By Laarni Paras

They say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And so, a team is only as strong as their ability to work with their weakest (newest) member. That would be me. 

It’s been over 2 months since I walked into Sklar Wilton & Associates, the newly minted Great Place to Work (GPTW) in Canada 2017, and officially put on the hat of ‘associate.’ As a researcher who relies on data to generate conclusions, I came armed with my usual healthy dose of researcher skepticism. I mean, sure they won the GPTW award just a few weeks back. But I refuse to get distracted by shiny things.

Then the work began. I thought to myself, ‘Yes! Now I will see who this team really is.’ With my first project, I was relieved to find familiarity. I knew how research projects worked. Questionnaire design. Analysis. Reporting. Recommendations. Storytelling. I felt useful. I knew these parts of my work machine and I knew them well.

A happy people culture, well, I didn’t know that part quite as well. I kept waiting for these happy people to drop the smiles and get real. If there’s anything that will reveal true colours (thank you Cyndi Lauper), it’s completing an advanced statistical analysis project under tight timelines in what is considered a rough time for the industry. 

Having fresh eyes into the organization, I quietly observed from the sidelines.

I watched as directors and partners got their hands dirty alongside the associates. I watched as effective communication was preached and practiced, from my first interactions during the recruitment stage right until this day. I witnessed in action work-life balance as a state of being, not an intangible concept that is idealized, dreamt of, yet never achieved. I saw that value was driven by the ability to collaborate as a team and help others, not who punched in the longest days in the office. I witnessed respect for mental health as a priority, and not just because it’s a trendy topic but rather because it is genuinely important and cannot be separated from our work lives.

Then the team won another award as the #1 Employee Recommended Workplace (ERW) in Canada. Still skeptical though now softened, I thought to myself, “Perhaps the PR machine will run out of gas and when the dust settles, and I’ll finally see the real SW&A.”

Well, I definitely got to see the real SW&A. I experienced this team’s effort to bring me up to their level with the utmost patience. My skills were celebrated. My shortcomings were acknowledged – and with no judgments, I was eagerly offered opportunities to learn and grow.

I was beginning to understand this happy people culture. Perhaps the first GPTW award wasn’t a fluke. Perhaps the ERW wasn’t a fluke either. Maybe, instead, I was still in the honeymoon phase. Surely, I thought, this will eventually pass.

Time did pass.

Instead of throwing me into the deep end and expecting me to swim and catch up on my own, my director set up dedicated time to bring me up to speed with the rest of the team’s skill set. I was welcomed into groups across the company to work with other researchers, facilitators, strategists, office managers, and tech experts on special projects, projects that fueled my other passions such as wellness, health, and giving back to the community. I was encouraged to share my ideas, and those ideas were given as much weight as much as everyone else’s. They were helping me succeed. I was valued.

I was also taken aback by the focus on feedback. Receiving feedback from management is expected, but feedback at Sklar Wilton & Associates is woven into every process. I saw everyone on the team requesting feedback from each other with earnestness and honesty. They even asked for my feedback on the on-boarding process I had experienced before my official first day!

While anyone can collect feedback like baseball cards and formalize the process through internal policies, this team actually evaluated their feedback year after year, and acted on it. Accountability is a strong game at SW&A. 

As I witnessed all of these great business practices, I noticed that they also displayed what is a rare trait in such a decorated workplace: humility. They found room to grow on their already high levels of employee engagement by continually asking both associates and partners, ‘how can we be better together?’

May I remind you that this team had just won two awards that named their company #1 in Canada? They could have rested on their laurels for a little bit and rode the positive PR for a few months, but they didn’t. Their mantra was to keep asking how to be better.

When leadership keeps house with respect, that trickles into the work they produce. Their people, their happy people, will go above and beyond to help clients solve their toughest business problems.

And so I’ve come to the conclusion that this is no fluke. This is not a honeymoon phase. It is simply Sklar Wilton & Associates. SW&A is not perfect, and no workplace can be perfect. But this team, my team, has earned those shiny awards by embodying the purpose of the company – helping others and their own succeed, while staying humble and continuously striving to be better.

This researcher, while still a skeptic (it’s part of my job, remember), is a believer. A believer in happy people. And I am proud to be one of them, smiles and all. Thank you for welcoming me into the team.


Does your organization have a clear purpose? What values and behaviours are strongly aligned to this? Are your people embodying your organization’s purpose, beyond what’s written on the company website? What small, doable thing can you do today to make your work be a better place for yourself and your people?