There are two types of funeral homes in the United States: Corporate and Independent (Family Owned). Independent firms have limited resources and they are usually more culturally in touch with the community they serve. Corporate firms, having an obligation to shareholders, will place a higher priority on cost savings than service. Corporate firms usually focus on business synergy by centralizing preparation and cremation of bodies and the types of merchandise they offer at the expense of cultural synergy of the local employees and the families they serve. “Synergy” is the focus of a team, allowing individual contributions to collaborate for a greater common cause (Moran, Abramson, & Moran, 2014, p. 266). Unfortunately from my experience, the greater common cause for the corporate firms was profit.
I believe in the ability for a company to maximize profits as long as they don’t minimize quality. The corporate firm had contracts with casket, urn, embalming fluid and sundry companies to take full advantage of bulk-buying discounts. This approach created national homogeny, as their belief was to make the company similar to McDonalds: the menu is the same and wherever you buy a burger and fries they look the same and taste the same. Management’s gamble that every American in every part of the country wanted exactly the same “menu” of options to honor their loved one sacrificed the long-term orientation for short-term earnings potential (Moran, Abramson, & Moran, 2014, p. 282). Families on the coasts were more likely to choose cremation over burial, families in Pennsylvania preferred full couch caskets to the half couch versions found in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia, and there is a growing movement for “green” funerals that were not addressed at all.
“Most corporate executives, whether or not they have any special insight into synergy opportunities or aptitude for nurturing collaboration, feel they ought to be creating synergy” (Goold & Campbell, 1998). This was the case in the shift to sameness in the corporate firms. The finger on the pulse of the industry was the licensed funeral director sitting in the arrangement conferences with families; yet they were never consulted. If they had been, suggestions of what approaches were working and which options were meaningful to the families they served, would have been bountiful. The excuse for not incorporating this valuable information was that the local funeral homes were too busy to share and did not have the “whole picture” in mind if input was requested. They were also reluctant to garner information to make a change because that would have tipped their hat that a corporate transformation was in the works; knowing the funeral directors believed the funeral homes were successful and did not need to change. “Assuming that unit managers are naturally resistant to cooperation, executives conclude that synergy can be achieved only through the intervention of the parent. Because the parenting bias encourages corporate executives to discount unit managers’ objections, it often leads them to interfere excessively, doing more harm than good” (Goold & Campbell, 1998).
As you could imagine, the rollout of the business synergy plan caused much conflict with the culture synergy of various firms in the company. “Conflict comes from seeing the world from a different perspective than someone else or competing for resources. This is particularly true in cross-cultural scenarios because the chance for conflict increases as each culture encourages its members to see the world from its own point of view and to obtain resources in a specific way” (Penn State World Campus, n.d.). Funeral homes all said that they were unique and the “one menu” option wouldn’t work at their locations. Management’s response was that the plan was sound and the only way it could fail was at the hands of reluctant managers and staff at the various locations. There were signs that the new direction was not going to be successful: “few opportunities exist for inexpensive, low-commitment testing and leaders are convinced they have the answer and not willing to change course” (McGrath, 2015). They completely ignored the fact that they never considered other problem solving viewpoints- if a problem existed at all. This laid the success or failure squarely at the local location managers, which caused a tremendous amount of stress.
I was appointed by corporate to be a rollout-training liaison for my territory that included D.C., Maryland Virginia and West Virginia. The funeral homes local to me all had the same reaction: they sensed failure because of the diversity of the families they served even considering our geographical proximity. The eye-opening moment for me was when I travelled to West Virginia to train those firms. On my way to the first session, I swung by McDonald’s for breakfast and lo and behold on the menu was something I have never seen before: biscuits and gravy. Even McDonald’s acknowledges that even though there are cultural similarities in the United States, people still enjoy their cultural uniqueness. That is why they have served over one billion customers and are still going strong.
Cowbag. (2009, March 19). Twisted takes on pop culture icons; burger boxes as coffins. Retrieved September 28, 2017, from Trend Hunter: https://www.trendhunter.com/trends/ronald-mcdonalds-funeral-refreshingly-different-t-shirt-designs-from-glennz
Goold, M., & Campbell, A. (1998, September/October). Desperately seeking synergy. Retrieved September 28, 2017, from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/1998/09/desperately-seeking-synergy
McGrath, R. G. (2015, January 10). 15 years later, lessons from the failed AOL-Time Warner merger. Retrieved September 28, 2017, from Fortune: http://fortune.com/2015/01/10/15-years-later-lessons-from-the-failed-aol-time-warner-merger/
Moran, R. T., Abramson, N. R., & Moran, S. V. (2014). Managing cultural differences (9th ed.). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
State World Campus. (n.d.). Lesson 06: Cultural synergy. Retrieved September 28, 2017, from OLEAD 410: Leadership in global context: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1867265/modules/items/22824741