In the midst of a high attrition rate in the software industry, SAS Research and Development has focused on a core value system and constant feedback to develop its workplace culture. Chief executive officer Moti Thadani explains how SAS R&D, the Pune-based subsidiary of US-based SAS Inc., has used its induction programmes and Town Hall meetings to keep employees happy. Edited excerpts from an interview:

How do you keep employees engaged and committed, especially in a time of high attrition in the information technology (IT) space?

Twenty-five percent of our annual revenue is invested in research and development, and this is challenging work for our employees. We believe in the virtuous cycle.

We reinvest in the company, make better products, which engages our employees and makes our clients happy.

The constant challenge for knowledge workers like ours is the work itself.

We have internal work programmes, conferences, innovation days, days when people are encouraged to experiment.

If they are able to connect this back to the product (they’re working on) that’s great.

What practices form the backbone of your workplace culture?

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

We encourage people to ask questions and we are passionate.

It is not like anyone grows up without values from parents and from 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.

What were some major workplace culture challenges, or HR policy transitions that you had to work through as CEO?

(The transition to) Vishaka (guidelines to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace) certainly was one. Right from setting up the committee with the right set of people to making sure employees are aware of the committee.

Another one was the transition to a formal CSR (corporate social responsibility) with a target budget to spend.

There, the challenge we had faced was how do we scale up to that enhanced level of spending.

A lot of companies chose to go with outsourcing this activity.

But we scaled up the teams and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that we have worked with all along. We have a core team of eight members and employees volunteer for specific activities like a sapling plantation drive.

Where do you want to improve workplace culture at SAS R&D going forward?

We continue to refine our work culture; we have been doing it for 40 years.

Our founder-CEO wanted to create a new kind of company. There are two focus areas we have. One is making manager coaches.

As opposed to a regular definition of what a manager does, we want our managers to be coaches who guide their teams.

The second is creating higher responsibilities for our younger employees.

Millennial employees are looking for higher level responsibilities because they think they bring with them the technical expertise to deal with those.