Leading Technicians from the Bench to Management
Michael Thomas, CDT, and Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories aim to offer every employee the opportunity to advance.
Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories gathers new employees for orientation and training sessions, and Vice President of Laboratory Operations Michael Thomas frequently asks the groups of technicians one question: How many of you felt undervalued at a previous place of employment because of limited growth potential?
“They all raise their hands,” Thomas says. “I tell them they have absolute and total control over changing that. We provide the resources and support necessary to advance into a management role, and it is up to them to utilize them.
“Ultimately, our goal is for every technician to have a clear pathway to advance into management. Our training is all geared toward the growth and development of the technician both technically and professionally. Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories was founded by technicians and is managed by technicians.”
Part of developing leadership skills requires investing time in developing the technicians on your team. Thomas subscribes to the theory that the most successful and productive laboratories have effective leaders at various levels, not only at the top of the management structure. The way to establish that level of leadership for even entry-level positions is to promote a culture of opportunity, so that they never feel underappreciated or undervalued. If technicians know growth is possible and they control their own futures, the entire laboratory will be better for it.
“We seek to present opportunities without too many boundaries,” Thomas says. “In that culture, naturally employees become champions for you and your mission. It is a two-way street; we as a company are responsible for partnering these individuals with strong mentors and champions.”
Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories is the exclusive onsite provider to Affordable Dentures & Implants dental practices for full and partial dentures, and implant-retained dentures. Laboratories work as a team on cases. Each Affordable Dentures laboratory includes Processors, Waxer-Finishers, Full Technicians, and Laboratory Managers. The field support team includes Laboratory Support Specialists and Technical Trainers, and the upper management team includes Regional Managers and Directors of Laboratory Operations. Approximately 50% of Lab Managers have been promoted from within, and the same is true for 100% of upper management. Thomas owned and operated a small laboratory before beginning his employment with Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories in 1998, was promoted to a Laboratory Manager less than a year later, and has ascended through the ranks.
“I have experience in almost every position in our company, and through those experiences I have learned what drives and motivates most dental technicians, what their challenges are, how to recognize potential for growth and success, the importance of timing, and how to sustain passion throughout your career,” Thomas says. “Dental laboratory technology is not easy. We are fabricating a restoration or appliance that is intended to change a person’s life in many ways, so keeping that top of mind and understanding our role in that is important. I am passionate about changing the mindset and outlook that it is just a job. Doing that starts from within.”
Thomas makes a concerted effort before each workday begins to have conversations with at least one or two employees. The nature of these conversations is usually more personal than professional; the purpose is to engage on an individual level. Knowing employees on a personal level helps to identify what will motivate them to become leaders themselves and to support their growth.
“It energizes me when I see a technician take steps toward developing his or her own team, stepping out in front, and taking a leadership role,” Thomas says. “It can be as simple as the quality of their work improving, or as involved as truly improving operational efficiencies or growing team members. That drives me every day. These are victories for all within our organization and they inspire us to continue moving forward.”
Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories wants employees with a strong technical foundation who seek learning opportunities inside and outside of the laboratory. Technical skills are just as important as the abilities to communicate at a professional level and interact well with others. Efforts to earn the trust of superiors and counterparts are equally important. Disagreement can be healthy, so considering other opinions is key.
Additionally, Thomas says new technology should never be viewed as a threat. Technicians seeking growth should embrace technical advancements.
“The technicians who thrive in the future will be those who use their expertise, knowledge, and skills to impact technological advancements and grow with that technology within the industry,” he says. “It’s about carving out a niche. As automation continues to develop, we will always need dental technicians to operate it and help improve it in various capacities.”
Management’s responsibility is to ensure that employees who display those qualities find new ways to add value and evolve.
Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories provides in-lab technical training, online training modules, off-site specialized training, and an in-house CDT test preparation course, but much of the training is tailored to each employee. Not only do technicians receive this training, but they also learn firsthand how to train others—a necessary skill for those who seek leadership growth.
“Timing and opportunities are difficult to control,” Thomas says, “but with the right elements in place, values become more ingrained and meaningful, the right decisions become apparent, passion become contagious, and teamwork thrives. These opportunities abound at Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories, and our goal is that every technician in the organization aspire for greatness, and have a world-class support structure to lean on."
• Approximately 50% of Lab Managers and 100% of upper management at Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories have been promoted from within.
• The abilities to communicate at a professional level and interact well with others are just as important as technical skills.
• New technology should never be viewed as a threat. Technicians seeking growth should embrace technical advancements.
• Affordable Dentures Dental Laboratories’ goal is for every technician to have the opportunity to advance into management.