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The Single Most Important Thing You Will Ever Do In Business


Motivation Oct 25, 2018

I am going to give you the ONE secret to running an amazing dental practice, and yes, it’s greater than a brilliant idea or a game-changing technology or a new world class talent. In my 25 years of coaching great dental teams, the success that we see always comes back to this idea.

The single most important thing you will ever do in your business is define and live by a short list of core values. To create them. To give language to them. To evaluate them. To re-write them. And, finally, to LIVE by them (this is always the hardest part).

Nothing else will give you a bigger ROI when it comes to a healthy, happy and successful career in dentistry than doing the hard work of clearly defining your core values.

Let Me Explain Why…

Our practice core values are the non-negotiable behaviors that we live by every day as a team. They become the laws that govern how we treat each other. They become the swim lanes for our motions moving forward. If implemented correctly, they have the power to uniquely synchronize very large groups of people.

They become the living, breathing written documents through which you (as a dentist) evaluate behavior on your team. Your written core values become the instruction that is desperately needed for new team members to succeed.

When asked what he’d do differently if he could start his company all over again, Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh had this to say, “If I could go back and do Zappos all over again I would actually come up with our values from day one. We actually didn’t always have values. It wasn’t until about five years into it that we rolled out our values.”

If you consider that Zappos sold their business to Amazon for $1.2 BILLION dollars, and the CEO says if he could do ONE thing differently, it would be to create their values at the very beginning, then that should be a sledgehammer of a clue for you to do the same.

When you have a clear set of core values, they give voice and language to WHY your great team members stay and WHY they work so hard for you. It covers the gaps when you have to work harder than you expected. It gives emotional compensation to all of us when things don’t work as well as they should. It makes you come back to work again and again with a smile on your face.

On top of that, an exciting set of written core values makes your team better. These core values create a powerful gravitational pull for extraordinary talent and can help you attract a more exciting team member. The secret to finding the right team members is that you actually don’t find them—they find YOU over time!

And think about this: Some of your favorite team members have probably come as a referral from existing team members. The reason this happens is never because of the money or the benefits you offer. It is because of something much bigger than that. It is the WHY behind your work. It is your core values.

I speak all over the world at dental conferences, and I will tell you that there are a lot of amazing team members out there looking for a work “home,” but they can’t find it. What an amazing opportunity as a dentist to create a special place—your practice—that exists for a much bigger purpose than just “producing more.” There are tons of great dental team members out there that are STARVING to work for an office that has meaning. Through your core values, you can ping a signal out into the vast world.

When I speak to these types of audiences, dentists always ask me to “motivate their teams today” or “get them pumped up.” Now, I could do that, but it would be very short-lived.

I can get you motivated for the day, but my question is this: “What do you have to be authentically motivated about in the first place?”

When you know that, you don’t have to wait for someone to come around and inspire you. When you know that, every continuing education experience you have as a team is either a confirmation of where you are headed or a suggestion of a better way of doing what you are already trying to do in the first place. These answers help shape your core values.

Your core values also become the razor-sharp clarity behind WHY and WHEN you fire a team member (if you have to).

You have probably already experienced this if you have been in the practice for more than five years. When you have one team member sucking the life out of you and a few other members of your practice, you don’t only have ONE energy sucker. You actually have a second on the way, because an energy sucker has to “co-suck” with another employee. A miserable employee refuses to be miserable by themselves. Eventually, you will have a “tri-suck” and then a “quad-suck.” And really, it’s not their fault—it’s your fault. You didn’t stop the first SUCKING and it grew. Ultimately, energy suckers will kill your culture, and you will probably have to start all over from square one.

I tell dentists all the time, You have a beautiful garden: your dental practice. Weeds will come into your garden. It doesn’t ever stop. I wish it did. As a dentist, you have to WEED the garden, and if you don’t, the weeds will TAKE the garden.”

You can only prevent this problem by writing, defining, talking about and living by your practice core values every day. Reminding yourself of your core values and instilling them in your team will help you remove a team member before your practice’s culture crumbles.

In order for all of this to work the way it should, someone has to hold the torch high around these core values. The all-important key is that the dentist (or the owner of any business) has to show examples of them, enforce them, celebrate them and live by them.

So, what is the secret to a long, happy and successful career in dentistry?

I ask dentists this question all the time. Take a minute to think about it. I think if you are honest with yourself, it will always come back to the same answer: Surround yourself with the right people.

Dr. Pete Dawson told me this years ago: “With the right people, you can produce twice as much in half the time, with a quarter of the stress.” In coaching some of the best dental practices in the world, I have found this to be absolutely true. Whenever teams have a game-changing month, I always ask them, “What was the secret?” and they always say the same thing: “I have some amazing people now.”

The experiment

I have never done this, but I am going to do it now:

If you were to give dental grads ONE piece of advice for a long, happy and successful career in dentistry, what would it be?

What would you say? Click here and share your answer with us. I’ll share many of them in next week’s post.

The key to finding the right people

Dentists often complain that finding the right people for a team is harder than you’d think, and I completely agree. Hiring the right team members is harder than it has ever been. I can’t even begin to tell you the strange stories we have encountered surrounding hiring in a fast-growing company. Some of them are just downright bizarre. And, to be honest, I hate the hiring process.

The key to finding the right people is that YOU first have to become the right person that attracts the right type of team member. You will hardly ever find an excellent dental team member working for a less-than-stellar dental leader. And if you do, it is usually short-lived.

The best team members value themselves first. They don’t see themselves as “hygienists” or “chairside assistants” or “good front desk team members.” They see themselves as something much bigger than that. They see themselves as MVPs, people that make a difference.

These people want to play on teams that are going places. They don’t want to deal with the unhealthy drama that happens in a typical dental practice. Not only will this suck the energy out of them, but it is a waste of their talents. This drama is mostly due to the fact that the leader refuses to set the tone—and maintain it—for everyone else on the team.

Here is WHY…

Your favorite people in life or at work care about the same things that you care about. Your least favorite people don’t care about the same things that you care about. Think about your least favorite team members that you have ever had. They didn’t have the same beliefs or behaviors that you do.  Contrast that with your favorite dental team members of all time. They clearly cared about things and behaved in a way that was congruent to your same set of core values.

Great team members want to work for a leader who sets a great tone (through core values) and consistently maintains it.

Doubt this? Keep in mind that people don’t quit jobs—people quit people. No great team member ever quits a dental office. They quit a person. And that person is (directly or indirectly), the LEADER.

Even in our business, I have had great people come and go over the years. The ones that have stayed wanted to be here. And the ones that have gone had to leave. Not because they were bad people, but because they didn’t believe in where we were headed and didn’t share our same core values.

That’s it.

Those great team members that have gone on to work elsewhere are now in a better place for THEM. I, for one, could not be happier for them. I truly am. They are where THEY need to be. I still see some of them at dental meetings. I hug them every time, and together, we celebrate the fact that they are where THEY need to be.

Get to work defining your core values

You might also ask, “Well, what about vision and mission? Aren’t those supposed to be the most important elements of a great business?”

I don’t think so. At least, not at this point in my career. Make no mistake, I think vision and mission are critically important. They guide your dental practice’s motions and strategy.

But I will just speak for me and say that nothing makes a bigger impact on my day-to-day, my joy at work, than our core values. They are the WHY behind our work. They are MY why for doing what I do—and I couldn’t do this work without them.

Defining your core values, quite simply, is the single most important thing you will ever do as a dentist. My hope for you is that you get to put language to one exercise that will change the trajectory of your dental practice.

If you are struggling with this, we would be happy to help in any way that we can. This is not easy work, but it is your most important work. Click here to schedule a call and share your story with us. We will do our best to point you in the right direction. The rest is up to you.

My very best to you and a successful road ahead,


Kirk Behrendt

Kirk Behrendt is a renowned consultant and speaker in the dental industry, known for his expertise in helping dentists create better practices and better lives. With over 30 years of experience in the field, Kirk has dedicated his professional life to optimizing the best systems and practices in dentistry. Kirk has been a featured speaker at every major dental meeting in the United States. His company, ACT Dental, has consistently been ranked as one of the top dental consultants in Dentistry Today's annual rankings for the past 10 years. In addition, ACT Dental was named one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States by Inc Magazine, appearing on their Inc 5000 list. Kirk's motivational skills are widely recognized in the dental industry. Dr. Peter Dawson of The Dawson Academy has referred to Kirk as "THE best motivator I have ever heard." Kirk has also assembled a trusted team of advisor experts who work with dentists to customize individual solutions that meet their unique needs. When he's not motivating dentists and their teams, Kirk enjoys coaching his children's sports teams and spending time with his amazing wife, Sarah, and their four children, Kinzie, Lily, Zoe, and Bo.