The way the apprentice cookie crumbles

Jamie Lyons, co-founder of FundedApps, Adi Gaskell, editor for the CMI's management blog, and Nigel Botterill, founder of Entrepreneur's Circle, offer their views on Wednesday's The Apprentice, in which the teams had to produce and market a new brand of biscuit.

Jamie Lyons

Zoe, this week’s project manager for Team Logic, immediately started to show the weaknesses in her business approach from the start of the planning process. Teamed with another strong character, Melody, the pair’s emotions often caused an obstacle in a task where a clear decisive strategy was key.

The personal feud that ensued for the subsequent three days culminated in Logic’s ultimate downfall – they received zero supermarket orders for ‘Bixmix’ – despite super-aide Nick’s observation that they had fulfilled Lord Sugar’s brief.

Team Venture, on the other hand, were harmoniously led by Helen, a candidate who week-on-week delivers concise business pitches and acts in a professional manner. Following faultless planning, she led her team to victory after receiving an offer of exclusivity for ‘Special Stars’ from Asda.

In contrast to their counterparts, Team Venture had a clear strategy that was followed throughout the task, despite Karen Brady’s concerns that their branding gave out mixed messages.

So how did Team Logic lose the task, considering their product concept was seemingly a stronger proposition than Team Venture’s?

Well, it was a combination of poor leadership, bad communication, no clear target market, and a lack of understanding about the competitive landscape.

The lesson to be learnt here is that however strong your offering, failure won’t be far away if your strategy isn’t implemented in the right way – and that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Adi Gaskell

The workplace is seldom a social nirvana, so figuring out how to both get on with people and also to get the most out of them is a key skill for managers to master.

Sadly it’s one that Zoe never really got to grips with during her tenure on The Apprentice. Time after time she would let her emotions bubble to the surface, venting her frustrations either directly or indirectly at her colleagues. Last night we had such pearls as her not giving a ‘shiny shit about Melody’ and that Natasha ‘is everywhere, she gets where dirt can’t’.

All of which is perhaps amusing as an outsider looking in, but is probably not the best way to get the best out of the people you work with. Anyway, as mentioned earlier, it’s one thing to dislike the people you work with, but quite another to let that affect your performances. Here’s a few things Zoe should have kept in mind to help manage those difficult relationships a bit better.

1. Talk to them, not at them. Zoe was cracking at talking at people. Her style was authoritarian rather than collegiate, and it’s a style that tends to rub people up, especially younger ‘Generation Y’ employees.

2. Don’t run from trouble. No one really likes conflict, but it won’t get better if you avoid it. Much better to take a frank and candid approach to get things sorted earlier rather than later.

3. Don’t focus on mistakes. The past is the past. If you’re always focusing on the mistakes people made in the past then it won’t help you or them move on and improve.

4. Concentrate on issues, not personalities. Zoe got kind of hung up on some of the personalities competing against her. Once you do that and make issues personal it’s hard to find constructive solutions. Much better to focus on the issues and take personalities out of the equation.

5. Have a thick skin. If you take criticism personally then any feedback will instigate a defensive response from you. Not the best way of improving yourself or your team.

6. Avoid giving people labels. Zoe quickly branded people as ‘the enemy’ in her mind. Once someone has that kind of label attached then you often only see behaviours that confirm that label.

7. Focus on the positives in people. Similarly, if you focus on the negative traits in people you will only see bad things. By contrast, if you focus on their strengths then you are much more likely to get the best out of those proverbial pains in the backside.

8. Invest time in them. If you like someone then building connections with them is a piece of cake. Doing likewise with difficult people is much harder but equally important. Don’t shirk the extra effort.

9. Look at yourself. We all like to think that we’re great, but research suggests that our self perceptions are often wide of the mark. Try to look at yourself in a critical light, or get feedback from someone not afraid to tell you a warts and all appraisal of how you’re behaving. It might well be you that’s the problem, not the ‘pain in the backside’.

Nigel Botterill

Some of the comments this week coming from the candidates who were supposed to be working together will make company bosses up and down the country shudder. For example, Susan’s narrative into the bathroom mirror: ‘When it comes to biscuits, Zoe and I are on a similar level. On a personal level, she is one of the bitchiest and most back stabbing people I’ve ever met!’

Tom is the nicest guy remaining in the series, but surely can’t win it as he doesn’t have the chutzpah to work for Lord Sugar. I feel that in the end, Melody will be considered a bit too aggressive to win the whole thing, as this characteristic can be a big no-no for company bosses.

The strong point of both biscuit brands was the packaging, put together with branding agency, ‘1HQ,’ in Windsor which was sharp, crisp, refreshing and something that would stand out off the shelf. The problem for ‘Bix Mix’ was that the quality of the actual biscuit really let them down.

Jim pulled off an amazing coup when he gained 800,000 orders and effectively won the task. It does give a slightly dubious business lesson though when the message is, ‘When in doubt, make it up,’ as Jim did when he started talking about a £30 million marketing campaign!

In the end, the right person was sent home I think, although Tom and Susan will feel fortunate to have survived. As regards a potential winner, it’s difficult to look past Helen as her winning streak makes her the outstanding candidate.

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The Apprentice

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