Todd Van BeckA wise mentor of mine once said that “knowledge replaces fear.” As the years of my career in funeral service has passed from 10 to 20 to 30 to now 40 years, I have witnessed the movement of funeral service going from a fairly simple day to day operation to the present day environment which is complicated and yes, at times, fearful and filled with uncertainty.

No one enjoys rapid constant change. In fact psychologists almost uniformly agree that the human being cannot handle rapid change over a sustainable period of time. Rapid change usually creates fear of the unknown. Everywhere I travel in my speaking and seminar sessions, I listen to funeral director after funeral director tell me of the concerns, fears, and worry that they have these days in the day to day operation of the funeral home.

Too bad there is not a “graduate” school in funeral home management. In fact the curriculum of the mortuary school system really does not spend an inordinate amount of time on such matters as business management, people management, community outreach, alternative services, etc. The curriculum of the mortuary schools is, basically upon graduation, to give the successful student more of a learner’s permit than an academic degree. Where does most of the learning in funeral operations happen on the floor of the funeral home where hour by hour challenges are faced and coped with.

Not long ago, I spoke at a large state convention. The speaker before me was a representative of some state watchdog agency and the assignment was to speak on the state of funeral service’s relationship to government regulation. It was a merciless in assault on funeral service. This person went on and on and I could see that the attendees were moving quickly from tolerate respect, to fear and then to anger.

One funeral director stood up and took umbrage with the speaker who had basically indicted to the entire audience that they were not in compliance with much. There was an audible gasp in the room when the speaker expressed that sentiment. Now, it was this funeral directors opportunity to set the record straight. In a nut shell this is what he said:  “On a day to day basis this is what I deal with: State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, I pay the fees, I renew licenses, I participate in required continuing education and I open my door for an annual inspection. Then I deal with my cities ordinances which range from parking regulations to regulations concerning the placement of my sign. On top of that I work with the State Department of Taxation, the State Department of Motor Vehicles, and the State Department of Environmental Protection. Then I have to make sure the payroll is taken care of and taxes paid, the accounts payable and receivable are monitored and that I offer a good health and retirement plan. Now I am not finished. I deal with the Internal Revenue Service, the State Revenue Service, the Federal Trade Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration.” Finally he was out of breath, but he received a standing ovation.

I thought that funeral director showed manifest courage and laid out the complex environment that even the smallest funeral operation works under in these complicated and challenging times.

In the past several months, I have been involved with an organization called Johnson Consulting. I, the reader, look at the company’s information one can readily see that a team of exceptionally qualified people have been assembled to do one thing and one thing only assist funeral homes in improving day to day operations.

Already Johnson Consulting has developed an impressive analysis system. Tom Johnson says it best.  “Our approach is simple and straight forward: We fix what is wrong and keep in place what is working well.”

I attended 27 seminars in my life which were conducted by the legendary Dr. W. Edwards Deming (the American who taught the Japanese about quality service) and he was firmly convinced that in order to improve services to a community one had to be constantly on alert as to what was not working properly within the organization. Then after identifying the weaknesses the organization was in the highly advantageous position of fixing them. Identifying the weaknesses is the key. This is what Johnson Consulting does, from internal analysis of daily operations, to telephone mystery shopping analysis to business consulting issues. It’s a very thorough and comprehensive “Performance Analysis”.

Might I share a private sentiment with the reader? My entire career I have worked with individuals, good individuals, who get involved with funeral service but they do not understand funeral service. They present the attitude “Well if I was able to sell a lot of Fig Newtons selling a funeral will be a snap.” Rarely have I seen these people move forward or the programs they present relative to the funeral profession.

For me, one of the great attractions of getting associated with Johnson Consulting was that everyone, and I mean everyone, possesses great knowledge and experience in day to day funeral work. This is a tremendous asset for any client of Johnson Consulting. We know the secret handshake! We have been there and done it all.

So for time such as these, with all the day to day complications in funeral work, Johnson Consulting is a resource well worth exploring. Johnson Consulting truly believes in and nay say loves the funeral service profession.

~ Todd Van Beck

Return to the June 2008 Management Insights Newsletter