This software research and development (R&D) firm, based in Pune, relies heavily on acquiring employees early and getting their feedback regularly to shape company culture. That has been the secret sauce of the firm featured in India’s Best Mid-sized Workplaces study by the Great Place to Work Institute.

“In 2016, 75% of the people we hired were star performers for their previous employers," said Soumi Alphons, head of human resources at SAS. “We want to reach out to the target audience we like to hire from before hiring them. Our OptiReach acquisition model designed entirely in India has helped us move from chance hiring to continuous hiring."

This model has helped SAS R&D, a company that needs quality research workforce, to let potential employees experience how the company functions even before they make a decision to join.

“We establish connect with them (potential employees) through social media, we engage them with weekend quizzes," Alphons said.

“Sometimes they come into the office and like to know how they should prepare for a future job interview with our company. We are relentless in hiring and this makes us stand out."

Software and information technology (IT) industries in India have seen high rates of attrition, especially at junior levels where the majority of training happens. At SAS R&D, the company ensures it keeps employees intellectually engaged enough to enjoy their work, said Moti Thadani, head of SAS R&D.

“We are accountable, authentic, and curious—all things that are essential for an R&D firm," Thadani said.

“We encourage people to ask questions, to challenge assumptions in their work. And we are passionate. It is not like anyone grows up without values from parents and society. But having a consistent set of values at work makes it easier to know what you can expect from others and what they can expect from you."

Which is why SAS R&D has managed to retain enough junior-level employees for long enough to largely be able to appoint senior leadership internally.

“We are able to find internal leaders very well when we’re looking for someone for those positions," Alphons said. “80% are internal in our senior leadership positions and we have groomed them over the years."

“We now tell them how their life will change with this change in role and that they now have to transition to being a leader," she said. “We bring technical specialists at par with seasoned managers."

Meanwhile, employees at all levels remain central to how the workplace evolves.

“There are standing committee meetings every quarter to improve the workplace," Thadani said.

“Managers collect suggestions from a suggestion box which is constantly available and bring them during the meeting with the leadership team," he said.

Some of the employee suggestions that company implemented included 26 weeks of maternity leave and two weeks of paternity leave, which Thadani says SAS R&D adopted over a year ago, well before the government put out guidelines for it.

“Another suggestion from employees was establishing a CSR (corporate social responsibility) team, way back in 2010 before there was any mandate from the government," Thadani said. “It was our employees who wanted to give back to society."

SAS R&D now has a dedicated CSR team called Muskaan, comprising eight core members. On the employees’ suggestion, the company chose to deploy all CSR funds in-house rather than outsourcing to a non-profit, he said.

Gender parity is also a major concern for SAS R&D, especially since scientific and product research are traditionally male-dominated industries the world over.

Alphons says the company does not set “targets" to hire a certain number of women every year, preferring to keep the process merit-based. However, SAS R&D does reach out to women’s engineering colleges such as the Cummins College of Engineering for Women in Pune, where the company is headquartered. Women make up 26% of the company’s workforce.