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Paula Watch: Can an HR professional like Paula Jones become Sir Alan Sugar's Apprentice?

David Woods , 01 Apr 2009

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The second episode of The Apprentice has aired on BBC 1 and we can report Paula Jones - HR professional-cum-entrepreneur - got through the catering task, moving one step closer to being Sir Alan Sugar's latest protg.

But Paula is competing against a varied group of wannabes including teachers, lawyers and business owners, so can an HR professional cut it among the brightest and the best of Britain's business elite? Can an HR professional show the drive, knowledge, business acumen and savvy to win the contest?

We put the question to some industry experts.

Alan Warner, HR director, Hertfordshire County Council, said: "Of course Paula can win!

"The winner of The Apprentice needs a strong personality, understanding of business and a high level of intelligence and good HR people definitely have these qualities."

And Sue Braybrooke, director of solution development and delivery, The Centre for High Performance Development, told HR magazine: "To win this competition an individual needs to be tough-minded and have well-developed all-round business skills and behaviours. There is no reason why someone from HR is less advantaged than a lawyer or someone from another specific business area, but they won't be able to compete by remaining a technical expert.

"It is all about having a variety of skills and applying behaviours to the task in hand. Being in HR can give you access to all different types of business units and providing Paula has been involved in developing and partnering with business leaders to lead change, then she stands a chance."

But Mark Fenton-O'Creevy, professor of organisational behaviour at the
Open University Business School, is not so sure. He said: "The Apprentice is not about business skills. It is about sales skills and a rudimentary understanding of cash flow. Without making a judgment about Paula herself, all too often people working in HR have a very narrow focus on operational HR matters and the policing of personnel policies.

"At their best, HR managers have a tremendous understanding of the link between selecting, developing, rewarding and motivating people and how these can be designed to support the overall business strategy. But are these skills going to help them succeed in short-term sales tasks and The Apprentice? I think it is unlikely."

But Nick Holley, director of the HR centre of excellence at Henley Business School, offers some hope. He added: "Paula is not going to win this game on the basis of her HR skills, but if she has what it takes to be a great HR person, she will win. Good HR professionals need political savvy (which a lot of Apprentice competitors do not have) and they need a lot of personal integrity. Sir Alan knows when people pull the wool over his eyes.

"If Paula can prove she has these qualities, she can win. My only worry is that most HR professionals do not have them..."

Read HR magazine deputy editor Peter Crush's take of how Paula Jones fared last week on the show.

Further reading

[Images provided courtesy of the BBC]

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