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Virender Aggarwal, CEO of Ramco Systems explains how tearing down office cubicles, and embracing open culture helped the company drive innovation at workplace.

Why do Asia’s technology companies, despite hiring the brightest minds, still trail their American counterparts in innovation? Innovations for the best consumer hardware and software applications have for years come from the West.

I sought to change that in 2012 when I became global CEO of Ramco Systems, a Chennai-based software product developer, gunning for the international market. I quickly discovered that innovation was passive, as Ramco had inherited a typical Asian company culture: a top-down hierarchy built on respect for one’s elders.

This system has its merits, but is not necessarily suited to the IT industry. I wanted to create a new Ramco culture that focused on effort and innovation instead of titles and seniority– a fun environment where high-achieving creative thinkers would want to work.

The first thing I did was push everyone outside their comfort zones by demolishing office cubicles, creating an open space to reflect Ramco’s new mindset. With this centralised layout, employees of all ranks can share ideas and make them a reality, while feeling like part of a cohesive team.

To better facilitate an exchange of ideas, I established platforms for employees to conduct open dialogue.

We set up an internal social network, Yammer, and two exclusive eateries. One café is the site of our “coffee with the CEO” sessions, where managers and interns have heart-to-hearts while I brew them coffee.

This pressure to constantly innovate – especially in our notoriously competitive industry – can overwhelm even top-performing employees. After taking over as CEO, I implemented a rule that Ramco must close for a week at the end of every year so employees can rest and recharge.

When the year is in session, we keep our minds and bodies active with in-house yoga and Zumba classes. By looking out for our staff, we have retained talent and dramatically reduced employee attrition.

However, companies are not built on employee perks. Ramco has always recruited the industry’s brightest minds, but I went further and implemented a policy of “hiring slow and firing fast.” It takes time to hire the right people, whereas bad fits will only generate losses for all parties.

We want the right people to stay at Ramco, and have implemented numerous incentive programmes – both individual and team-based – to recognise employees’ hard work.

Stellar results are important, but so are experimental new methods and employee autonomy. We want Ramcoites to genuinely engage with their work and start each week saying, “Thank God it’s Monday!”

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