How to Leverage Workforce Disruptions in Your Funeral Home Business

September 15, 2016 Funeral Home Business by Jim Koher

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It is estimated that 10,000 Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce every day, and Generation X is simply not big enough to fill the gap. Millennials make up 36% of the workforce today (the most of any of the generations), and it is estimated they’ll be nearly half of it by the end of 2020.

Millennials come into the workforce with a different set of values than prior generations. Although fair wages and benefits are a concern to them, their true reason for taking a job (or staying with a job) is its purpose. Both as employees and consumers, millennials want to associate themselves with companies that are doing something important in the world, something that makes a positive difference – organizations that “think big.”

Salim Ishmael, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Executive Director of Singularity University, suggests that every organization needs a Massive Transformative Purpose (or MTP). In his book Exponential Organizations, he theorizes that millennials want to make a difference in the world and they will be able to tell very quickly if an organization is simply doing the same as last year, but a little faster or more cheaply. That kind of goal does not capture the hearts and minds of employees. Make no mistake, continuous improvement is crucial to an organization’s long-term success. But there should also be a higher purpose.

Consider the staff at your funeral home. Likely, many of them – even those in the older generations – view their profession as a calling, not a career. Just like today’s millennial workers, funeral professionals want to devote themselves to worthy causes. And what could be worthier than serving families with compassion and dedication when they are most in need.

But funeral homes are not just facing changes from within their own firms. Much of the changing professional landscape comes from external forces like increasing competition and changes in consumer preferences and buying habits. The multitude of these changes can lead to uncertainty – and maybe a bit of fear. There’s good reason to believe this changing landscape will have a significant impact on your business and profession. Many industries have been turned on their heads over the last 15 years or so, and the pace of change is showing no signs of slowing.

Airbnb is a great example. The company offers lodging at a fraction of the cost of most hotels by leveraging extra bedrooms, usually in private homes or apartments. Both lodgers and hosts are kept honest by scoring each other after every stay. Airbnb operates 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and is on pace to become the world’s largest provider of room-nights by the end of the decade. Do the Marriotts, Hiltons and Motel 6s of the world feel disrupted? You bet.

Uber offers another solid example. Uber provides users with a “taxi service” app that connects riders with drivers who pick them up in their personal vehicles and take them where they want to go. Often, their service is much faster and less expensive than traditional cab service. You leave your credit card information on file with Uber, and the cost is automatically charged once you are delivered to your destination. No tipping, no worrying if you have enough cash; just a clean transaction. Uber’s business model continues to disrupt transportation in cities that have historically been served by traditional cab service.

Can this type of disruption happen in the funeral profession? It certainly can and – to some extent – already has. For many years, the funeral profession felt safe in the knowledge that individuals in their communities would always have need of their services. After all, everyone experiences the loss of a loved one at some point in their lives, and when that happens won’t they need a funeral director to plan and coordinate a funeral? That’s no longer a given for many funeral providers as more and more consumers are turning to “non-traditional” options for end-of-life services.

It is essential for your organization to consider how creative thinking from outside your industry can radically change the way you do business. How responsive are you to your specific marketplace disruptions and innovations? How well are you adapting to changes in consumer preferences and recommendations from new (and seasoned) staff members? Are you committed to setting higher goals and meeting greater purposes?

These concepts struck a chord with me as an executive and actuary at a pre-need insurance company. I had to ask myself: What unique purpose do we serve? How might we be disruptive to the market if we wanted to create something transformative and massive? How might we be disrupted if we don’t decide to do the disrupting ourselves? Asking and answering these questions today will help your organization thrive in a world of rapid technological and social change both now and into the future.

Jim Koher is the Executive VP-Chief Actuary for Homesteaders Life Company. He leads a team responsible for profit testing, product development, actuarial services and long-range profitability planning. To learn more about the leadership team at Homesteaders, click here.

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