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Inside Dental Technology
August 2019
Volume 10, Issue 8

Seven Characteristics of a Highly Successful Laboratory

Adapt these key attributes to your business

Bob Yenkner

Dental laboratories come in all shapes, sizes, and types. There are, however, some common characteristics found among those laboratories that are highly successful. Why do some owners and managers work 12-hour days and not make the income they deserve while others make more than their dentist clients? Why do some laboratories experience very low turnover among their accounts while others are constantly searching for new clients to replace lost ones? Why do some laboratories experience annual growth rates of 20% while the sales of others seem to stall or even decline?

Regardless of the size of the laboratory, the keys to success are the same. Success can be defined in any number of ways, but successful laboratories all have certain things in common. They all have vision, passionate leaders, engaged employees, and strong customer relationships. Let's take a detailed look at what you need to run a highly successful laboratory.

1. Upper management is trained in more than just laboratory technology itself, but also in a wider range of skills including leadership, communication, teaching, business management, and marketing. While education in these skills is important, using them regularly is critical.

2. Top management is visible, provides active support, and is involved in the business. Many laboratory owners/managers claim to be involved, but the time spent on the bench making teeth or dentures is not true involvement in the business. Successful laboratories have leaders who enjoy their work and exhibit passion and enthusiasm.

3. Successful laboratories have controls and tools in place to manage their business. Business plans (revenue, margins, market penetration, customer focus), forecasts, budgets, and key performance indicators (KPIs) are in place so the business can measure its success. Controls are also in place to promote corrective action in the event of pending failure.

4. Successful businesses have an ongoing commitment to training throughout the company. The American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) says that, based on its periodic surveys, "organizations providing 21 to 40 hours of annual formal training per plant employee have the best performance with regard to production rate and cycle time." In this case, annual formal training includes non-technical education in such things as supervisory skills, reducing waste, Kaizen, process design, and problem solving. Most laboratories have skilled employees whose significant experience remains under-utilized and who could be better put to use eliminating problems.

5. Successful laboratories have a high level of employee engagement. Engaged employees outperform their disengaged peers by up to 20%. Engaged employees are more productive, are less likely to leave their company, and boost business much more than their disengaged counterparts. Research has shown that engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the company. Be aware that engagement can drive performance and retention, but it cannot replace recruiting high-caliber talent or supporting that talent with needed resources, information, and experience.

6. Successful companies have measureable, high-expectation goals that drive the behavior and performance of the business. Goals for your laboratory should be based on:

• Company profitability. If the laboratory doesn't make a profit, the long-term success is already in jeopardy.
• Building employee skills, both technical and supportive (team building, problem solving, etc).
• Adherence to budget/cost reduction. Controlling costs is everyone's responsibility, not just that of the owner or manager. 

Put both individual and overall laboratory goals in writing, and communicate them clearly to all the employees. This will help reduce any misunderstandings about the company's vision and objectives.

7. Successful companies are customer- and product-oriented. Successful laboratories build relationships with their clients through constant two-way communication. Focusing on providing value for the customer will ensure the customer stays loyal. The dental laboratory market today is changing so rapidly in terms of processes (milling vs. printing), materials (lithium disilicate vs. zirconium), methods (bridge vs. implant), and skills (ceramist vs. CAD/CAM technician). This, combined with the expectations of the newest generation of dentists, requires the laboratory to offer a broader range of products and services than ever before. Staying on top of these changes or integrating them into your existing product offerings is vital to the long-term success of your laboratory.

Distinguish Your Laboratory

Take a critical look at your operation. Have you addressed these seven aspects of owning a business? Taking time away from the bench to develop these strengths will help you earn your business the distinction of being a "highly successful laboratory" by any standard.

About the Author

Bob Yenkner is the owner of Practical Process Improvement in East Hampton, Connecticut.

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