Do You Keep the McGraths or the Buseys? Or, Are You Smarter Than a Trump?

Paul Hebert Career Paths, Current Affairs, Driving Productivity, Good HR, Paul Hebert, Performance


Celebrity Apprentice
(CA) is entertainment. Let’s not forget that. Sometimes good entertainment. Sometimes cringe-worthy entertainment (see Clint Black commercial Season 2 – maybe NSFW.) But it is entertainment.

And, like any good consultant, I take a lot of what I bring to the client’s table from the plethora of reality TV offered today (‘cept for the previously mentioned commercial.) Why not? It is topical, and in many cases, a real mirror (although maybe more funhouse than not) into what we all think/feel/do. Exaggeration is one way to test hypotheses and ideas. As my father was fond of saying – “if it works in the absurd, it probably has some validity.”

So, I approach Celebrity Apprentice in that light. Absurd, exaggerated, weird – but at a very fundamental level – true. Okay – maybe Busey is an outlier.

For those of you living under rocks and unfamiliar with Celebrity Apprentice and the savings you can get at GEICO – CA pits two teams of D-List (maybe C list?) celebrities against each other completing inane “business” tasks.  The winner of the task, or challenge, earns money for their charity. The losing team has to face “The Donald” and one team member is fired from the team. This process continues until only two are left and they have a final episode with pomp and circumstance to crown the winner. Last season it was Bret Michaels from the band Poison fame (knock me over with a feather.)

Who Do You Fire?

This past week, the men’s team lost and they had to fire a team member. Mark McGrath (Sugar Ray – anyone under 40 probably has to click out to that link) was the “project manager” and took full responsibility for the loss. He was right. He came up with the project concept and the concept didn’t resonate with the judges (clients). The Donald fired him. His concept – his loss. However, the men’s team has Gary Busey.

Gary Busey, at one time, was a gifted actor and an A-Lister in Hollywood. However, a severe motorcycle accident in 1988 and maybe(?) some familiarity with legal and non-legal mind-adjusting substances have pretty much left him incoherent 71% of the time. He was a hot-mess on the episode and while he didn’t cause the loss… there was no way he didn’t contribute to it.

Now here’s the question on the boardroom table?

Do you fire Busey for being incompetent at almost everything except breathing or do you fire McGrath for losing the challenge due to his flawed concept?

Before you answer consider this…

Regression Time

There is a concept called regression to the mean. What it “means” is that over time observable data will regress to the average for that data (assuming no other influence). If you see someone do exceptional work one day – you’ll probably see them do work that is closer to their average in the next observation. Same goes for less than stellar work. See someone screw up big time? Check back. Chances are their next performance observation should be closer to what you’d expect from them over time.

In the Celebrity Apprentice situation, The Donald fired McGrath because of his performance on this one task. A single data point. On another day, in another universe, his performance will probably move closer to his average performance. And if you’ve watched the show – while no superstar – he is pretty darn reliable.

Now Busey on the other hand… applying the same criteria – was crazy weird on the show. And if you observe him on another task you might see him a bit more coherent (unfortunately not). Based on my “observations,” Busey’s behavior on this particular episode was pretty much right around his average performance. No “regression” needed – he was spot on “normal.”

So… the lesson?

Be Smarter Than Trump

Trump fired McGrath due to his performance on this one task. You, however, have (or should have) a longer view of the business.  You are not hiring or firing based on a one-task issue. You are looking at performance over time. Don’t make the mistake of using one data point, one observation, and assume that is the “average” performance. Over time, exceptional performance will drift toward the average for that person… same goes for poor performance.

You need multiple observations to determine what the “reality” is.

While they make it seem like it is business on Celebrity Apprentice…it’s entertainment. But there is always something to learn.