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Harmony Dental Laboratory takes the term "employee appreciation" quite literally. "In our business, people are our most important asset, so it just seems logical that they should be our focus," says Tom Gildersleeve, founding partner of the 140-employee operation. "Everything from the layout of the lab, to our scheduling system, to our fun events--all are designed to create an environment that fosters teamwork and happy employees who create a terrific product."
For the leaders of the six-year-old laboratory, the first step in creating an enjoyable workplace is a facility that makes employees feel good from the moment they walk in the door. The lab's entryway features antiques collected by Garrett Smith, another partner, and a two-story foyer that lets the sunlight shine in. The laboratory itself has an open floor plan, 18-ft. ceilings, bright colors and natural lighting. "The goal is to provide a working environment that is conducive to comfort and not restrictive," says Jimmy Stegall, another partner. "For example, we have custom-designed benches arranged in pods of four that give each technician his own space yet maximizes the footprint."
The lab's workflow is also structured to give technicians the freedom to set their own work schedules. Its scheduling system "batch" processes the work so that a technician's daily load is set at the end of the day with an expected finish time, usually by the end of the following day. "This system gives the managers the flexibility to allow technicians to work almost any hours they choose within that 24-hour timeframe," says Stegall. The laboratory also allows a handful of technicians--such as stay-at-home moms or others who don't want to relocate--to work from home. Couriers simply pick up and deliver their batches each day.
Harmony employees also enjoy a variety of perks, some in the form of cold, hard cash. For instance, instead of paying employees for sick days, it pays for "well" days. Each quarter, employees with perfect attendance earn $50; last year, the lab awarded over $15,000 total. Another perfect attendance perk: during the last three months of 2005 when gas prices rose, the laboratory reimbursed employees who didn't miss any work for a portion of their commuting miles, giving out an additional $7,000.
And, remember those fun events Gildersleeve mentioned? Harmony employees work hard, but they play even harder. Last year, the laboratory spent about 1% of its sales, or nearly $100,000, to treat staff members to a dozen social events--there's even an event coordinator on staff. For 2005, they celebrated the year end with a company dinner followed by a 100-minute shopping spree at the adjacent outdoor mall where the lab gave each employee a $100 gift card to spend any way he wanted. The year before, staff and their families were treated to a day at Universal Studios, located about two hours away.
Every Easter, the lab hosts an Easter egg hunt by hiding plastic eggs throughout the lab. Inside each egg is a number that can be redeemed for a small gift. In June, it's time for "The Evening of Harmony," a semi-formal event for staff and clients that has included dinner and dancing at an art museum. This year it's a Texas Hold 'Em tournament at the local convention center.
Still, there's more: The lab also has several other smaller social events throughout the year, like celebrating its March anniversary date with cake, ice cream and 15-minute massages; an October "Bowl and Boil" where employees go bowling and then to a shrimp boil; and a summer trip to see a Jacksonville Suns minor league baseball game. Plus, anytime the lab breaks a sales record--eight have been broken this year alone--lunch is on the lab.
Harmony employees appreciate the events and about 80% of the staff typically attends the off-site get-togethers. "It's hard when it's always work, work, work, but here there's always something going on and it's a lot of fun," says Angie Martinez, a ceramist who's been with the lab for about two years. "Plus, they're always looking out for you. For instance, if you work past 8pm, they even have a caterer come with a variety of hot dinners--on the house."
And, speaking of food, what's Martinez's favorite event? Cookie Day! Every Thursday an employee fires up the lab's two Otis Spunkmeyer ovens, bakes hundreds of cookies and then distributes them after lunch--complete with a cold carton of milk.
Harmony Dental Laboratory Jacksonville, FL
In March 2000, Tom Gildersleeve formed Harmony Dental Laboratory by merging two laboratories, Conway Dental Laboratory and Westside Dental. Then, the laboratory had just six people and sales of $200,000. Shortly thereafter, Garrett Smith and Dan Scharman, CDT, joined as partners, and the real growth started to kick in. Today, it has 140 employees and is on track to hit $11 million in sales this year.
The laboratory strives to be its clients' "everyday" laboratory; in other words, it doesn't always focus on the high-end products. "Everyone talks about implants and cosmetics, but they're only about 10-20% of the market," says Partner Jimmy Stegall, who joined the operation last year to focus on the lab's sales and marketing efforts. "Eighty percent is the bread-and-butter restorations--the single units, three-unit bridges, molars, dentures and partials--and that's what we're focused on. But, we also have some exceptional anterior ceramists and we do our fair share of big cases."
To keep the owners plugged in, many are involved in various aspects of the lab's daily production. For instance many of the dies are trimmed by Scharman while Gildersleeve does a lot of the initial QC inspections.
Employees stay sharp thanks to hands-on training with world-class clinicians that the lab brings in two to four times per year. To keep them motivated and in step with the lab's philosophies, it posts the lab's 12 core beliefs on banners that hang throughout the laboratory.
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