Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” His words ring just as true today as they did when he penned them. Despite our easy access to search engines, apps and Wikipedia, reading good books remains one of the easiest, cheapest and fastest ways to absorb information. Reading has been linked with increased empathy and (of course) intelligence, and a well-stocked library provides a vehicle for us to experience new things, increase awareness and develop new skills.
I know that many of you struggle to find time to read – after all, you're almost always on call, often working through nights and weekends to meet the needs of your client families. But with every book you read, you become more empathetic, more thoughtful, more strategic. And that growth can have a significant impact on the success of your funeral home business.
Below, I’ve included several of the best business books I've read recently. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the many great resources available to you, but each of these was chosen specifically for its ability to address the most common issues facing funeral businesses.
Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
If you need to implement changes at your funeral home…
“We don’t promise that we’re going to make change easy, but at least we can make it easier. Our goal is to teach you a framework, based on decades of scientific research, that is simple enough to remember and flexible enough to use in many different situations—family, work, community and otherwise.”
Over the last few decades, funeral service has weathered tremendous shifts in consumer preferences. While a number of providers have been able to adapt their service model to meet the changing demand, many funeral homes still struggle with change. Switch by Chip and Dan Heath is an easy, fascinating read, ripe with stories of individuals who have walked into seemingly impossible situations and implemented radical, effective and fast changes that have dramatically increased their success.
It’s the ideal read for any funeral provider – or funeral business owner – who wants to implement successful change in their organization.
This Is Marketing by Seth Godin
If your funeral home marketing could use a boost…
This Is Marketing by Seth Godin is, without question, the best book I've read this year. Seth Godin is a prolific and decorated author, with 18 best sellers, two successful companies and one of the most read blogs in the world. His latest book offers a pretty thorough summary of the key themes in his writing, giving readers actionable tips for successful, targeted marketing.
It’s a quick read and a good one for any funeral provider who is struggling to expand market share, increase customer satisfaction and foster more meaningful connections.
The Right Way of Death by Eric Layer
If you need to improve your funeral home's profitability…
Few topics have generated more discussion in funeral service than responding to decreasing funeral home profits. Some argue that funeral professionals must educate families about the importance of traditional rituals; others have sought to expand the types of funeral services they offer – for example, opening facilities with low-cost, minimal-service cremation options.
While many authors have offered opinions on this topic, I have been impressed by Eric Layer’s book. He crafted a well-written and thoroughly-researched book that presents a strong perspective on this topic. From preneed sales to aftercare offerings, Layer discusses the entire funeral experience. Even if you disagree with him, I believe his book will encourage you to question your assumptions and clarify your business goals.
Layer also shares three dangerous lies funeral professionals have repeated for decades. But he doesn’t leave you hanging. In the last third of the book, Layer presents his advice for how funeral homes should significantly overhaul their practices and pricing strategies to respond to changes in consumer behavior.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
If your funeral home culture needs a facelift…
“Teamwork ultimately comes down to practicing a small set of principles over a long period of time. Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.”
Michael Jordan and the 1996 Chicago Bulls aside, no team is perfect. Every single one faces challenges, many resulting from avoidance, fear and distrust. In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni identifies five problems that wreak the greatest havoc on teams.
His book is an easy, quick read – most of the text is structured as a fable with clear, actionable tips at the end, along with a simple assessment to identify which dysfunctions are damaging your team.
Hero on a Mission by Donald Miller
If you need to step us as a leader…
Donald Miller, creator of the Storybrand & Business Made Simple companies, argues that we need to reclaim our lives and become the authors and heroes of our own stories. Miller suggests that thinking about our lives in terms of being a hero on a mission makes us more likely to meet our personal and professional goals.
Miller’s book, Hero on a Mission, outlines the mindset and daily practices that took him from an unfocused and unproductive recluse to authoring 12 books and founding two multi-million-dollar businesses. Of special interest to funeral professionals, Miller spends considerable time discussing the power of not only writing your own eulogy but reviewing it daily.
This engaging book will help you see the difference between being a hero and a victim and how you can grow to become a guide to others and avoid being the villain in your own life story.
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
If you struggle to develop and retain top performers…
“This book is not about turning you into a coach. It’s about making you a leader, a manager, a human being who’s more coach-like. Which means building simple but difficult new habits: Stay curious a little longer, rush to action and advice-giving a little more slowly.”
The NFDA estimates that the average funeral home will care for 113 decedents this year while supporting three full-time and four part-time employees. With seven people on the payroll and a 4 ½-year turnover, funeral home owners can expect to spend a significant portion of their time recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training new staff members.
In addition to being time-consuming and frustrating, replacing existing staff members often leads to a temporary dip in service quality. Long tenure results in deeply knowledgeable and invested employees – employees who are responsible for the compassionate care of your client families. It’s in your best interest to hire top-performing employees and, once they’re on staff, to ensure they don’t look elsewhere for employment.
Becoming a better coach is an invaluable skill as a business owner – you learn to draw out the very best in your employees and, by investing in them, you make it more likely they will stay. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier is a great resource if you’re looking for short, simple and clear ways to implement better coaching with your team.
Margin by Richard Swenson, M.D.
If you find yourself working at capacity…
Margin by Richard Swenson, M.D. provides a stark contrast to a world that glorifies productivity and hustle-culture. In his book, Dr. Swenson reviews the inherent problems of living a margin-less life – a life lived at the edge of our physical, emotional, financial and time-based constraints. Under the best of circumstances, we are rushed and harried. But the real challenges arise when life throws a curveball at us (e.g., an almost two-year pandemic), and we find that we cannot recover because we were already running on empty.This book offers advice on how to return to sane living by encouraging us to build up a cushion of reserves in our schedules – from health and finances to calmness and time. This advice can help us prepare before the next crisis hits us, our family, our business, our community or our world. As we transition from a time when we have all been operating at our limits, I hope we take Dr. Swenson’s advice and recognize that margin is not a luxury – it is a necessity.
If you have trouble communicating with families in the arrangement room…
A pastor in my hometown once shared this wisdom: “If you want to see the very worst in a family, help them plan a wedding or a funeral.” There is something about milestones that draws out challenging family dynamics, and you may feel like you’re in the crosshairs every time you step into an arrangement conference.
Learning how to manage tough topics is an invaluable skill for funeral professionals. Crucial Conversations is a tried and true resource to help equip you with tools you can use to navigate challenging discussions with client families (and even co-workers).
There you have it – your fall reading list! And many of them are accessible as audiobooks for those who struggle to find time to sit and read.
These are, of course, only a handful of the many, many valuable business books available. What other business books have you enjoyed? Leave your favorites in the comments below.
Funeral Home Customer Service A-Z by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.
If you want to provide better service to families…
Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. is primarily known for his contributions to grief support over the past several decades. But he has also created several resources to help funeral professionals provide better service for the families they serve.
While Funeral Home Customer Service A-Z was released almost 20 years ago, it still provides a variety of reminders that are still relevant for funeral professionals today. In the first portion of the book, Dr. Wolfelt examines the changing nature of the families we serve and the power of crafting meaningful experiences for them.
The second half of the book includes short discussions regarding 75 different topics for funeral professionals. While some are now outdated (for example, Facebook wasn’t available to the public when the book was released), others have held up very well. Wolfelt covers a range of topics including aftercare, arranging, burnout, listening, micro-managing, pricing, products, training and more.
There is no denying that the culture and the families we serve are changing. As you strive to continue to provide excellent service, you can find inspiration in this timeless resource by Dr. Wolfelt.