The Apprentice 2011This week�s episode of The Apprentice highlighted one of my favourite team management hobby horses and it was nearly the undoing of both teams and, since one had to lose, it was the undoing of one.

The usual team briefing led to Jim being set in charge of Venture and Natasha being given the reins of Logic, and off they went to come up with ideas for a new �Freemium� � a free to the reader premium magazine, which would therefore need to be funded by advertisers.� The show (Lord Sugar, we are told) had lined up three major media buyers for the teams to pitch their concepts to, and armed the teams with lists of the buyers� clients.

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The task was therefore:

  • Come up with a concept that advertisers would see as appealing to their target markets
  • Mock-up a demo edition
  • Develop a compelling pitch
  • Negotiate rates

So far, so simple.� I think we can ignore the appearance of not consulting the lists of advertisers and put that down to editing, and acknowledge that both teams identified a clear target market:� Logic chose young men and focused on a Lads� Mag, while venture went for the bigger and wealthier �silver market� and created a magazine for the over 60s.

Understand your market

Once you have selected a market segment, the onus is on you to understand that market and create a product that they will really want.� A desirable magazine to a narrowly focused audience is gold-dust to advertisers who want that audience to buy their product, so off the sub-teams went to meet the focus groups.� Why do the project managers always send a sub-team to meet the focus group, and then stay back in their lush office space to fantasise about what they would say if they were on the focus group?� Of course, their fantasies are usually wide of the mark and so they quickly get committed to an idea based on no data.� The sub-group then phones in with their learning and the PM over-rules them with a fully-formed idea that conflicts with the advice of the �experts�.� Remember the generic pet food that conflicted with the vet�s advice.

This week, we saw:

Logic
Real lads from a rugby team said � �treat us as more mature�
PM Natasha said � �porn sells, give them b00bs�

Venture
Over 60s said � �we�re not old, don�t do knitting, have a wide variety of interests�
PM Jim said � �I don�t like ironic, give it some class, show me a cardigan�

Both teams produced a cover with a back-to-the-eighties feel.

Spoiler alert

In both cases, we saw team leaders do what team leaders should do: making a decision.� But we didn�t see them doing something far more important: listening to their team objectively before making their decision.� If you lead a team, do you have a regular team meeting?� Many do.� Here is an important test question for you if you do:

�What happens on the day of the team meeting if you are not there?�

Does it:

  1. Get cancelled
  2. Get started then people realise they have no leader, so drift away, seeing it as pointless
  3. Go ahead, with team members confidently covering team business and one of them taking responsibility for briefing you on your return

Only answer c represents a true �Team Meeting�: the others are �Team Leaders� Meetings�.� A good team has individuals with different ideas, different skills and different experiences.� Some may have even been to a focus group.� A team meeting is not where you tell the team what you have decided: it is where the whole team discusses all of the knowledge, data, ideas that members have and shares their differing perspectives and analysis.� It may be the team leader who decides, but if you do, you must weigh all of the evidence, not follow your own reasoning without accepting challenge.

Apprentice Lesson 9

Use the diversity of team perspectives to create a better decision

The result

Neither publication convinced all of the buyers; and all the reservations centred around points that team members had raised and been thwarted on.� The big difference came as a result of the pitches.� Both team leaders were given an opportunity to negotiate a substantial deal to sell all the space in their magazine to one agency.� Notice the key phrase: �the opportunity to negotiate�.

As we now know, Jim passed up this opportunity by doggedly sticking to his rate card.� This seems uncharacteristic in the man who, earlier in the series charmed an extra tenner off the price of a slab of meet between agreeing a price and paying for it.� It cost him the round and threw him into a boardroom that most viewers expected him to leave from in a cab alone.

Apprentice Lesson 10

Listen and watch for the signals, and always be prepared to negotiate.

Jim shocked his team colleagues by failing to realise that an interested potential buyer is worth negotiating with.� He may have not got to a deal, but offering nothing of substance in concession to a great offer suggests to the potential buyer that you are either: arrogant, foolish, or just possibly exceptional.� In this case, the buyer knew the last of these was impossible � start-ups need support and they bought nothing in response: �nothing will come of nothing� says Lear to Cordelia.

The Boardroom

Well, I expected Jim to go.� He passed on blame (never popular), failed to listen to good advice, and missed the commercial signals badly (always a killer for Lord Sugar).� So why did he stay?

I think there are two reasons and in these, I compare him to last year�s nearly man, Stuart Baggs.� The cynic might say (and I might agree) that the reason Lord Sugar kept Jim was because this is a show and, like Stuart, he is good entertainment.� Lord Sugar knows he will have more opportunities to fire Jim, so if he is sure he doesn�t want Glen, and then he can keep Jim until he is ready.

But on the face of it, like Stuart too, he kept Jim because he sees �a glimmer of something�.� Jim�s manipulative and slippery behaviour will not be to Lord Sugar�s taste, but he surely sees, as I do, some real talent.� And like Stuart, Jim stands his ground in the boardroom.

Susan stood her ground very well too.� I agree that her pre-Apprentice achievements are impressive and these are what Lord Sugar wanted her to back up by her performance in the coming weeks.� Whether she will�

Both Jim and Susan need to continue to stand their ground,
but each must change the way they do it.

Jim EastwoodJim must learn to use his charm with more integrity.� Take real responsibility,
listen well and sell ideas rather than manipulate.� I think that as the field strengthens,
manipulation will be increasingly harder anyway.� Jim is about to face some real tests.

So please, a little less of the “I can take their hearts. I can take their minds”
and “I was the project manager they loved.”

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Susan MaSusan must learn to apply the genuine charm and strength she shows in the boardroom
to her colleagues.� She has been somewhat complicit in their dismissing her to date,
but if she can find a way to quietly influence without shouting, she could go a long way.

One last note: Engineers

Dyson Vacuum Cleaner“I never met an engineer who was good at business”
I bet the Sugar household has a Dyson!
… even if Lord Sugar never uses it.

 

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