Over the years, mortuary colleges have done an extraordinary job at creating great funeral directors and embalmers. For the most part, curriculum has stayed current with evolving requirements in funeral professionals, although there is always a certain process in curriculum change that takes some time. In today’s industry climate, there is an increasing need for institutions and businesses alike, dedicated to ensuring the future of the funeral service industry, to place effort on fostering funeral professionals to be more business-minded. Will everyone be a business owner? No, but they must be able to think as one. To quote Albert Einstein: “The value of an education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.”

The reality in funeral service is that there will arise moments when time-sensitive decisions must be made. Business owners will not always be available to make the call. Employees must encompass the ability to wisely operate in those time-sensitive moments. In order to do so, training must be given to understand the “why” behind the “what”. The “what” is the decision made. When you’ve always been provided instructions, a “what” becomes easy. It is the critical thinker who considers the “why” behind the “what”. An individual who can follow instructions is great. Those who can critically think are better.

Business owners are critical thinkers. They understand every decision has a legal and financial ramification, or risk exposure. Prior to developing the “what” or the decision to be made, a critical thinker will ponder on those considerations. Here are a few questions they may also consider:

• Will my decision amplify the strategic goals of the company?
• What are the potential objections to my decision?
• How should I react to the objections?
• Will this decision negatively affect me financially?
• Is it legal and ethical?
• If I proceed with my decision, have I left myself open to any type of liability?

The question can then be posed: How do we create critical thinkers?
First, the educator/mentor must understand a person can’t be taught how to construct every house, but they can be provided the tools necessary to build any structure; meaning, you cannot give a person the answer to every situation, instead, teach them how to look deeper into the situation. When instructing, teaching, or mentoring, give the pupil a why in conjunction with any “whats” that are provided.

Secondly, create value for the business aspect of the industry. The desire to be great funeral directors and embalmers can overshadow the benefits of being great business-minded individuals too. We can create value by explaining to an individual how their role affects the business model. You’ll be amazed what showing a person a simple business plan can do for their mindset. With the business plan, they should be able to identify their contribution to the organization. In addition, it gives them a sense of pride in their job.

Thirdly, be sure everyone knows the mission and goals of the company. hese statements create direction. Direction provides a clear foundation. It’s difficult to make sound decisions when there is no clear foundation. Every day the mission should be reviewed as a reminder of “why are we here”. When a situation arises, the individual can revert to the missions and goals to make the best decision. If you do not have a mission statement, I would suggest you adopt one.

Lastly, create ownership. Have you ever noticed that people make different decisions when they own something versus when they don’t? A greater deal of care is taken when ownership is involved. In creating an environment of ownership, you also create an environment in which the individual must think through situations. When a task is given, be sure the individual knows they are responsible for every aspect. This includes the results from the decision. Provide them the opportunity to make difficult decisions. When they ask you what to do, respond with the previously stated questions.

When we create critical thinkers, we create more effective funeral directors and embalmers. Their decisions now have a greater basis of consideration. The survival of every organization depends on the ability of its members to critically think or make owner decisions. FBA

Rickey is an instructor in Embalming and Restorative Art at Gupton-Jones. A native of Augusta, Georgia, Rickey graduated Georgia Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. After graduation, Rickey returned to Funeral Service, enrolling in the Funeral Service Education program at Ogeechee Technical College. He is a graduate of the program with an Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Service Education. He is a member of NFDMA’s 40 and Under Funeral Directors, National Society of Black Engineers, and Academy of Graduate Embalmers of Georgia. Rickey was named one of the “Young Ones To Watch 2014” in The American Funeral Director magazine.