Industry Building and the Power of Constructive Criticism

Welcome to my second PaySmart blog for the year. I hope the year continues to be a great one for you and I’d love to hear about your successes. My first article this year was all about noise…all the stuff that clutters our view of the VET sector, but this time, I’d like to pull our focus into a particularly noisy part of the online discussion.

It was in the last half of 2014 that I noticed this particular noise. For a while it was all I ever seemed to read on LinkedIn forums, and to be honest, I got really frustrated by it.

That frustration came from a number of places. Firstly, this ‘noisy topic’ is something every RTO does—has to do in fact—to survive. Secondly, and probably the most frustrating part, is that I’ve been directly involved in this RTO task many times (and have copped my fair share of ‘noise’ for it, too).

“I’m talking about the constant stream of commentary around other RTOs’ marketing and advertising. I say ‘other’ RTOs, because I’ve never seen anyone put up their own ads, or draw attention to their own practices.”

So, what I noticed is that people are going onto online forums (LinkedIn mostly) and posting links to or copies of RTO advertisements and providing their critique. From there, commentary about how bad the ad is ensues—all its faults accompanied by criticism of the ad as a whole; completely categorising the ad as just ‘bad’ overall, ignoring any part of the ad that may be well done.

A case in point

One particular example that springs to mind is an ad for a Certificate IV course offered over six weeks.

The commentary addressed a few little compliance details absent from the ad, but mostly focussed on the short nature of the course (six weeks). Essentially, this RTO was being completely roasted for their ad, but in my mind, the commentary wasn’t nearly well enough informed to be making the assumptions and comments that it did. Here are a few thoughts I had about this situation…

  • We don’t know if funding was involved—the commentary talked about these types of programs being run by profit-hungry, funded RTOs out to make a quick buck from the government subsidy.
  • We don’t know from the ad if the six weeks refers to the whole program, or just the face-to-face component, for example. If the course was structured so the face-to-face component was six weeks, followed by some self study or online study, perhaps that would be okay (and maybe the commentary might be inappropriate).
  • A range of assumptions were made—about the course quality in particular. The commentary was quick to suggest this course couldn’t possibly be high quality. How do we know that from the ad?

Then the conversation went to a broad discussion about all the ‘dodgy providers’ out there. In other words, it went off topic. Most disappointing of all was when I asked commenters in the thread to consider what was good about the ad (and there were good aspects—and in my opinion, even clever aspects), there was not a single response. Not one.

We are human and prone to mistakes

Now, I don’t know about you, but I still make the odd mistake with my ads and promotion. There’s so much to think about when creating ads—logos, TOIDs, course codes, statements required by funding contracts, regulators, brand guidelines etc.

I, like the people who made the ad in question, am human after all. And let’s not forget that the standards allow us to make mistakes as long as we have systems to address them when made. No regulator expects us to be perfect, but they do expect us to do the right thing, and improve when we realise we aren’t.

So what’s my point?

My point is that very little of this noise around advertising and promotion actually helps RTOs to improve practice.

And before you say “well, they got feedback about their ads, so that’s good” think about whether you’re more likely to want to improve when being openly and widely criticised in front of your peers, or when you’re offered positively composed, constructive feedback.

“Think about how much better we could be as a sector if we collaborated and supported each other, rather than publicly ripping each other to shreds.”

Imagine if the person who posted the ad up and said something like: “Guys, look at this ad. It’s got some really clever aspects we could all learn from. It looks like they’ve forgotten to include a few things (insert list here), but apart from that, I like it!”

This is a completely different conversation—one that’s focussed on the positives, whilst not ignoring the negatives, rather than focussing solely on negatives and completely ignoring the positives. If I created the ad, I’d be open to hearing the improvements I could make—in fact, I’d be really appreciative.

But appreciative of negative, uninformed, potentially slanderous commentary? Not so much (Read, not at all). I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold each other accountable, I’m saying let’s do that in a constructive way.

I wonder what an outsider looking in would think of our behaviour in this regard? What are your thoughts? Are you an outsider looking in? What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, follow me on twitter @nickmc. You’ll find NickM.com.au on Facebook too! If you’d like to contact me, go ahead and email nick@latitudecoaching.com.au

NickNick is a business coach and VET consultant. He works with the VET community to build leadership capacity and provide elegantly simple yet robust solutions to the complex challenges RTOs face. A regular speaker at key VET events, Nick is passionate about enabling people to be their best. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter @nickmc or email him – nick@latitudecoaching.com.au.

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