Ahead of the fresh batch of brash contestants locking horns on the BBC show, Michael Boniface looks at how to avoid their mistakes in the workplace.
It’s the one time of the year when we actually look forward to hearing the words, ‘You’re fired’. Which means only thing: the new series of BBC’s The Apprentice has arrived.
Tens of thousands of hungry, budding entrepreneurs apply every year for the £250,000 investment prize from business mogul, Lord Sugar.
For the first time in its 14-year running, tonight’s opening episode sees all 16 contestants pack their bags and travel to Malta, where they are tasked with picking up nine local items for the lowest possible prices. And, of course, not all will go to plan – there’s the language barrier and an afternoon siesta to contend with.
These types of challenges have led to memorable mistakes over the years, many of which we can learn from in real life. So, here’s what not to do in the workplace.
1. Have huge arguments
A boardroom blow-up is something we’ve all come to expect and even look forward to on The Apprentice, but beware of letting this happen in real life.
Laura Little, learning and development manager at the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA), says: “You’ll need to learn how to resolve conflicts professionally and amicably to succeed.
“Establishing and maintaining good work relationships is the key to a positive workplace. It’s fair to say that we don’t get on with our colleagues every minute of the day, so the solution to a successful working environment is striking the balance between having fun and working productively.”
2. Get distracted
Whether it’s an endless to-do list that you’re jumping to and from, or just some excruciatingly loud drilling outside your office, it’s often hard to maintain concentration.
“When a task isn’t going to plan, you’ll often see contestants on the show get distracted by trivial jobs or fixating on something irrelevant instead of focusing on the problem at hand,” Little says. “This is an important lesson to learn – ensure you take a step back sometimes and look at a project holistically – understanding the key tasks that need to be done to make sure things run smoothly.”
That way you avoid convincing yourself that ‘Pants Man’ is an ingenious idea, as 2014 contestant Philip Taylor infamously managed.
3. Forget the time
We’ve all been there, seemingly coasting along to complete your main task for the day, only for your boss to tell you it was due an hour ago. Similarly, tonight’s episode sees one muddled team struggle to make it back in time for their return flight.
“In real life, you’ll often find yourself working to a deadline that can’t be adjusted or moved if the task is proving difficult to complete,” says Little. “Tight deadlines are a source of stress for many people, but there are practical things you can do to remain calm and focused. Be sure to prioritise your tasks and don’t be afraid to say no or ask for help if you’re asked to start something new when you just don’t have the time.”
Deductions are often dished out on The Apprentice for lateness, but failing to meet deadlines in real life can result in losing business or costing your company money.
4. Be arrogant
“As a salesperson, I would rate myself as probably the best in Europe,” is one of the many ridiculous one-liners that have become part and parcel of contestants’ staggering bravado. There’s fine line between confidence and arrogance, with many hopefuls on the show guilty of crossing this line.
“Being arrogant in the workplace is a turn-off not only for clients or suppliers, but for colleagues too,” says Little. “Arrogance can be disruptive as it often results in conflict, so it’s important to nip it in the bud before it causes too much damage.
“If you have an arrogant co-worker, it’s important to know that this behaviour often comes from a source of insecurity, and usually masks feelings of failure. So, you have two options – try to get to the root of the problem or rise above any comments.”
Remember that candidates who are booted out earliest by Lord Sugar tend to be those who are so wrapped up in self-adulation they’re unable to even relate to other people’s ideas.
5. Ignore other people’s ideas
How many times have you watched project managers on The Apprentice bulldoze their ‘great’ idea through, even though everyone on the team thinks it’s terrible, only to get booted off the show by Lord Sugar pretty quickly afterwards?
‘People not listening to ideas is infuriating as it ruins all forms of collaborative working. However, there are ways to try and communicate more effectively with poor listeners, including a change in working style (would a more visual pitch work better?), or encouraging the team to practise ‘active listening’, which forces everyone to recall back what they’ve just heard – making them process the conversation more fully,” says Little.
6. Cover up your mistakes
No one’s perfect at work (even Lord Sugar, Karren Brady and Claude Littner) so mistakes inevitably happen. OK, maybe not as bad as fourth series’ Lee McQueen deciding to do his “reverse pterodactyl” impression during the all-important interview stage… but what’s important is how you deal with these mistakes.
Little says: “The history of The Apprentice is filled with contestants who try and get themselves out of trouble and blame other people for their mistakes – it’s part of the fun – but in the real world, you need to take responsibility for your failures in the same way you celebrate your triumphs.”
So don’t cover up your mistakes – own up to them. You can then analyse how and why you went wrong, and most importantly, use the mistake as a learning curve for the future. That’s certainly the approach McQueen followed after his spectacular reptile gaffe – and he went on to win the series.
The Apprentice airs at 9pm Wednesday on BBC One.
- Press Association