take on the role of PM. The team got the message and accepted Sam’s offer to be PM. For Versatile, Charleine Wain (Hair & Beauty salon owner) pushed for the role of PM on the grounds that she is a parent. This resulted in two contrasting styles of leadership.

Sam’s undergraduate studies in English Literature meant that he had good subject expertise, though less so in children’s books. Charleine’s practical experience as a mum gave her a different type of expertise. But, whereas Sam’s theoretical knowledge made him indecisive (or brought out his indecision, as we would see later) Charleine’s practical approach gave her the confidence to be too decisive, to the point of being autocratic. Neither approach got it right – Connexus were stuck in “analysis to paralysis” with too much democracy, and Versatile were run like a dictatorship.

Lesson 1 – a strong leader will listen to the views of other people, but has the capacity to make a quick decision when the team is unable to reach agreement. This is an illustration of the work of Bruce Tuckman’s Team Development Model. Both teams were demonstrating “Storming” behaviour, so a “Let’s talk, I decide” approach is needed.

PM - Charlene Wain  Courtesy of BBC

PM – Charlene Wain
Courtesy of BBC

As the design task progressed and each team split into 2 sub-teams, Charleine’s autocratic style became reinforced. As it was not possible for her to control both sub-teams, she appointed Richard as a false sub-team leader. I say false, because she gave him no authority and wouldn’t allow him to communicate with her. Instead, David was the “voice” of the sub-team. Charleine demonstrated her fear of Richard, who has been very successful so far, but likes everyone to know it.

Lesson 2 – a good leader has to recognize the strengths that individuals bring to the team. Allowing personal differences to cloud judgement creates resentment and failure. Charleine demonstrated her fear and resentment of Richard by her actions and members of the team were laughing at her behind her back.

When it came to pitching to leading book retailers (Waterstones and Foyles), Charleine again decided that she needed to be in control. Her team gently tried to persuade her to allow Richard to lead the pitches, but Charleine put herself forward. It was a complete disaster. Natalie did some of  the pitching for Connexus  (along with Sam) and was also awful.

Pricing strategy was also unclear in each team. When negotiating with retailers, it is imperative that those involved in the negotiation agree their WIN positions in advance and then stick to them;

  • What do I WANT (good result)?
  • What would be IDEAL (best result)?
  • What do I NEED (minimum result)?

Both teams had muddled pricing strategies, and in the end went to get rid of stock at any price. Selina and Natalie were particularly poor in this respect. Natalie (Connexus) lost an order for her team because she did not have the discounts (as percentages) to hand. Selina (Versatile) requested an order of 150 which was refused and immediately suggested 50 instead. She should have asked the customer how many they were prepared to buy and put extra discount against higher volume.

Lesson 3 – in negotiation always know your WIN positions, and stick to them.

In the boardroom, it became apparent that a piece of individual success for Charleine got Versatile the win. She persuaded a smaller retailer to take over 100 books and this proved to be the difference between the teams. Sam, on the other hand, took his team to Charring Cross Road where there are lots of book sellers – but it was the wrong market and nobody bought.

Natalie was fired because of poor pitching and negotiation. Courtesy of BBC

Natalie was fired because of poor pitching and negotiation.
Courtesy of BBC

Having lost the task, Sam was able to give another illustration of his indecision as he struggled to decide who to bring back into the final three. In the end, he chose (reluctantly) Natalie for her poor negotiation disastrous pitch and Brett for no obvious reason. So really, it was between Sam and Natalie. Lord Sugar showed rare compassion;  he fired Natalie, but saved Sam. In truth, either could have gone. If Sam is to survive, he needs to become more decisive. He was in tears as Natalie was fired, and he seems too nice to survive. Charlene on the other hand needs to watch her back, as dictator’s rarely live out a full life.