Malaysian Management Style

People wishing to manage others effectively in Malaysia need to be aware of certain critical issues, which may vary enormously from their own country of origin.

Firstly, as an hierarchically oriented country, managers are expected to be people who are viewed as being worthy of respect and this respect is based rather on personal attributes than on more task-oriented matters. People are worthy of respect if they are older and have the wisdom that age brings. People are also worthy of respect when they show respect to the face of others. Therefore, the manager should never do anything to make a subordinate lose face. Reprimands are often best done through the use of a third party. It is also difficult to respect those who are overly direct – vagueness and diplomacy are an art form, whereas directness can be construed as uncivilised and uneducated behaviour.

The manager is also expected to take a holistic interest in the well-being of the subordinate – both in work and outside. The relationship could be construed as being more like father and son than the western view of boss and subordinate.

Secondly, as basically group-oriented in approach, people like to feel part of a team and expect individual aspirations to be sublimated to the group needs. Managers should foster this inter-group co-operation rather than try to set up inter-group competitiveness which will lead to lack of harmony and therefore unhappiness.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Malaysia

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Malaysia often appears very near the top of the tree in the ‘Best Country to Invest in’ league tables. With a highly skilled, well-educated workforce and a pro-business government Malaysia attracts high levels of foreign direct investment and Kuala Lumpur is rapidly becoming a destination of choice for global organisations who are looking to establish an Asian head office. In fact, more than 5000 companies from over 40 countries have established operations in Malaysia and that trend looks set to continue.

It would appear then that lots of global organisations consider doing business in Malaysia to be an attractive proposition. You should ask yourself why you haven’t considered Malaysia as a potential market if you are still to make that move. Political stability, great infrastructure, a highly motivated workforce and ideal geographic location make doing business in Malaysia sound like good business sense.

Yet Malaysia is a complex mix of different ethnicities all working and living together. This mix has produced a very distinctive local business culture which you need to understand before starting to build relationships and sell your good or services. Traditionally the minority Chinese section of society ran most business activities in the country but changing demographics and pro-Malay legislation have altered this picture over the past few decades. How have these changes impacted on day-to-day business dealings in Malaysia? What type of communication style can you expect from such a mixed-race culture? How do traditional hierarchical mindsets fit with the more modern matrixed approach used by so many foreign capital companies? You need to think about these things before you arrive in Kuala Lumpur rather than on the plane home. Don’t leave things to chance; do some homework.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Malaysian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips