Learning about the local market is essential for business success. In order for your company to thrive in Malaysia, you should shape the business communication style and unspoken rules, knowledge becomes your power.
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society, and many ethnic groups in Malaysia maintain separate cultural identities. However, when visiting the country it is clear that the ethnicities blend their customs and way of life.
The main ethnic groups are the native Malays, Chinese, and Indians, with some ethnicities of mixed descent also present.
Being considerate of a country's culture is expected, but at the same time, the people of Malaysia will be considerate of expats’ cultures and customs as well.
Teik Loon Cheah, Business Development Manager
The most important Malaysian feature is the varied culture. There are many races, but the predominant ones are Malay, Chinese, and Indians. Malaysia has a population of 40 million, of which 30 million are locals and 10 million are foreigners (inclusive of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis).
My Coworker Is Malaysian — What Should I Know?
Adapt or perish
- Malaysians perceive time as more flexible. It’s not condemned to be 5–10 minutes late for a meeting.
- It’s important to respond to your partners as soon as you can, but it doesn’t have to be done immediately.
- You can ping your partner on non-urgent issues in 1–2 days if you haven’t received a reply.
- Be careful with flexibility in schedule and time. Sometimes it can lead to you not being able to do something by the agreed deadline.
Work-life balance matters
- People look for equality, fairness, and work-life balance — especially the younger generation.
- Malaysian employees appreciate having an environment where it is okay to ask managers for a more flexible work schedule.
- Family plays a huge role: Most managers will meet their employees half way in terms of taking an extra day-off for family purposes.
- There are many cultural celebrations and festivities, both of which have some business traditions for business to follow (like Chinese New Year or Hari Raya Aidilfitri)
- Dato (Datuk) is a title used in Malaysia. It’s an equivalent to knighthood in the UK (with the title of “Sir”).
Look at who and how you hire
- Applicants in Malaysia may not ask for a specific job description. Sometimes it could be equally important that the company is prestigious — and the work responsibilities are just details.
- People of older generations are very loyal to employers. The younger generation is ready to develop their careers and switch jobs to align with their interests.
- It is great for foreign businesses to have someone local at the top level of management. That provides additional recognition among partners.
- The government has a great influence on business. Being close to the government gives you a competitive advantage.
- Bureaucracy in Malaysia tends to take a long time. Malaysia is a federation, so some decisions and services are made and provided both at the federal and local levels.
MunHow Kok, Head of Operation
People look for equality, fairness, and work-life balance — especially the younger generation. Those are the things that the company wants to build in Malaysia to draw younger generations of artists. People used to work aggressively, but the mindset has changed — so the company should keep up with it. I think that both the people and the studio share the same values. That's why it seems that Malaysia is the right place for the company to work.
Ground Rules for the Negotiation Process
Gaining trust takes time
- Don’t rush. Relationship building may seem slow and take some time, but this is the Malaysian approach to how things work.
- Malaysians prefer to get to know each other before starting to do business. You first need to build trust with people, and then you can move to the decision-making process.
First meeting: Tête-à-Tête
- A face-to-face meeting with a C-level employee is the best way to meet your partner company for the first time. This way, you will get to know your partners in person and understand if there will be any obstacles in the partnership.
- It’s preferable to organize the first meeting with partners at a restaurant for a cup of tea, lunch, or dinner — or even take a walk through a night market.
Keep up with the communication after signing the contract
- Keep in touch with your partners on a regular basis. Ask them about company news and their satisfaction with your service bi-weekly or monthly.
- Occasionally arrange personal meetings with your partners in a restaurant or bar.
- Termination of a contract should be discussed only at a face-to-face meeting with top management.
Nur Shafieda, Executive Recruiter
It's important to build relationships first with your business partner. It may seem slow and take some time, but this is a Malaysian approach to how things work. You first need to build trust with people. Once trust is established and the business demonstrates promising potential, you can proceed with the decision-making process and formalize an agreement.
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