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712: How Did This All Begin & How Did You Get Here? – Dr. Dennis Hartlieb

In this special crossover episode, the tables are turned! Kirk Behrendt is interviewed on the Dental Online Training Sharecast, a podcast by Dr. Dennis Hartlieb, founder of Dental Online Training. Kirk shares everything from his early years, the origins of ACT Dental, and his thoughts on the current state of dentistry. To learn more about Kirk and hear his great advice on dentistry and life, listen to Episode 712 of The Best Practices Show!


“I love it when somebody has a life where they make what they want to make, they work with who they want to work with, they enjoy going to work, and at the end of their day they go, ‘Dude, I love my life.’ That's my favorite thing.” (5:55 —6:07) -Kirk

“Time is the new rich. I don't care what people make. I mean, that's important. But I think, ultimately, the measure of anybody is like, what do they do with their time? Those are the richest people in the world.” (6:08—6:19) -Kirk

“You can get good at business — but get good at people and understanding the business. Pete Dawson, God rest his soul, told me at a very young age, ‘When you get the right people and you put them in the right seats, you can produce twice as much in half the time with a quarter of the stress.’ I hear his words all the time as we look at what's going on in the world of dentistry.” (7:28—7:50) -Kirk

“For me, college was an obstacle course. You learn a lot about yourself. And I would say, even at the age of 25, I still didn't know what I wanted to do. So, it's called the future pull. You’ve got to have something to anchor into. I don't care if it's college. I don't care if it's something — but you’ve got to believe the best is in front of you.” (18:18—18:37) -Kirk

“We can never say, ‘Remember the good old days?’ As soon as we start talking like that, it's over. We’d better be locked in on who we are and all of those kinds of things. I think my dad even says it. I am 53. He is 73. He still says it, like, ‘The best years are still in front of us.’ It's great motivation because I think that's true. No matter where you are in this game — I don't care if you're 24, 64, or 84 — you’ve got to believe the best is in front of you.” (18:57—19:29) -Kirk

“There are so many benefits to systems. And when you talk about a dental practice, one of the things that's important to recognize about today's environment is that if I'm an amazing front desk person or admin person, I don't want to come and clean up your mess. I want to come in and know this place is crazy organized so I can be me. I don't want to take work home with me. We could do a whole day on the benefits of systems. But one of the things is, the file is closed. I'm not thinking about work after work. It's done in the confines when the systems are designed really well.” (24:08—24:41) -Kirk

“Every time you put a system in place, you're saving thousands of hours in the future.” (24:43—24:46) -Kirk

“Great organizations can fail. They can fail easily because they don't change with the times. And so, I think that's a lesson for dental practices — for everybody — is that you have to be able to change with the times. Certainly, COVID-19, if that hasn't taught us a lesson, nothing will. We have to be adaptable.” (27:54—28:12) -Dr. Hartlieb

“I'm always looking for the things I cannot train, if that makes sense. And so, I like a little humility. I also like a little bit of confidence. Cockiness and confidence, there's a fine line there . . . And so, I'm looking for the things — I think the best way to describe this, all-in attitude is one of my favorites here. I love that because — I have no qualms about this. I'll take out the trash. I'll do anything. I'll change the toilet paper. I don't have an ego that I started the company, and we're looking for elements of that in those people. I'll take anybody that's got the fabric.” (29:02—29:46) -Kirk

“I always ask people this question . . . Why should I hire you? If they don't give me a good answer — and I'm not allowed to hire anymore because I like people too much. I want them to give me a really good answer, a thoughtful one, and make eye contact. So, I am looking for the confidence, but I am also looking for the humble pieces in there because there's nothing worse than working with somebody whose only sentence is I, me, and they're the center — they're on a team of one. That's tough.” (30:21—30:55) -Kirk

“Your education starts when you get out of school.” (32:54—32:58) -Kirk

“If you're struggling, you’ve got to get in a group. You’ve got to get around people that inspire you because there's nothing worse than being in a place where you're not inspired.” (34:54— 35:03) -Kirk

“I think study clubs are the most important thing in dentistry. I can tell you, without question, the quality of dentistry that I'm able to do is because of the people that I surrounded myself with 30 years ago. Without question. It’s so funny. People ask all the time, ‘What courses should I be taking?’ Join a study club. Surround yourself with people who want to learn more, and then follow that path. That's it. So, it's one part of the path, for sure. Be surrounded by dentists who are energized by dentistry, who love dentistry, and who want to get better at dentistry. It changed my world.” (35:24—36:00) -Dr. Hartlieb

“I remember as a young dentist I was at a lab course. It was a lab technician named Jörg Stoeck from Switzerland who was an incredible denturist. He made ceramic crowns on these dentures, and he was just awesome. And who was sitting just down the bench from me was Bob Winter — who is one of the most incredible dentists in the world — and Don Cornell, one of the most incredible lab technicians in the world. They're sitting right down from me, and they are like, deep down in this. And I'm like, ‘What? Why are they here? Don't they know all this?’ But no — there's so much to learn. And so, that really made me realize that, look, if someone at that level is at a course and they're so involved in this course, you’ve got to keep on learning. There's more, and more, and more. And especially as dentistry keeps on changing, without question, you just can't keep up.” (36:05—37:01) -Dr. Hartlieb

“The difference between advice and coaching is you have to pay for coaching.” (54:13—54:17) -Kirk

“My grandmother thought Elvis was the devil. So, my mom always reminds me, ‘Be careful what your judgment is about the current state, because every generation thinks the next generation coming behind them is not good.’” (56:28—56:46) -Kirk

“Make the mistakes. And maybe they're not mistakes. But take the risk. Take the road. Don't grow old wondering, “if”. Take the risk and see what it means.” (1:05:57—1:06:08) -Dr. Hartlieb

“Clear is kind. Even now, today, that's my number-one problem, is I try often to be too nice. And I found that the more I'm clear and the less I'm concerned about hurting someone's feelings, the better it is for everyone. You actually enjoy it, and you can actually have more fun with people.” (1:08:15—1:08:34) -Kirk

“Things I got wrong [is], I think, trying to keep people that suck the life out of you. So many times, I thought I could rehabilitate somebody, or talk to them, or help them understand, when they were just energy suckers. I would spend hours, and hours, and hours trying to perform an exorcism on team members that were already demons. And I say that lightheartedly, but some of them found better opportunities. I found that you just can't do that. People change, but very little. I find that it's better to communicate — and really, let me do a precursor to that. It gets bad when the dentist doesn't lead. When a dentist isn't a leader, you've got bombs everywhere. You just do. And the more the dentist leads, the more it becomes important to lean into the people that want to be there, that care about the process, and that care about the future of the practice. And again, it goes back to core values.” (1:08:50—1:09:50) -Kirk

“When you have the right people, life just changes.” (1:11:18—1:11:21) -Kirk

“Thirty percent of our breaths that are taken on this planet while you're alive is at this place called work. There's a new study out called the American Time study. You shouldn't look at it. It'll depress you. But do you know who the number-one group of people is that you spend time with between 20 and 60? Co-workers. It's just true. You can look at the graph and superimpose it with the amount of time that you spend with your family. It'll depress you by looking at that. But I think the message here is, if you're going to go to work and you're going to work with a group of people, you’d better invest in making sure they are the right type of people — and that comes with great intention.” (1:11:22—1:12:02) -Kirk

“That's another thing people get wrong. People say core values are aspirational, wonderful words that we all strive [towards]. No. Let me make it simple. They're verbs. They're behaviors, every day, ‘This is how we behave.’ When you get those right, it's amazing how people do things to help each other in an environment where there are rules. And so, when somebody doesn't follow the rules on how to behave, they're called out on it — not just by you, by everybody else — and things get better lightning fast.” (1:12:23—1:12:56) -Kirk

“Dentistry is a sport. It is an intense sport, and it's a bigger sport for the people listening to this podcast. Because if you're listening to this podcast, up to this point, the words shade, shape, translucency, margin, those mean completely different things than to a dentist who's getting their credits at a course. That is a body of work that's spiritual, emotional, and it requires a group of people who are locked in on why we do this, because work is hard. And it's one of those things where you’ve got to look around and go, ‘Listen, I know these people have my back, and I have their back.’ And I hate to make it as simple as that, but you would be blown away by how much better your life is every day when you can honestly say that.” (1:12:57—1:13:47) -Kirk

“What I love about core values is that if someone is straying from the disciplines of the practice, it's not about the person. It's really about, are they representing the core values that we have for the practice? So, it's not that this person is a bad person, that this person did a bad thing. It's just that the person is not upholding the core values of these practices. And so, like you said, that is the flag in the ground, and this is what we hold true. And for our team, this is what we bring up at our team meetings. We meet typically every week, and we review our core values. We identify things that we've done throughout the week that exemplified these core values to thank those in our team who have shown those in spades. And it helps us understand, ‘This is what we're about. This is why we're here to serve. This is what we all need to be about.’ And if people stray — it could be a dentist, it could be anyone on the team — we have to be held accountable to those core values. It's not about us, it's about the values.” (1:13:56—1:14:59) -Dr. Hartlieb

“The more you lean into your core values — like, you really lean into them, and you live, eat, and breathe them — the less crazy stuff. You don't deal with the crazy stuff. You don't have the text chats going along the side between two employees, that one doesn't like the other. You don't get the email from your manager in the morning going, ‘I've got a problem with so-and-so.’ You just don't get them. Now, I'm not going to say you're free from challenges. But you don't get the weird stuff that you used to get that kept you up all night thinking to yourself, ‘I don't enjoy this anymore.’” (1:15:40—1:16:12) -Kirk

“[Core values are] critical. For those who are starting out their practices or have their practices and you don't have well-defined core values, you really need to work on that because it really sets the tone for the practice.” (1:16:19—1:16:30) -Dr. Hartlieb

“If you're putting out an ad and you're hoping to find somebody, those days are over. I think the real transition in our thinking is you're now a college recruiter. That's it — which means you’ve got to be on the lookout for great talent in all of your community. And like you said, the thing about a dental assistant or an admin team member, and sometimes a hygienist, is that's not their primary career drive. A lot of kids do not wake up at the age of 14 and go, ‘I want to be a dental assistant.’ If they do, that's great. And there are a few of them. But overwhelmingly, that's not the consensus. And so, when you do find somebody like this, you’ve got to make sure they're built with the right thinking. So, I always think, stop placing ads. Because when you're placing ads, you're getting to two final resumes. And what you do is you pick the least worst. That's what you're doing. You're like, ‘These both suck. Which one sucks less?’ That's what you're doing, and that's terrible.” (1:20:41—1:21:41) -Kirk

“Go all-in on core values. You'll be amazed. It's so counterintuitive that until you do it, you won't even know how much of an impact it makes.” (1:22:11—1:22:19) -Kirk

“I think every business has to have a “bench”. A bench includes that part of recruiting and the next piece that I'm going to talk about, which is margin. Which is, I have enough profitability and enough space between our — margin is not the space around teeth. It's the space between your limit and your load, which means we have enough collecting this month. I've got enough in the bank. We're not overscheduled. We're actually running not too thin that I could have a person either with me on the bench who could go in on a short stint, or I could call into the game when we're tight.” (1:23:45—1:24:22) -Kirk

“In dentistry, I think you’ve got to create an environment where you can't work evenings. Here's one more complexity. If you're seeing patients after five o'clock — don't hate me. You don't have to like my message — that means you're not giving patients a good enough reason to come in before five o'clock. And I can already tell you you don't have a great team, because the best team members out there don't want to work past five o'clock. You're also serving a patient base that thinks you're cheap and you're easy to get to, of which they will leave you in one second. So, seeing patients in the evening and on the weekends is dumb. I think it's dumb. You can give me as many reasons as possible. They're all dumb. Please don't hate me for that.” (1:26:11—1:26:50) -Kirk

“Either you care or you don't care, as a business owner. You want to make sure your processes scream, ‘I care.’” (1:29:31—1:29:36) -Kirk


0:00 Introduction.

4:20 About ACT Dental and its origin.

6:28 Get good at people.

9:10 Kirk’s non-dental background.

12:17 The mind of 18-year-old Kirk.

16:06 The best years are in front of you.

19:41 How working in a restaurant can prepare you for dentistry.

24:56 The importance of establishing your core values.

28:12 Being hungry, humble, and smart.

30:56 Some of Kirk’s influences.

33:00 Never stop learning.

34:52 Be around people who inspire you.

38:29 Kirk’s time as a dental supply rep with Bob Popp.

42:23 Young Kirk’s thoughts on dentists.

47:21 Things that changed Kirk’s outlook on dentistry.

55:03 Dentists then versus dentists today.

57:59 Kirk’s alternate path and the start of ACT Dental.

1:04:41 Take risks and make mistakes.

1:07:17 Things Kirk got right and wrong.

1:13:48 Lean into your core values.

1:16:31 Recommended reading.

1:18:20 Always be on the lookout for great people.

1:22:40 Every practice should have a “bench”.

1:24:58 Create margin for your practice.

1:26:11 Seeing patients on evenings and weekends is dumb.

1:27:56 Have regular team member check-ins.

1:29:49 More about ACT Dental and how to get in touch with Kirk.

Dr. Dennis Hartlieb Bio:

Dr. Dennis Hartlieb is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. He maintains a full-time practice, Chicago Beautiful Smiles, in the Chicago suburb of Glenview, Illinois. Dr. Hartlieb is an instructor at the Center for Esthetic Excellence in Chicago and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Marquette University School of Dentistry in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He lectures extensively to dentists throughout the U.S. on the art and science of anterior and posterior direct resin techniques.

Dr. Hartlieb is an Accredited Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is also a member of the prestigious American Academy of Restorative Dentistry, and the American Dental Association. He is the president of the Chicago Academy of Interdisciplinary Dentofacial Therapy, and officer for the Chicago Academy of Dental Research study club. His dentistry has been seen in many dental publications, and he has contributed articles on his techniques in restorative dentistry.