TV Review: The Apprentice Week 2 - The art of listening

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After the initial excitement of getting to know the candidates in week 1, I was looking forward to seeing how they all shaped up and settled in this week.
 
Would the boys continue to be the perfect dream team working in peace and harmony? Would the girls continue to scare unsuspecting children and shop owners? Would the awkward battles for PM commence as people start wanting to prove themselves? I waited with anticipation…
 
The task
 
The task this week - design a new household gadget. As they stood in the Victoria & Albert museum, surrounded by the best of British design, Lord Sugar stressed that the success of this task would be in the product concept. The teams then had to pitch their product to retailers and the group with the most orders wins.
 
Good task.
 
On the girls’ team, Jane stepped up as PM. After a pretty dismal brainstorming session, there were 2 ideas left on the table. Actually there were only 2 ideas full stop: the tap cozy cushion (a play on a tea cozy but for the tap end of the bath) and the Splish Splash childrens bath screen (to prevent water splashing on to the floor and to provide entertainment for the child). Both slightly missing the point of innovative new gadget.
 
Azhar put himself forward as PM for the boys. Here we had a more participative brainstorming session, with one key product emerging as the favourite – a food compost bin that compresses food waste.
 
Market research
 
Next – the market research. This is where it got messy. Both groups fundamentally failed to really listen to their customers. And for the girls, this was their downfall.
 
They initially took the feedback about their splash screen well. The practicalities of not being able to interact and care for a baby or small child with a screen in the way just didn’t appeal to the mums. Funny that. The tap cozy did however go down well.
 
Their next failing; lack of communication. As the girls split in to 2 groups, one went off to the designer and the other cracked on with the product concept. The result – a great design for a tap cozy and a sub-group that had decided to go with the splash screen. What a waste of time!
 
Jane gave up on her product (and therefore her customers) at the first sign of a challenge. The challenge being taps come in all shapes and sizes making the design of the tap cozy difficult. Er, adjustable strap maybe?
 
Under pressure from her sub-team (who weren’t at the customer research by the way) to go with the Splash screen, Jane gave in. Poor, very poor.
 
And let’s not forget the boys. Adam, oh Adam. Adam and his last minute all-in-one-marigold-scourer-and-sponge idea. Not a bad idea but as one guy at the focus group said, “I’d rather just buy a sponge”.
 
Again, Adam failed to listen to this feedback. Did it go over his head or did he make a conscious decision to ignore it? Either way, the feedback to the PM and other sub-group was that people unanimously loved the idea. 
 
Luckily Azhar had the balls to stick with the initial idea and not change it at the last minute. This led to some (in my books) much needed tension in the group. Azhar didn’t handle his team conflict with much empathy or emotion. But he took the right decision to stick to his guns all the same.
 
The pitches
 
So with products designed and prototypes made, it was off to the pitches. Disappointingly, they weren’t all too bad. Certainly not as cringe-worthy as some pitches we’ve seen on Apprentices gone by.
 
The girls’ mistake? They didn’t know their numbers. Jane had delegated the job of finance to 2 members of the team, assuming they’d be capable of working out some pretty simple profit and margin numbers.
 
Jane’s mistake? 1) delegating without really understanding the capabilities of her team and 2) not following up on her delegated duties before the team were put in the spotlight.
 
I did feel a bit for Jane here – as PM you do have to put trust and faith in your team. You can’t do everything yourself. However, as the leader of the group she should have been all over the numbers.
 
So they embarrassingly winged their way through a presentation to Amazon quoting margins of 240%!! But that was on an order of 1 million units! I love to aim high, but really, 1 million units????
 
Next, to the boys. I thought the pitches were ok, good in fact. However the inventor of their product, Duane, was instructed not to speak during the pitch. Crazy!! The most passionate person there was forbidden to get involved in any way or answer any questions.
 
I was so pleased when Duane, clearly low conformist like me, did speak up and save Stephen from a pretty dismal Q&A about the USP of the bin. The good thing is that the boys learned from this and at the next pitch, Duane was introduced as the presenter and handled the Q&A – nice.
 
The boardroom
 
So, to the boardroom.
 
Sugar was not so impressed with the girls splish splash bathroom screen and it seemed the retailers weren’t either. The girls lost the task, securing 7,500 orders from Amazon (despite the awful pitch) but none from Lakeland.
The boys secured 13,000 and left the board room victorious once again.
 
Jane bought Jenna and Maria back to the boardroom. Jenna for the cock up on the finances. And Maria for a lack of contribution (note her name hasn’t come up yet in this blog).
 
It was quite right that Lord Sugar was disappointed in all 3 candidates. All having their own business, the lack of product innovation and business basics that lost them this task was not acceptable. Would they let this happen in their boardroom?
 
Jane and Jenna made it through by the skin of their teeth. Maria was fired. Her key failing; falling asleep. Never a good look. And don’t get me started on that eye shadow… This I think was the right decision. Although Jenna and Jane clearly had parts to play in the failing of the task, at least they played a part and were passionate.
 
Key Learning – Listening
 
The key learning this week is the art of listening. And in particular, listening to your customers. You have to listen to what your customers want.
 
In fact, the great Steve Jobs told us we need to get closer than ever to our customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves. In this week’s Apprentice some people put their ego before their customer and some people let challenges get in the way of their customers views.
 
To succeed in business you need to constantly check in and listen to what your customers want. To ignore and disregard their feedback is sacrilege and will only lead to one thing – someone in your team getting fired! 
 
 

Jess Stroud is a lead consultant at talent management consultancy, The Chemistry Group.

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