A Hiring Strategy That Might Work for You

By: Bob Heidlage, Global Recruiters of Batesville
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

In every part of the country, small and medium-sized business owners are wondering how they are going to find enough people to survive and thrive. Have you thought about how you will continue to offer outstand ing customer service to families with talent so hard to find? Perhaps you have thought about how better to find talented individuals for key roles, and hopefully you have been successful in implementing those strategies. 

Good help is hard to find. Of particular concern to those of us who are focused on helping firms with their staffing needs, we are losing a lot of new professionals entering funeral service way too quickly. At the same time, many of our most experienced staff members are retiring as part of the baby boom generation. A recent podcast episode discussed our profession losing nearly 50% of mortuary school graduates within 5 years. I started thinking about what that means for the pro fession long-term. And how owners can deal with this double whammy… a lot of retirements and not enough new people sticking around to replace them. All of this at a time when consumers still demand high service levels and personal attention when a death occurs. So, what can we do to deal with staff issues that are likely here for at least the short-to-mid-term future?

Well, as you implement your business plan for 2023 and beyond, we would suggest considering a meth od that might positively impact both your short and long-term staffing needs. We are suggesting a new ap proach for some of you, and a re-focus for those of you who have used this approach--or parts of it--in the past. The idea is to think of yourself when it comes to finding, developing, and retaining talent, as both a pa tient farmer and an impatient trophy hunter. We think adopting strategies from the playbook of both roles, then combining them into one integrated plan, is a potential winner for most medium to larger firms.

Look around at other businesses in your local commu nity, and talk to your friends who lead businesses and you will likely find that they face similar challenges. Many of their concerns about finding and retaining talent are very similar to yours. It is an almost universal truth these days that finding high-quality, plentiful numbers of people with the right education, skills, and experience is difficult. And doing so while maintaining a budget seems to be an almost impossible task.

Remember too that businesses outside our profession face similar issues regarding licensing, certifications, and testing challenges. Accounting and engineering firms, pharmacies, and other healthcare businesses all face similar levels of educational and practical requirements as funeral service. And the military, local police & firefighters, and nurses, just to name a few, deal with difficult scheduling, on-call requirements, and less-than-ideal circumstances for families they interact with routinely in the line of duty!

So, as we think about the analogy of the farmer, what does that mean? First, think about what farmers must do to be successful. A farmer must prepare the soil, plant seeds, provide proper care and feeding, and at exactly the right time, harvest the crop that has matured. Skip one of these steps and the farmer risks disaster. Sometimes, even if all of the steps are properly executed, tough weather or other factors beyond the control of the farmer result in hard times. Farming is a tough business. And so is finding good help!

As we bring it back to funeral service specifically, sometimes you do everything right with your team, provide a great work environment, hire the right people, and provide terrific training and development, and then something happens and you find yourself looking for new people to adequately staff the business. Often factors beyond your control cause valued staff members to leave... family issues, death, marriage, divorce, and a host of other factors cause your employees to reconsider their roles, work schedules, or where they want to reside.  

When one of those events happens to your firm, it is a rare circumstance where a prospective new team member is waiting in the wings, ready and willing to step in at a moment’s notice. Best to start thinking about staffing as a process, rather than as an event. That way it can always be a part of your planning, and you should never again find yourself in an “all-hands-on-deck” hiring emergency. Emergency hiring can lead to expensive mistakes, and we want to avoid those hiccups at all times.

When we use the term “farming”, we are referring to an approach of finding talented people whom you might “grow” into future employees. Farming in your local trade area offers great benefits and allows you to identify & train great local talent. Those great people can grow into terrific licensed staff members, providing high-level, loyal service to local families for many years. 

Farming provides a way to get started now in the hopes of having ready-to-go talent down the road, like a farmer preparing the ground in Spring in hopes of a bumper crop in late Fall. Trophy hunting, on the other hand, can help you when business needs dictate a shorter timeframe for you to add staff. Both make sense under the right circumstances and combined they provide a reasonable, cost-effective way to plan for the future and deliver great results. 

For instance, most of the mortuary students we speak with each year do not come from funeral home families. Someone or something caused them to consider a funeral service career. In your community, who better than the owner and staff to tout the benefits of working in our noble profession? High school students or community college students who are interested in medical or service careers but are not sure how that would take shape might be ideal candidates. Engage them, maybe invite them to a lunch and learn. Ask about their future plans, and be prepared to give them reasons to consider a funeral service career with your firm as part of their future.

sk friends and colleagues or talk to local school leaders about whom they would recommend as solid citizens with a good heart and solid work ethic. After an interview, if desired, offering a part-time job and a path to more responsibility can make it happen. My youngest daughter is thinking this through right now and recently went to a care center to learn more about what a clinical care employee does. She was impressed and thinks she will continue down the path toward a possible funeral service career. Planting seed works, and we know many of you do this already. It may not sprout every time, but why not plant the seeds and see what positive results might result from the effort?

The concept of starting close to home, inside-out recruiting if you prefer, also helps to reduce many of the hidden costs of hiring. Line items in your budget like relocation or housing assistance are minimized. One additional employer benefit often overlooked is that finding local talent increases the odds of landing a great cultural fit. Do you think the local football or basketball star smiling back at a family while they open the door at your facility wouldn’t create a buzz with the families you serve? Finding a great fit might be as easy as asking residents already in your community to consider a career in funeral service at your firm. And if you start now, you will be able to reap the rewards and can enjoy the new staff members making a positive impact in your market. The old saying about the best way to enjoy shade under an oak tree today is to plant an acorn 100 years ago comes to mind. Don’t wait to start, and you won’t have to wait as long to see the benefits!

Job Fairs, trade seminars, and scholarship programs are low-cost, high-visibility forums you can benefit from. And if you are not posting on your website that you are seeking employees with a possibility of a career position… why not? Think about how else you let the community know that you are an attractive place to work, a business that employs great people doing special work. Every community, no matter how small, has people who are looking to serve others, and what better way to recruit locally? Farming really does work!

ave you considered implementing a work-study pro gram that allows a young adult or second-career aspiring funeral director or arranger to learn the business from the ground floor up? And with the growth of online mortuary school programs recently, have you considered hiring a mortuary student to do part-time jobs that can help you start that loyalty-building early while they learn what they need to pass the National Board exams and jump-start their funeral service career? Part-time workers often lead to apprenticeships and ultimately full-time Funeral Director positions. This is farming 101, friends, and it works!

The second approach we’d ask you to consider is sometimes referred to as trophy hunting. It is what many owners think of when they consider a “hiring event” when they need to fill a role. It is probably more appropriate when you need specific skills and/or experience that is hard to find locally. And it provides an optimal path forward when you need to add talent more quickly than farming allows.

Trophy hunting allows you to go out into the market, perhaps cast a wider net than just in your local area, and hire a more fully-developed professional who has already developed those critical skills and experience you might be looking for at that time. You will likely have to pay more for that additional experience, but you also should be gaining an almost “plug-n-play” team member, someone ready to contribute almost immediately and can provide stability and leadership. Associates who come to you as more fully developed in their craft also bring new ideas, and ways of serving families and the community that you might not have considered. Trophy hunting can work, it can provide a lot of benefits to your team, and can make a big differ ence in your business!

There are many ways to identify talent using a trophy hunter approach, but in today’s world, there are no guarantees that it will happen quickly. That is just a reality in this labor market, but you can get started by determining exactly what you need, and then preparing a job description that reflects that focus. Ask your local network for referrals for anyone matching that profile, and you can also place an advertisement on local, state, or national job boards. You can speak to a recruiter or others who might have access to a larger, wider network, including talented individuals from other areas who might be persuaded to relocate. As readers of Southern Funeral Director are well aware, one big advantage that owners in the southeast have is that the region’s warm climate makes it very attractive, especially when looking for talent from November to March!

If you think of yourself as both Farmer AND Trophy Hunter, you can pick and choose the best approach for your firm that allows you to best meet your needs as circumstances change. It is not an “either/or” scenario,  but rather a “let’s try both” approach, choosing each as needed when appropriate for the changing business cli mate. And by utilizing both approaches, you can create great teams, lasting family loyalty, reduced turnover, lower costs, fewer headaches, and a growing firm legacy!

As President and Managing Partner of GRN Batesville, Bob brings more than 25 years of experience on the vendor/supplier side of the funeral & cemetery profession. Bob spent 8 years as the Senior Search Consultant for GRN of Cincinnati before purchasing the business in 2021. Before that, Bob spent 10+ years at atesville Casket Company and 8+ years as an award-winning sales and marketing consultant for 8 years with The Forethought Group. His breadth of experience working with Funeral Home clients gives Bob a unique understanding of the recruiting needs of the profession. He can be reached at 812.932.1290 or bheidlage@grnbatesville.com.




















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