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As we launched into 2017, I see all sorts of resolution and other feel good articles how to live a better life this year.  Frankly, I wonder why we need prompting to do what should be done in the first place.  For most people, there are a few top “resolutions” with simple solutions:

  1. Want to lose weight and get in shape? Quit eating poorly and exercise.  The food that goes into your mouth comes directly from your own hand.  You don’t need a gym membership to roll your carcass out of bed in the morning and take 30-45 minutes to walk/run, do some push ups, planks, and get on with your day.  Get your ass out of bed a little earlier in the morning, exercise, and quit eating junk. Why is that so difficult?
  2. Want to make more money? Focus on what brings in revenue rather wasting time on crap that does not pay the bills.  Take a look where the money comes from and increase your effort to make more.  The harder you work, the luckier you get, monetize everything!
  3. Want to live a better life? Read 1 & 2, then organize your time:
  • Each day has 24 hours and each week has 168 hours.
  • If you work 45 hours per week, that leaves 123 hours.
  • If you sleep 48 hours a week (8 hours a night), that leaves 75 hours.
  • So that leaves 75 hours a week, 10.71 hours a day that you are not working or sleeping.  Surely if you want to better educate yourself, start a new hobby, spend more time doing anything, the math above dictates that it’s possible.

Make the decision to take command of yourself and life will get better.  From the Command Post (W), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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The answer, “We’ve always done it that way.”  The question, “What do funeral home owners say when their market share is declining, profits are dwindling, and business in a downward spiral?”  Really?!  Can’t we agree that, by definition, this is insanity – doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results?  Wake The Funeral up!

I am continuously astounded when I talk with funeral home owners and listen to their reluctance to address the real problems they are facing in their businesses.  “I just don’t think I can get our directors to do that” and “It’s never worked in the past” are common laments.  Both statements indicate that the Inmates are running your asylum.  You may be in worse shape than you think!

At some point you are going to want to sell or transfer your business and the value is going to be less than you expect.  Lackadaisical leadership (aka poor business management) is the root cause of funeral home financial failure.  Even more interesting is that owners know they have problems but fail to hire professionals to resolve issues.  If you are a funeral home owner and your profit margin is less than 8%, you have no Human Resources manual or consistent training for your staff, and you have any accounts receivable over 60 days: I AM TALKING TO YOU!

I find it amusing that you, funeral home owners, consistently opine, “People now-a-days just don’t plan and find themselves in a mess scrambling to pay when death occurs.” Funny thing, Mr./Ms. Funeral Home Owner, you are just as bad.  Take a look at your profit margin, accounts receivable, cremation vs. burial revenues, and market share.  Are you planning for what’s ahead or just doing the same thing you have always done?

Snap out of it!  The first step in getting well is to acknowledge something is wrong. Congratulations if you’ve done so – you’re half way there.  Now, get well!  Raise your hand and ask for help. From the Command Post (West) in the cigar bunker, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

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I recently had the opportunity to attend a professional baseball game in Phoenix.  Besides sitting in great seats in an air conditioned stadium (the only problem was the lack of a cigar bar), I enjoyed watching the preparation of the players prior to the first pitch.  Guess what?  Highly paid professional baseball players were taking batting practice, fielding balls and throwing to warm up.  If pro baseball players practice, why don’t professional funeral directors?

I’m not talking about CEU’s where you doodle on the handout and spend most of the session on your smartphone chatting about how bored you are. I’m talking about training.  The funeral industry has falsely manifested the notion that CEU’s are training.  They are not. They are education.   Consider the difference in reading about how to throw a strike from 60 feet versus getting on the mound and actually doing it.  Do you think that you may have to spend time honing your craft?   Unfortunately, I see and know of many instances where funeral directors are throwing lots of balls nowhere near the plate.  Behavior modification is achieved through practice and consistent work on perfecting any particular segment of our business.

I am certain that the “you don’t know what you’re talking about” crowd is reading this with a mindset that redundancy in performance negates the need for training or practice.  What if you are doing it wrong in the first place?  How many of you offer the GPL at the proper time and in the prescribed fashion required by the FTC?   The fact that the FTC reports annually that about 25% of all funeral homes are in some violation regarding the GPL presentation is damning proof.  “We’ve always done it that way” does not reduce the fine levied on you by the Government.

We all know that when a funeral director goes into the arrangement room and closes the door, they have their own way of doing things, right or wrong.  How many owners/managers take the time to sit in on arrangements to measure performance of things like presentation of the GPL, the discussion of the payment policy, explanation of products, and services?  Does your firm even have a standard for the arrangement process that a funeral director should follow?  I’m not suggesting “gotcha” stuff; I am asking how do you know WTF (What the Funeral) is going on in there if you don’t take the time to observe?  There is a saying “expect what you inspect.”  Of course, if you have no road map or process for the director to follow, then Mr. /Ms. funeral home owner/manager…that’s on you.

Here’s a challenge:  Tell me what problem in leading a funeral home could not be solved with training and practice?  Throwing even the most seasoned funeral director on the mound to pitch a perfect game is not providing the leadership necessary to have consistent success.  If you own/manage a funeral home, it’s your responsibility to create a continuous improvement culture.  If you are a funeral director and you don’t have any leadership in your firm, ask and take the lead.  Taking 15-20 minutes once or twice a week is absolutely possible but only if leadership exists.

Our funeral directors train at least twice per week on a myriad of different subjects for the short time period I described.  From the Command Post (West) through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

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US funeral homes are owed over $300 million for services and products already provided. Let that sink in. Just this past week I was made privy to a firm that has over $500,000 of accounts receivable. If you are a funeral director that proclaims “I’m here to serve families and I don’t talk about money,” then you have an owner in dire need of a spine implant or major cajones attachment surgery.

The ridiculous notion of allowing such behavior is squarely the fault of funeral home ownership and management.  Why is there over $300 million owed to funeral homes? Because funeral home owners and managers allow the inmates to run the asylum by not training, monitoring, measuring, and continuously improving their staff. Apparently the pain of not getting paid for services rendered isn’t near the pain of leadership by training and holding funeral directors accountable for their actions.

If you are a funeral director reading this and your firm has accounts receivable, then you are the problem  (make sure your owner doesn’t see this post).  If you are a funeral home owner/manager and your firm has accounts receivable and you are reading this, I give you two options:

  1. Take charge and lead your funeral directors with training to resolve your AR problems.
  2. Do nothing and allow your funeral directors to run your business out of business.

If number one above looks palatable and you don’t have the ability or the capacity to effect this change, then email me jeff@atneedcredit.com. If you think number two is your best option, then I have a question for you: How do you stand up without a spine?

Yep, I’m clearly on the battlefield today and loving the smoke of combat. Remember, I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, I am however, going to tell you the truth and it feels like hell. For those of you that feel like hell, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Training funeral directors to proclaim “We are a funeral home, not a bank” is not the solution to get paid for goods and services.  Access to credit for an increasing number of consumers is becoming difficult and funeral homes are not equipped or offering funeral loans. Unfortunately, traditional lenders like banks are not offering funeral loans especially to those who are credit challenged.

The Washington Times reports that the majority, or 56 percent, of consumers have subprime credit scores (below 640), according to a report released (January 2016) by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a nonprofit that advocates for policy changes to help low- and moderate-income households. As a result, these consumers are often locked out of the lending markets. And if they are borrowing, chances are they’re missing out on the lowest rates being offered to consumers with stronger credit.  “Bad credit” doesn’t always mean that the consumer does not pay their debts. Credit is a touchy balancing act: a few missed or untimely payments (slow pay) combined with a high debt to low income ratio and the consumer will find themselves in a quick negative credit score spiral.

Yet, family members of the before-mentioned 56 percent are dying and seeking ways to pay for funeral expenses; they can pay, but not borrow money to pay. With a body in building, what do you do?  I have outlined steps previously in posts Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed. and Funeral Director Training: “We ain’t got much money.”  Training funeral directors in advance to understand the parameters of your firm’s policy and the tools/services available for them to create a sensible solution for payment is easily accomplished.

Denying the truth doesn’t change the facts. The truth is funeral home owners are not training staff to create solutions for consumers are struggling financially or providing the tools necessary. These facts manifest themselves with discounts of goods and services along with accounts receivable hampering the cash flow of the business. Solutions are available; take a step in the right direction by contacting me.  To initiate improvement of your financial strength and take charge.  Funeral Pay Plan is the only funeral industry company with funeral home leadership and the experience to change your facts. We have some big news on the horizon which will add to our strength as the at need solutions leaders for cash flow in the funeral industry, stay tuned!

From the Command Post, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

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What is your funeral home business culture?  To define business culture; a set of similar and collective values, beliefs as well as attitude.  The culture of a funeral home has significant impact on just about every facet of the operation.  Culture is also a trained attribute…does your funeral home provide training at all?

The culture of a company is undeniably noticeable in other industry’s like the Ritz Carlton and Chic-fil-A brands.  Ritz with impeccable high end service and Chic-fil-A with value/friendliness “my pleasure” service. Interestingly, these two company examples vary widely in their pricing and customer base yet both accomplish the same goal: a definitive culture and a significant effort to provide consistent training on the subject.

In my funeral career I have  met with owners, managers and staff of over 1,000 funeral homes that conduct as little as 25 to over 130,000 annual cases, both public and privately owned.  I have been privy to strategic planning and executive level discussions about the approach that many funeral homes take to their business.  Frankly, almost all commonly desire to serve the family of a deceased person with compassion, dignity and respect.  But the culture  of funeral homes widely vary to these core tenets of funeral service.

What is your funeral home culture?  Here are some that I have observed:

  1. Perfunctory: Just getting the job done without much fanfare or creativity.  Staff going through the motions not overly friendly nor curt, but primarily waiting for their day off and paycheck. Data collection on the deceased (always around a table or from behind a desk), choose a casket, choose a vault, choose a service, choose a date, choose a time, thank you for choosing us.  This culture is akin to a bank teller line; “thank you for your deposit, next please!”
  2. Excessive: Over the top and oozing of obvious false compassion.  “We are your new best friend and family” which makes many people uncomfortable and suspicious of the intentions.  Perhaps the best analogy would be an overzealous car salesman or clerk at a clothing store that refuses to let you just shop.  “My mother drove a car like that, I love those shoes, I had a cousin in the military (I wanted too but I have fat ankles/asthma which means I can’t run), I was in the scouts, you remind me of my own family,  I love dogs, I love cats, I have a hamster too, blah, blah.”
  3. Tense:  As if the boss is going to give a predetermined amount of lashings if a mistake is made or someone would dare think out of the box.  This culture is certainly the “we’ve always done it this way” crowd that requires women (if any work there) to wear below knee length skirts, pantyhose and non-heeled ugly shoes.  No, the owners are not sexist because they don’t allow male personnel to take off their jackets to show off their white shirts at anytime (especially when the temperatures are desert-like because that would be deemed unprofessional).  This crowd can be best described as a cross between an Amish formal dinner and an ancient Monastery…can you feel the love and joy?
  4.  Relaxed:  At ease; comfortable yet professional.  No hurry yet cognizant of time, respectful but not too chatty, everyone seems comfortable in their own skin.  I suppose that this culture can be most notably like being at a great restaurant.

Of course all that read this will vehemently know that they fall into #4 and their competitors are all #1-#3 and I understand there are other forms of culture existent in our chock full of nuts funeral homes.   How would you describe your funeral home culture?

It’s nearly Christmas and I’d like to wish everyone a joyous time with your family along with hoping for a little peace (and quite) for you at your funeral homes.  From the Command Post and fog of a 60 ring gauge cigar, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

I swear

Below is the oath by those that serve (or have served us, Commissioned Officer slightly different) in the US Military:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

These collection of words have been affirmed by so many that provide us the freedoms we enjoy today as Americans.  To support and defend.  True faith and allegiance.  Obey orders.  Follow the regulations.  All with the help of God.  This oath is a commitment to serve something bigger than ourselves; our God, our fellow citizens and those that make this choice alongside us.  A cause to die for.

Veterans Day 2015 means that we continue to live in a free country.  This past year many Veterans from earlier generations have died and we currently have citizens are serving us now in harms way. Veterans Day is to honor all that took the oath of office to serve us in our Armed Forces. Veterans Day is for the men and women that offered to give their life for us whether they served in combat on foreign soil, stateside, active duty or reserve. Let me be clear; it’s not first responders day.  My salute to Veterans that served before, alongside and after me.  Thank you for your service and sacrifices to our Nation.

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

     2LT Jeff Harbeson, 1984 

Thank a Veteran, they are willing to die for you.  May God continue to Bless America. From the Command Post and the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

front lines

From my vantage point, the funeral industry is experiencing an era of significant change due to primarily outside influences; economics, shifts in consumer views about caring for our dead, and technology are among the top.  These particular challenges mean that we are adapting to change outside our control and innovative/bold leadership is required to “fight the battles” ahead.  The enemy (for sake of analogy) is the before mentioned influences; however do we have leaders in place to not only win the battles, but ultimately the war?  The war may be characterized along a few fronts; remaining relevant to consumers (of value), financially stability (funeral homes, product manufacturers, etc.) along with the integration of technology which is essential for relevancy and financial stability.

I have written and posted about this subject Are You a Kiwi or an Eagle regarding leadership (or lack thereof) in the funeral industry.  Because I am challenged daily as a leader from many “battle fronts” like: development/structure of new companies/brands which involve legal, accounting, capital investments, regulations (local, national and international), assembling teams, delegating, creating company cultures, personnel issues, marketing, websites, customer acquisition, retention and such; I study leaders, leadership styles and results.

A quote “most battle plans rarely survive the first shot” and there is some truth to this.  Think about it, most of our doctrines and current operations are based on what we experienced in the past.  An example was this past week’s attacks in Paris; the enemy now is successfully using new tactics, attacking not where we thought they would (a battlefield “over there”), and they successfully spread their message; every news media on the planet brought to our eyes all over the world exactly what they stood for.  We are obviously unprepared for such attack and pitifully exposed that we are reactionary (the attacks were conducted as planned, lives were lost, the message of fear propagated).  In the funeral industry, are we following old doctrine and not studying or training to defeat the “enemy” that may cause harm to us?

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One of my favorite leaders in battle and war is George S. Patton; confident, decisive and “told it like it was.”  Many did not like his bold personality and style of leadership; but few questioned the results (sound familiar?).  General Patton once said “fixed fortifications are the stupidity of man” as a prognostication about the German Siegfried Line of fortresses for defense.  This particular quote resonates with me because many in the funeral industry are hell-bent on continuing to build “fortifications of defense” in attempts to ward off the inevitable; consumers gravitating to cremation, declining traditional burial, economic downward spiral, and seeking alternative services outside our offerings, etc.

Another favorite quote from Patton: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”  For the funeral industry as a whole, this frankly is an indictment.  Yes, there are innovators and forward thinkers however many are still heading in the same direction they were 5 years ago. The same tired discussions continue; generally just bitching most of the time about the innovators, forward thinkers, vendors and always their competitor…yet rarely taking decisive action to initiate change.

If you took some time to dig a little deeper into and beyond General Patton’s brashness, you would find that he demanded accountability of himself and his subordinate leaders “Always do everything you ask of those you command.”  Furthermore, he was not a tight-fisted leader, but actually wanted people to be innovative; “Never tell people how to do things…tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity” and “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.”  Patton demanded creative thinking and allowed for leadership of those that followed him.  We need more of this from funeral home owners…unfortunately there are many, I think because of their own frailties, that don’t allow for “surprise of ingenuity” or “get amazed by results.”  Dictatorial leadership is rarely successful and those subject to “serving the kingdom” cheer at the Dictators inevitable demise…sometimes assisting in their demise (funeral coup?).

Patton’s “Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more” basically meant to train, stay on the move, innovate and attack; but don’t keep moving the sandbags around hoping you’ll win the battle.  We have to be proactive as leaders and never satisfied that we have reached any sort of  pinnacle, stay “on the attack.”

As for me, I’m going to continue to adapt and overcome as well as “shoot the donkeys” (unless of course I see the need for use as the US soldier did in the featured image).  I detest having jackasses hold up an entire column of warriors ready to do battle; just shoot them, throw them over the side of the bridge, keep moving to fight the battle, and win the war.  I’m laughing to myself because I know the jackasses will take umbrage to my school of thought, but as Patton also said “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”  From the Command Post and through the cigar smoke; Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

bad leadershipRecently, I attended graduation of NCMA OC56 and spent a little time with the new Lieutenants prior to them taking the oath of office.  In 1984, I graduated in class OC26 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant as well; yes if you do the math, that’s 30 years ago.  To state the obvious, the world has changed, however I’m not certain for the better.

Then: my studies of world threat as a newly commissioned officer were centered on Soviet doctrine and how their army functioned, their weaponry and tactics. Now: the new officers will study an enemy we are fighting utilizing tactics of fear; the use of small arms, suicide bombs, videoing the decapitation of Americans, slaughter of people that have a different religious belief than theirs, have no issue of attacking us here on our own soil and willing to die based on their religion.   Then:  America was a place when you get pushed by a bully, we responded with a punch in the nose.  Now:  when a bully attacks, if the attacked responds with force, everyone gets punished.

Prior to the graduation ceremonies, I had the privilege to observe a “ritual of passage” that is still in place even 30 years later.  The officer candidates were excited to participate because it truly has meaning; there is just something about tradition.  Then: we conducted the ritual with vigor observed by senior staff, family and the world as they encouraged our “purging” of the last remnants of “enlisted blood” flowing through our veins.  Now:  a bystander observing/bitching and quoting “regulations” that are contrary to the traditional ceremony.  The sideline comments by the “Doug Neidermyers” of the world has not changed, however the response has.  Unfortunately, much of today’s military leadership is more reflective of “PC” and regulations rather than thinking “what does it take to motivate our young troops to kill an enemy that will blow themselves up, rape women, kill children and video themselves performing atrocities?”

I believe that the new Lieutenants are well educated, have access to technology for better combat tactics, possess a desire to serve our Country, and because of the training they received, they’ll lead troops in combat successfully.  Then:  we had to learn how to actually use a compass, read a map, polish boots, shine brass, do a minimum of 20 push-ups for corrective actions, and if we did not measure up, there were no “equalizers” in place and sent home (yes, I’m guilty of my own restraint here for the sake of PC).  We had to be accountable for our failures or lack of standards, period.  Now: GPS will tell us where they are, where they should be going, boots/shoes require no effort for appearance, brass?, conduct a maximum of 5 push-ups for corrective action, and everything is made “equal” with regulations.  Some reading this will think “sounds better to me” and of course, there is no way that you would understand in the first place, so have another sip of Starbucks coffee.

My favorite conversation on my visit was with a young Captain that is a current TAC Officer (basically a drill instructor) regarding changes that he viewed as ridiculous (this Captain is a graduate of the same program).  At the core and initiation of training, the Basic Officer Candidates must learn the definition of military leadership.  “The art of influencing and directing men in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in order to accomplish the mission” is actually etched in stone and placed prominently in the OCS operational area.  The Captain explained to me when he arrived for duty, he was “corrected” that the definition had changed.  His response was exactly the same as mine “you can’t change what’s written in stone,”  God help us.

Many of the Officer Candidates I trained as a TAC Officer are now in leadership positions, some leading our troops in combat roles and many reaching the rank of O-6, Colonel (interestingly, they still addressed me as “Sir”).  I was blessed to have conversation with some of them over this visit and share my personal pride of their service along the positions they have earned.  They privately shared their dismay of how “things are today” and the restraints placed upon them for realistic training to fight an unrealistic enemy.  I know and understand that I would struggle to lead in the environment that they must now operate.  I get it…I’m a relic of the past and “out of touch with the way things are” today.  On these particular subjects, I wear those badges with pride.

The graduation ceremony was conducted at the very place I took my oath of office 30 years ago.  Unfortunately the Army Band that played the National Anthem, the Army song, etc. has been replaced by recordings for the music played (I guess the funds for the band have now been diverted for additional “sensitivity” training).  The atmosphere of excitement, pride of accomplishment, and the seriousness of the ceremony has not changed.

The oath of office for commissioning has not changed which includes the final words “SO HELP ME GOD.”  When I heard the proclamation, I actually had a sinking feeling that this phrase may go away one day, just like so many of our many American values we hold dear. When and if it does, help us God!  Cheers y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

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