Funeral Director Training: A How-To Guide

Posted May 8, 2019

6 min read

What’s one of the top ways to drive productivity, efficiency, and even improve your profit margins?

The answer may be surprising, but it is consistent, strategic, and well-designed employee training, says Jeff Harbeson, also known as The Funeral Commander.

Jeff is the Director Sales & Marketing for The Foresight Companies.

He’s also co-host of the Funeral Nation TV show, and his blog, The Funeral Commander Blog, is one of the most popular in the industry with global readership. As a funeral home owner, developer, and partner—combined with his 20 years of military service including Operation Desert Storm—he’s helped hundreds, if not thousands, of funeral homes become more profitable.

Early in his career, Jeff explains that he saw the need and importance of strategic, ongoing training for funeral home staff. In part one of our blog series with The Funeral Commander, we looked at 5 of the top reasons training is critical for firms today.

Knowing that training is a solution to nearly every challenge a funeral home will face, what should you do to take action? Here are 8 tips to help you as you design an employee training program:

1. Start with a plan

If you want to be intentional about creating meaningful ways for your people to grow and develop, start with a plan. Since you want the training to be executed successfully, the best way to get there is to have a roadmap to guide you.

This step can help you know if you need to bring in the right, experienced, credible professionals to help train staff, for example, and other critical details that take strategy and time to implement.

2. Use standards

Ideally, create training that can be measured. Design your training so you can have standards people need to meet, explains Jeff. You want your people to be able to perform better, so you need to define that standard they’ll be expected to meet. Jeff recommends pass/fail to drive successful behavior modification.

3. Make sure the training is consistent

Three mornings a week for 15 minutes could make a difference in performance, morale, family satisfaction and even financial stability…but just imagine what doing so over a period of years can do for your firm. “Successful teams build programs with consistency…not fancy plays, a star player, or gimmicks,” says Jeff. The insight is this: Be sure the training is consistent if you want it to succeed. Ideally, this needs to be both a short-term and long-term approach to developing your people. “Training on funeral director common tasks from transfer/removal, to service set up, are subjects that require consistent performance, yet they are rarely addressed in training,” says Jeff. These are areas of opportunity if you make sure you consistently train people.

4. Make sure leadership really supports it

Being intentional about training is important. Just as important: make sure owners and leadership truly support and get behind the employee training. Without their support, it will be an uphill battle the entire time. “A leader first must recognize the need and value of training. If the capability to schedule and conduct regular training is not internally organic, then hire a professional. It’s way less expensive to hire a professional to train your staff, than an attorney to defend your business,” Jeff adds.

5. Don’t let excuses weaken your firm’s potential for growth

For those that are skeptical or don’t think they have time for training, just think about how it’s a matter of priority, says Jeff. “Each day has 24 hours and each week has 168 hours. If you work 45 hours per week, that leaves 123 hours. If you sleep 48 hours a week—8 hours a night—that leaves 75 hours. So that leaves 75 hours a week, 10.71 hours a day that you are not working or sleeping.” If you want to educate your people, if you want them to grow their skillsets, or you want them to develop in some capacity—prioritize the time to do so.

“As a funeral director, if training is not offered at your funeral home, seek firms that do offer continuous improvement. It’s interesting how our lives improve when we stop accepting excuses,” adds Jeff.

6. Don’t assume your staff has mastered the basics

Jeff says when it comes to training in general, don’t neglect brushing up on the basics.

Jeff explains he saw a training exercise at a large volume funeral home where the training focus was on phone discussions. The session allowed staff to “practice” various scenarios: if the consumer was a shopper, pre-planner, or if it was an at-need inquiry.

“This part of a funeral director’s job is rarely practiced, monitored, and much less honed. The engagement with callers is critical to the success of funeral homes as the conversation between the funeral director and inquirer can determine if the firm is selected for services. Fortunately for this particular funeral home, their leadership understood and provided the staff with regular and relevant training for this aspect of employees’ jobs,” says Jeff.

7. Use the power of coaching

Training is one part of the formula for employee growth, and another part of that formula is coaching.

Employee training helps to create a culture where knowledge is transferred and where people enjoy coaching (or teaching) one another. This is the foundation of a culture of continuous learning. “Meaningful and relevant funeral director training helps to create this kind of culture along with collective solicitation of better ideas,” explains Jeff.

You can also have each employee “own” a single subject area, and have them lead that specific training. That can help them grow their speaking skills and help them hone their expertise in a certain discipline, too.

8. Reward the team

You want your people to grow. You want them to adapt and continue to learn, and you’re ready to create the space for that to happen. But also be sure to give them positive reinforcement along the way, says Jeff. “It takes training, and it also takes intentional leadership of the owners to stop and say, ‘We’re going to fix this problem.’ But you also need to reward those corrective behaviors,” he explains.

Create Opportunities for Your Funeral Home Through Training

How are you preparing your funeral directors and staff for the game? All in all, you can think of training as behavior modification and preparation for the future, Jeff explains. “From my point of view, it’s impossible to make corrective measures if nothing is in place from the start.”

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