Apprentice Week 06: Task?!?! Bahhhh

Well, Trump got it right on The Apprentice this week. He really had no choice. Given the task results, there was someone else who could have been fired, but the board room antics of the losing project manager sealed his fate.

As usual, spoilers do follow, so read on at your own risk.














  1. Lessons Learned
  2. Seasonal Trends
  3. The Task
  4. Team Synergy
  5. Team Gold Rush
  6. How They Lost
  7. Why Bryce had to Go
  8. Thoughts on Lenny
  9. Litigation Concerns

Lessons Learned this Week

  1. Listen to Trump. He tells you want to do and what not to do in the boardroom. He tells you who to bring in and who to send back, if you just listen to him.
  2. Be on time for meetings with executives.
  3. Know what time your meetings are. Follow up with subordinates.
  4. Don't make excuses when late. Apologize and try to move on, unless someone asks. Excuses rarely help and usually annoy.
  5. Listen to the customer. Don't assume you know what they want or need. Understand what they hope to accomplish.
  6. Respect others religious beliefs, even if it is difficult.
  7. Treat you team with respect.

The Trends

The biggest mistake a project manager can make on the Apprentice this season has nothing to do with task. It's not about how they lead, or the decisions they make in the heat of competition. The biggest decision they make is who to bring into the board room. Often, it's not the ensuing boardroom battles that determine who stays and who goes – the project manager's fate is sealed as soon as he or she announces who they will bring back.

This season, people are getting fired for their board room actions, not for task. With the exception of week two, the only impact the task has really had on the boardroom has been which team goes in. Trump has made his actual firings based on how people behaved in the boardroom or who the project manager brings in.

Take a look at the firings this season:

Week 1 -- Summer fired for interrupting Trump in the boardroom when he was about to fire Tarek

Week 2 -- Pepi and Stacy fired basically fired for task

Week 3 -- Theresa fired for not bringing Charmaine into the board room.

Week 4 -- Brent fired, in large part, for his viscous boardroom attack on the PM

Week 5 -- Dan fired for not bringing in Lenny

Week 6 – Bryce fired for bringing in Lenny and Lee.

In the sidebar, you'll find links to my previous Apprentice postings.

The Task

This week, the teams were supposed to write a jingle to help Arby's introduce their new Chicken Naturals product line. Two executives from Arby's served as judges. During discussions with Synergy, Arby's emphasized two points. They wanted the jingle to demonstrate that Arby's is not just a roast beef place, and that Arby's was the only place where customers could get Chicken Naturals.

As an aside, this episode was effective product placement. I'm though of Arby's as just an okay roast beef place (although Hardees is still the best fast food roast beef place). But now I know they have natural chicken. And I know they claim to be the only place you can get natural chicken. I don't care, but at least I know, so the show accomplished that much.

This week the task description Trump gave aligned more closely with the details of the actual task. With a simple (though not easy) task like this, that makes sense.

The two jingles are available on line.

Team Synergy – Winner

Sean, the contestant with the British accent served as Synergy's PM. His team met with the Arby's executives early on to learn the product, and Arby's goals. Sean led the creative efforts of the team, and while he did seek input, and his team liked the direction they were going, the episodes editing implied Sean was not delegating enough.

Regardless, they put together and impressive, and non-traditional jingle. It was more of a song than a jingle, and I don't think it was hum-able, but it did capture the spirit of Arby's aggressive “I'm thinking Arby's” campaign. Synergy won and had Truffle dinner as their reward.

Sean seems a bit smarmy, and a little creepy. That may come back to haunt him. There just seems to be something phony about him. I get the sense that after I left a business meeting with him, I would need a shower. Thus far this season, he has maintained a fairly low profile, though.

Truffles can be an acquired taste, however. They may be one of the most expensive ingredients in the world, costing thousand of dollars a pound, but not everyone will like them as first. They have a musky flavor that can be off-putting. It was entertaining watching Team Synergy enjoy their 6-course truffle dinner, because several of them looked like they weren't entirely enjoying it. But they new how rare and expensive this was so the pretended to “love” the flavor and taste. It looked like several of them didn't want to look stupid by not thinking these were the greatest things ever.

While he may have been joking to the executives, it was amusing that Trump said he would rather have an Arby's burger than Truffles. Granted he did claim to love Arby's at the beginning of the show, but I'm guessing the sponsorship dollars had more to do with it than taste.

Team Gold Rush – NonWinner (my lottery marketing days coming back to me)

The team was short a person this week because Lee observed Yom Kippur.

Bryce took the helm of Gold Rush this week, and the first thing he did was to bring the team together to hopefully clear the air, and work though some of the conflicting personality issues. The team seemed to really gang up on Tarek, and while initially defensive, he ultimately became more receptive to their concerns. They got off to a good start.

Throughout the day, the team worked well together. Bryce delegated creative tasks. He put Tarek in charge of music. He put Charmaine and Leslie in charge of the lyrics. Lenny contributed little to this task because he claims he did not know what jingles were and could not write lyrics due to language an cultural issues.

In the end, Gold Rush made a solid jingle. It was catchy and memorable. They took an old-school jingle approach. It would have fit in on the radio in decades past. I like it better than the Synergy one. The decision was a close one.

The executives did not choose Gold Rush, however, because Gold Rush did not emphasize the exclusive nature of the Chicken Naturals product line.

Something interesting happened to the team, however. They got along. The team member rallied behind Bryce. They was no name calling or attacks on other members. The boardroom was surprisingly cordial.

Bryce deserves credit for that. He brought a bickering team together. At the end, the respected him and each other. During their team meeting in the suite, Bryce congratulated the team on their behavior. They came together and supported each other.

Unfortunately, they lost.

From a task perspective, the team had some serious issues. When there entire postmortem focuses on how well they behaved toward each other, that is indicative of deep team issues.

Bryce made a couple of key mistakes that sealed his fate.

How they lost

Bryce's presentation was terrible. He lacked confidence and couldn't sell the jingle to his audience. If he is that uncomfortable with public speaking someone else should have presented.

In the board room, Trump said they lost because Synergy had better lyrics and better music. He felt Bryce should have brought in Tarek (for the music) and Charmaine (for the lyrics). Here, however, Trump missed the mark. Gold Rush lost the task before they even got into the studio.

In fact, they lost the task at 10:15 AM on the first day. Earlier, Charmaine made an appointment for Gold Rush to meet with the Arby's executives at 10:15. Team Gold Rush did not show up on time. In fact, they were 25 minutes late. They didn't even call.

When they finally go to the meeting, the executives were already disappointed and annoyed. They lectured Bryce on the importance of timeliness. Bryce began making excuses about why they were late (not knowing the city, etc.) which probably only made things worse. He also admitted he didn't even know the meeting was a 10:15.

Of course, with the shorter meeting, with annoyed customers, they didn't have the same opportunity as Synergy to understand the product and the goals of the Arby's team. Since they didn't really understand what the customer wanted, their project was already doomed.

This is why Bryce should have brought Charmaine into the board room. He and Charmaine are responsible for this failure. She made the appointment, but didn't tell the project manager when they needed to be there? There's no excuse for that. This was a critical meeting, and she dropped the ball on it. Since she made the appointment, and committed to the executives that the team would be there, she needed to make sure the project manager understood the importance of it. Or at least knew when the meeting was.

Bryce should have been on top of it as well. Since he apparently delegated the meeting time to Charmaine, he is also responsible. It was his job to follow up. He should have known when the meeting was, and made certain his team was there. At the very least, he should have known they were late. He though they were on time.

Based on task, that's why they both belonged in the boardroom.

Bryce Had to Go

Bryce did one thing well. He stood up for his team members. He felt it was a strong team. They all did a good job. So he had trouble deciding who to bring into boardroom to be fired.

Trump implied Charmaine and Tarek should be brought in for task.

Bryce brought in Lenny and Lee.

Bryce brought them in because they contributed the least to the task. Lenny contributed little because he claimed ignorance of material. Lee contributed little because he was observing Yom Kippur and not part of the task.

As soon as Bryce made that decision, his fate was sealed. He was actually advocating violation of federal law by bringing Lee in. You cannot fire someone for their religious beliefs. The organization made a reasonable accommodation for Lee, and now Bryce was using that as a reason he should be fired. In the business world, the legal liability that would expose a company too is unacceptable. It's unacceptable from a morale perspective, too.

I understand why Bryce made that decision. He was not trying to attack Lee for his beliefs, but his arguments were week. Earlier on, Trump supported Lee's decision to observe the holiday. In the boardroom, he acknowledged that it may not be fair that Lee was did not have to participate in the task, but that sincere religious observance is the most important thing. Even though it may not be fair, he said, “Sometimes life isn't fair.” But that's the way things are in this world. Some things are more important than being fair.

After that, Bryce still thought it was a good idea to bring Lee in. That's why he was fired, and that's why he needed to be fired.

Bringing in Lenny was another matter.

Thoughts on Lenny

Trump doesn't like Lenny. I'm not sure why. Lenny may have an abrasive personality, but the team seems to respect him and get along with him. He's clashed with Tarek in the past, but so has everyone else on the team.

Lenny did not contribute much since he did not know what a jingle was. He grew up in Russia and came to the US 14 years ago. Leslie tried to explain it to him, but he had trouble with the concept. He also had trouble writing lyrics because of the language barrier. Joking with Trump in the boardroom, he said he is now the first Russian Jingle Writer. During the task, he did say, “To me, this is rocket science.”

The problem is Trump doesn't quite believe him. He thinks Lenny hides is skills or actions behind jokes to fly under the radar. Trump really does not trust him.

I don't believe Lenny on this one, either. A jingle is not a hard concept. He may not have known English when he came to the US, but he had built a successful business and earned his Series 7 securities license. He has a 16 year old son. And he expects us to believe that he doesn't understand the concept of a jingle? Even if he didn't know the word, it's just the catchy song on a TV commercial. Is he really claiming to have never seen TV commercials? In 14 years? With a teenager in the house?

He clearly tried to play “ignorant foreigner” here and I don't buy it. Maybe he isn't musical or poetic, but relying on “What is jingle” as an excuse not to perform is unacceptable.

Uber-Litigious Risks

Now, I'd like to step beyond the realm of why Bryce was correctly fired. I don't buy into this argument, but I could seem some activist or overly litigious person making these claims.
The only two people Bryce bought into the boardroom were both Jewish. Lee observed the holiday, while Lenny chose not to, but nevertheless, Bryce chose the Jews to be fired. That may not have been his intention, but it looks terrible. If he wanted to fire them, he needed to demonstrate a much more compelling reason or he can easily be subjected to claims of antisemitism.

The other possible civil rights violation is that even if Lenny were not Jewish, Bryce still brought him in for cultural reasons. Because of where Lenny is from, Bryce brought him in. Granted it may be because of the task, but was there a better way to accommodate Lenny's culture than sidelining him and trying to fire him?

Of course, the job needs to get done. And people who work for a company need to be able to do their jobs. But if Bryce is going to make firing decisions in sensitive circumstances like this, he really needs to have all his details straight and iron clad.

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