Building the Malaysia brand, one step at a time

I’m a brand consultant (that’s brand consultant not advertising agency marketing itself as a brand consultant – you can learn the difference here).

We’ve worked with many elements of the Malaysia Nation Brand and were once appointed to develop the Malaysia Nation Brand. Unfortunately, due to one of those cruel twists of fate and through no fault of our own, the project was cancelled.

However we still track developments in this space and are confident once those who are currently responsible for developing the Brand realise it can’t be built using communications and traditional tools such as PR and advertising, we will be called in again.

At the heart of our approach is the need to carry out brand audits to identify perception gaps, seek data on where the country is going wrong (and right), identify organisational issues that impact the brand delivery, recommendations for improvement and more. These brand audits require both qualitative and quantitative research including talking to relevant stakeholders including citizens.

You can read more about brand audits here.

These brand audits are critical to the success of a Nation Branding exercise. There are other principles involved and for more information on those, please read this post.

In addition to the brand audits and because no private sector organisation is going to develop a Nation brand strategy, the process also requires a heavy investment by the government in something that is strategic even though most governments have a tactical outlook. Finally, a Nation Brand strategy also requires investment in new activities, tools and departments and inculcating new cultures into those departments.

One of those new departments set up by the Malaysian Government is TalentCorp. Talentcorp is tasked with attracting top talent working abroad to return to Malaysia. It was a sensible idea to set up TalentCorp and although it is finding the going tough, it is having some success.

Recently though, I came across a rather scathing letter in the combative online news portal Malaysia today from a Malaysian citizen living abroad who had been invited to an event hosted by TalentCorp in Qatar.

You can read the full letter here.

Although the letter is not very complimentary, I hope that TalentCorp will be happy to receive this feedback and will use it to improve what is, like any organisation, big or small, new or established a work in progress.

But I do find it puzzling that the writer felt the need to write to news portal rather than the company itself. Surely if one’s intentions are honourable, then any such feedback should be sent directly to the organisation? If one has issues with the way something is done, why not write, at least initially anyway, directly to the organisation and not use a popular soapbox to air one’s grievances.

TalentCorp cannot be expected to achieve miracles but it is attempting to reverse the brain drain, which by the way is not unique to Malaysia – 500,000 wealthy Brits have left or are leaving the UK. Last year a survey there said 48% of Brits would leave if they could. The first thing Aussies do when they get the chance is leave the country. Almost 4 million Canadians live abroad.

The writer comments on the Malaysian education system and other related issues. But TalentCorp is not responsible for overhauling the education system or for addressing the “systematic discrimination amongst employers” – That’s a sweeping generalisation by the way. TalentCorp is responsible for encouraging Malaysians to come home.

Another comment in the letter states, “there is bias in the Malaysian oil and gas sector that allows certain foreign nationals to dominate various technical sectors.” I’d like to know more about this point because oil companies answer to shareholders. They need the best people at the best price. 30 years ago the majority of oil industry engineers were British with some Lebanese but mostly British.

Far sighted governments in India and the Philippines may have spotted an opportunity to encourage universities to develop courses to create engineers who now dominate many industries. If Malaysia missed the boat, it’s a shame but that isn’t TalentCorp’s fault.

Nor is it TalentCorp’s fault that many Malaysian graduates ‘are not up to the high standards required by the energy sector’. If it is true, it’s also not TalentCorp’s fault that ‘there is bias in the Malaysian oil and gas sector that allows certain foreign nationals to dominate various technical sectors’.

I also don’t think it is TalentCorp’s responsibility to improve the Malaysian job market. I also don’t think it is the responsibility of the Malaysian government to challenge the private sector. The issue with employers in Malaysia is a complex one that has at its heart the belief that employees are a cost not an investment.

Part of the blame for that lies at the feet of employers but the other part lies at the feet of the employee. And for both of them to change will take time. But that too is not the responsibility of TalentCorp.

I think the writer has been harsh in his criticism which often comes across as a rant against the government rather than TalentCorp. And no matter who one votes for, we have to accept that in a democracy, as many as 49.9% of the population can be unhappy with an election result but they have to live with it.

Besides the Nation Brand is much longer term than the government of the day and any efforts by the government to improve that Nation Brand – and the creation of TalentCorp is one key element to that process – should be applauded and given the support of citizens.

Responsible citizens with honest intentions should voice their grievances to the organisation but not to a controversial and confrontational news portal. And as part of the required corporate cultural changes, the organisation – in this case TalentCorp – must be open to such feedback and see it as that and not criticism.

I think the letter has actionable data that can help improve TalentCorp and I find it positive that this citizen was concerned enough to write a letter. I hope more citizens will provide more feedback in order for these companies to improve and build the Malaysia brand, one step at a time.

In case you are wondering, I don’t work for TalentCorp and don’t have any connection with them. However as an individual I’ve had dealings with them and I must say there is room for improvement. But I’ll take that up with them directly!

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