Young Apprentice 2011–3: Decision Making and Personal Animus
This week’s episode saw the teams separated by the smallest of margins (less than 3% of profit). It also saw the final phases of the boardroom play out exactly as I was expecting. My notes were constantly a few minutes ahead and I concur 100% with Lord Sugar’s assessments this evening – which I don’t always do.
And, whilst three of the women are not getting as much airtime as some of the other contenders, we are starting to see who some of the stronger and weaker candidates are.
This week’s task was to turn £800 worth of stock in the form of cut flowers into profit by making up arrangements and bouquets. The teams had two routes to market:
Three head-to-head pitches to:
- a five star hotel for a wedding,
- a top end hairdressing salon for window displays, and
- a West End theatre for bouquets for two leading men and two leading ladies.
- The Public
One pitch each in a top end London market site
The teams were allocated by Lord Sugar:
Led by Hannah Richards
Zara and Lewis pitched to corporates
Hannah, Gbemi, and Harry M learned arranging and did the pricing
Led by Lizzie Magee
James and Harry H pitched to corporates
Lizzie, Haya, and Hayley learned arranging and did the pricing
The Pitches to Corporates
I have already put on record that I think Harry H is a serious contender, but I was distinctly unimpressed by his behaviour at the first pitch when, impatient for a price from the team-mates back at the floristry studio, he turned off the phone and said to James:
“We’ll figure out a figure.” Worse still, seconds later, finding it tricky, he said:
“we’ll do it in the meeting”.
He plumped for £175
Luckily for Harry, when Zara consulted her PM for a price at the same Hotel venue,
and Hannah priced it at £165; Zara unilaterally went in at £200.
If they win, the extra contribution to the margin would make her a hero: if they lose, the loss making bid would make her a target. Let’s see.
Harry’s behaviour paled against one thing that James said, which shocked me: winning the hotel bid, he confirmed the phone had been hung up, and then said: “Let’s make it out of cheap sh*te”. What kind of language passes for business English in Northern Ireland these days? Jim Eastwood would be shocked too, I hope. Like Jim, James thinks he has the gift of the gab, but his poor manners, inattention to the details of business dress, and his boorishness are grating on me.
Not surprisingly, the hotel staff were vastly disappointed with the lame arrangements – particularly the pathetic mantelpiece display which Nick (somewhat generously) described as more appropriate to a jam jar than a five star hotel. Kinetic had to offer a discount, from £175 to £150 and the hotel had to find an alternate display for their wedding party.
Now let’s see what we can learn from Lewis – the fourth member of the pitching teams: Taciturn and sulky for much of the episode, his inability to respect a potential client by silencing his phone in a pitch was rude and, like Lord Sugar, I found his excuse of not being able to work his phone a little lame. But I have to be honest here: whilst my phone has never gone off in a client meeting, I have on occasion been mortified after a meeting to realise I had forgotten to turn it off.
It’s time for a rant about mobile phones, I think (although I do recognise that it is akin to Cnut ranting about the tide). A mobile phone is like giving permission to dozens/hundreds of people to interrupt you rudely in the middle of just about anything. People are constantly surprised when I tell them not to use my mobile number on days I am in the office, but I do turn it off. Let’s do that more: it’s good manners in meetings and good time management when doing some forms of work.
Anyway, Zara and Lewis still won that pitch – well done Zara for an excellent sale where you listened to the customer and managed to keep your thread through Lewis’s phone distractions. How? Because Zara did listen and respond appropriately, whilst Harry H and James did neither – blagging a pitch so badly that they were not even asked for a price. James may, however, come to be credited with the next big thing in floral design: “rainforest chic”.
In passing, I agree with Karren’s assessment of how well Atomic did in producing bouquets for two of the corporates (the salon and the theatre) that garnered rich praise from the customers for their quality of design. In business, reputation is vital, so investing in quality is a critical skill, James.
Selling to the Public
How to price bouquets? Harry H in Kinetic learned last week’s lesson very well and suggested that they start by tripling cost price and if it doesn’t work, move down. Harry M had learned that lesson too, and expressed his concern that the women on the team had not learned that lesson and were pricing too low, starting with a two-times cost price mark-up. He spoke truth to power, but was unheard.
This, incidentally, shows that we learn more clearly when we fail – as the boys did last week – rather than when we succeed.
All the team members shown seemed to be selling well to the public, although I was particularly impressed by what we saw of Kinetic. However, Atomic did have an easy job selling – as one customer noted: “for London prices, it’s very cheap.” James displayed market trader patter more at home in the Spitalfields of my childhood than the smart, covered market of today, but I was very impressed by Harry and Gbemi’s shop-to-shop initiative of selling displays.
Whatever assertions were to be made in the boardroom though, what we saw was Harry determined to sell the big ugly flowers (a form of heliconia, I think) and really grafting at it. He worked hard on what eventually became the sale and I would attribute the sale 100% to him on the evidence we saw (which may have been corrupted in the editing process, but I don’t think so on this occasion).
Into the boardroom
Kinetic won, by a margin of just under £13.
What was Atomic’s fault? Was it:
… (a) Zara’s initiative to double mark-up the bid to the Hotel?
… (b) The team decision to set low-end prices for market sales?
Hannah chose to bring Zara back into the boardroom for error (a) and Harry M back for not being a team player. In this, she seemed to be operating out of personal animus:
- Hannah clearly disliked the way Zara had gone against her pricing decision and raised the price.
It was indeed, in retrospect an error – but good decisions are not defined by being right, but by
being made by due consideration of the evidence. A high bid was not guaranteed to lose if the
other team had also bid high. Zara’s error was in being very commercial bout her margin
– which Lord Sugar would commend – she had not listened carefully enough to the bidding
rules that excluded the possibility of a negotiation. A fault, but was it heinous?
- Everyone clearly dislikes Harry M. For my money, whilst it is easy to see character
flaws, he does score above some on maturity and he is often right (a bit like Tom Pellereau).
However, unlike Tom, Harry presses his point home forcibly and rubs most or all of his
colleagues up the wrong way.
Just as I was thinking Hannah had chosen the two two strongest candidates to bring back in, we started to see indications that Lord Sugar did too. He later said as much.
Lewis has shown himself immature on task and off. Among mostly young men and women, in the shots we was, he still acts like a boy. I am not sure we saw Gbemi contribute much today – nor in the last two weeks – and the same is true of Hannah. Clearly, however, Hannah is a good team co-ordinator who is well liked, but she made the wrong decisions, for the wrong reasons. She chose the wrong price point with the market sales and both of the wrong candidates to go back to the boardroom.
I think Harry – though not liked – is a strong candidate and Zara is too, building on last week’s strong performance.
So, Hannah had to go.
The rest of the candidates looked disappointed on a personal level. Few if any wanted Harry M back: all seemed sad to lose Hannah. Lewis stormed off – at the loss of Hannah or the return of Harry M we don’t know, but I suspect more the latter, after last week.
So, for the Avoidance of doubt…
The Three Criteria for a Good Decision
- It is made with reference to all of the data available
- It follows a sound process that allows testing of data and contrary views to be heard and respected on their merits
- It is made by the right person for the right reasons
A good decision does not have to be right, but it sets up the conditions that allow you to be right more often.
I have written more about decision failure on the Management Pocketblog.
Goodbye Hannah. I think you should have gone further.
My current thinking:
Strong: Harry H and Zara
Strengths: Harry M (with a flaw) and Haya (with limited data)
Too little data: Hayley and Lizzie
Weak: Gbemi, James and Lewis
What do you think? Please comment below.