Category Archives: UK economy

Apprentice candidates miss the quality mark


Forgotten t-shirts and questionably placed cameras got the first three contestants fired from the new series of the Apprentice – the programme that is more about a battle of egos than raw talent trying to prove they have the business acumen to invest in a business with Lord Sugar.

Inevitably, the first episode was all about forming teams and in true management training style, the show was full of the usual clichés: “there’s no ‘I’ in team but 5 in individual brilliance” – not quite grasping that they had the resources around them to do the job – if only they’d taken the trouble to find out.

There were lots of lessons for aspiring leaders – the first being the need to listen. We probably all know the person Lord Sugar called ‘an irritant’ – the one that always seems to put the contrary view. Watch out, they may be the most creative one and, once in a while they may just have the right solution to a problem. And, some new management jargon emerged – the absence of a clear cognitive function in the leader – to you and I, that’s the ability to think. Oh dear.

Talking of jargon, the use of ‘added-value’ is bandied around without really understanding the meaning of it. ‘Added value to whom?’ might be an appropriate question to ask the contestants. Inevitably it did not involve finding out what the customer might consider added value but rather how many bells and whistles you could get on a product. This included gourmet hotdogs slathered with guacamole, solar panels on women’s jackets and a grey jumper with a recording facility (which, as Lord Sugar wryly observed, even a shoplifter would take back). Also ignored was the capability of delivering the product.

Sadly, this does reflect the situation in companies today and could be overcome by engaging with the Quality Professional (QP) at an early stage in a product life cycle. Who other than the QP is better placed to bring the voice of the customer into the design stage and understand the capability to deliver? Unfortunately this is the exception rather than the rule with many QP’s only getting involved when problems occur.

Despite the predictable claims to be capable of “selling ice to Eskimos” for example, evidence of this skill was noticeably absent with one team admitting that they wouldn’t be seen out in public wearing their product and agreeing with the retailers’ negative points. Team Tenacity, as they are now known, did prepare their pitch, highlighting what the retailer’s customers might find attractive about their product – and even winning the one and only order of the episode. We QPs could help out here with such basics as knowing your product, knowing your consumer and knowing the environment. Focus groups with customers and suppliers are increasingly recognised as an effective means of exploring these issues.

A lack of leadership, planning and delegation needed for the task in hand was pretty shocking. Inevitably it wasn’t long before it degenerated into the usual chaos and the blaming started – resulting in an apprentice first – a candidate fired before discussions began.

All was forgiven in the winning team who jetted off to enjoy their treat while the machinations continued for the losers. Of course it couldn’t happen in real life (or could it?).

Marilyn Dyason has over 30 years’ experience as a senior manager, consultant and researcher in the field of quality management.