Nine Principles of Human Communication

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“Generally, when verbal and non-verbal messages contradict each other, people tend to believe the non-verbal more than the verbal messages”

New Horizons

courtesy of De Gruyter publishing

 

In my previous blog, I looked at 7 Myths of Human Communication, and how they relate to leadership & management. In this blog, I will focus on 9 Principles that underpin effective communication.

The source of information for both of these blogs is an excellent book that I have recently read called “New Horizons in Patient Safety: Understanding Communication by, Hannawa, Wu & Juhasz (published by De Gruyter).

These principles remind us just how difficult it is to achieve a shared understanding with another person. One has to wonder if we ever really understand what is intended by another person.

Principle 1: Communication varies between thought, symbol and referent

According to Annegret Hannawa, human communication is “fundamentally an interactive meaning-making process”. Put simply, we use the joint creation and interpretation of symbols (words, gesture, images etc) to try to achieve shared understanding. So, our thoughts are encoded into symbols and behaviours (which have no intrinsic meaning of their own). This leads to the first challenge of “making meaning”, as there needs to be enough “common ground” for both parties to achieve a shared understanding.

Principle 2: Communication is a non-summative process

“Human communication is an interpersonal process that involves much more than the mere sum of its components” (Hannawa).

The assignment of symbols happens within an individual, but the meaning-making process (i.e. communication) happens between people. Because of this, communication cannot “breakdown” as it was not guaranteed in the first place. However, it can malfunction and the wrong meaning can be attributed to message being transmitted.

Principle 3: Communication is functional

Communication works best when it is purely factual but the nature of human relationships is such that often people are not interested in communicating purely factual information. The introduction of humour, sarcasm, persuasion etc. makes it more challenging for a true “shared meaning” to be achieved.

Principle 4: Communication is more than words

It is often said that “the meaning of the communication is the response it produces”.

Communication is more than just an exchange of words. We cannot “not” communicate. Silence can communicate just as much as words. In everyday interactions, we are interpreting both verbal and non-verbal symbols or signals. Generally, when verbal and non-verbal messages contradict each other, people tend to believe the non-verbal more than the verbal messages (Sellers & Beall, 2000)

Principle 5: Communication entails both factual and relational information

“In the same way that verbal messages are always accompanied by non-verbal messages, factual messages are always accompanied by relational messages” (Hannawa). The relationship between those communicating (social, status etc) plays a crucial part in how the communication is interpreted. It is not just what is said, and how  it is said, but the relationship between the individuals that will impact upon the “meaning” for the recipient

Principle 6: Communication is contextual

The meaning of a communicated message largely depends on the context in which it is encoded and received. This builds on Principles 4 & 5. Hannawa describes 5 different contexts that can come into play:

  • Functional (the goals of the interaction)
  • Relational (see Principle 5)
  • Environmental (the physical setting)
  • Chronological (the timing and sequencing as well as the timeliness)
  • Cultural (including beliefs)

These factors are particularly significant in interactions between line management and their reports

Principle 7: Preconceptions and perceptions vary among communicators

“Our individual life experiences contribute to idiosyncratic preconceptions and perceptions of communicated messages and behaviours” (Hannawa). Communication is an interactive negotiation to bridge these idiosyncrasies and establish “common ground”. This is the foundation for co-constructing a shared understanding.

Principle 8: Redundancy in content and directness in channel enhance accuracy

The appropriate repetition of content (see relevancy, primacy and recency) can enhance communication. Choice of communication channel can also have an impact, with direct face-to-face communication being superior to more indirect channels. It seems that having access from as many senses as possible can have an impact on achieving a shared understanding. this is un-surprising, given that we tend to trust non-verbal over verbal messages.

Principle 9: Communication is equifinal and multi-final

Reading principles 1-8 you might conclude that communication is random, but it is not. In fact, these principles tell us that there may be many different ways to achieve a shared understanding. With experience we can learn to choose the best route to achieve the desired result. For instance, sometime a person in authority needs to use that authority (tell assertive) to avert disaster (e.g. the chief surgeon in the operating theatre). However, in a different context a more persuasive (ask assertive) approach may be better (e.g. as a supervisor helping a junior with their career plan). No single tactic works all of the time.

There are many possible paths to the same outcome (equifinal) and many possible outcomes to the same path (multi-final).

Excellent communication requires us to be as aware of, and as open minded as possible to these 9 principles.

Mark De Cosemo is a Consultant, Trainer & Coach teaching influential communication across a variety of business sectors.

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The Apprentice 2016 Week 9 -The Butler did it

The Apprentice 2016 Week 9 – The Butler did it

vrWith each passing week it gets harder to identify who will eventually triumph in this year’s The Apprentice. This is not because of the high calibre of the candidates, but rather because at different times, each one has a good claim to be the most incompetent. It reminds me of a whodunnit, where the murderer is hidden in plain sight but you’ll never guess who it is. It will probably turn out that the butler did it!

The task this week was to design a new virtual reality game and pitch it at the London ComicCon event to leading industry figures and the public.

 

“Dillon was not happy, and this was exasperated when Sofiane chose to put him in charge of designing the game”

After some minor adjustments to the team, Lord Sugar seemed to suggest that Sofiane and Trishna take on the PM roles for Titans and Nebula respectively. Clearly feeling he was on a roll after last week’s victory, Dillon put up a strong bid to lead Titans and the task seemed to play to his experience (branding, design) but the rest of the team seemed to take Sugar’s hint and went with Sofiane based on his claim to have been successful in this area. Dillon was not happy, and this was exasperated when Sofiane chose to put him in charge of designing the game rather than the branding that he wanted to do, and would have been a natural choice to do.

In Nebula, Trishna appointed Courtney and Jessica to design the game, with herself and Frances focusing on branding. Both teams had brainstorming sessions to agree on ideas

At this stage of proceedings with only 4 members in each team there is nowhere to hide and each team member has to stand up and be counted. In Titans, Dillon channelled his frustration into designing another under water theme, this time a puzzle game involving collecting shells to make a bigger shell. Alana seemed to realise that it was aimed at 3 year olds, but she failed to assert herself and Dillon ignored or over ruled her at each stage.  They ended up with a game called “Magic Shells” and a hero called Coral Kid. What is it with the Dillon and the sea??

In Nebula, Jessica and Courtney certainly had fun as they went for something that would stand out from the competition. They succeeded with “Gordon’s lost his badger”, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

The challenge for the branding teams was to bring to life ideas fleshed out by the design team but that they had not contributed to. This led to frustration for both PMs as they were stuck with products they didn’t exactly believe in. Trishna in particular made this frustration clear, but both she and Sofiane adopted autocratic “It’ll be alright on the night if we just believe in it” approaches.

In the end, although success needs a clear strategy, a shared vision, communication and trust are needed for success it was the quality of each product that determined success. Just as well, as none of the above list were immediately apparent.

Delegating tasks for the pitches and sticking to the script proved crucial. For Titans, Sofiane led the pitch but immediately went off script totally confusing his team, and Grainne was the wrong choice to demonstrate the VR game. Trishna wisely put Jessica up front because she is at least engaging, and after a poor start quickly hit her stride. Why Courtney took a back seat role here was unclear.

In the boardroom it was revealed that Nebula won comfortably, with 5/7 experts liking the idea. Titans got 0/7. Of 300 public votes, Nebula got 222. It was amazing to hear Trishna take credit for the success, despite rubbishing everybody else’s ideas throughout. This was noted by her team mates.

Given the obvious tension between Sofiane and Dillon, it only remained for him to decide who else to bring back. Alana was spared and this was probably a wise decision as she had made a good contribution. She just needs to be more assertive. So Grainne, Dillon and Sofiane made up the final 3. Dillon was fired first for the game design, which was down to him, despite Alana’s ignored pleas. Dillon has consistently demonstrated an inability to listen to other people and an over inflated opinion of his own creative abilities. It was right that he was fired, but equally Sofiane had to go as his autocratic leadership was equally appalling. Grainne was lucky to survive. A double firing for the second time in the series.

As we go into the last 3 weeks we have 6 candidates remaining; 5 female and one male (Courtney). As I said before, there is no obvious best candidate. Jessica seems to have got control of her emotions and is one to watch, but the final scene as she forlornly hoped that best mate Dillon had survived were the highlight of this vey mediocre series.

The Apprentice 2016 Week 6 – Discounted

business planThe Apprentice 2016 Week 6 – Discounted

Time finally ran out for one candidate this week, as the teams competed in the popular discount buying task. This task involves seeking out 9 named items and trying to get the best discounted price for each. This time, the task was to be completed over one night, whilst trying to source items from across London.

Trishna was moved into Nebula and immediately assumed the role of PM. This was a bit of a surprise, as Rebecca was on a final warning. Given that she had lost every previous task, one might have expected her to take control of her own destiny by pushing to be PM. In Titans, Courteney took on the PM role, believing that his knowledge of London would help his team.

In the boardroom, after the task was completed, Lord Sugar outlined the factors that should have be taken into account;

  • Logistics
  • Planning
  • Timelines
  • Negotiation

So, how did each team do against these criteria?

In terms of planning and logistics, Trishna put Paul in control of one sub-team and she led the other. She headed West and Paul headed East. This made sense as Paul had a lot of local knowledge. Trishna also had a sound strategy – have a clear walk away point for each negotiation, and if the customer won’t offer you a good deal, walk away. Nebula also had the loose cannon known as Sofiane, who seems unable to act as a team player. Trishna showed real frustration when he struggled to stick to her plan.

In Titans, Courteney adopted a real laid back approach. The lack of urgency was a bit surprising, considering the tight timelines for the task. If Nebula had the unpredictable Sofiane, then Titans had their own version in Karthik.

The success of the task hinged around 2 factors; the obvious one was successful negotiation, the second was time management. Both teams had examples of poor negotiation – either having only one supplier, which severely restricted negotiation power, to being up against the clock. This wasn’t helped by some poor planning in terms of where to find items. Courteney set Titans on a wild goose chase to SE2 without realising how far away it was. Rebecca sent the Eastward facing Nebula sub-team led by Paul to Streatham in south west London on a fruitless chase for Black soap and a Tagine.

Ultimately, Nebula lost the task (again) due to failing to source a few items, including the tagine and black soap, and Trishna’s sub-team failing to get back to base by the designated time. These 2 mistakes resulted in penalties and the task was lost. Trishna had a good negotiation strategy, but she failed to follow it

Trishna brought Rebecca and Sofiane back with her into the final three. It was no surprise that serial failure Rebecca was fired. She just ran out of excuses for her lack of success and was doomed once the task was lost, a task that she should have chosen to lead. Sofiane was warned that he needs to be more of a team player, but survived again.

Once again, the performances of both teams was uninspiring and still no one candidate stands out.

The Apprentice 2016 Week 5 – On yer bike

The Apprentice 2016 Week 5 – On yer bike

bikeThis week the teams focused on utilising and demonstrating a relatively new business tool – Crowdfunding. This is raising funds through public support; offering rewards to members of the public and institutions to help with development costs. The two teams were asked to identify new items involved with bicycle safety and design a marketing campaign to raise funds through crowd funding. Titans, led by sales manager Samuel Boateng focused on a gilet (or is that gillet? Recruitment agent, Trishna didn’t seems sure) with high visibility LED lighting. Nebula chose headphones that allowed the wearer to still be able to hear traffic. They were led by beachwear company owner JD O’Brien.

Crowd funding involves setting up a donations page, where would-be donors can see what they are supporting and what rewards they will get for their support. You then need to have some kind of PR stunt to generate interest, trying to generate leads and drive traffic to the donations page through social media. There was also the opportunity to pitch directly to companies, large and small. Despite the fact that there are several candidates who describe themselves as having digital and traditional marketing experience, once again both teams were underwhelming in their endeavours.

“This lack of urgency is suicide in a competition like The Apprentice”

A key component of these tasks is allocation of personnel. Despite what we have seen in previous weeks, JD put the toxic mix of Paul and Sofiane in the same sub-team. These 2 guys struggle to work together. Paul is controlling and subject to frustration and sulking; Sofiane is a maverick who doesn’t listen. We got to see both of these behaviours. JD effectively abdicated responsibility of the sub-team, who were producing a promotional video for the website. This Laissez-faire style of leadership is fine when you are organising a social event, but has no place in business. This lack of urgency is suicide in a competition like The Apprentice. The leader needs to delegate tasks, but should be aware of what is going on. In this respect, JD failed.

Samuel was far more controlling. He set out his (bizarre) vision for the PR stunt; a mime in   Paddington Station which was excruciating to watch. This was a pity, because the video produced by cake company owner Alana was the best thing about their campaign. She was effectively marginalised by Karthik for the rest of the task.

For Nebula, there was a delay in getting the donations page up live on Day 2. Although this was led by Paul, on the previous day JD had failed to agree any rewards for donors! Paul had to rectify this, but the lack of a coherent strategy came to light when the team pitched to potential investors; there was no increased reward for buying 180 units or 12! In addition, their PR stunt, involving a gospel choir at Kings Cross station was poorly thought out, as there was no obvious link to the product.

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Kings Cross Station was treated to a Gospel Choir

In the pitches, we got to see more of the same behaviour; Samuel took over and Alana was “benched”, but he was incoherent in opening the pitch. Karthik was in his element and really sold the product. For Nebula, JD was also ineffective and Sofiane went off script. He was supposed to focus on the pricing, but couldn’t resist selling the product. This left pricing to an under prepared Frances. It was no surprise, then, that Nebula lost the task again.

Pitching is an opportunity to Position your products features and benefits. However, to do this, you need to Understand your audience. In this respect, Nebula were especially poor.

In the boardroom, JD was very noble, accepting his part in the failure of the task. He was almost looking for volunteers to accompany him into the final three. He eventually chose Rebecca (who has lost 5/5 tasks) and Paul. Not surprisingly, Paul attacked JD’s leadership, and JD agreed! JD was fired. Once again, he didn’t seem too surprised or bothered. He seemed to believe that falling on his sword was the honourable thing to do, and Paul was happy to apply a coup de grâce. Based on his lack or urgency and poor leadership, JD was a nice guy, but useless PM. It is great to be fair and a nice guy, but abdication is no substitute for delegation.

The Apprentice 2016 Week 4 – Departure Store

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Liberty London courtesy of wikipedia

The Apprentice 2016 Week 4 – Departure Store

The current series of The Apprentice continues to surprise and disappoint in equal measures. This is the result of the candidates who have been selected for this year’s competition. In Week 2, we had Nathalie who was fired and confessed that not only was it the right decision, but that she had never even watched the programme before! This week, we had business consultancy owner, Aleksandra King walk out of the programme. The timing of her departure was strange as it was before the task had even got started. However, her reasons – missing her family – were very fair. She later admitted that since starting her family she no longer accepts work that takes her away from them. So why come on this programme? Along with the emotional intelligence problems we have seen from Jessica and Karthik in previous weeks, it does beg the question; are these really the best 18 candidates you could find?

This week’s task involved running a department in Liberty London. Each team could identify one item to sell, as well as the pre-existing range and also had to run a “personal shopper” service. In theory this task should bring out the best in both the more commercial and the more artistic candidates. For Nebula, make-up studio owner Grainne McCoy put herself forward as PM, with children’s clothing company owner Frances Bishop as sub-leader. For Titans, sales exec Sofiane Khelfa was assisted by the invisible man – sales manager Samuel Boating.

The success of the task hinged on a couple of things; choosing the right product to promote in the shop window, and then selling as much stock as possible. For Nebula, the team was heavily influenced by the strong opinions and experience of digital marketing manager Mukai Noiri. They chose a bag, over the safer option of printed scarves, something that is more associated with Liberty. Mukai also had a huge influence over the design of the window display. There was clear tension and a lack of trust from PM Grainne towards Mukai throughout the task. For Titans, they went with cat-themed scarf prints, took the advice to have a person (Jessica) as part of the window display.

The personal shopper service gave us insight into a couple of key principles in effective selling;

  1. You have to build up Trust with the customer. This requires rapport between both parties, and you are unlikely to sell anything if you do not achieve this. It helps if the customer likes you and that you can demonstrate that you have something in common (tastes, upbringing, interests etc). The principle is “If you are like me, I will like you”
  2. You need to Understand the needs of the customer. Frances illustrated how to do this by telephoning the personal shopper client the night before meeting them and ascertaining a few things (budget, preferences, past experiences etc.). Alana adopted a more hands off approach, but failed to find out the level of detailed information. The more you understand what the customer is looking for, the easier it is to satisfy those needs with your products or service.

In the end, there wasn’t much between the 2 teams (probably only one high ticket handbag), but it was Nebula who lost. With the departure of Aleksandria, the team was facing the prospect of 2 departures in the same week. In the end, it was no surprise that Mukai was brought back by Grainne, as he pushed for the handbag and was instrumental in the poor window display. However, Grainne was also at fault for not listening to the store about placing a person as part of the display. Karthik was also brought back (though Grainne changed her mind twice), but he had a quiet and effective week by his standard. Mukai, in the final three for the third successive week (and this is only Week 4) was fired and it was hard to argue against the decision. Let’s hope that the changes observed in the behaviour of Karthik and Jessica, as well as the departure of inappropriate candidates means that this competition can finally settle down and we can see some good quality tasks. I’m not hopeful, but what do you think?

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

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 11 -Fail to plan and you plan to fail

The Apprentice 2015 Week 11 -Fail to plan and you plan to fail

The final of the Apprentice 2015 will be between social media entrepreneur Varna Koutsomitis and plumbing business owner Joseph Valente. The remaining three candidates were eliminated at the interview stage.

In the end, it comes down to the quality of the business plan; how well you sell it and how well it fits with Lord Sugar’s preferences. The truth is, however, that the semi-final makes a mockery of the previous 10 weeks.

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Varna will be in Sunday’s final. Photo courtesy of BBC

Take marketing agency director Richard Woods, for instance. He was many people’s favourite to win the series, as he had been on the winning team 8 times, twice as project manager. In the old format of the series, he would have been the perfect employee. Except he probably wouldn’t apply as he already runs his own business. Richard has played a shrewd game, keeping his cards close to his chest; just enough of a team player but always preferring his own judgement. I suspect there are as many viewers who hate him as like him, because there was something quite incongruent, bordering on manipulative, in his approach. For some, it will be fitting that it was this, and not the quality of plan, that ultimately cost him. Richard chose not to reveal that his plan for a marketing agency for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is a duplicate of his existing business. This could be seen as justice or even a vindication of the process.

Hairdresser Charleine Wain had a plan to turn her hair and beauty salon in to a franchise. Much as she impressed the panel with her work ethic (and I admit that I’ve grown to like her) it showed a naivety in business terms; you can’t  franchise until you have made a name. Sugar may be a big name, but he is not associated with hairdressing.

For Mr Corporate, Gary Poulton, his idea of a virtual meeting space for events confused Sugar and didn’t convince the panel.

Isn’t this just Skype?” asked Karren

So, Gary failed to sell his idea.

Varna is wanting to design a new dating / gaming app and though she was convincing, there is a nagging concern that she has underestimated the start-up costs.

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Varna will be in Sunday’s final. Photo courtesy of BBC

Joining Varna in the final is Joseph Valente. His plan to expand his plumbing business was realistic and, crucially, tangible. Sugar made his name in manufacturing, and he seems to err towards propositions that make things or at least involve real things. He has surprised us (Ricky Martin’s recruitment business proposal) in the past, but Joseph did a great job of selling his plan with passion and realism. Crucially, he has learned from the feedback he received on the property task, and he changed his appearance by shaving off his moustache. This visible sign said “I’ve leaned in this process” and was noted by Sugar.

So the choice this year is between a new app and a plumbing business. Who knows what better plans belonging to fired candidates may have been missed, and this is my main criticism of the series?

Who will win? Who cares! The whole thing has been rendered irrelevant and the format needs to be re-thought. There is a case for starting the series with the interview panel and identifying 12 business plans that are viable and that Sugar would invest in. Then the weekly contests have relevance, as the candidates are reduced to a single winner with a viable plan.

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 2 – Versatile Boys Are Head & Shoulders AboveThe Girls

The Apprentice 2015 Week 2 – Versatile Boys Are Head & Shoulders AboveThe Girls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Week 2 of this year’s competition started with Lord Sugar introducing gender-based teams. This resulted in builder Brett Butler-Smythe leaving the girls with the awful name he introduced – Connexus. The irony  of this name was plain to see, as the girls were anything but united. The boys became Versatile.

In recent years we have seen that the early gender-based teams can throw up interesting contrasts in approach. It is no different this year, with bitchiness and high emotion seeming to define the girls. The boys have at least worked out that they need each other and to work together. It’s not that they always agree and that there aren’t egos on show, but the approach is more passive-aggressive than the outright aggressive of Connexus.

The task this week was a traditional branding exercise, with both teams trying to market the same cactus-based shampoo. Unfortunately the girls got in a lather and PM Aisha Kasim was fired. This was hardly a surprise, as she was one of the most extreme examples of the Autocratic leadership style that can be seen in a one hour television programme!

For the boys, Marketing agency director, Richard Woods gave an impeccable demonstration of leading from the back with a style apparently so Democratic that Karen Brady questioned whether he had recently read a management text book. This was a bit harsh, but Richard expertly demonstrated the art of leadership; involving others, encouraging discussion, but gently nudging the team to his vision. Given that marketing is his area of expertise, it was no surprise that Lord Sugar described their product “Western” as one of the best examples of doing this exercise in the whole history of the series. A simple idea, well executed and produced in a classy bottle.

This is not to say that Versatile were not without their faults. The pitch led by Account Manager Scott Saunders was awful. His decision to wing-it backfired badly. Unfortunately, this is no surprise to anyone teaching Presentation Excellence; the old adage of “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation” still holds. That said, the stodgy pitch from Account Manager Natalie Dean (is there a pattern here?) was so boring it was unbelievable. Natalie admitted later that she did not believe in her product, and she gave a master class in how our body language conveys our internal thoughts much more than the words we use (see the work of Albert Mehrabian).

In the end, the boys won by a country mile. They were better at every step of the branding process, and Richard did a fine job as PM (although fellow Marketer David Stevenson resented not getting more credit for the TV advert he directed. In fact, he executed the PM’s vision in the most obvious example of Richard nudging the team’s direction).

p033wp1rIn the boardroom, Natalie was lucky to survive for owning up to not believing in the product (the crime of Corporate Disloyalty), but Lord Sugar questioned why social media entrepreneur Vana Koutsomitis was brought back. This sealed the fate of PM Aisha and she was fired. It is hard to disagree with this decision.

Going forward, the girls need to sort out their differences, or they are unlikely to win any tasks.

 

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 – Business Plans

Winner Mark Wright with Lord Sugar. Courtesy of BBC News

Winner Mark Wright with Lord Sugar. Courtesy of BBC News

The Apprentice 2014 – Business Plans

The semi-final and final of this year’s BBC Apprentice was all about the business plans. Although it has made for great entertainment, I remain a critic of the revised format. The decision to change from recruiting an Apprentice, to finding a business partner, makes the series look more like Dragon’s Den, and in this respect it fails.

There were attempts in the final last night to make the process look fit for purpose. Reference was made to winner Mark Wright‘s excellent people management skills, as well as his drive and determination, and it is true that these were identified across the weekly tasks. And this did differentiate Mark from runner up Bianca Miller.

The truth is, though that in the end it all came down to the business plans, and in this respect the outcome became predictable, as Lord Sugar opted for the most coherent plan. It may appear to be a risk to go into SEO and website development, but Sugar has consistently invested in projects that are away from where he made his name. Not manufacturing products, but into the Service industry. Certainly this was true with Leah Totton (last year’s winner) and Ricky Martin from 2 years ago.

The truth is that Mark had the better thought out plan and, crucially, it was in his area of expertise. Bianca was very successful with a previous start-up (top 100) but had no track record in this field. Sugar prefers to play the odds, and in this respect, Mark was the safer bet. Of course, it is not without its risks, but is is not as risky as Bianca’s tights. Bianca was shown not to understand her market when she got the pricing strategy so wrong. It was a brave, or desperate, move to change the pricing strategy, but it maybe undermined Sugar’s confidence in the plan. In reality, she had lost the moment was clear the pricing was wrong, whatever she did.

Across the series, we have seen some excellent candidates (Mark, Katie, Roisin, Bianca), but very few (one?) decent business plan, and it is not earth shattering. Going forward, the programme needs to find candidates with better business plans because, ultimately, the best contestants had the poorest plans (Roisin?).

Finally, goodbye to Nick Hewer. He has ben an integral part of The Apprentice and he will be missed. Whoever replaces him, I hope the producers rain back on the contribution of them and Karen. This extra contribution from the eyes and ears of Lord Sugar is not welcomed by me.