The Apprentice 2016 Week 10 – Gin

The Apprentice 2016 Week 10 – Gin

lord-sugar4

Courtesy of BBC

Lord Sugar mixed up the teams around the final 6 candidates; 5 female (Trishna, Grainne, Frances, Jessica and Alana) and one male (Courtney). The newly configured Titans consisted of Trishna, Frances and Grainne, who took on the PM role. For Nebula, Alana and Courtney battled to be PM, with Jessica casting her vote for Courtney. Not too surprising, considering that Alana is ignored or side tracked on a weekly basis, and Courtney and Jessica had such fun working together on the last task. The irony of the solitary male getting a leadership role was presumably lost of the rest of the team.

The task this week was to create a new designer gin and pitch it to retailers. The team with the most orders would win. The challenge with teams of three is that one member has to work on their own. This is the first big decision for the PM. For Courtney, it was difficult – working with mate Jessica meant that he would have to trust Alana to work on her own. Courtney stated up front that he had a problem with this. Great start! Over in Titans, Frances would work on branding on her own, leaving Grainne & Trishna (GnT) to create the flavour.

Both teams brainstormed what type of gin they wanted to go for. Titans opted for a spice flavouring, whereas Nebula went for a fruit based flavour. The teams split up to complete their tasks. For the design teams, there was access to an expert in blending flavoured gins, yet both teams chose to ignore key bits of advice; Trishna was keen on adding orange colouring to their spicy gin, despite being advised that it is frowned upon. Any colouring should be a result of the flavourings only. Alana opted for Raspberry as a key ingredient (with pink pepper) despite the expert saying he had no experience of using it and did not think it had ever been used!

What followed was a series of incidents that reinforce the mediocre nature of this year’s batch of candidates;

For Titans;

  • Frances chose the name “Colony” and a world map as the major branding. This is at best an insensitive choice
  • GnT consumed so much gin in trying out combinations of flavours that they were inebriated
  • Frances tried 19 times to contact Grainne to get ingredients information for the label. Grainne had left the phone in another room

For Nebula;

  • Despite a raspberry and pink pepper flavour, Courtney and Jessica opted for blue lettering on the bottle
  • C&J opted for “Giin” as the name of the brand, for no discernible reason
  • No one knew how to pronounce “Giin”

Not surprisingly, there was tension in the house at the end of day 1 when the teams got together.

Day 2 was all about pitching to 3 retailers; a supermarket, a chain of pubs and a chain of wine bars. There was also an opportunity to get some market research on the streets of London. Both products got mixed feedback; the colouring in “Colony” was disliked, and the raspberry flavouring of “Giin” was too weak.

In the pitches, for Nebula Alana persuaded Courtney to allow her to co-present, but Courtney took the lead. In all three pitches he was boring, with no charisma, but the product was generally liked, despite the problems with the name and the poor branding. Alana was able to rescue the pitches from “death by Courtney”. Jessica was back to her skittish worst and shared negative market research in one pitch, against the explicit orders of Courtney.

Titans had a better first pitch – Frances was slick, Trishna was detailed, but the colouring remained an issue and the team lied that the colour was natural, not added later. In the second pitch, Grainne led and was completely unstructured. This lit the fuse on Trishna who got increasingly angry. Grainne became defensive and Trishna coerced Frances to finally give Grainne feedback-by-phone about the second pitch – 5 minutes before the 3rd pitch. Titans was no longer a team but 3 individuals fighting to save their own neck.

It was no surprise that Titans lost the task – the product was flawed (good taste but the colouring was a fatal flaw) and the branding was insensitive. In truth, Grainne should have gone as she was so awful as PM . Getting drunk and not having her phone with her when she needed to be contacted would be a sacking offence in the real world. Frances could have gone for her poor branding (and she has lost 8/10 tasks), but it was Trishna who paid the price because she pushed hardest for the colouring. This was possibly harsh, but her negative attitude was cited as another reason. The truth is that Trishna, like Paul before here is only a team player when she is in control. She lacked the behavioural flexibility and persuasive power when she was not in control. This allowed Frances and Grainne to team up against her. Ironic!

In reality, more than one should have gone, but next week is Interview week, and this requires the “Final Five”. Just who from Courtney, Frances, Grainne, Alana and Jessica will win is hard to tell. Of course, the unknown business plans are key, but on the evidence of the series, Alana has impressed most along with Frances, despite her poor track record.

 

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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 Week 8 – Emotional Incompetence

The Apprentice Week 8 – Emotional Incompetence

Your fired

courtesy of bbc.co.uk

There was a tangible emotional component – both too much and non-existent – to this week’s episode of BBC’s The Apprentice. We have discussed Emotional Intelligence (EQ) previously in week 2 but it reared up again this week.

The task for each team was to organise an event from scratch and without funds. The team that made the biggest profit would win.

Fresh from it’s first win last week, team Nebula were given Madame Tussauds as a venue for their event. Paul prevailed over Jessica to be PM, and immediately chose Frances to work with him. By way of compensation, he gave Jessica the role of sub-team leader, working with Sofiane, and Trishna. Paul has built a reputation for a very direct, autocratic style of leadership. On the plus side he is very decisive, on the negative side he has had a tendency to emotional outbursts – uncontrolled rage in his case. Jessica and Frances have shown that managing their own emotional state is a challenge for them, and both have been reduced to tears in the past when stress levels have built up. That said, Frances did an excellent job as PM last week. It was no surprise when Paul decided the theme (casino night) and the (initial) ticket price of £65. He got obedience rather than support form the team.

For Team Titans, Dillon assumed the role of PM and immediately allowed his creative side to dominate proceedings. Titans used the London Aquarium as a venue, and a theme of “Under The Sea” (and The Little Mermaid form which the song comes). Courtney and Grainne were reunited as a sub-team. They work well together, but not always with great success. Dillon’s style was less obviously autocratic, but his listening was just as poor as that of Paul.

Success in this task relies on a clear strategy of theme, ticket pricing (to fund the event) and careful planning of ensure maximum return on investment for things like food and entertainment. Lets be honest, communication was appalling in both teams, with personal grievances and a lack of trust throughout. Titans had a clearer pricing strategy, and crucially stuck to it. Nebula had no real pricing strategy, and Jessica as leader of the sub-team selling tickets was a complete maverick. Not only did she not communicate with Paul before she unilaterally reduced the ticket price, she didn’t even tell her sub-team! This resulted in Paul replacing Jessica on Day 2 with Frances, who had declared her undying devotion to Paul as leader on Day 1, but sided with Jessica against Paul once the team lost the task.

For Titans, there was some cohesion and planning and the team received 100% satisfaction from their customers, despite some major cock-ups (Grainne and maths do not go together; Courtney as VIP tour guide; the star fish had more charisma), but they still won the task with double the profits of Nebula.

Nebula were all over the place and their canapés were so poor they had to give 10% of the ticket price back AND give the food for free.

It was no surprise that Nebula won the task, and having stabbed everyone in the back, Paul  found it hard to decide who to bring back alongside Jessica, to whom he attributed the failure of the task. He settled on Frances, presumable believing she would support him. In the final three the lack of strong emotional intelligence (EQ) in all three was on display. Paul got angry and even criticised Lord Sugar 3 times! Jessica and Frances took turns to cry, but it worked. The combination of Paul’s appalling leadership and his anger management problems resulted in hime being fired. It is very hard to disagree with the choice.

EQ is defined as “the recognition, management and use of emotional state – both your own and that of others”. In this respect, Paul failed, but Frances and especially Jessica need to find strategies to mange heir own emotional state.

Trishna did well this week, especially on the VIP tour she led, but no one really stands out. For each candidate, it seems like one week it is 2 steps forward, with 3 steps back the next!

 

The Apprentice 2016 Week 7 – Messing about on the water

The Apprentice 2016 Week 7 – Messing about on the water

jetskiTwo weeks ago, Lord Sugar put Rebecca on a final warning, but still she failed to put herself forward as PM in the next task. Rebecca subsequently lost that task and was fired. Last week, Frances, who has lost every task, was also given a final warning, but this time Lord Sugar was taking no chances and appointed her PM for Nebula. Lose the task and she was out. Sugar also appointed Karthik – the self described Special K – to lead Titans.

This week’s task is another familiar one – the trade show. This time it was the Boat Show, taking place in Poole. The task involves sourcing a high ticket item and several small ticket items to sell to the trade show audience.

There was an immediate difference in style between the 2 PMs. Frances was decisive in pairing herself with loose cannon Sofiane, and even more importantly separating him from Paul, as they clearly do not work well together. Frances and Sofiane would source the high ticket item, and Paul would organise the sub-team to source small ticket items. This first decision by Frances proved to be both astute and effective.

In Titans, Karthik, proved to be consistently inconsistent. Presented with Samuel, who has a career in selling expensive cars, he decided to go with his instinct and put him into the sub-team he would lead, sourcing small ticket items. Last week’s PM Courtney, and Grainne would source the high ticket item. Again, this proved to be a crucial mistake, and Karthik himself could not explain his decision!

Both teams were introduced to the high ticket items; a jet ski retailing about £4-5K or a speedboat retailing about £20K. Both teams favoured the jet ski, but the more professional approach by Grainne and Courtney secured the deal for Titans, over the more relationship-driven style of Nebula. Frances and Sofiane were left with the very high ticket item, the speedboat. In truth the success or failure of the task would resolve around these 2 items.

With poor weather keeping the crowds down, both teams had their work cut out to sell both small and large ticket items. Team work and a clear strategy would be important. In Titans, Karthik continued to be indecisive; when the jet ski failed to sell, he abdicated responsibility and failed to change things. He could have re-allocated Samuel to draw on his experience, but failed to act. On his part, Samuel failed to push for this, seeming happy to see the sub-team fail without him. In Nebula, the relationship building skills of Frances, despite a lack of effort from Sofiane, proved crucial and they sold 2 boats.

In the boardroom, it was revealed that Nebula – and Frances – had finally won a task. Their sales were over £40K, thanks to the 2 boats they sold. Under Karthik’s leadership, Titans sold a meagre £188 (and no jet skis)! Once Nebula were sent off to enjoy the spoils of victory, Lord Sugar didn’t even wait for the final three; Karthik was fired for a completely unacceptable performance, and rightly so. The rest of Titans were clearly shocked, and a double firing seemed inevitable. Sugar himself chose the remaining members of the small ticket sub-team (Samuel, Dillon and Alana) to come back as the final three, despite the lack of success and clear failings in the jet ski sub-team.

The Titans small tick team sold only £188 with Samuel selling the most. Dillon sold nothing, and could easily have gone on this task alone. Alana was asked about her lack of assertiveness, but it was Samuel’s apparent game playing (according to his team mates) and lack of team work that Sugar focused on. Samuel was fired, but Alana and Dillon really need to toughen up or they will not last long.

Slowly, we are seeing the wheat separated from the chaff. Frances made a good impression this week and Paul is strong, even if his style is unlikable. Trishna has impressed from time-to-time, but Sofiane is a loose cannon. Grainne and Courtney look strong too.

Who has impressed you?

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.

kings-cross

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

liberty-london

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 3 – Brighton Rock

The Apprentice 2016 Week 3 – Brighton Rock

southend-rockAfter the disaster that was Week 2, Lord Sugar took control of things this week and mixed up the teams. He also appointed the PMs for a task that involved the design and selling of confectionary in Brighton. This time, the team with the biggest PROFIT would win.

For the newly re-constituted teams, cake-company owner, Alana Spencer, was given the PM role for Titan, and for Nebula it was sausage distribution business owner, Oliver Nohl-Oser. Both have experience in related industries, but would it be relevant enough to bring them success? The early team discussions were notable for 2 things;

  1. Neither PM was very decisive or assertive. Both team have members with big personalities (egos), so it is crucial that the PM find ways of allocating and controlling individuals such as Karthik, Paul and Sofiane. The early signs weren’t promising, with Paul insisting that he be in the same Nebula sub-team as PM Oliver
  2. A lack of any obvious strategy in either team. These 2 factors would prove crucial later in the task.

The leadership expert John Adair defines leadership as being about getting the balance right between the Task, the Team and the Individual in his Action-Centred Leadership model. Both Alana and Oliver were poor on each count.

Task – although on the surface, both teams were busy, there was no clear strategy outlined by either team, especially in relation to pricing and negotiation

Team – the format of the task with 2 sub-team makes it difficult to co-ordinate the activities of all members, but I’m always amazed at how “hands-on” the PMs are. Better to be able to communicate (two-way) with each sub-team than get overly involved in the task

Individual – Managing personalities, from the passive to the aggressive, makes for great TV, but there are some individuals (see above) who are maverick to the point of destructiveness.

There were more tears this week, this time from Alana who demonstrated that she does not have the emotional resilience (EQ) to handle the pressure. Both Oliver and Alana are probably too nice to last long in this competition.

The Brexit negotiation team should note the lack of success this “bull in a china shop” approach can have

The task unfolded with the lack of focus we have come to expect from this year’s contestants. Apart from Alana’s tears and shortcomings, Titan at least worked as a team, though sub-team leader, sales executive Sofiane , worked hard to lose the task, especially in his “hard” negotiation style with Brighton Football Club. The Brexit negotiation team should note the lack of success this “bull in a china shop” approach can have. For Nebula, marketing agency owner Paul chipped away at PM Oliver from the outset. First he was criticising him from within the same sub-team, then he manoeuvred himself into a different sub-team for Day 2, took the huff and opted out. Paul comes across as controlling. He had some good points to make, but played his card of self interest first all too often. The rest of the team are now alerted to his tactics.

It was only a marginal surprise that Nebula lost the task, but less surprising was the dithering that Oliver demonstrated in choosing who to bring back into the “final three”. It was brave to bring Paul back, but it would give us a chance to see if Oliver could be assertive and stand up for himself. He couldn’t. Oliver also brought back Mukai, who was once again ineffective and, after he failed last week as PM, was on a warning and looked vulnerable. The fact that Oliver was fired and both Mukai and Paul survived was very telling. On this week’s performance alone, Oliver deserved to go as he was most responsible for the failure of the task (he had no pricing strategy) but Mukai was very lucky to survive. Good guys don’t last long in this programme, but hopefully neither do bullies such as Sofiane and Paul.

 

 

 

 

The Apprentice 2016 Week 1 – Nebulous Titans

lord-sugar4

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.

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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 – The Final

The Apprentice 2015 – The Final

Your firedIn the end, the Apprentice 2015 came down to a battle between the traditional and the new to acquire Lord Sugar as a business partner; either plumber Joseph Valente or dating app developer Varna Koutsomitis. To help Sugar make the decision, each finalist was asked to develop a digital billboard advert and promotional video before pitching their idea to a selected audience. They were assisted by a motley selection of 2015 ghosts of candidates past.

The two finalists seemed to adopt different strategies for selecting their teams; Varna prioritised going with individuals that she respected rather than liked (such as Richard Wood) selecting individuals with a good track record, whereas Joseph went with his mates, choosing relationships over past success. It didn’t seem to make too much of a difference, as it was obvious that neither candidate had a fully formed business strategy going into the final.

For Varna, the challenge was to persuade Lord Sugar to invest in a business that could be seen as speculative (there are apparently 15 new dating apps per week, and 15 failures) where the prize money could disappear within the first few weeks. Joseph wanted to transform his successful local business (in Peterborough) into a national brand. To do this he would need to identify a USP.

The promotional videos strayed into familiar territory. The addition of a juggling metaphor transformed what could have been a very traditional dating site advert into something resembling Cirque Du Soleil. Joseph only just avoided producing “Confessions of a Plumber’s Mate”. Neither was particularly inspiring. The issue was trying to get the essence of the brand each team was trying to sell. For Varna there was the challenge of selling the scientific profiling in the form of gaming. Joseph had based his idea on the “green” revolution, but was informed by focus group that this was not going to make money for the next 15 years (in a subtle dig at government policy). Credit to him, though, he latched onto the idea of investing in smart phone technology to control central heating and shifted his proposal accordingly. In doing so, he actually made the final a battle of the apps, at least on one level. Similarly, Varna realised from her focus group that the thorny issue of funding was not going to go away. She also repositioned her pitch to be an initial investment to prove her unique idea could win and use this to attract further venture capital.

Back in the boardroom with adverts, videos and pitches completed and past candidates dispensed with, it was decision time for Lord Sugar. It was here that Joseph played his trump card; he cited Sugar’s autobiography as a major inspiration and reminded him that he also came from humble roots. In other words, he showed Sugar how alike they are. It is true that Joseph has grown and evolved across the series, even down to his appearance. He has also shown himself as being prepared to listen and learn, two traits that Sugar values. Joseph was also able to dangle the carrot that a rival business in London had grown to a multimillion pound business.

Varna on the other hand has grown less through the process, having started from a high base. She remained focused and confident, with good knowledge of her business area. However, here business plan represented a riskier proposition.

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And the winner is…Joseph. Photo courtesy of BBC

In the end, Joseph and his plumbing business were the safer option.  To choose Varna, Sugar would have to speculate on new product that is untested and, crucially, he would not have control over unless he added significant extra funding. This fact, coupled to Joseph playing the “I’m just like you” card (Sugar’s achilles heal) secured the win. Sugar is going into the plumbing business.

It is interesting to note that Joseph represents the 5th business partner that Lord Sugar has taken on as a result of the revised format for The Apprentice. I remain unconvinced that this is the best format (see my earlier posts) and I am critical of the candidate selection this year, where good TV is more important than business credibility. I really hope that the production team give the format a real overhaul before series 12 next year. That said, good luck to Joseph Valence and his plumber’s mate, Lord Sugar.