Social intelligence: Malaysian SMEs ahead of Asean curve

  • 41% of Malaysians SMEs consider themselves ‘socially intelligent’ vs 18% in Asean
  • Much of this driven by country’s large proportion of Gen-Y in the workforce
Social intelligence: Malaysian SMEs ahead of Asean curve

SMALL and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia are more apt to think their companies are ‘Socially-Intelligent Organisations’ than their Asean peers, according to a survey by Kelly Services, the global workforce solutions provider.
The Detroit-headquartered company defines a Socially-Intelligent Organisation or SIO as one that embraces collaboration and harnesses diversity to promote innovation and change. The findings came as part of the latest edition of the company’s Executive Outlook Report, which it conducts annually with BTI Consultants.
“Last year’s report emphasised ‘innovation,’ this year the emphasis was on the Social Intelligence Quotient (SQ),’ ” said Anthony Raja Devadoss, Asia Pacific vice president of the Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group (KellyOCG).
“When it comes to talent management, the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ) are most spoken of, but both refer to one’s self only. The social portion is the only one that refers to one’s self plus those who around you, including the family, the organisation you work for and the community you live in.
“It is now becoming imperative for organisations to look at social intelligence qualities in every individual, to build the overall workforce base to drive their business goals and results,” he said at a press conference at the KellyOCG office in Kuala Lumpur (KL) on April 14.
Kelly Services believes that SQ can drive profitability by allowing organisations to:

  • Get telescopic insights into customers’ social and spending behaviour;
  • Get ahead of the competition through systematic intelligence analytical capability; and
  • Constantly engage with their existing workforce with compelling common vision and goals.

KellyOCG is the Kelly Services practice that focuses on recruitment and business process outsourcing, human resources consulting, career transition, executive search and other such services. According to Devadoss, the Asia Pacific arm of KellyOCG was “incubated” in its KL office before being rolled out across the region.
It is now present in 14 countries and has been enjoying double-digit growth since its inception, although Devadoss declined to name actual figures. Kelly Services itself, as a whole, reported US%5.4 billion in revenue in 2013, servicing 99% of Fortune 100 companies across the world.
Social intelligence: Malaysian SMEs ahead of Asean curveSQ and SIOs
Devadoss (pic) said that Social Intelligence is essentially ‘people skills,’ but with an emphasis on their “knowledge of interaction styles.”
Just as there are different management and leadership styles, there are also different interaction styles. SQ looks at the skill sets and capabilities needed to achieve objectives in dealing with others, as well the network of information-gathering technology within an organisation.
“We’re looking at self- and social-awareness, the social beliefs and attitudes one comes with, and a capacity and appetite to manage any complex social change.
“From an organisational perspective, we’re looking at organisations that have the capacity to negotiate complex relationships,” he said.
These complex relationships are being caused by the fact that the typical workforce today comprises diverse generations – from the Millennials and Baby Boomers, to Generations X and Y.
“How do they use technology and tools, in terms of networking within an organisation?  How much of [such technology use] is allowed and how much is not allowed? What are company policies [around technology use]?
“You’re already seeing companies coming up with blogging and social media guidelines and policies to ensure they protect, and are protected.
“We’re looking at change happening at different levels, especially with respect to the diverse multi-generational workforce, so we want to make sure that organisations are prepared for it,” said Devadoss.
Survey findings
The Kelly Services and BTI Consultants survey polled 326 senior executives and managers across Asia Pacific, the Americas and EMEA (Europe/ Middle East/ Africa). The largest portion – 89% -- came from Asia Pacific.
The survey covered a wide variety of organisations: Multinational firms (62%); SMEs (18%); large local conglomerates (14%); government and government-linked companies or GLCs (4%) ; and non-profit organisation (2%).
Survey respondents were asked a series of questions about how they perceive themselves and their organisations in relation to SQ, which was correlated to a set of parameters formulated by Kelly Services.

Social intelligence: Malaysian SMEs ahead of Asean curve

“In Asean, 18% of SMEs considered themselves SIOs – there is very significant switch in Malaysia, where 41% of the organisations which considered themselves SIOs were SMEs,” said Devadoss.
“There are two probable leading factors for this: One is that the majority of our working population is Generation Y (Gen-Y), who have better interaction skills and are more social-friendly,” he said, adding that 40% to 50% of Malaysia’s working population are gen-Y.
The other factor was that there seems to be a higher level of entrepreneurial spirit and agility within Malaysian SMEs.
Malaysia’s workforce also seems more independent and prefers a consultative form of management, rather than top-down directives, according to the portion of the survey that looked at the factors driving SQ,

Social intelligence: Malaysian SMEs ahead of Asean curve

“There is a clear-cut view that employees today have far more options to access information, through the form of technology such as smartphones, with mobility interactions being primary,” said Devadoss.
“More than 93% of Malaysian organisations – compared with 72% globally and 70% in Asean – believe that this is already available.
“Correlating this back to how you enhance social intelligence is going to be key. I have the technology, I have the tools, I have the ability to interact, but how am I taking this back into my business to drive better positive results,” he said.
Another driving factor is that today’s workforce expects leaders to be consultative and involved in communicating a compelling vision and purpose, in which 80% of Malaysian respondents rated highly, compared with 74% globally and 70% in Asean.
“Leaders are expected to be more involved in communicating compelling vision and purpose, not only once in a while when they address the organisation, but on a regular basis,” said Devadoss.
“This builds engagement, and when you build employee engagement using the interface of a compelling, powerful value-proposition and goals – professional, personal and performance-based goals – it is expected to drive business results,” he added.
The final factor was that today’s workforce does not accept the autocratic management style adopted from historical models. When asked, 78% of Malaysian respondents agreed, compared with 69% globally and 67% in Asean.
“We’re looking at a group that is looking for a more interactive and consultative style of management, not an autocratic or the ‘my way or the highway’ style of communication, which just doesn’t work anymore,” said Devadoss.
This is also reflected in the portion of the survey that looked at challenges in managing the SIO process, where organisational resistance to change was the leading factor both in Malaysia (59%) and Asean as a whole (37%), with Malaysians (12%) also rating ‘non-executive sponsorship’ above their Asean peers (7%).
“This [executive sponsorship] also relates to decisions being driven by the top,” said Devadoss.
Tech, and becoming an SIO
Technology plays a big role in creating an SIO, especially with today’s social media networks and communications and messaging applications, which are second nature to Gen-Y.
“What’s important is that today, I don’t have to depend on the company network. I can bring my own device, and I can interact with my colleagues, outside the network and through any other network,” said Devadoss.
“There is no limitation to connecting to people, so understanding and having guidelines and using that technology that the individual has, versus what the company is already providing you, is going to be important,” he added.
While many organisations already have their channels and mediums for communications and interaction, via their corporate intranets for example, the question then is how much of these internal systems are being utilised by their employees, who are spoilt for choices by what’s available out there.
These include social media networks, plus a plethora of apps available for communications, interaction and even collaboration.
“How you ensure you’re utilising all this to benefit the individual’s and the organisation’s growth is the key,” said Devadoss.
As to how to become an SIO, he said the first step would be to assess the current state within the organisation and understand the generational diversity within the workforce.
“Second, do you have sufficient tools with which your workforce can interact, with the proper guidelines in place?
“The third is look at the engagement points you have. Traditionally, it’s once every year or once a quarter,” he said.
Having employee surveys to assess all this would be great, but such surveys must be followed up with action.
“You have to tie all this back to professional, personal, performance and organisational goals,” said Devadoss. “It is important to connect these dots.”

To download a copy of Kelly Services' Executive Outlook Report 2014, click here.
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