Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Apprentice Final – Is This Any Way Run A Business?


It’s over.  This year’s Apprentice has had its two-hour final and Mark was awarded his heavily fought win. 
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My purpose for this final Apprentice blog is to assess the series as a whole.

Way back in the 1960s there was an ad for National Airlines in the United States that had a slogan, "Is this any way to run an airline?  You bet it is!"

I had that tag line in mind watching the past twelve weeks of The Apprentice, having changed it to read, "Is this any way to run a business? You bet it isn't."

What I realised since the very first series 10 years ago, and have had that realisation reinforced with each subsequent series, is that I fundamentally disagree with the way Lord Sugar does business, even within a much edited entertainment programme.

I like Alan Sugar. I like his straight forward approach, his cutting to the chase and usually getting to the heart of the matter quite quickly. I even sometimes like his abrasive manner and impatience.  After all, he didn't get where he is today without incredible skills, determination and an ability to beat the odds.  Hey, my first computer was an Amstrad, so I  even have a soft spot for his pioneering work.

I initially really liked the premise of The Apprentice and there's much that still makes for compelling television:  the drama, the ingenuity of the tasks, the tension of the Boardroom, the Prokofiev theme tune, even the naivety of the Candidates.

There is much, however, that I wouldn't exactly say I dislike, but it's more a clash of values.  Or at least the values that are portrayed in the programme.  We don't actually know whether Lord Sugar runs his own business the way he runs The Apprentice, so I'll only focus on what we all see on our screens.

Every task's win has been determined by bottom line results.  And indeed, you cannot run a business without bottom line results or else you end up joining the dole queue.  Yet I know I'm not alone in shouting at the telly when what I perceive as the ‘wrong’ team wins because their figures are better.

The wins are based on who gets the most orders, who makes the most money.  All the other elements that go into making a successful business are ignored:  communications skills, good customer service, team working, giving and receiving support, giving and receiving acknowledgement and praise, creativity (who can forget Skeletongate!), kindness, emotional intelligence.

Some of those qualities are examined in the Boardroom once the winning team has been announced and given their treat, while the losing team project manager has to drag in two of his/her colleagues to be raked over.  At that point issues concerning team working, communication, trust, etc. are scrutinised and assessed.

But what if the erstwhile apprentices didn’t have to wait till they are drawn and quartered in the Boardroom to be judged on how well they managed everything but the bottom line?

What if each task was weighted with some of those elements, then the winners of each task may very well be different. And what added drama there could be if not only the bottom line was at stake, but how colleagues worked together, how they interacted with the public, how they managed their own emotions, how they 'attacked' each task (what skills did they use; what compassion did they show; what fairness did they demonstrate; how well did they handle conflict; how well did they encourage?).

Obviously, The Apprentice in its current format is successful and as they say,” if it ain't broke, don't fix it”.

Not only that, after all, it’s Lord Sugar’s money on the table so he can do ‘it’ however he wants.

I do want to posit something to think about.

Why I'm even bothering writing about it in this way is about the message it gives to people who are entering the business world or wanting to get ahead in business. It doesn't have to be all aggression, profit driven, chasing the buck.

Successful businesses can and do run without any of that, with a focus far more on the well being of it's employees, on encouraging and inspiring, on retaining and developing customers through superb customer service, on developing the skills of the people who make the business happen.

Obviously the BBC and Lord Sugar like the messages the programme promotes or they wouldn't still be doing it.

We at Impact Factory know there's a more humane and gentler way of doing business that doesn't have to rely solely on results and promotes the best that people have to offer.

And by the way, good luck Mark – a tough market to break into.



By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory


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