Succession Planning: What’s Required for a Successful Transition for Funeral Homes

Posted January 25, 2017

6 min read

As a family-owner business consultant, Tom Hubler of Hubler for Business Families has a passion for helping people succeed both in business and as a family. In our last post featuring insights from Hubler, he shared the key steps highly successful family-owned firms take in order to find and sustain success.

In this post, we examine what family-operated funeral homes should know about succession planning.

The power of your business plan

“When you’re an entrepreneurial company, generally the plan is in the back of the entrepreneur’s head. When you have multiple members of the family involved in the business, you have to have a business plan,” says Hubler.

The purpose of the business plan is to provide the necessary structure and formality to minimize conflict and to support the business as it transitions at some point from one generation to the next.

What you don’t want is just one person’s opinion versus another person’s opinion within the family to guide your strategic direction. Rather, you need to take the time to be strategic and plan out what is best for the business (and the family). Your business plan is the key to make sure this happens as smoothly as possible, and that all generations can recognize what the founding generation wants and envisions for the firm.

Know the process is a bilateral, mutual process

“My work with family business clients is to help what I call the B.O.S.S. to be successful,” says Hubler. A concept from the book Collaborative Team Skills by Sherod Miller, the acronym stands for:

  • B: Business – what the business needs to be successful
  • O: Other – what do you want for others, and what does the other want? This supports a commitment to each others’ successes.
  • S: Self – what do you want for yourself?
  • S: Stakeholders – what do the stakeholders (family, employees, customers, partners, etc.) want?

“In the context of succession planning, each member of the family has to know that the others are committed, to help each other be successful. This is a bilateral, mutual process,” says Hubler, who points out, with this model, the parents are “demoted,” and the business is put first.

Again, it is important that all generations understand the “why” behind the first generation starting the business, and this model can help that to be shared. They also need to recognize the systemic nature of their firm, meaning that for personal goals to be achieved, they must create a win-win success for all involved.

Know the potential barriers

The idea is that everyone involved in the family business should be working to help the B.O.S.S. be successful. While there are more potential obstacles than these, here are 4 barriers to succession planning that Hubler frequently sees that have to be addressed:

1. The need for control

Many family owned businesses, and not just those in the funeral profession, have issues regarding control when it comes to succession planning.

Many first generation business owners have considered the business like a baby to them, so giving up control—or just changing roles—can bring discomfort to many of these entrepreneurs. Part of that process to overcome this issue may mean that entrepreneurs have to redefine or shape a new dream for themselves.

“One of the big fears that entrepreneurs have is they have to leave the company if they do a succession plan,” which is not necessarily accurate, says Hubler. ”If the first generation entrepreneurs stay in the company, they have to change their job description, and go from being the major focus of the business, to finding something that gives them meaning, and offers them things to do.”

2. False perceptions made worse by a lack of direct communication

“The reason people have problems in general, but specifically in family businesses, is they get into arguing about whose perception about a given issue is right…and they’re both right.” It could be the father versus the son or a sibling versus another sibling, as two examples. Many times people are either unable to see another perspective or there is a lack of direct communication when differences do occur.

“When differences occur, as they often do in succession planning, it is almost always a problem if people do not talk with each other directly. Family members involved in the business often talk indirectly with other family members who are not involved.” This can be damaging and harmful for the family and for planning efforts.

3. Sense of entitlement

Whether it be because they are family members or because of youth, many issues can arise with family members who feel entitled to take on a certain role that may be unrealistic for them.

That’s where a family participation plan — one that might include career planning and detailed expectations for anyone that becomes involved in the family business—can help minimize (or reduce) hurt feelings or damaged egos when entitlement crops up. Part of that might mean have firm education requirements in place, ongoing training requirements, or leadership skill development, says Hubler, which can help minimize the potential for this to be an issue in the long-run.

4. A lack of appreciation

Surprisingly, the top issue that Hubler sees with succession planning is that younger generations show a lack of appreciation for the senior generation.

“The senior generation desperately wants that kind of validation from their younger-generation, adult children. What happens is the younger-generation, adult children love their parents, but they take them for granted.”

They may not realize it, but that can create and contribute to a lot of the conflict in family businesses, in particular when planning for a transition.

It’s not just the older generation looking for recognition, adds Hubler. “It’s the same issue for the younger generation adult children. They are still looking to be recognized by their parents for their accomplishments and uniqueness.” The lack of feeling recognized and appreciated underlies many of the problems faced by family-owned firms. If family members can learn to step back and show expectations, appreciation, and love, success and prosperity will follow.

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About Tom Hubler

Since 1980, Tom Hubler has been helping family-owned businesses in the United States. Since then, he has played a major role in shaping the family business consultant field, from helping colleges establish family business institutes to working directly as family business consultant for hundreds of clients.

​Today, Tom continues his long-standing dedication to helping families of wealth and family-owned businesses succeed. He helps families develop a shared vision for the family and for the business; identify individual talents; tackle any unspoken issues; and create individual and organizational strategies to ensure a personally and financially rewarding business. Learn more about Hubler for Business Families at

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