The Apprentice analysed…

The Apprentice analysed...Each week we watch as Sir Alan Sugar yells ‘YOU’RE FIRED!’ at one of The Apprentice wannabes.

More deliciously salacious is watching these wannabes trying to make the most of Sir Alan’s tasks. With only one six-figure salary on offer the contestants declare all out war to get their hands on the prize.

Inevitably, this raises questions about the ethics used by some in the reality programme. Four employment solicitors discuss the employment issues raised in this week’s episode.

What happened this week…

This week Sir Alan hauled the job seekers to the National Wedding show at the Birmingham NEC to flog dresses, cakes and accessories.

Michael thought the best way to make people buy a £600 cake would be to shout a lot and use cod psycho-analysis like an ASBO Derren Brown, while cockney straight-talker Lee’s sale pitch had Brummie brides-to-be swooning over “fongs,” and Raef dressed up in a bear suit to scare children with the stiffest mime in TV history.

The lovely Lucinda led team Alpha while Helen headed-up Renaissance and unsurprisingly found herself in front of Sir Alan with Michael and Sara getting the finger because she somehow managed to be worse than everyone else. It gets better and better

Thursday, May 15th, 2008
Harriet Bowtell, Russell, Jones & Walker

It started so romantically in the Four Weddings church, but it turned out to be Sara’s Funeral this week. And while Sir Alan managed to sack two of the key bullies last week, this time it was the victim’s turn. The question is whether moaning, having a “machine gun voice” and making Sir Alan want to get her head and “push it in the bloody cake” constitute fair grounds for dismissal?

And while Sara has clearly been ganged up on in the past eight weeks, would her pushy sales technique lead a tribunal to find contributory fault?

But how, I hear you all cry, did slimeball, backstabbing, self confessed “arse-licker” Michael not get fired instead? Hes a rat with nine lives. How many written warnings is Sir Alan going to give him? Maybe stage 4 of the statutory dismissal procedure should be begging for your job if appeal is unsuccessful.

Michael should have been sacked for his sales technique alone; the offer of a kiss from him in return for buying a cake would, for me, be enough to touch a slice again.

However Lee “passionate about panties” McQueen is a different matter. But while McQueen found his calling in selling sparkly wedding lingerie, would his flattery techniques get him disciplined for sexual harassment in the workplace?

Regardless, they certainly seemed to work on Margaret, whose twinkle in her eye was no doubt glitzy-thong induced. An illustration of charm getting you to the top – Michael: take note.

Thursday, May 15th, 2008
Alan Nicholson, McGrigors

I wasted an hour of my life last night watching two teams with ill thought out strategies run around aimlessly in pursuit of fame and riches. But at half time I ditched the UEFA Cup final and switched over to The Apprentice. Everyone still seemed to be talking balls though…

Shrewd recruitment is vital to the success of any employer’s business. With the Sugar Daddy sending his wannabes to the National Wedding Show, some specific skills were called for.

Helene’s team surely had a head start then: while Sophocles went around oozing effortless charm, Sara revealed she had “been on a cake course”. Now lying about qualifications is serious misconduct. Sara is no cake expert – her most insightful comment about cake during the whole episode was, “it’s all edible – fantastic!”.

Also worthy of investigation is her claim to have trained as a barrister – did she mean barista? My money was still on Helene though, especially after the master stroke of pedalling Jodie Marsh’s get ups at a wedding fair. Give me strength.

In truth, this week was all about performance management. According to Sir Alan, Michael had used up his ninth life and Sara had been given enough chances.

I take that to be a reference to detailed performance improvement plans, designed to highlight concerns at an early stage and provide the employees with a fair opportunity to make the required improvements. Most employers are reluctant to confront employees about poor performance. But then Sir Alan is not like most employers: as constructive employee feedback goes, “I would have pushed your head in the bloody cake” falls a little short.

Relations might have improved when Sir Alan called Sara a siren, but the “air raid” prefix spoiled the mood.

Thursday, May 15th, 2008
Hannah Ford, associate, Stevens & Bolton

Team Renaissance declared ‘let them eat cake’, then proceeded to ram all five tiers down the throat of every bride-to-be at a Birmingham bridal show. Their pushy patter proved their undoing as they were trounced by Alpha’s posh frocks and natty knickers.

In the week when Npower dismissed six of its sales team for mis-selling, this episode was a cautionary tale as to the risks of conducting a pressure sale.

A responsible employer would have provided some sales training, parameters of acceptable behaviour and intervened when the complaints showered down like confetti.

Sir Alan chose trained barrister Sara Dhada as his ultimate maid of dishonour for aggressive and fruitless sales tactics. He granted her a quickie divorce, firing her without hesitation.

Sara’s final remarks as she sailed off into the sunset? “I’m not a good team player – I’ll be working on my own from now on”. There could be no better epitaph to a failed marriage task.

Thursday, May 15th, 2008
Ellie Hibberd, associate, Dawsons

As predictably as the fine weather turns to persistent rain on the first day of the first England Test of the summer, the Apprentice throws up its usual set of water-cooler moments.

I couldn’t miss Helene’s initial race discrimination towards coloured dresses, but last night’s episode got me thinking of Sir Alan’s team building abilities – was his team re-shuffle all a contrivance to get rid of someone on Renaissance?

Alpha had all the elements of a successful team – the proven management skills of Lucinda; the enthusiasm of Lee, who found he nailed the sail of sparkly knickers to brides-to-be; the hard-nosed sales abilities of Claire, who has improved steadily week-by-week and even found herself being praised by Margaret in the boardroom (!); and the unquashable suaveness of Raef, whose class recognised the value of beautiful Ian Stuart dresses over BHS’ own collection.

Renaissance, on the other hand, was disjointed from the start.

When failing to sell a wedding cake, Michael told a bride-to-be that her ideas to have a traditional cake were “dull”, later turning to the camera saying, “these people are dum dums. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Perhaps a case of the pot calling the kettle black, and surely his days of faking it for Sir Alan are almost over.

Alex had his best week yet, but still came across as spineless and directionless; Helene enjoyed playing the bride but contributed little else; and Sara found herself destined always to be the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Thursday, May 15th, 2008
Emma Sanderson, Withers

Who knew Sir Alan was such a softy? Taking the wannabe apprentices to St Bartholomew’s church in Smithfield and then asking them to sell wedding dresses to an unsuspecting throng of women at the Birmingham NEC was a charmingly wicked idea.

A lot of people think selling is all about, well, selling – whereas in fact this episode showed that soft skills can be critical to the process.

Most of the candidates rose to the challenge, with Lee showing a particular penchant for charming the pants onto the ladies.

If only Sara and Michael had worked out that pinning the bride-to-be to the seat and giving her the hard sell might not be the right strategy. Actually, come to think about it, maybe there are some lawyers out there who could learn the same lesson…

Please click here to see what the bloggers had to say last week.