To be really productive, a company must create a deeper relationship with its employees. That means giving them the means to express themselves and engendering a desire to commit to the company.

Interview with Anand Pillai, Senior Vice President at HCL Technologies. Five years ago this Indian IT services company put into action a method developed by its CEO, which is all about valuing employees and listening to them.

L'Atelier: At HCL you have instituted a management method based on flexibility and encouraging employees to express themselves. What drove you to make this change?

Anand Pillai: In 2005, we realised that our company was losing market share. So we did a lot of thinking and we asked ourselves some questions.  How can we differentiate ourselves in the market? Which actors have the most value for us between the clients, the analysts and the staff?  After a lot of deliberation we concluded that the most valuable thing was our employees and that we ought to get them to take responsibility and commit to improving our productivity.

Was this cultural and operational change difficult to implement?

It wasn’t too difficult but we had to create new tools and especially re-learn how to manage our people. For example, we opened a discussion portal, called “U&I”, between employees and management. Employees can ask questions and make comments on any subject at all to do with the company.  We also created a “value portal” where staff can put forward solutions to client-related problems. A team then assesses the feasibility of the suggestion and arranges for the person who posted the idea to carry out some tests and gather together a few colleagues – whatever that person’s original position in the company.

And that strengthens individuals’ feeling of involvement and commitment?

Yes, especially as there are no more hierarchical or departmental boundaries, which encourages them to express themselves.  We’ve brought a high degree of transparency to the company. Nothing is confidential. We’re in permanent dialogue with our employees in order to find out what really motivates them.  As a result, we’ve calculated that our employees’  productivity has increased, while their satisfaction score has gone up from 30% to 70% over five years.  They feel more involved and want to stay at the company.  Our staff turnover has dropped by 50%.

Have you been able to reap benefits from this management method?

We’ve found that the projects put forward by staff were so good that we’ve carried out most of them for a total of $11 million. In 2009, we received an award for Best Employer in Asia and Indiaorganised by Aon Hewitt. Our clients are also more loyal. The figures speak for themselves: our revenue has quadrupled in five years and profits have increased three-fold.   Some of our clients have even asked us to provide them with tools similar to ours and we’re planning to make them available on the market next year.