While it’s been a few years since John and Nikki McQueen published their landmark book, “Lessons from the Dead: Breathing Life into Customer Service,” there are still powerful lessons to glean from the former owners of Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home.
John and Nikki built the business into Florida’s largest family-owned enterprise and the highest-volume funeral home in the Tampa area.
While they sold the business to Foundation Partners Group in 2017, they both remain passionate advocates of funeral service, with John serving as director of compliance of The Foresight Companies.
So many people have gotten so much from the book, in fact, that John shared with FuneralVision.com that he’s already hard at work on his second book, which will take a deeper dive into the leadership lessons he’s learned throughout his trailblazing career.
We can’t wait to read it.
If you haven’t read John and Nikki’s book, we encourage you to consider doing so – and we thank the McQueens for allowing our readers to take a sneak peek at “Lessons from the Dead” with this exclusive book excerpt.
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of “Lessons from the Dead”
Every company has its own value system, and only the CEO and leadership team can decide what those values are going to be. Values must be determined early on in this process, and once set, your values must remain consistent. Your company either has values or it does not have values. Additional values can be added over time as market conditions or cultural norms change. Many companies get lost on the buzzword “culture” in the corporate world today. What is our company’s culture, and how do we create that culture?
Well, truth be told, every company has a culture. The real question is whether or not it’s the culture you want it to be. If the culture is not clearly defined by the CEO and constantly driven by the leadership, the employees will create the culture for you … good or bad. Creating culture is not done through marketing departments and lengthy mission statements that no one on your team can recite. Instead of focusing on a mission statement for creating culture, it is more beneficial to focus on your “why” of being. As Simon Sinek shares in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, it all begins with your “why.” At Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes & Cremation Tribute Center, our “why” was being where the healing begins® for the families we served. If you look up Apple’s mission statement, their “why” is front and center, “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world.” When you look at Walmart’s mission statement, their “why” pops out at you, “We save people money so they can live better.”
All of these are clear, concise instructions for their employees on why they are coming to work each day. We strongly encourage you to read Sinek’s book to help you formulate your “why”. In today’s world, we communicate in soundbytes, so remember to keep it simple and easy to remember. It must not only be simple, but it also needs to tell team members how to live that value. Now, along with discovering your why, you will need to determine your core value.
At our funeral homes, our core value was integrity. Note that we just said our “core value” not our “why.” Our core value helped drive our why. Beginning with the job interview and throughout one’s employment, we continuously reinforced that integrity was our core value. In fact, interviewees were told in every interview, “Integrity is the most important of our values, and what integrity means to us is that we are going to do the right thing whether anyone knows that we are doing it or not.” We also explained to potential employees that a lack of integrity was the quickest way to the exit door. This doesn’t mean you should fire someone for a simple mistake. Mistakes happen, and we should use them as learning experiences for the team. Of course, depending on the severity, the mistake may result in a reprimand or termination. If it is termination, it should not come as a surprise to the employee.
We believe that the stories of our past experiences are a great way to demonstrate our topics. Here’s the first of many.
You’re Only as Good as Your Word
Saturday mornings tend to be a busy day at funeral homes with staff typically preparing for multiple services. One such Saturday, John was working with the team, preparing for a service, when he walked into a room in which flowers had been stored from a service the night before. The family from the previous service was going to come back that morning to select which arrangements they wanted to keep. There were two funeral directors in the room, and they quickly turned upon realizing John had entered, hiding their hands behind their backs. John could tell something was up, so he asked them, “What do you have behind your back?” They showed him that they had pulled some flowers from the previous family’s arrangements. John asked them why they had done that, and they explained that the florist had made the arrangement for that day’s service incorrectly, so they were trying to fix it using flowers from the service that had occurred the night before. John told them that they had just violated one of our core values – integrity.
They said the other family probably wouldn’t notice, and John said that did not matter. The flowers belonged to the other family, and we had no right to them. He told them to put the flowers back. Next, he asked them to call the florist and see if the florist could correct the arrangement before that day’s service. The florist said that there was not enough time to have it completed before the family came in, but it would be done before the service. Consequently, we refunded the family for their arrangement, explaining that the florist had made an error, and the correct arrangement would be at the service before their guests arrived.
Now, these two employees were not terminated for this offense, but they were reprimanded. In the end, the two employees eventually self- terminated, which means they showed themselves to the door. They left on their own due to other integrity issues arose. One thing you will find is that if you stick to your core values, those who do not share your values will eventually find the door, and that’s okay.
Another time, a funeral director was having difficulty getting an insurance assignment approved by the assignment company in order for us to proceed with the funeral services. The assignment company offered to “loan” the money to the funeral home at a relatively high interest rate. If the assignment company ultimately collected the insurance proceeds, the loan would be repaid along with the interest. However, if they could not collect the insurance proceeds, the funeral home would be responsible for the funds plus interest. The assignment company emailed a promissory note to the funeral director binding the funeral home – not the director – to the loan. The funeral director did not seek out ownership or management on what direction she should take. Instead, she signed the paperwork for which she was not authorized to sign, encumbering the funeral home.
She lied when we asked her about it. She said she did not send the paperwork back to the assignment company. She knew she lied. We knew she lied. She self-terminated by writing a note to her fellow employees and leaving it in one of her case files. She knew she violated our integrity clause, so she knew what the outcome would be – termination.
We know what you’re probably thinking: “She simply made a mistake and should not have been in trouble because she was trying to help the family get the funeral taken care of in a timely fashion.” Truthfully, we agree. However, she was not in trouble for making a mistake with respect to the paperwork, she was in trouble for lying. It was the lack of integrity she exhibited that violated our core value. She knew she had done so, and that’s why she quit.
Keep in mind, a lack of integrity is not always a huge infraction. It can be something as small as eating a stuffed mushroom off the platter that our client has ordered for their post-service reception. It is their food, not ours. They ordered for their guests, not for us, so no touching.
No matter how big or small the infraction, a lack of integrity was unacceptable at our company, and we stressed this on a daily basis.
Would it have been easier to ignore smaller infractions? Of course, but what would that have said about our integrity?
ATTITUDE IS THE ONLY THING, HOWEVER, INTEGRITY IS EVERYTHING.
THERE ARE VERY FEW THINGS YOU WILL TAKE TO YOUR GRAVE. YOUR REPUTATION AND GOOD NAME ARE TWO OF THEM.
This is a sign we had placed at our funeral homes and our central Care Center – the place where we embalm, refrigerate or cremate a deceased with dignity and respect. It reminds us every day that we are not leaving this world with all of our earthly possessions, but we will leave it with our reputation. That, my friend, is priceless.
Think about your business or company. Do you have a clearly defined core value? If so, what is it? Would your employees articulate the same core value? How is your core value shared with your team?