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The Apprentice Assessed: Week 9 – Laura’s Tripped Up by the Truffles

2nd Dec 2010
R&D Director a&dc
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Blog Post by Rhian Griffiths - Senior Consultant, A&DC

With just 7 candidates remaining, this week was destined to be competitive from the outset. With Stella demonstrating her passion to succeed (Drive), “I’m here to win, I’ve always been here to win” and Jamie determined to show Lord Sugar that he’s “still got [his] spark”, it seemed that all were fired up and ready to show their worth.

This week’s task involved the candidates “wheeling and dealing”, to demonstrate their skills in buying and negotiating. They were given a list of 10 items which each team had to buy at the lowest price possible, incurring penalties if they failed to purchase the item. Liz led the team of girls (Apollo) whilst Jamie put himself forward as project manager for team Synergy, determined to learn from mistakes in previous weeks(Learning Agility).

Jamie began the task by briefing team Synergy on some useful techniques for negotiating: to “start low as you can always go up”, not to accept the first price, to be prepared to give a little and to have a story in mind to justify your asking price. The discussion was short and sharp, apparently with the strategy of motivating the others and starting to source the items as soon as possible – “let’s negotiate our little bottoms off” (Drive). And with that the boys left, not knowing what the items were, or where to find them (low Intellect/Drive in Overdrive).

Team Apollo on the other hand, took a much steadier approach to this week’s task, under the careful guidance of Liz about the need to focus on where to target – the priority was to find a supplier. Joanna’s persistence in sourcing the Blue Book was particularly impressive and her two hours of calling paid off in terms of finding out what it was and where to find it (Drive). She further demonstrated effective negotiating skills in buying this book from the supplier, by appealing to their softer side (Emotional Intelligence), “your friend said he’d look after us […] and I was hoping you would as well”. In the meantime the boys were running around, as Lord Sugar put it “like headless chickens”.

However, when the apparently mindless searching paid off, Jamie effectively demonstrated two key negotiating skills: never to take “no” for an answer, and that persistence and determination (Drive) can get you the price you want. Here came an interesting contrast in the negotiating techniques used by both teams. Team Synergy were playing ‘hard and fast’ (Drive), focusing on the short term gain to win the task. The girls on the other hand were using their high values and emotional intelligence to build relationships and establish rapport with suppliers. However, to their detriment they failed to balance this with tough negotiating and on one occasion seemed satisfied to walk away with £1 discount. Whilst arguably an effective technique for establishing long term relationships, Laura seemed to be the only one focused on the task at hand and aware of the consequences of this approach, “to win this, we have to be rude and we have to be a little bit cheeky” (Intellect).

Team Apollo’s fundamental error in this task however, came down to basic maths. In “truffle-gate”, Stella’s inaccurate calculation resulted in the team paying twice the worth of the white truffles. Stella at this stage demonstrated an as yet uncharacteristic tendency when she lied to Liz about trying to call her to agree the final price (low Values). Stuart and Chris however, took this deception to a whole other level, with Karen likening them to “Laurel and Hardy”. It seems they had taken Jamie’s instruction to “tell a story” quite literally, with Chris lying to suppliers about needing the Blue Book for his brother to revise for an exam, the tartan as a present for his elderly grandmother in Scotland, and truffles for dinner that evening. Strangely enough however, this cringe worthy demonstration seemed to work for the duo and suppliers warmed to their blatantly obvious attempts at deception.

To both teams’ surprise however, it was the boys that were victorious this week, heading to the “L’Arc de Triomphe for [their] Triumph” as Chris so eloquently put it. This victory however, did not come without Lord Sugar issuing Jamie with a health warning that he did not show a good example to the team as project manager. Liz on the other hand, seemed keen to learn from her mistakes, asking where the differences were in the two team’s performances (Learning Agility). The high values and emotional intelligence that have carried Liz and Stella through the past weeks were to their detriment this week, as they failed to adapt their style to suit the task at hand. In the end though, it was Laura who was fired, with Lord Sugar’s rationale being on balance that the past performance of the other two was what had kept them in.

On their return to the house, we got a glimpse of Liz’s darker side and perhaps what will be her weakness in this competition, in that she seemed unable to separate business from personal feelings, flagging to the rest of the candidates what Stella had said in the boardroom and how unfair she thought it was (low Values and Emotional Intelligence), leaving Chris to conclude “oooh, it’s tense”. With Lord Sugar voicing some concerns about whether Stella is made for his organisation (Cultural Fit), being too “wooden” and “corporate”, and Stuart emerging as a possible “dark horse” in the competition, beginning to demonstrate more appropriate humour (Learning Agility) and a sense of humanity (Emotional Intelligence), it looks set to be a fight to the finish.

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