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Lessons From The Apprentice (5.1)

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I’ve been a fan of The Apprentice since 1/4 way through the first episode of season one. I say 1/4 way through because I had heard about the show and expressed no interest in watching. That is until I came home from work and my wife was 1/4 of the way through the episode. I was immediately hooked.

I’m going to start reviewing each new episode from the current 5th season, and give my thoughts on who did well and who didn’t, and hopefully find some business lessons that can be applied outside of the show and into the real world.

The Candidates

Synergy: Allie, Andrea, Brent, Michael, Pepi, Roxanne, Sean, Stacy, Tammy

Gold Rush: Bryce, Charmaine, Dan, Lee, Lenny, Leslie, Summer, Tarek, Theresa

Tarek immediately got on my nerves by touting his IQ multiple times. Nothing wrong with being smart, or announcing that you’re a member of Mensa. But there is no need to keep mentioning your IQ to your team or to the audience. It only sets himself up for a fall. Now when he does something even a little bit stupid, it’s going to be a much bigger deal than it otherwise would have been.

The Task:

The teams were given the use of a Goodyear blimp in order to drive business to Sam’s Club with the goal of getting people to sign up for a “Membership Plus” level membership.

I don’t think either of the teams performed particularly well on this task. Neither team had a real marketing strategy and pretty much wasted the use of the blimps to gain an audience. In the store, neither provided any real motivation to get members to upgrade their Sam’s Club memberships other than the merits of the upgrade itself.

Gold Rush: Team leader Tarek assigned Summer the task of calling restaurants to get them involved in the promotion the following day. How the restaurants would be involved or what they were expected to do was unclear. Summer made a single call, bombed out and then gave up. Her reasoning was that it was the dinner rush and it was a bad time to call restaurants. Point taken, but giving up on a task does not show leadership potential.

Team members seem to forget that their time as project manager will come. If you want people to do their best work for you, you need to do your best work for them. It’s the job of the team members to do everything the team leader asks of them, regardless of how ill conceived. Failure to do that not only sets yourself up to get fired, but it also causes you to lose respect that you’ll need when it’s your time to lead.

On promotion day Gold Rush offered free “gift bags” to entice people to sign up for the Plus membership. The only problem is that the “gift bag” was really just a “bag gift”. It was an empty tote bag. Wow!!! Makes me want to hop in the car and drive down to Sam’s Club and sign up!

At least Lee saw the foolishness of this and offered business consulting services. Not sure if this turned into any sign ups, but it was something. This idea had potential if the blimp was utilized to draw people in for this free consulting service. Too bad Lee didn’t bring up the idea sooner!

Synergy: Brent, a man full of ideas, few of them any good (at least so far) threw out the idea of setting up a karaoke machine in front of the store. Fortunately, this idea, along with many of his others were rejected. Though another of his ideas did get used; giving free manicures and massages outside the store. While not the best idea, it seemed to be the only idea coming from team members.

How effective this was used as a means to bring people to the store is unknown, but I wouldn’t have followed a blimp to a free massage at Sam’s Club. But it at least provided an incentive to those already at the store.

What I might have done: Giving the teams the use of a blimp implies that Sam’s Club hoped to bring people into the store that don’t already have a Sam’s Club membership. Unfortunately, both teams wasted the use of the blimp and had ideas that were able to get current members to upgrade, but not bring in any new memberships. Duffel bags and massages, just Don’t cut it. Both teams lacked imagination.

What would have worked better? I can think of a couple of things. Free child fingerprinting would cause people to go out of their way. Free business consulting (Lee’s last minute idea), or even free office products could both b e used effectively. Heck, I’d go out of my way for a free box of printer paper or two.

I’m certain that none of these ideas are the “best” one, but I’m confident that any of them are significantly better than what the teams came up with themselves.

The result:

Gold Rush sold 40 new memberships while Synergy sold 43 new memberships. With the right campaign, there is no reason that the teams could not have sold at least 100, if not 200 new memberships each. This shows the weakness of their strategies.

Almost the entire Gold Rush team immediately faulted Summer for not following through on her task to call the Restaurants. Though I think she could have easily defended this decision in the boardroom, she was unable to do so coherently.

Lee told Tarek he thought Tarek was unable to give the team a creative direction. Tarek showed an incredible lack of intelligence and threatened Lee to keep that to himself else Tarek would call him into the boardroom with him.

A good leader should not have to threaten their team members from bringing up their faults. If lee was wrong in his assessment Tarek should be able to defend himself easily. Tarek simply confirmed to Lee that he was vulnerable to that particular truth.

Summer and Lenny talked about their strategy and Lenny gave Summer some excellent advice: don’t say anything if you don’t need to.

The Boardroom:

Lee didn’t take Tarek’s advice and, when asked, told Trump that he thought Tarek bears the responsibility for the loss. True to form, Tarek chose Lee to join him in the board room along with Summer and Lenny, who Tarek accused of not contributing significantly to the task. It was Tarek who assigned Lenny to the blimp, so I’m not sure what else he expected from Lenny after that. Trump seemed to agree with that assessment.

Bringing Lenny in was a desperate attempt of an incapable leader trying to provide as many scapegoats as possible.

While it looked like Summer was on the chopping block for her own lack of a contribution, Trump turned his questioning to Tarek. As team leader, it was his lack of direction that caused the loss. Yeah, Summer screwed up but that unlikely made the difference.

But as Trump was digging into Tarek, Summer did something really, really stupid. She spoke. Ignoring Lenny’s advice she interrupted Trump just as he was about to fire Tarek. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb!

Summer was fired.

She should have taken Lenny’s advice. Lenny knew she would be a target and I suspect he’s seen past seasons of The Apprentice. People’s mouths get them into more trouble than anything else and it’s best to keep it shut as much as possible in the boardroom.

Apprentice 5.1

Lessons Learned:

  • People want leaders with big ideas, or even good small ideas. Be prepared to think outside of the box and go the extra mile when it’s your idea on the line.
  • When you’re butt isn’t on the line, it’s best to stay out of the Boss’ business. Don’t pipe up until you are asked to give your opinion. Then do so honestly. If you really feel like the boss is making a mistake, let him make his decision then go to him privately to discuss later.
  • Do what your supervisor asks you to do, no matter how stupid or ill conceived it may seem. Doing so inoculates yourself against criticism (unless you do an incredibly bad job), and ensures that you can’t be blamed for the failure of the task which you are working on.
  • If you don’t show loyalty to your leader, others will fail to show loyalty to you once your in a leadership position. Treat your leader with respect, no matter how much you disagree.

What would you have done?

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

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