The world is changing.

In light of COVID-19, this is the understatement of the year.

But even before the pandemic, the death care profession was already in a major flux of change. Customers continue to move to cremation. Religious affiliations continue to decline, changing what families seek from our profession. Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe that climate change is a major threat. This puts the spotlight back on the ever-growing cremation options. And, in every industry, technology has shifted consumer expectations. Personal, immediate, and secure experiences are now the norm and not the exception.

As the saying goes, change is the only constant in life.

As a leader of your organization in this profession, how you plan for, manage, and enact change can mean the difference between growth and stagnation. But how does a leader begin the process of change? In an industry steeped in tradition and focused on the past, how can an organization stay relevant and viable in a shifting world?

When talking about the future and about change, leadership often gravitates to technology. Having been part of five major organizational changes, I can say that this is a mistake and a trap. Technology should not lead the forefront of organizational change. Organizational change does not start with implementing a new CRM.

People are not your most important asset…the right people are.

-Jim Collins

To extend an analogy, when building a new home, a vision for that home is set. An architect creates a floor plan. The buyers agree to a budget. Husband and wife compare carpet swatches. In a similar manner, organizational change begins by setting a vision. The organization needs to have something to aim for. To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, “If you don’t have a goal, if you don’t have a vision, you just drift around.” There are entire books written about setting a vision. I will leave this to your own research, but do not neglect this crucial step.

Once your vision is set, there are three areas of focus that deserve your attention. They are, in order:

People – The Foundation of Change

You have likely heard the phrase, “People are your most important asset.” This is a feel-good statement, but ultimately a misleading one. Instead, the phrase is better said by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: “People are not your most important asset…the right people are.”

People must come first. It is the foundation on which you will create change. As Jim Collins teaches, if you have the right people, your need to motivate them and manage them goes away. The right people could not imagine settling for anything less. They carry an inner drive and will work hard to enact a vision they believe in.

An organization that has the wrong people will see some of the following issues:

  • culture incompatibility
  • lack of clear responsibilities
  • too many people doing one job or “carrying” one person
  • lack of trust between team members
  • lack of understanding towards the ultimate vision

Building the right team is no easy task, but there are four areas you can focus on to help build a high-quality team.

Focus on Top Performers

Who, if they walked out of your organization right now, would cause considerable, organizational pain? Focus on those individuals. Provide them career growth options, give extra responsibilities, and reward them. In doing this, please be aware of the natural tendency to rate individuals as high-performers because you like them. The two are not necessarily the same. Your gut is a good start, but measure the roles and tasks for which the individual is responsible. Are they meeting deadlines? Do they achieve goals? Do they ease your daily burden of running your organization? These are the individuals to retain and grow.

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Recognize the Resources Available

In the simplest sense, people are “the individuals who do the work.” The more (good) people you have, the more work your organization can perform. But, in building your vision, keep in mind that if you do not have the people, you have three options: wait, hire, or reprioritize. As Jason Fried says in his book Rework, “Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got.” Don’t fall into the trap of forced overtime and high-stress all for the purpose of achieving your vision. As a leader, step back and ask yourself: “What doesn’t need to happen? What doesn’t matter?” Limited resources can be a gift because it tightens your focus on what you will do and what you won’t do.

In particular, be aware of mandatory overtime and forced marches. This will drain your team and create a specific type of culture which may not align with your vision. The last thing you need in a time of change is good people burning out.

Consider the Need for Change

As you build your team, you will eventually need to hire. When you do this, consider what your organization needs for change to take place. Too often, leadership limits the discussion to job roles. “I need sales,” or “I need a finance person” become the focus. Those skills are important considerations. But, it’s the non-teachable, or inherent qualities that make for a valuable hire.

When looking at the inherent qualities, ask some of the following questions: Is the person you are bringing into your team teachable? Are they self-driven and self-disciplined? Do they thrive in change? You cannot do anything to bring these qualities to a person. They either have them or they don’t. These people are valuable and will often rise to help lead areas of change.

Second, have they enacted change before and know the pitfalls? You are getting ready to embark on something that is not easy. The wisdom that comes from experience – both success and failures – will protect you. I have seen smart people make poor decisions because they did not have the experience to understand the ramifications and nuances of those decisions.

Third, does the individual have the credentials to enact change? Note that this is the last item in the list. It is important. Skill sets do matter. But keep in mind that the right person is trainable in many areas.

Trust

Once you have the right people in your organization, communicate your vision to them. Then, trust those people to accomplish the work.

In a previous job I was the head of software for a CIO who trusted each of his staff to do the job he gave them to do. He did not micromanage. He did not question anything but the biggest and most strategic decisions. He knew he had the right people. As a result, a company-wide transition completed in eighty percent of the budgeted time. This saved the parent company millions of dollars.

If you say you have the right people, trust them! The results will be huge. If you don’t, top performers will walk away from your organization.

As a leader, ask yourself – do you have the right people to make a change to your organization? Do they provide the foundation that your vision and organization will grow upon? Do they push each other and themselves to excellence? Can you trust them to do good work as you achieve your goals?

Change is never easy. The right people remove a major barrier towards enacting change. A team of the right people will create its own force where each team member supports and strengthens the other. Of course, putting the right people in place is only the foundation. I will discuss the processes and the technology that support the change in future articles.

This article was first published in ICCFA Magazine in July 2020.

Meet our Chief Technical Officer

Jason brings his impressive leadership experience and technical background to bear at webCemeteries. His past achievements have included managing technical mergers and acquisitions, leading a team of 20 engineers through large system transitions, and developing leading industry products. Jason’s technical leadership at webCemeteries is advancing our systems to shape tomorrow’s cemetery management software.

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