March 19, 2019

Editorial: Clearly accountable

“Transparency” is a word tossed around a lot these days. Politics, business, religions, clubs, friendships – they all tout the benefits of being fully accountable through openness, clarity and honesty. Nothing to hide. No filter. Transparent.

Piping and drumming and pipe bands suffer from a lack of transparency. We’re a lot better, but there are many outliers, many in the UK, which of course invented what we do and how it’s done, so logically might cling to traditional ways and peculiarities of a bygone class system that’s foreign to other piping-rich countries.

Some associations and customs are case studies in murky or even non-existent accountability. What’s the opposite of transparent? Opaque? Shrouded? Cloaked? Secret?

While piping and drumming have become a global industry, we still often have handshake deals on blind trust, with “authorities” being left to manage us with little or no reporting.

While our competitions are a meritocracy (or at least supposed to be), we’re too often hierarchical when it comes to management, underling servant-competitors tamped down by “officials” with power – power we cede to them mainly because we’re afraid to make a fuss, and, to make sure that we don’t make a fuss, not a little bullying and intimidation go on.

We need to get better. We deserve better. We need to demand better.

Financials. An association not showing clearly where the money comes from and where it goes is an association with a perception problem. Where exactly does money come from and how exactly will it be spent? Who determines how the money will be used? How much revenue is gained from specific events? How much is collected in license fees, selling events to the highest bidders? It’s all about accountability. Associations are accountable to their members. Executives or board members who don’t report on their activities will be treated with suspicion. They serve the members, not vice versa. Remember, the members are the association.

Scoresheets: Amazingly, in the UK most solo piping competitions still have no formal feedback / scoresheet mechanism. In today’s piping and drumming world, judges should be accountable to competitors for their judging decisions. Simply giving a 1,2,3,4 result might be a tradition in Scotland, but today it’s unsatisfactory. Not only do judges need to account for their decision, they need to show clearly that they know what they’re talking about. Picking a prize list, getting in the car and going home is reminiscent of the local laird who got to judge because he provided the venue for the games (which also amazingly still happens in Scotland). The judges serve the competitors, not vice versa.

Pipe-majors and lead-drummers: Be clear with your pipers and drummers as to where they stand in the band. Too many leaders act like it’s still a military exercise, and that an officer can relieve anyone of their post at any time. A pipe band leader today who does not provide constant feedback, relying instead on the traditional passive-aggressive silence of pipe bands of the past, is going to have trouble retaining and attracting members. People management skills are more important than ever. Tell your pipers and drummers where they stand, what they’re doing wrong, and what they need to do to fix the problem. Leadership transparency is better leadership.

Grading: Recently, applicants to compete in the Gold Medal competitions at Oban and Inverness were given a Yes/No response. That’s about it. Those who received bad news were not provided with any specific reasons for the decision, much less a proposed solution to get back in. Was it age? Was it one poor performance? Was it because they looked at the organizers the wrong way? No transparency. Compounding the problem is the above item on the lack of scoresheets. These pipers never even received formal feedback on the performances that might not have been up to standard. It’s particularly galling when we realize that these pipers have committed their entire life to the goal of winning a Gold Medal, only to have dreams dashed for no given reason, making the whole operation a bit of a mug’s game. The competitors make the event, and they deserve to know exactly where they stand. Not being fully transparent, particularly with those who have just had their Gold Medal aspirations abruptly cancelled, is, in a word, unacceptable.

Would you accept being fired from your job for no reason? A boss removing you from a project without explanation? Being given a grade on a written test without an indication of where you went wrong or right? Finding out from your bank that they invested your money in something you never signed off on?

Of course not. So why would we accept anything different from an avocation to which we commit a major part of our waking life?

Hold feet to the fire. Question authority. Ask questions and get answers. Demand feedback and clarity. If you don’t get it, vote them out or vote with your feet.

Leaders, associations, judges and competition organizers must be accountable to those they serve. If they haven’t adopted a policy of striving to anticipate and answer every important question before it needs to be asked, they’re operating in a long-gone era.

Transparency is more than a trendy watchword. It’s a minimum standard for customers, for employees, for players, for competitors, for members.

No excuses.



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