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Making the Most of 2020: Five Lessons to Carry You Forward in 2021

As we begin to wrap up this crazy year, here at ACT Dental, we’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting not only on the struggles but also the opportunity and growth that our team and so many excellent teams that we work with have experienced. Through the challenges we have faced, we’ve learned some great lessons. This week, Kirk and I sat down to talk about some of those lessons, reflecting on how they will carry us forward for a better, brighter, and stronger 2021.

Jenni: Thanks for spending this time with me again, Kirk! You recently shared with me five lessons you have learned in 2020. I would love you to share what they’ve meant for you and how they’re going to carry us forward for success next year.

First off, tell me about the importance of resilience.

Kirk: In our work, in our lives, resilience is crucial. This year, on March 17th, 18th, and 19th, life, business, everything got flipped on its head. All I could think was, “holy moly, life as we know it, and the predictability we have built is completely out the window.” While so much had changed, so much was unknown, we still had to pick ourselves up and get to work. First one day, then the next.  Sometimes we didn’t know what to do, but we knew we had to keep pushing forward.

At ACT, we knew the most important thing was taking care of each other and the teams we serve. We got knocked down, we had to pivot and make changes, but we stuck with it. The same thing applied to you as a dentist; you had to ask yourself, what do I need to change?  How do I rewrite the story here? And that’s really the biggest part of this lesson in resilience. You will always have challenges, yet as we said at the very beginning, out of adversity always comes opportunity. It’s up to you to get up, keep moving, and find the opportunity. This forced sabbatical was tough for all of us, but there were some great lessons, and one of them is definitely resiliency.

I want to share the story of the butterfly, have you ever heard this?

Jenni: I haven’t heard the story of the butterfly.

Kirk: Do you know that if you open the cocoon of a butterfly, it dies? Part of a butterfly’s success in life is it has to struggle because that is how it builds strength to fly on its own. And so that’s a big piece of a business owner, you have to go through these trials and tribulations and have some heartache. To wish for no obstacles is not realistic. You need these obstacles because through the resistance, you become stronger, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally. It creates strength long-term, and resiliency is a huge part of this.

Jenni: Awesome; I love that. The next lesson we want to discuss is the importance of tracking and controlling cash flow. Here at ACT, we had our cash burn tracker, which was a fantastic resource for many dental teams out there.

Kirk: For more than 20 years, we have been teaching dentists, you have to save and save first. The bottom line is, a healthy company has profits, and the healthiest businesses in the country have great teams, great structures, great systems, and healthy profits. I talk to hundreds of dentists each year, and most tell me, “I didn’t get into dentistry because of the money.” I totally understand that, and this attitude has created exceptional, caring dentists. But the truth is a business needs money, and as you grow, you just need more. That’s where a great coach comes in; we can help you be profitable without losing the reason that you got into dentistry in the first place, to take care of people. If it hasn’t been, a profit and cash management plan is an essential piece of your business’s future. Get back on track, create a little margin, and I’m not talking about the space around teeth. I’m talking about the space between your expenses and your revenue.

The cash burn tracker was a calculator tool we developed that our dentists could use to know exactly what was happening with their expenses during the closure. It gave a great perspective and allowed teams to play with the dials and see where they could budget and save. Now we’re beyond that, but those essential saving principles still apply. You’re going to see a lot more from the ACT Dental team on how you get back into profit first, but make sure you’ve got some systems in place to control cash flow, and don’t forget to save!

Jenni: Such a good lesson! Now let’s talk about downtime. One of my favorite things you told me when my practice first started working with ACT was this “you’ve got to land the plane to work on it!” We had a lot of “landed time” this year,  and we learned a lot about the importance of downtime and how we use it.

Kirk: The smart use of downtime is huge. Number one, you need downtime, whether it be personally or professionally. Your ability to do dentistry is greatly dependent on how healthy you stay.  So that’s the first piece. You’ve got to schedule regular recovery. Athletes know this. If you’ve ever done a marathon, one of the most critical components is your recovery. After rest, you come back, and you’re stronger. The same thing applies to a dentist. You’ve got to be taking time away from your practice, so when you come back, you’re a better person.

Downtime while in the practice, that’s another thing. It’s true that you need to land the airplane, we see so many dentists trying to fix something that isn’t working while the plane is in the air. Bad philosophy. When you land the airplane in prime downtime, you’re making a statement. You guys are important to me, and the organization and health of this practice are important to me. Let’s focus and bring our best energy to the things that matter most. Your best energy is not in your hands; it’s in your mind. The best practices that we coach always use their downtime wisely. When they had more downtime, they went to work on the health of their team, the structure of their business, their education as a group, and they got better.

Jenni: So let’s talk a little bit about the lesson we learned around the importance of transparency and vulnerability. Here at ACT, we saw people who could be transparent and honest with their teams built a tremendous amount of trust and loyalty.

Kirk: The most important thing about this is often misunderstood: transparency and vulnerability are not weaknesses. This is a form of strength. Now, let me be clear. We’re not asking you to bare your soul every single day, but we’ve seen more team members, dentists, even ourselves get more honest about the reality of what they’re experiencing. You saw it with patients. And we saw it with great leaders in dentistry; they were telling us, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but we will do it together.” That’s a powerful statement. What binds us together is honesty, and when, as individuals, we know our leader has our best interest at heart. And so that’s what I mean by transparency; it’s helping people understand the true nature of the situation. I think the more honest you are, the more powerful it is. And it becomes a super glue that keeps you together for a very long time.

Jenni: So wrapping up with, I think, something that’s super important, as we close the year, is staying future-focused. We saw that those who stayed future-focused did better; this is such a great lesson to learn.

Kirk: I know I beat the drum on this one all the time, but I say this over and over because I’ve gotten it from my father. Everybody I’ve ever known or respected, they’ve all had serious challenges in their lives. But one thing that they all have in common is they’re always looking at a brighter road ahead of them. This outlook is an essential piece for life and any business. You have to believe we are going to create a better future. We will have a better year next year, and this is how we’re going to do it. So my encouragement to you is this, somehow, someway, you’ve got to convince yourself and your team that next year is going to be the best year ever. You have to.

If you can’t do it yourself,  get help. You need to get a coach. You need to get a mentor. Get into a study club, surround yourself with people that help you say, “ Hey, this is fun! This will get better.” It’s called the growth mindset. The growth mindset embraces opportunity, believing we’re all going to get better. We’re going to learn. Things are going to get better. Conditions will get better. And that’s the truth. Life is pretty good.

Kirk: You’re a coach. Let me ask you a question. What’s your favorite thing out of all these five? You coach dentists all day long.

Jenni: I think it’s just a spin on these, but I loved to see teams lean into communicating and communicating differently. They were not only having surface-level conversations; they embraced total honesty and radical candor. They trusted each other and talked about the good and the bad. They leaned in and said, “this is what we need to work on; these are our challenges; these are our strengths.” I saw people communicating in a way they hadn’t before, and what a cool thing that was.

Here at ACT, and as coaches, we talk to teams about making lives better, but what does that mean? The truth is, we’re always going to have challenges, but we want to walk out of the door, on most days, with our cup being full, rather than empty. If you leave most days being depleted instead of fulfilled, something’s not right. When I get to turn that around for someone, that’s a fantastic thing; that’s a better life.

Kirk: Amen, sister. That’s the whole game; make sure you’re filling people’s cups with the good stuff. You know how this works; there’s no big secret to making this stick. Surround yourself with amazing people and then give them the right opportunity, the right structure, the right frameworks, and the support they need. At the end of the day, you’ll say that was fun. That was really fun.

So I will end the year on this, if any of these five principles to create a better 2021 are a struggle for you, don’t continue to struggle, and don’t tell yourself a bad story that ends up becoming true. Remember, stories can change. You can write a new chapter, the ending isn’t written for you.  And another thing, don’t work all of 2021. It’s great to work, but you’ve got to have a great practice  and  a great life. And that’s what we’re all about. Better practice and a better life. When you get both, it’s a pretty good combination.


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