Culture is Key

By Zach Sikkelee

I don’t know any business owner that would disagree with me if I said that a good culture is important to their organization. Do you? But what is the definition of “good culture,” what makes it important, and how do you know if you have it? If you yourself lead, or are a part of an organization that you would consider to have a good culture, would you say it is intentional, or does it happen by accident?

By asking different people you will receive a variety of answers to these questions, but I simply want to give some food for thought from my own perspective and describe a mindset that I believe is severely lacking in our industry and as a result it hampers creativity, minimizes productivity, frustrates clients, and restricts the overall necessity for a business and industry to grow. I’ve spoken with countless swimming pool professionals who have made it apparent that the primary reason for the existence of their business is to turn a profit, which in many cases seems far-fetched because they are drowning in debt and the stress of that overcomes the ability the think outside of the box. While making a profit is certainly imperative for every company, I believe it should not be the focus. Rather, it is a byproduct of prioritizing something else: having a mindset of service toward something greater than yourself. It doesn’t matter if your business employs only you yourself, or if you’re the head of a company operating with 500+ employees, a clear picture of LEADERSHIP will shape the culture of an organization filled with engaged team members, optimized resources, and satisfied customers.

So then, what is leadership? For many swimming pool contractors, leadership is portrayed by showing his/her team what it means to get dirty. It’s jumping in the plumbing ditch to show the guys how to glue the pipe fittings properly, or it’s getting in the hole in the pouring rain to shovel out the mud from a wall cave-in. While these are admirable examples of leadership in times of critical need that we’ve all experienced, these are all reactions to a particular problem that may (or may not) have been avoided. After all, working hard and working smart are not mutually exclusive; a good leader does both. But what if I said that the deep meaningful leadership that shapes a company’s culture is not just reacting to an unfavorable situation, but it mostly involves being proactive in aligning a group of people with your vision, mission, and values and intentionally empowering the people around you on a daily basis. It is only then that people can start to take on an ownership mentality that will permeate throughout the organization and make it possible for a team to thrive.

I enjoy reading leadership books and listening to leadership podcasts, and I think Simon Sinek hit the nail on the head with the principles outlined in his book, Leaders Eat Last. I highly recommend this book as a start for any business leaders out there needing to hit the reset button on what they feel inspires a team, especially since I am far from being an expert on this subject myself. After all, I’m not even a business owner, so what do I know? I hold an executive level role in the company that I represent, but I’m also an employee among dozens of others that have the pleasure of serving under a business owner that exemplifies what a leader should be, and one that I can’t help but want to follow. That person is my father, with nearly 40 years in the pool industry, doing things differently and thinking outside of the box for as long as I can remember. He has had the good business sense to surround himself with leaders who not only work hard, but work smart, and that is what I would encourage more business owners to focus on.

In the pursuit of excellence, I hope that every one of you reading this will feel led to take some time for reflection, and think of a leader that you admire. If you’re in a position to follow, you can lead at the same time, and your ability to empower others around you will greatly impact your organization’s future and ability to grow. Everyone is a leader of something, and good leadership is infectious. So what is stopping you from becoming the leader that you would want to follow? The state of your culture depends on it.

— Zach Sikkelee of Signature, LLC