For reasons well beyond me, fans of the BBC show “The Apprentice” welcomed its return to UK television screens earlier this month for the start of its seventh series. For those yet to witness this prime piece of car crash entertainment, the premise is simple. Sixteen of Britain’s alleged “best business brains” (no, really) battle through a gruelling 12 week interview process, with the winner securing a £250,000 prize fund to invest in his own business and the promise of partnership with Hackney boy-done-good and newly-appointed Business Czar, Lord Alan Sugar.
The programme, like the US version hosted by real estate and novelty hairdo magnate Donald Trump, is characterised by mistakes, bullying, backstabbing, a shock-and-awe barrage of meaningless marketing fluff and a combination of utter certainty and total ignorance normally limited to teenagers. Each show culminates with pantomime baddy Sugar subjecting one (usually) deserving candidate to a tirade of abuse, before the dread words “You’re fired!” bring an end to his role in the competition and with it, his short-lived fame.
Sugar’s belligerent management style is not without its critics, however, with some suggesting that he is encouraging Britain’s bosses to bully their staff and terminate employment without due cause, let alone process. Commentators have even tried to suggest that the increase in Employment Tribunal claims in the UK is directly related to the show’s repeated airings on Britain’s screens. As one initially inspired to join the legal profession by US hit show “Ally McBeal”, (and frankly it has been something of a disappointment in comparison), I do not underestimate the power of television. However, to suggest that employers are genuinely taking tips from Lord Sugar about how (not) to performance manage their staff is far-fetched at best. Lowest common denominator TV fans have much to answer for (keeping “Big Brother” on our screens, for one), but I do not think we can lay the blame for this one at their feet.
After all, the beauty of this programme, like most reality shows, is that it does not reflect reality. Remember, boys and girls, it’s just television. Do not try this at home. Think -- how many of the show’s several million viewers would tune in to Lord Sugar carrying out an elaborate six month performance management process with the failing candidate before pointing to him and saying “Regrettably, the decision has been made to terminate your employment on the grounds of incapability. However, if you disagree with this decision, you have the right to appeal to a more senior level of management within 7 days. In the meantime, can we get you a taxi?...”. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?