The new season of the Apprentice is well under way on BBC1. It is compelling viewing whether you agree with the recruitment and exit strategies on display or not.
For anyone who is not familiar with the format of the programme: a huge number of applicants (for a job initially and now for business investment) are whittled down by screening, to a select few who are put in teams and given a series of tasks to complete over a number of weeks and a series of interviews to attend. At the end of each task, one team is declared the winner, usually based upon the profit levels achieved and one member of the losing team is sent home in the boardroom to the cry of ‘you’re fired’ by the founder of Amstrad, Sir Alan Sugar. In the final programme, 1 person is ‘hired’ (or invested in).
From an HR or management perspective, it provides a fascinating insight into office politics, bullying, sexism, competence and incompetence at work. Furthermore, although strong personalities and annoying characteristics are usually prevalent to make for good television, there is no doubt that many at home can identify with the dynamics and behaviours on display, whether observed in colleagues, managers or indeed in themselves.
Here are some good practices from the programme which we may wish to emulate:
- Construction of a variety of challenging work based tasks and assessments to measure likely performance in the role (probably more valid than purely interviewing candidates).
- Team working, communication, financial acumen, leadership, planning, organising, marketing, sales, decision making and delegation competencies are reviewed each week as are individual contributions.
- Observer role to note competency in relation to tasks.
- Provision of 360 degree feedback from the observers, Sir Alan, work colleagues and customers.
- Probing questioning during structured interview assessment (although not entirely as displayed on the programme as is commented on below).
Here are some elements from the programme which it would be best to avoid:
- Exerting pressure and stress on candidates for an extensive period of time.
- Condoning sexist, racist, ageist or bullying language and behaviour on tasks or within the boardroom.
- Deconstructing a completed task and then firing a less culpable applicant simply because ‘you have a feel they are not up to the job’, ‘you take a dislike to them’ or ‘they disagreed with you and you need to be right all of the time’.
- Hiring or retaining someone for the next round because ‘they remind you of yourself at their age’.
- Conducting interviews in a manner akin to interrogation.
- Firing someone from the process in an uncompromising and direct manner in front of their colleagues and a wider UK audience!
Sir Alan’s methods can be unusual, politically incorrect, possibly leaning towards illegality and are at best controversial. In addition, they may not have longevity as he does not always retain his apprentices once they have been recruited and his investment in his likeable and creative recipient last year has still to have far-reaching success.
Sir Alan Sugar would perhaps not be everyone’s idea of the ideal boss, mentor or investor and not all his techniques are likely to set best practice, but no one can doubt his desire to achieve his goal, his attention to detail and his unwavering questioning technique. Nor can anyone deny that he sets challenges to allow him and his advisors to test candidates out before they hire or invest in them.
Furthermore, he does make for entertaining television and we therefore await the outcome of the current series with interest.