By: Dan Isard
I recently gave a seminar to about 40 funeral home owners and rather than providing answers to all the questions, I asked a few questions of my own. I asked the group, “How many of you know what a Strategic Plan is?” I followed that up by asking, “How many of you performed an annual Strategic Plan for each of the past 3 years or more?” Then I asked, “Of those of you that have performed a Strategic Plan, did you write the plan down or just do it in your head?” Lastly, I asked, “Of those of you that have created a Strategic Plan on paper or in your head, did you communicate it to your staff?”
Why did I take the time to do this? Well, I had an article to write on the subject and now the attendees wrote it for me! If you are reading this article and you were among the 40 attendees, let me know and I will share the royalties from this article with you.
A Strategic Plan is just what the sum of the words mean. “Strategic” means a well thought out strategy to accomplish something. “Plan” means a guide or design for the future. Therefore a Strategic Plan is a well thought out strategy to accomplish your business success into the immediate and long term future. However, just as someone might understand the meaning of the word “cooking”, it doesn’t mean that you would eat what they create.
“How many of you know what a Strategic Plan is?” Of the 40 seminar attendees almost all stated they knew what a Strategic Plan was. What they didn’t understand was how much work it took to create a plan. There are many components to a Strategic Plan (“SP”). It can deal with financial, marketing, physical plant or other dynamics of running the business. To do it correctly you need the proper data from the past operations to see what changes are actually taking place in order to look for corollaries and reach conclusions.
The points of the SP to focus on are determined by the changes you see in your business or market. This is a lot of work. It is best if you focus on only one or two points to study in depth. For example, if new competition enters your market, your SP should deal with that. If case count is falling, then strive to focus your plan on that dynamic.
I recommend that you don’t focus on changing society. For example, one client told me they wanted to have a plan to sell more caskets. Really? If you come up with a plan to do this, the large casket companies will pay you bizzillion dollars for it! Remember, focus on what you can correct and accept that which you cannot change.
The most important matter in creating a SP is to be objective. I have problems doing that for my business but not for any of our clients. To solve for a lack of objectivity, I let my staff do the analysis for my company’s SP. They can present it to me as if I am a client. This could be your solution if your business is large enough to have a solid administrator but too small to afford a management consultant.
How many of you perform an annual Strategic Plan for each of the past 3 years or more? Only 10 stated they performed a SP for the past 3 years or more. Obviously a large number do not spend their time on that at all. This fact didn’t surprise me. Most funeral home managers are funeral directors. Most funeral directors are care givers and not geeks. Most are trusting people, not calloused business people. Ironically, 3 of the 10 that created a plan were combination operators, owning a funeral home and cemetery. In fact, all of the cemeterians were part of this group! Cemeterians generally have different personality styles from funeral directors.
Some of the larger owner-operators of funeral homes have home office staff that creates these plans for their managers. They do this because as a funeral director you are a care giver first and often don’t have the time or the inclination to create a SP.
Looking back on the small group of SP creators, I noticed another common trait. They were all under 40 or thereabout. Either their age caused them to look at funeral service as a business or they had the energy to try and do a more complete job of planning for their business future. They may have been raised to think differently.
“Of those of you that have performed a Strategic Plan, did you write the plan down or just do it in your head?” Only 1 wrote it down. The other 9 had it in their head. This in an obvious problem. Putting your SP on paper helps you judge the effectiveness of the SP as the year progresses.
Writing a plan also keeps you accountable. You might not want to admit you made mistakes. We have all made mistakes. The key is to learn from it. As a consultant I have learned by observing the actions that were successful and those which lead to failure of business owners.
Of those of you that have created a Strategic Plan on paper or in your head, did you communicate it to your staff?” Five of the ten that created a SP communicated it to their staff. I think it is important to get these thoughts and visions to those that are working the business with you. A train conductor a hundred years ago would find it important to tell the guy shoveling coal before he started to go up a mountain. He did not want him taking lunch and stranding you mid-way up the hill! Everyone in the funeral home needs to know your vision for the future. They are relying upon you for their future financial security and you need them to get yours.
One reason a funeral manager did not communicate her SP to the staff was that she perceived that they didn’t get it, so it was a waste of her time to share this plan with them. That is a HR problem. You got the wrong people on your bus. Make staff changes. Find those people willing to change and share a vision.
Another owner that did share their vision did it with only licensed staff. I think you have many ambassadors to your business. Get a vision out to all. Bring in the part timers and have meetings with them. Share with them. Success has many people claiming success but failure is handled by the leader alone. Bring your staff together. Share the past with them. Share the trends and why you are reaching the conclusions you are reaching. They will feel empowered.
As to the one person that did everything? Their case count is up 16% over the past 5 years. Preneeds are written at a greater rate than the national average. Average revenue per call is at the budgeted amount. Most importantly the person has taken almost 6 weeks of vacation each of the past 3 years! He credits his use of a Strategic Plan and communicating it to all of his staff as the reason for this profitability and quality of life enhancements.
No one plans to fail. Most just fail to plan. A strategic plan leads to the greatest chance of success.