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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

 

 

stuck

I was recently at a funeral home strategy/training meeting and the Broken Escalator video above was presented as a primer for discussion.  This is a fantastic and thought provoking example for us in the funeral industry.  The NFDA just posted estimations that cremation will eclipse burial this year (see: Rates of Cremation and Burial) and consumers are as scattered in their views about death/disposition as cremated remains in a hurricane.

Yet, the majority of funeral service providers are “stuck on the escalator.”  Here are some examples:

  • “It’s not a problem in our community.”
  • “My families don’t/won’t blah, blah, blah.”
  • “We have been through this before.”
  • “We’ve always done it this way.”
  • “Training?”

The “stuck on the elevator” syndrome is also an epidemic in the funeral supplier world:

  • Repackage the same offerings.
  • Same casket, different color.
  • Discount and rebate games.
  • “Our research shows.”

Jessica A. Smith recently published a great post  I Want A Direct Cremation, Please on the OGR blog offering common sense approaches to assist consumers with cremation choices.   The pundits and talking heads (see Talking Heads; What We Allow Will Continue) continue to lead the blind sheep over the cliff with their “charge more and show more value.”  I guess my question is; why are there so many funeral providers stuck on the escalator?  Thoughts and comments?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, 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

get it doneFuneral director training…how many funeral homes have a consistent training regimen for their funeral directors?  I was part of a meeting that we were challenged to list the top 10 issues/problems that are challenging funeral home owners. There was quite a range from marketing to gain new business to financial sustainability.  Most interesting to me, nearly all of the subjects could be resolved or at least part of the problem resolved with funeral director training.  Funeral director training must be mandated and supported by leadership. Meaningful and relevant funeral director training creates a culture of learning along with collective solicitation of better ideas.  Funeral director and apprentice development is enhanced by assigning topics training of their own peers.  Deliberate time for training is possible, even in the busiest of firms.

Three mornings a week for 15 minutes could make a difference in performance, morale, family satisfaction and even financial stability (how about training sessions of accounts receivable and collection of payments prior to signing a contract)?  Make the sessions fun…bring in some goodies to eat…how about a prize for the best training of the week (a lunch gift certificate).  It’s not difficult to offer funeral director training, it’s a matter of priority.

Funeral home owners; want to solve some of your problems?  Train your funeral directors and staff.  CEU’s are not sufficient or many times relevant to your funeral home needs.  Everyone can be trained and everyone needs to have training…even professional baseball players have batting coaches and take batting practice before their games.  How are you preparing your funeral directors and staff for the game?  Cheers Y’all.

Resource How do funeral professionals approach senior care and hospice  professionals in their  respective communities to become a resource?  Not a solicitation to care for their deceased clients, but a resource  providing professional training, information and assistance.  A  funeral  director is an educated, licensed professional that can become a  tremendous asset with the local clergy, health, legal, senior care, and  hospice professions.

When developing a marketing and operations platform for our new funeral home, I met with and listened to several hospice and senior care professionals.  I asked them to share what they do for their clients, how their clients qualify for their respective services, what are the different positions within their organization and so on.  These professionals were excited to share their work and passion with me.  After learning about their operations, I then asked “what don’t you like about the funeral homes that you deal with regularly”? That’s when I received an earful.

“When we call during odd hours, it seems to take forever for the funeral home to respond, much less show up…the guys making the removal are very impersonal,”  and so on.  I asked if their organizations had a working relationship with the local funeral homes, and most indicated they did not.  If anything, funeral homes would donate for their fund raisers or drop off pens and such.  From this line of questioning, I then solicited from those I met with “if you owned a funeral home and you wanted to work with a local organization like yours, what would you do?”  There were many suggestions, but what struck me as resoundingly important was the funeral home should be providing training and become a resource.  The reluctance from those that I met with was that in the past they invited funeral homes to develop a relationship by presenting to their staff or participating in some sort of event, the hospice got the feeling that the firms just wanted to sell pre-need or some type of product.

After learning about senior care and hospice organizations, their work, their passion to make a client and their family’s transition to death comfortable, I thought through how a funeral home could be of service to their staff.  Training, Education, Resource.  Why not provide the staff with information about what happens after their clients die…what does the family have to deal with…how can a family prepare for death…what can families expect after the death occurs…basically once the transition work until death is complete, share how does a funeral professional carry forward the hard work started by senior care and hospice.

Upon completion of the research, I developed a training platform for staff and volunteers that have direct contact with those that are dying along with their families.  Within the platform, there is no solicitation of the funeral home or its services, but information and training of what a family will need to know prior to death occurring and how to prepare.  Details on subjects such as Social Security benefits, end of life legal preparedness, Veteran’s benefits, important documents such as life insurance, how a funeral home expects to be paid, what is a GPL, DNA issues, and so on.  In addition, I created a website and accompanying materials as tools for those receiving the training as well as a resource for families that have a loved one facing death.

Upon presenting this training, I was overwhelmed at the reception and participation among those in attendance.  Many did not know how soon after death a physician must sign a death certificate, their state’s regulations pertaining to embalming and or refrigeration, etc.  Subjects and regulations that funeral professionals regularly must follow so that those in attendance may assist by providing families information prior to death; to make the transition to death easier.  During the training multitudes of stories were shared by the participants from their own loved one’s death and those that they had cared for.  The training provided was valuable both professionally and personally.

At the conclusion of the training, the hospice and senior care professionals now had tools and information to deliver to a family without feeling uncomfortable about the topic of impending death.  Additionally, because of the training we developed a relationship…we became a resource.  There was no fear that if these professionals called for any funeral service information or questions our firm would not respond with starting up the removal vehicle or requesting a meeting with a pre-need counselor.

 

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