Jake Johnson

Every situation is personal when it comes to succession planning, because, after all, it’s creating a strategy that will ensure the future success of your funeral home or cemetery. Succession planning isn’t just so you can retire and pass along the business to the next generation, it’s also preparing yourself, and your business for any unforeseen circumstances, such as deaths or sudden job vacancies. It also sets up a plan so that you as an owner can have a work-life balance by working “on” your business, instead of “in” it.

However, Succession Planning is an incredibly strategic process that requires a lot of detailed thought and work. Here are five key helpful questions that you as a funeral or cemetery business owner must think through and ask yourself:


Are You Preparing The Key Employee?

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Richard Branson

How you prepare your key employee or family member for the future is key to an excellent succession plan. You should be looking for generational leadership, a legacy protector or builder. This is someone that you would feel comfortable delegating key tasks to, and trust to carry on the legacy of your business. It’s important that they fully understand what is on the line – for you and for their future.

They might not necessarily be ready at the moment, but if you see potential–start NOW!  It’s never too early to start mentoring and coaching this individual.

Preparing the key employee means investing in their ability to learn. Send them to seminars, classes and workshops. Use outside resources to pour into these individuals to shape them to be the best leader they can possibly be—they are worth the investment.


Are You Addressing Issues With Internal Capabilities?

Cremation rate is increasing.  Average sale is shrinking.  Costs of doing business are rising, and retaining talented staff continues to cost more.  With all of these factors in mind, it is critical that you have a plan and leverage strengths, relationships and experience to counteract what could ultimately drive your business down. It all starts with your internal employees, and addressing these external issues together by coming up with plans and solutions to combat them.

Another important question you need to ask yourself as an owner, is there a growth path for my employees? How do you plan on developing your team?  Employee reviews and evaluations are critically important to the overall morale of the workplace.  The simple gesture of sitting down and talking with the employee will make a significant difference.

Think of the employee like a consumer, except they are spending the most valuable unrenewable resource – their time.  They are making an incredible investment of time in your business in the hopes of providing a better life for themselves and their family.  They will be very interested in their opportunities to improve and gain a greater return on investment (ROI), especially if it involves promotions to leadership and greater earnings.


Are You Working Yourself Out of A Job? 

What would you need to do in order to work yourself out of your job and transition all duties? When the time comes for you to pass your responsibilities along, you’ll want it to be a seamless process. Which is why it’s crucial to build out a team you know you can trust. Many owners struggle because they have the “do it all” mentality, and they find it difficult to delegate different responsibilities because they are used to doing it themselves. They end up getting too hung up on how tasks get done, instead of just allowing talented management to take care of it. Your staff needs to have the freedom and flexibility to accomplish the task their own way and if you allow them to take the reins, you will be impressed at what you will learn!

Empowering others is not a sign of weakness, it’s an opportunity to develop your team and provide positive accountability. Find ways to empower your team members with functions that are best handed by them so that it makes this transition much easier in the future.

Many owners are limited on their ability to pursue opportunities due to a lack of time or time management.  If you consider your hourly wage (your annual income divided by 2,080 hours) and apply that to some of the jobs you do, you might just find it would be much better economically if someone else was trained and provided the opportunity to grown into a new job or role responsibility. And in the end, this also provides for transitional development over time.


Are You Following a Strategic Plan?

“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal.  A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan.  A plan backed by actions makes your dreams come true.”  -Greg Reid

We are all busy working, “in” the business – handling the tasks and activities that we have to accomplish on a on a day-to-day basis. As business owners, it’s so critical that we don’t get stuck working in the business that we don’t allow ourselves, and company, to grow and reach new levels of success. Now this is much easier said than done, so how do you create time to reach those huge company goals and big milestones?

Work “on” your business by identifying 3-5 key company initiatives that are supported by tactical actions. Start by creating a strategic plan and getting key team members in on the process, and meet throughout the year to hold each other accountable.


Take a look at the following examples:


Key Initiative:                    Increase Revenues 10%

Action Plan:                        Strategic Pricing Review

Who:                                     General Manager

When:                                  Q1 2019

Action Plan:                        Arrangement Conference Presentation Training

Who:                                     Lead Funeral Director

When:                                  Q1 2019 and ongoing quarterly

Action Plan:                        Merchandising Review

Who:                                     General Manager

When:                                  Q1 2019


Key Initiative:                    Increase Call Volume 3%

Action Plan:                        Initiative Community Outreach Plan

Who:                                     General Manager

When:                                  Q1 2019 and ongoing

Action Plan:                        Phone & Price Shopper Training

Who:                                     Lead Funeral Director

When:                                  Q2 2019


Each employee can and should have personal goals to grow in the Company, but as an employer, you should ensure that the employee’s plan supports the Company.  If the employee is a candidate for future leadership within the Company, remember that their personal strategic plan should include steps which support that development such as higher level of leadership and management training.

Are You Creating Job Redundancy?

What happens when that key employee that knows the ins and outs of your business decides to leave? Are you empowering others so that more than one person knows what’s going on within the different roles and job functions of your funeral home or cemetery? Key employees become unreplaceable because of their knowledge or self-proclaimed restricted access.  By developing a mentoring program you can limit your liability if an employee leaves. This is certainly critical to your organization if you plan to grow.

By doing this, not only are you setting up your workplace culture to be a great learning environment with mentorship and growth programs in place for your employees, but you are also setting yourself up to sleep better at night by ensuring that no one person controls your destiny as a business owner.


It all comes down to this—what kind of legacy do you want to leave through your business?

Here are some final questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Do you want to be an owner known to create growth and leadership opportunities for you employees?
  • Have you identified which key employee or family member will take on the business and have you started investing in that individual’s education and training?
  • Do you need to use outside resources for succession planning?

Ultimately, you control the destiny of your business, even after you retire and decide on new leadership. Remember to work on your business, rather than in your business while you have the time. Ensure a smooth transition of your legacy.


Located in Scottsdale, Arizona, Johnson Consulting Groups has been committed to providing intelligent business solutions through personalized partnerships with funeral and cemetery professionals for the last 21 years. JCG’s strategies assist in streamlining business systems and processes, allowing these individuals to save time, and focus on what matters. JCG can assist you in the development of your succession plan,  valuation of your enterprise, and take your firm to market.





The original article appeared in the January Issue of NFDA.