All of these extremely successful and popular programmes feature a main character who has clear opinions about ability and standards, who doesn’t have to mince their words and can just say what they think.
Even my fellow Business Matters columnist, Duncan Bannatyne, is in on it and has no qualms about telling the entrepreneurs pitching to him in the den if their idea is atrocious and not to spend a single penny more on it.
But, phrases like ‘that was rubbish – so you are fired’ or ‘What do you think you are doing – buck your ideas up’ are things that we simply don’t hear in our everyday lives any more.
I think the success of these shows and others like them is down to the fact that people have a need for this kind of honesty that we are all afraid of in real life.
I guess teachers just can’t say ‘the reason that your child is misbehaving is because your parenting is really bad and your child is completely spoiled’ or ‘your child will never achieve anything in business until she loses her attitude of thinking that any employer would be lucky to have her’ without risking some kind of appalling reaction from parents.
And even in the working environment, we have to be so careful. There are procedures around everything. You just can’t say ‘that was rubbish, you’re fired’ any more.
Whilst I totally understand and agree that employers shouldn’t be able to abuse their power and fire people for no good reason, they should be able to tell people the truth.
It is very hard to fire somebody because they are generally a bit mediocre and just not as good as you want them to be. I believe that if you were to fire somebody on those grounds you would leave yourself open to a tribunal.
If I notice somebody’s work is just a bit ordinary and want my company to be extraordinary, then what am I supposed to do?
I am supposed to nurture that employee and help them learn to be better of course. Great, this usually does the trick.
But what if it doesn’t?
What if I pour hours into somebody only to discover that they just aren’t as good as I thought they would be and that they don’t have the potential to be what we needed?
What if I do, indeed, notice a slight improvement but they just lack the creative flair to be very good and I don’t think they will ever make it to the next step.
In my industry of jewellery design, creativity is key and intrinsic to the job, however l think these would be very difficult grounds on which to fire somebody.
Enough is enough
Now if I was Simon Cowell I could just say ‘well it is kind of okay but it just isn’t good enough l’m afraid, you aren’t through to the next round’ of if I was Gordon Ramsay then I had better not print what I would say!
Happily I am not in this position with any of my wonderful staff at the moment but I have been in that position in the past and it is a very tricky one.
There was a time a few years ago when I had somebody working with me who was lovely but they just weren’t good enough and bright enough to be what the company needed them to be.
The procedures demanded that I continue to give them extra chances to improve again and again. Each time they would incrementally improve but not enough.
How long was I supposed to go on like that? A small business can’t afford to continue to invest in somebody when it knows that person isn’t going to make it.
In reality, l get a gut feeling that somebody is never going to cut it. And in our industry, this may not be obvious within the first couple of years of their employment when they are junior.
But, perhaps when they start to progress, their lack of spark becomes an issue. I would want to fire that person but how on earth I would actually do that is beyond me.
Luckily our situation resolved itself due to other reasons and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
The problem must be worse still if somebody has a health or disability issue. We are encouraged, as employers, to nurture an equal opportunities workplace and l am all for that.
I haven’t been in the position of having a disabled candidate in front of me who was as good as one who, coincidentally, is able-bodied. If I was, I am sure I would employ them very happily and would make the changes necessary to our workplace as long as their disability meant they could still do their job.
But actually, what position would I then be in if they then turned out not to be very good at their job. Nothing to do with their disability but just because they weren’t very good. An employer would be in a really tricky situation then.
Employers have rights too
Employers need some of way of telling people the truth without fear of the consequences. And there needs to be some help available to the employer in these cases.
In my opinion there is a bit too much emphasis on the rights of the employee and not on the employer.
I love straight-talking programmes like the ones l mentioned at the start of my article and watch them when I have the chance.
I just wish there was some way that normal UK employers were allowed to be straight and honest in the workplace as long as we aren’t abusing people unnecessarily.