Friday, 28 November 2014

The Apprentice Episode 8

Well, James finally got the sack.  I can see why Lord Sugar likes him, but his inability to listen, his tendency to steamroller his team-mates and his ego simply got in the way.

Take a look at the article on Impact Factory’s Facebook Page  ( on 10 Common Leadership Mistakes by John Brandon.

James made at least 8 of them!

Clearly James’s worst ‘sin’ is one of immaturity.  He is so intent on his goal that he doesn’t yet realise how to take others along with him.

The problem we often see when we go into organisations is that people far older and supposedly more mature make the same kind of mistakes in the guise of being an effective leader:  ignoring other people’s contributions; discouraging debate, riding roughshod over opposing ideas, going like the clappers with blinders on.

I certainly hope that James – who is very bright indeed – will truly learn from his mistakes and not become the all too common leader who intimidates his way to the top.  Fear may get results, but it’s a pretty poor way of covering your inadequacies.

We are great advocates of Leading with Kindness by William Baker and Michael O’Malley, which posits that callousness can be replaced with a gentler kind of Leadership.  And by gentler they don’t mean namby-pamby, wishy-washy; they mean generosity, fairness, motivation, integrity and openness.  They also mean vulnerability.

Being vulnerable and allowing others to see that in you creates common ground, empathy and the basis for far deeper and more genuine relationships.

For us Leadership is also about the ability to see what’s going on around you and being able to adjust and adapt your behaviour to what is happening rather than trying to make what is happening fit into what you want.

I have talked about listening before and I know I will talk about it again:  a great leader listens, takes in what people are saying, hears the subtexts – what’s underneath what people are saying and then acts.

Talking over others, cramming your point of view down people’s throats may get immediate results, but won’t get you loyalty and commitment.  By listening and hearing, you allow others to express themselves and you will have good useful information.

No leader acts (or should act) on everything others want; through listening and considering the thoughts and feelings of others, they do, however, create a climate of honesty that pays back dividends.

Finally, for now, lets look at being too speedy – in James’s case, another trait was his barging around, not stopping for breath…rushing, rushing.

If you can slow yourself down, take a breath, look around and get off the fast track for a moment, you have a far greater chance of deploying those Leadership skills of generosity, fairness, openness and caring for others – the true qualities of a great leader.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Leadership and Communication Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Apprentice – Episodes 5 and 6

After the cull during Episode 4 and the sacking at the end of Episode 5, there are fewer people in each team.

With fewer people you can really observe the team dynamics, the way people communicate (or not), their body language, their support of each other or lack thereof.

Granted, we don’t see three whole days of planning and team interaction; it all has to be edited to make good telly, but we see enough to make a whole lot of assumptions.  Who’s full of BS; who does their homework; who rolls their eyeballs….a lot; who’s an ameliorator; who still can’t listen to other people’s input, and so on.

Episode 5

My colleague Tina Lamb wrote about Episode 5 - the coach trips - in terms of Negotiation Skills with great insight.

I’d like to write a few words about the Customer Service provided….or not.

We are really big on Customer Service here at Impact Factory.  I’ve written a couple of blogs about it and I imagine I’ll continue to do so because I feel passionate about it and because so much Customer Service is so ghastly.

Team Tenacity won the task – deservedly.  They were clear about their offer; Lauren was outstanding in the way she presented the tour of Blenheim Palace, mostly it was a joint effort and their customers overall seemed satisfied.

The worst bit of the tour was their mean, mingy lunch.  Anyone should know that even if there are hiccups along the way, if people are well and generously fed and watered they will feel far more forgiving of the odd mistake.

Note for the future:  If Jamie Oliver can produce a nutritious, good looking school dinner for under 40 pence per child, then a group of six creative people can produce an attractive, plentiful lunch and give people a free bottle of water for goodness sake!

Team Summit deservedly lost the task.  As a matter of fact, even if they had won on bottom line (extremely unlikely the way they were managing the task), I would have failed them for their lack of anything near good Customer Service.

What made it so abysmal?  They just didn’t take care of their customers.  Particularly awful was the ‘sing-along’ on the coach.  Was that appalling or what?  What made it appalling wasn’t the idea of a sing-along – given the right group of people, it might have come off.

But it wasn’t the right group of people.  What it was, was James ploughing through and imposing his will whether his audience wanted it or not.  So not only was he blind to what his customers needed or wanted, he completely ignored a shout from the back of the bus, “This is torture!”

Now if someone said to you that something you were doing was torture, mightn’t you pause for breath, find out why, change your tune as it were?  Mightn’t you even apologise for getting it wrong and try something else?

Not only did James do none of the above, he kept right on going, but none of his team mates intervened to rescue their punters. Their eyes were so focused on themselves and winning the task that they completely ignored the needs of their Customers.

We at Impact Factory make mistakes – how could we not?  What we do do is recover, make amends and keep the relationships with our customers focused on what they need, not what we wish to give them.

Episode 6

What shall we focus on from Episode 6?

This week the tables were turned and Team Summit won the game of the games through excellent negotiations skills (Bianca’s ‘giveaway’ boo boo notwithstanding), a good idea well executed in the time allotted and pretty good team-working.  James softened his negotiations approach and Sanjay was negotiating like a pro – good to see.

Team Tenacity fell down a great big hole.  There was Pamela in the first instance rolling her eyeballs and I could tell that there would be trouble up t’mill from the off.  Aside from creating a truly ghastly board game, this was a team that clearly couldn’t communicate with each other and was bent on settling into a blaming game quite early on.

The most difficult issue for me to watch was the non-existent listening skills that many of those team members displayed. Everyone was so intent in getting his/her point of view across that they simply talked over each other.  Or, if they didn’t like what they heard, they ignored it.

Having hit the heights in the previous episode by working as a team, this time it was a team divided, unable to use even the most basic listening skills to facilitate better communication.

Why do I bang on and on about Listening Skills?  If you can stop talking long enough to hear what the other person is saying you have a far greater chance of understanding where they’re coming from.

Even if you don’t agree with what someone else is saying, by really listening, you should be able to find something in their argument that you can use to find common ground.

What is so apparent on The Apprentice is that when these aspiring apprentices talk over each it’s all about getting their voices heard rather than using every opportunity possible to create dialogue.  It is only through dialogue that resolution can be reached.

Another form of poor listening skills is all about blaming someone else for anything that’s gone wrong and not taking responsibility for it.  Bianca made a major mistake and at least saw her mistake and its implications and took ownership of it.

No one on Team Tenacity put up their hand and said, “We screwed up and my part in it was….”

Instead accusation was heaped upon accusation and absolutely no one was listening to anyone else.

The question is, will that change as we moved past the half-way stage?  If I were Lord Sugar, I wouldn’t want to go into business with anyone who didn’t know how to keep their mouth shut when appropriate and listen to what others are saying.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication, Presentation and Project Management Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Apprentice - Episode 7

It's a relief now there are fewer candidates because we are able to see each individual more clearly and we can focus on what works about each one. We can also see more clearly where the communication gaps are and boy, both teams suffered from massive communication gaps in last night's episode.

To begin with there was the communication tension as teams decided who would be project manager and then who would stay in the UK and who would go to New York City.

The Apprentice: Big Apple trip is rotten for someone 
Isn't Lord Sugar clever when he sets his tasks (or his advisors or the BBC or whoever is responsible).  

The candidates weren't being sent to Omaha; they were going to The Big Apple where the world could be one's oyster if you got the axiom right. So immediately there was going to be a conflict on who goes and who stays, which inevitably coloured subsequent interaction.

As usual, there was lots of finger pointing and blaming in the debrief once everyone was back in the Boardroom, with no one holding up their hand and taking responsibility yet again for the many mistakes that happened along the way.  

This is the pattern and expectation and of course part of the drama game we as viewers are used to as the show aims its cameras on the "You're fired!" finger of Lord Sugar.

As far as I'm concerned, the failures and mistakes were down to only one thing:  the poor communication between team members situated on both sides of the 'pond'.

This is something we see time and time again when we work with multinationals: breakdown in communication when there are team members who work remotely.  

Of course, breakdown in communication can and does happen when people sit right next to each other in an office, but there is far more chance of it happening when there's distance involved.

What was dismaying to see with this task is that on each side of the Atlantic the sub teams had very specific and separate remits which meant that more than ever continual communication had to happen and didn't.

Let's take Team Tenacity, who lost the task and then blamed each other because the design was crap, the ad was poor and so on.

They were a perfect example of 'out of sight, out of mind'. You do your bit over there, I do my bit over here and somehow, magically, it will all join up perfectly in the end...which it didn't.

They were supposed to be a team and make decisions as a team, so that the initial designs should have gone back and forth dozens of times to be critiqued, tweaked, binned, begun again, redesigned, tweaked again and eventually approved by everyone.  

There shouldn't have been any surprise when the boxes of drinks were opened, just delight that something everyone agreed on was finally produced as they envisioned.

Daniel and Katy's design may have been rubbish, but the communication or lack thereof was far more to blame than the design itself.

Recently Impact Factory worked with a couple of organisations with this very issue. One team across two continents (coincidentally, the UK - London, and the USA - New York City).  In each case our remit was to work with the teams on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time to see how they could communicate more efficiently and consistently. 

The parallel with The Apprentice is that these teams were each working on time constrained projects, had project managers in place, had sub teams and were already in danger of falling into the 'out of sight, out of mind' syndrome.

Or even better, the "I sent him and email" justification, as though sending an email was the same thing as effective communication.

So here are some tips for teams who work remotely, which both Apprentice Teams could have used to better tackle their tasks:

Everyone needs to be absolutely clear what his/her role is and what the expectations are.

Everyone needs a clear deadline.

Both teams need to be in communication with each other via phone, video conferencing/Skype, email to continually apprise, monitor, check in, review and most importantly, support each other. Even though each sub team and each individual in each sub team may have very specific objectives, the common goal is to achieve success. 

That means that the entire team is in it together and the more included people feel, the more chances there are of success.

Part of that 'feeling included' is to catch hiccups, mistakes, gaps, issues, conflicts just about as soon as they happen rather than placing blame after the fact if things go badly wrong.  Every project has it's problems and some simply can't be anticipated. If you deal with the problems as soon as they arise (as opposed to hoping they'll sort themselves out all on their own), then the team becomes stronger and more aligned.

Work it out till you get everyone's agreement. Even if you have to Skype till three in the morning, do whatever it takes to sort out differences.  Don't wait till the end of your project to unpick where it went wrong - that should be a time of celebration for how it went well. If you handle problems as they arise and work to resolve them, then everyone does feel on board.

Speaking of that, the project manager should be continually acknowledging and praising. Even when someone screws up, help fix the mistake and let the other person feel a valued member of the team.

Even if one part of the project isn't within someone's expertise, ask for their input anyway.  In our experience people have untapped vats of creativity within them and they can often see something that the 'expert' can't because they're too close to the situation.

There's a time and palace for ego. We're great fans of ego - you need it in order to feed your confidence that you'll be up to the job. Ego helps you push through, it creates drive and also feeds creativity, especially when deadlines loom.

On the other hand ego can really get in the way. It causes ugly competitiveness, as opposed to healthy competition. It can spark jealousy and a desire to destroy those you perceive as your rivals. It makes you blind to see what's needed. It often makes you unkind, self-obsessed and ungenerous. 

The trick is balancing those polar opposites so you have the drive without the destruction.

Projects are exhilarating, exhausting, humbling and of course necessary for any organisation to succeed.  Projects that are managed with remote team members have more of a chance of coming a cropper.

If you focus on communication and getting it as right as possible, you'll be on to a winner.

Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Apprentice - Episode 5

Negotiating - we all have to do it, and we start young – “I will stop crying if you pick me up/feed me/ change me”

We negotiate with ourselves - “I won’t have a drink tonight and then I can have a big night on Friday”. With our partners – “you pick them up on Friday and then I will take to swimming on Saturday”, and of course at work it goes without saying – we negotiate all the time.

Last Wednesday night on The Apprentice, James from Team Summit highlighted perfectly how not to do it. He was blunt, overly forceful, did not listen, impolite, interrupted others, made insultingly low offers and at times was stuck like a broken record. Those around him cringed with embarrassment. The problem for James is not what he is trying to get (the lowest possible price for his team) it’s how he is trying to get there.

If it is true that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients / customers, then James’ style of influencing and negotiating is going to really let your down because clients simply won’t want to do business with him, and in today’s competitive market, they will find someone else to do business with.

At Impact Factory, we believe influencing and negotiating should go hand in hand. We run monthly courses that look at building relationships, finding ways for people to want to negotiate with you, finding ways to be collaborative where possible and still not give too much away and get a great price / deal etc.

Enter Mark from Team Tenacity – he negotiates in way that makes us proud! Charming, clear, polite, he listens to the client and gauges his offer accordingly. He got a fantastic price for his tour and you could tell the lady from Blenheim palace enjoyed the encounter.

I believe Alan Sugar has his eye on Mark and James to go - soon I hope!

Tina Lamb, Impact Factory, Senior Trainer Consultant