The dental lab expert – lab owner stress and when to trust your team

the lab expertTrusting your team is the only way to run a dental lab without driving you to a nervous breakdown, Ashley Byrne says.

Byrnes Dental Lab – it’s right there in the name. That’s my name, and people know I’m the owner.

That brings with it a pressure to ensure that every case is correct; you know every client; you know when every case is due out; and when the client calls, you know exactly which case it is.

That’s stressful and believe me I know it. It’s nearly driven me to a nervous breakdown in the past.

Letting go and trusting your team is something that we lab owners, historically, do not do very well. From my own personal experience, I’ve felt guilty, worried about loss of control, and have questioned how anyone can think like me on those complex cases.

Switching my role from ‘meddler’ to ‘adviser and coach’ was probably one of the most challenging yet rewarding decisions I’ve made in my life.

My dad, Tony Byrne, aways insisted we employ technicians and operations people that were more skilled and talented than us.

By using our experience and coaching, we found that we could improve those people even more. This creates an even bigger skills gap between us and the team.

Reasons to leave

My peers in the industry have questioned my decision in the past. ‘What if they leave and set up a rival lab?’

That’s where my responsibility as leader and coach comes into its own. I have to trust the team and ensure I look after them.

By empowering individuals and allowing them to take control of work, our clients and their actual working day, we are creating a working environment that people want to stay and be a part of.

Some people will always have a desire to branch out and set up their own business. That’s growth in our industry. But if you ask many lab owners why they started their lab, it’s usually because they hated their last boss. Or were made to work in unfavourable conditions.

Scratch through those words and I see an underlying feeling of under-appreciation and mistrust.

Building trust with your team

Trust comes in any forms. For example, I do not quality control the lab standard. Dan does that for me and he’s vastly better at it than I am. If he needs my advice or expertise, he asks.

I still do some technical work but it’s problem solving of complex cases, fixing things, and helping find solutions. Then the finishing of those cases is back to the team because (once again) they will do a better job.

I provide guidance and consulting on pricing of cases to my incredible operations team. And you all know that I dare not get involved in return dates or the logistics of the lab. My operations team are definitely better at that.

Adjusting every job in your lab is excessively controlling and it’s demoralising for your team. Furthermore it puts you, the owner, under incredible stress.

Utilising your team and employing people better than you allows everyone to flourish. It removes a lot of the stress of running a lab and allows you, as the owner, to focus on the business. As well as coaching and leading the team to becoming even more skilled and talented than when they started.

Mistakes do happen. But it’s important to consider how these are treated. Nobody likes it when mistakes happen. And nobody wants to be punished or humiliated. And no-one can afford to miss the learning opportunity that comes from making a mistake.

If I look at the mistakes my team make from me letting go of control, they pale into insignificance for the mistakes I make when I tried to control everything.

You are the lab owner. When things go wrong you are ultimately responsible, even if you had nothing to do with that error.

Case example

I remember a lab to lab case I received was wrong and the lab owner I ordered it from immediately named and shamed a team member. I wonder how that individual was made to feel once we were off the phone?

In my shoes, when we make mistakes I have to take full responsibility. Sometimes those calls are really unpleasant. But we then discuss with the team what happened and look to ensure we can implement a system, training or process to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

A no blame culture is challenging when someone looses company money or damages your reputation. But that culture also ensures mistakes are rare, learned from, and also easily fixed.

I always remember one of the team steam cleaning 24 veneers in a denture tooth cleaning device. Twenty four bits of ceramic went in, 10,000 bits came out. This was a £3,000 job trashed for one of my key clients. The appointment was in 24 hours. The poor lad was almost in tears. What would belittling him or shouting at him do?

At the end of the day, I hadn’t trained him so the fault lied 100% with me. We sent wine, I apologised for my error and after 10 years that client is still with me. That employee never did it again. In fact that employee felt valued. I took the pressure off him and his skills and knowledge improved faster than ever.

You can’t make a great omelette without breaking some eggs.

Trusting and empowering your team will bring out talent and skills that we might never know we were capable of. It’s a tough decision as lab owner. But it’s one of the best I’ve ever made and almost certainly stopped me from having a melt down.


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