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IBMA Desires Change for the Future...

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Change and DirectionFor as long as I was a member of IBMA and for the many years since, people have always been asking for change. They want a change. The board needs to change. This or that needs to change. Change. Change. Change. What is it they want changed? What direction do they want association to go in? What is it they want? These questions are rarely asked and, when I ask members, I receive as many different opinions as I do people I ask. There doesn't seem to be any consensus.

I want to let the readers know that I am not out to beat up the IBMA. Just the opposite. I want to bring the issues out so people can think about them and when all is said and done, the IBMA will be better, stronger, and healthier as an organization. There are some that react whenever anybody says anything less than positive of the association. There are those who don't know and want to keep their heads in the sand. Thankfully, there are people who want to know what has been happening and to use that knowledge to plow forward and do something positive for a change. That is the purpose of these articles.

The IBMA is like a runaway train now. They don't know where they're going but, they're making good time. What is it that the members want IBMA to be? Where do they want to take it? What should it evolve into? I think these questions warrant serious attention. We don't even know if there is a consensus on the issues. Members demand change. Board members demand change. What is it that they really want? Nobody knows. If nobody knows what it is they want, how are they ever going to get there? What is it they want the IBMA to be? Nobody knows so, again, there is no way to design and plan for getting there. Destination: The Twilight Zone.

I think too many joined the IBMA with false expectations. They wanted the association to provide something to them rather than the flip side being they should be providing something to the association. For nearly a decade, I was very active in the association. From creating their first web site, active in Bluegrass in the Schools media development, speaking on panels, mentoring others, participating in the regional rep program, soliciting memberships at festivals, concerts and other events, and on and on. That's what IBMA has always been all about -- doing something that others could benefit from. The key word being "doing."

The concept is simple yet many don't get it. IBMA is an association of people similar to a club. Period. Its a group of people who share a common interest and who want to help each other out and, they do that as committees and sub-groups. You get out of it what you put into it. If they don't contribute and complain that they're not getting anything for their membership, then whose fault is that? It's theirs. They are the ones with the false expectation. The IBMA has been very open about their charter and has repeatedly expressed what they do and don't do as an organization. It isn't any dark secret and it never has been.

But, how did this false expectation happen? How or why do members have this wrong impression and expectation? The charter is clear. The bi-laws are clear. IBMA never to my knowledge advocated any differently -- in fact it has been repeatedly stated over the years on BGRASS-L and other outlets that the IBMA doesn't do the things that members seem to be expecting. Maybe this is the time to educate the members what IBMA really is and better yet, how they can make it better. Expecting the association to fill some unknown desire or need can never work if we don't even know what that need is.

There is a shopping list of things the IBMA could do to help address some of the concerns. While a survey and marketing analysis would be the most accurate measure for the desires of the membership, a few items have come to light over the past several years.

There continues to be too many closed door meetings. I repeatedly hear members saying they don't know what the board does. International Bluegrass always has news and happenings about IBMA in it but, not everything. There are also the trust issues that linger year to year to year. A big change would be how to improve the transparency of the organization,
A lot of members aren't even aware of the IBMA Charter. Some write saying they have no idea what the board does. Many times members find out about some activity or event after it has happened. They ask why they weren't informed before the activity so that they could have participated. Communication is a two way street. In many of the notes I've read, what the members were concerned about was known and public. Had they read International Bluegrass or been on one of the various social media channels, they would have known. Sometimes one has to make an effort to find out what is going on. This change would be a two way street with both parties needing to improve.
The trust issue just won't go away. It has been there for over a decade. Some of it is justified and some is just complaining. The fact that it has been around so long without being seriously addressed is a bigger concern. It is time to nip this in the bud and put it to rest. A change that is necessary is to get the trust back. That won't happen with the controversy surrounding the questionable methods used in the chair decision vote. To regain trust, you need to address ethics in a big way.
Return on Membership
Here is an area that could offer a lost cost, extremely effective and positive impact solution. Look at the CMA, AMA and other similar successful organizations. Their communication channels are wide open. Even Cybergrass carries articles by these and other associations. They promote their music through a variety of methods. News letters, press releases, concert, festival and event announcements, social media updates, artist profiles, ... Every week I receive at least one promotional blast from each association. Add to this their high exposure for educational activities, charities and benefits and both the members and interested public feel they are receiving real value. What did it cost? Whatever it costs to put together a weekly blast and attach some images and route it through their email marketing system. That system gives them feedback on who read, shared, forwarded and/or published the material.
Nashville Ties
I doubt if anybody knows what percentage approve and disapprove of the ties to Nashville. It has certainly been a festering issue since the association moved there. The negativity towards Nashville was the primary reason for relocating World of Bluegrass to the Raleigh area. That move had an instant positive feel. What if the IBMA offices severed their ties with Nashville? This would need to be determined and any future change must include this as a valid topic of concern.
Promotion of Bluegrass
Many want to see more involvement from the IBMA in getting bluegrass music promoted to a wider audience. Doing so could potentially improve bluegrass music sales. While not currently in the charter, by looking at the above change topics, there are certainly some cost-effective methods and tools available to the IBMA to address this long-time concern.
What is Bluegrass Anyway
This change request may never be addressed because it is simply impossible to do so. Define Bluegrass Music! If you ask 100 people to define what is and isn't bluegrass you would get 100 different answers. Music is a life-form and it needs to grow, evolve and spread its wings. While we are certainly aware of the death of country music and want to insure that same thing doesn't happen to bluegrass, I don't really see a way to fence it in. The concept of defining bluegrass would be virtually impossible and, any attempt to do so would certainly offend a lot of others. I believe this change request is best left to its own devices. Let the listener defined what is and isn't for themselves. The requests to define it continue and always will and, that's just the way it is.

There are certainly a basket full of other change requests from members and the board spanning organization, professional categories and their groupings and more. There always will be and new ones will occur like clockwork. It is, however, of utmost importance that the IBMA leadership be open, receptive and willing to listen and learn about requests from the membership. Today, that is not the case. The IBMA has become the Jon Weisberger Bluegrass Music Association. It no longer reflects the membership. It has been effectively hijacked. Resigning board and staff are a clear indication of this. Member apathy also reflects the poor health of the association.

A common point that has proven to be a fallacy for a long time are those that say if you want to make change within the IBMA, join, get active and make the change happen. Well, that dog don't hunt!! It doesn't work. I know first hand. I was an active member in Print Media and Education and worked for years to get the Internet recognized as a part of that category. The IBMA would have nothing to do with that and they made it perfectly clear. There was absolutely no way that was going to happen. I have emails from others who attempted to do as advertised only to find the same brick walls that I encountered. It didn't work for them either. First of all, there is no process to solicit change. It is up to the ED and the Chair. If they don't like your idea, trust me, it isn't going anywhere. It doesn't matter the significance of the contribution. This is an area that has a very long history of failure covering the entire domain of the IBMA. Dozens have tried and dozens have given up out of pure frustration. The IBMA has to quit saying that they are open to change because, they have repeatedly proven not to be.

Managing Change is a difficult process. When I was serving as a program manager with a Fortune 100 corporation, I headed a task force on managing change. We had coursework in it. We required all our teams to go through training. We were getting ready to do something new, exciting, challenging and which was a big gamble. The patents that made the corporation were expiring and Japan had ships already loaded with low-cost competition products to take us on. The corporation took on Japan's competition head on and won! We beat the foreign imports because of quality -- not price. In order to do that, we had to completely change the way things were done within our group. People had been doing their task the same way for 10 years or more and they had to come to grips that they needed to change. People are naturally resistant to change so, to manage change, you need to make them want to change. That is a huge challenge and, that is the challenge the IBMA is facing today.

To me, it all comes down to the same problems we've repeatedly seen over the years -- lack of communication. Add to that a lack of uncriticized open communication. Members, board members, staff and even outsiders need to be able to speak without fear of retribution, criticism or vitriol. The listeners need to be open to new ideas. Some may not be feasible but, how that is handled will be what the future leadership must be willing to handle. Communication will be everything moving forward.

Right now, the association is at a critical juncture. It needs to change. The association needs to carefully assess what that change will be, the dimensions and scope of it, how to implement it and how to manage its implementation. They will need to be able to validate that they are going in the right direction and achieving pre-determined milestones. The association can no longer keep doing things the way they've always done them. Members are asking for change. The proven ways keep causing these problems. The silent treatment does more harm than good in the long term. But, you aren't going anywhere unless you know where it is you want to be first.

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