The Apprentice (UK TV series)


Wrestling with the pressure from above and your inner values about the right thing to do.

The arrival of The Apprentice on UK TV screens again this autumn got me thinking about an experience that challenged me because it raised the question about when to fire and when to stick with someone but also, when to bow to pressure or follow your instincts.

In the early days of a start up enterprise within a FTSE 100, we were finding our way with targeting and the MD and Sales Director (SD) pulled me and my small team into a review meeting, some review it turned out to be… these directors weren’t happy!

We were supposed to be a crack team of highly accomplished professionals who’d been hired from key competitors to rock the market, how could we be so far off target they asked, except it wasn’t really a question.

This would have been a reasonable statement if the targets were reasonable or stretching even, but they’d been set high in the sky and with a misalignment between how sales revenues versus actual publishing revenues get reported.

With people like this, you choose your moment to educate and influence understanding and this was not the time or place to stand up and fight. Instead, manage your ego and aim to win the war instead of one early battle. Soak it up and show your mettle with the future results and a time for proper alignment of sales versus published revenue targeting was the strategy that came to mind.

However, as is often the case, there are still some casualties and one of the account directors in my team (let’s call him Adam) wasn’t having any of it. He spoke up and tried to stand his ground, he wouldn’t take it on the chin but frankly, he was unceremoniously ripped to pieces.

Everyone has the right to speak up and I felt it right that he had his say if he wanted to but the ‘big’ bosses didn’t and in hindsight, I should have stepped in earlier than I did. I could see he was beginning to feel very uncomfortable but the damage was already done.

Following the meeting, Adam promptly went off on sick leave with stress being given as the reason and he didn’t return to work until 3 months later!

During this time, I was told to sack Adam ASAP after he returned, someone like that was no good for the team said the SD. There was a total disregard for the human being and this didn’t sit well with my values, put people first and you’ll get the results. My first thought was, like hell would I sack him.

“Always put people first, for without them, there is no organization”

David Sikhosana — Time Value of Money

Having said this, I still felt the pressure from my SD, especially as it was still early days in the start up and I wanted to a) prove to the MD and SD that my decisions were the best ones for the business and b) I loved my role and the opportunities ahead and so, I wanted to stay in it as long as possible, rather than potentially facing the same ‘ line myself!

Doubts and questions (fear) crept into my head at times but a quote I’d heard years ago counter-acted these fears and probably this resolve was strengthened because it happens to align to one of my highest values, integrity in dealing with people.

“Do the right thing, no matter what the consequences and the consequences will always be the right ones”

A Chance Encounter — Author Unknown

I spoke to Adam before starting to write this article as it’s a sensitive subject and I wanted to ask if he was okay with me writing it. In typical Adam style, this is what he said:

‘I remember the time well Reece, I was in shock because I’d always been successful and had never been spoken to or disrespected in that way before. It knocked me back because I felt no one was on my side, none of my colleagues spoke up and I felt alone. At that time, I didn’t really know you well enough either to be honest. I know you well enough now though so go ahead and tell it as it was, fill your boots boss’’

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

To be honest, I didn’t know Adam that well at that point in time either so I could understand why he felt alone at that time but the following few months enabled me to get very good insights into the kind of person he was.

I kept in close contact with Adam throughout his time off and felt that as time went by, his stress crept over the line into a more depressed state. The longer it took to return to work, the harder it would get and we had plenty of discussions about what was important to him looking ahead.

Based on our regular discussions, Adam revealed who he was as a person; someone with pride in his work and his level of expertise, an ambitious person in terms of what he wanted to achieve but not in terms of climbing the ladder so typical of many. He knew what he was and considered himself a subject matter expert (he was) whose talent was being wasted.

In short, the motivation based on his values and his attitude told me he was worth investing in. I wanted him back and we jointly planned and agreed a ‘rehab program’ for want of a better expression. The plan was detailed but had 4 key elements that made all the difference.

  1. To come back with a bang, a clear picture in our minds to become bigger, better, stronger than ever before, why come back and be the same. This came with an acceptance that I would challenge and stretch Adam but always in a very constructive and positive way, with the sole aim to help him draw out his full potential… in effect, play to his strengths as much as possible and as often as possible, rather than me being easy on him or him being easy on himself.

2. Positioning his return and ‘modus operandi’ with the SD for the first few weeks. Thankfully, I‘d kept the SD fully informed and in a way that ‘smoothed the path’ for Adam’s return and rehabilitation so there were no surprises. I balanced Adam’s track record and expertise with his newfound motivation to prove the SD wrong because I knew this would appeal to the ego of the SD. I added to this with the cost of removing him and getting someone new in and up and running properly.

This positioning also included of course, the support and encouragement that the SD would be asked to give Adam, as well as his belief (as sincere as possible) that Adam could shine again. This was an easier sell to the SD because he’d started to see how impressive the result were from the other account directors and the SD wanted more of the same.

3. The process Adam would work to with colleagues who’d been managing his accounts whilst he was away… and I must say what a great job they’d all done. This included handovers and re-introductions to clients. I’d kept the whole team updated about Adam’s illness, progress and desire to return and contribute again, which helped ensure an easy return with no ego damage whatsoever, everyone understood and wanted to help Adam ease back in without fuss.

4. Adam and I sat down together very regularly and took things right back to basics, assessing his core values, beliefs, desires, skills, how and where he would invest his energy to get the best results in the shortest time-frame, what support and resources were available, forward looking goals and stepping stone objectives, all with the following in mind;

a) We had a clear and specific plan of action (clarity is King)

b) Taking action fast would dissolve doubts and fears (action cures fear)

c) These first actions would trigger and then embed good habits again (disciplines)

d) He’d show everyone around him that he was contributing (seen a valuable)

e) It would ensure any possible pressure from above was avoided (eliminate stress)

f) Critically, Adam’s self-worth would return and rise further (self-esteem on the rise)

g) He would begin earning bonuses again — note that money was the last motivator

Consequently, Adam became what I called a ‘Banker’ in that you could bank on him to deliver what you needed, regardless of the market conditions or specific client challenges he faced.

Whilst he wasn’t the star performer, he always delivered but contributed more than just his sales quota by taking on additional project responsibilities that helped me considerably. He became a very loyal member of the team and a real character to have around.

1. Never give up on your people, stay loyal to them and they’re much more likely to stay loyal and committed to you.

2. Make sure your people don’t give up on themselves — it’s too easy to allow other people to impact on how you feel but you always have the choice to take it on board or drop it and move on

3. Always consider the ‘ripple effect’ because things like demonstrating loyalty to this one individual in tough times showed to all his colleagues that they would get the same loyalty and had a massively positive impact on morale. Any lack of loyalty however, would have the opposite effect of course.

4. Don’t allow people who are too far removed from the ‘real knowledge’ to assume they know better and make decisions for you, do what you instinctively know is the right thing to do or seek advice from ‘credible sources’ if you’re unsure, e.g. I sought counsel with our Employee Assistance providers, they were good sounding boards for me.

5. Embrace the differences in a team rather than seeking clones of every one or expecting everyone to have or agree with your values, beliefs, operating methods and so on… you can’t run a successful football team with 11 attackers or 11 goalies, you need a mix of players to compliment and strengthen each other.

6. This was not so much a new lesson learned but one re-enforced “You don’t need to motivate good people, just eliminate the things that demotivate them”. Sure, help, support, direct, encourage, coach them but then, set them free to be and do their best, don’t get in their way and be the one that holds them back.

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Reece is an award winning professional sales, management and business leader who now spends his time helping organisations to create inspiring workplaces and awesome teams.




Writer, Speaker, Educator | On A Mission To Make People Feel Better About Themselves & Lifes Possibilities | Author: Strong Minds

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Reece Pye

Reece Pye

Writer, Speaker, Educator | On A Mission To Make People Feel Better About Themselves & Lifes Possibilities | Author: Strong Minds

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