Never had I thought that I’d be back at Institut Darul Ridzuan (IDR), what more to take the helm as CEO.

 

I had previously been in IDR as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) where I was mainly responsible in overseeing initiatives that increase innovative capacities of individuals, communities and organisations in Perak. Then, in 2012, I went on to become the CEO of Yayasan Inovasi Malaysia, a foundation that advocates innovation under the purview of Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Perhaps my record spoke of value hence, here I am, this time steering the IDR ship as captain.

For some of you who may know YIM, it is an establishment that perpetrates innovation. So, it is within its nature to give off a fast paced, high and dynamic energy. At YIM, it wasn’t difficult to energise the employees to play their roles befitting the organisation’s agenda.

IDR, on the contrary, was working on a dilapidating momentum – much like a travelling train nearing its final destination. I suspect that this may very well be because its vision, missions and role as a think tank and adviser to the Perak State Government were ambiguous and unclear. It’s no wonder that the employees have little clue of what’s next in the organisation. For me, I saw this as a challenge and an opportunity as it is my passion to develop groups of people towards achieving a goal.

 

Creating energy within an organisation

So, how does one ignite the energy of a small and young-ish 30-strong employee organisation? Once I came in I got each and every employee to write a paragraph about him or herself, followed by a one-on-one chat session for me to learn about their background, skills and more importantly, their passion. I did not regret this as I immediately got the much-needed information.

According to Jim Collins, leadership guru and author of Good to Great, it is important that leaders “put the right people on the right bus”. Based on this principle, I began to reorganise the organisation. Those who felt that they were out of place were given a chance to perform and prove their value in a field of their choice. Of course, the employee would have to be equipped with the basic skills and his/her choice had to also benefit the organisation.

Immediately after the revamp, I felt a change of energy. There was a buzz in the office. Capitalising on this burst of energy, I quickly put the team into action – by organising a leadership camp for none other than the state government’s own pool of leaders.

My point is this: I was intent on creating a sense of urgency, immediacy and discipline to serve as the foundation of the organisation. After all, IDR is the think tank that’s responsible to provide policies and recommendations to the state government. It is the brain to the Perak State Government and these attributes are important to drive the organisation.

Suffice to say that within eight months after I came in, IDR has shown tremendous improvement. Within this period, the organisation has successfully organised more than a dozen workshops and seminars and are in partnerships with not-for-profit organisations. IDR has also gained the trusts of the state’s EXCOs. To date, IDR has done at least 4 consultancy works with them. On the human development front, an employee revealed to me personally that he felt energised to come to work. This testimonial was enough to tell me that I’m on the right track. Now that the organisation’s energy is on the right track, I felt that we are ready to enter the second phase of our development: exploring and connecting with the outside world.

 

Making friends and strengthening IDR’s capacity

I believe that organisations should not operate in silos, especially not in today’s modern world where connectivity is the buzzword. So, the next phase involved my team and I meeting with many universities, corporations and individuals, seeking partnerships that would benefit both parties as we utilise on each other’s strengths. IDR as an organisation prides itself for being a high-performance entity that produces fast and effective results. For example, this year alone, already we have produced a framework for the implementation of the state’s development blueprint, Perak Amanjaya. In addition, we have also published several on-going research and publication work.

Seeing this, many organisations jumped on the opportunity to collaborate with IDR. For me, I see this as an opportunity to allow IDR’s employees, who consist mainly of young and budding professionals, the opportunity to build their network and broaden their skill sets and experience. We all know that each organisation has its own issues, challenges and solutions. Thus, it is vital that we tap into the knowledge and experiences of other organisations, for we may also face the same issues some day.

In the works are employment attachment programmes with think tanks from other states, countries, and corporate bodies, as part of IDR’s human capital and capacity development. My hope is that as we grow and build IDR’s worth, the remarkable individuals that make up the organisation will also concomitantly develop their skills and knowledge. This, if I may add, is also in line with the state government’s effort of creating a pool of knowledgeable and skilled individuals for Perak’s advancement.

 

Leaders take risks and embrace diversities

Being a leader is not without its challenges. I see potential in each individual in my organisation to become a leader in his/ her own sphere. To them, I say this: do not be afraid to take risks. And this requires one to be open to feedback and embrace diversity.

Allow me to elaborate on this matter by sharing my experience of initiating our casual but highly inspirational discourse a la chitchat session: Moh ‘Ngeteh.

For Perakians, the phrase “moh ‘ngeteh” is a familiar one as it indicates an invitation to a friend for small talk over a cuppa. For IDR, the talk is bigger – in terms of audience and subject matter, often revolving around leadership stories that inspire action and courage – and the ‘friend’ is most likely a highprofile personality who has made a significant impact in the nation.

It was a new and unfamiliar programme. After all, the idea came from a programme that was (and is still being) held tens of thousands of miles away, in my alma mater in the States: Cornell University. Initially, the key decision makers in IDR had doubts when I presented this idea. While I appreciated their concerns, I was firm and determined on going ahead with it. I had a clear visual of the excitement with such a set up. I envisioned that it would bring the uniqueness of IDR out because it has never been done before, at least not in Perak. Indeed, Moh ‘Ngeteh is currently one of our most celebrated programmes, with high profile personalities lining up to lepak with the everyday Perakian over a cup of teh tarik. But more importantly, it helped to dispel the notion that a think tank has to be serious, dreary and dealing only with heavy-weight issues, of which the label ‘elitist’ is commonplace. Well, not with IDR. Moh ‘Ngeteh’s success is in the ability for IDR to connect between the nation’s inspiring individuals and the Perak’s masses. The ingredients to the success of this programme? Embracing and respecting different opinions, taking risks, having a clear-cut vision, and working hard to realise that vision.

 

Connecting with our audience

Bridging gaps between several factions of communities is one of IDR’s objectives. It is important that IDR, as a think tank, receive input from all classes of society. We take pride in our partnerships with universities that undertake research work to unearth indigenous knowledge from the local people. Likewise, it is equally vital for us to present our findings to the people, so that our stakeholders can better understand the policies and recommendations that we present to the state government.

Consequently, comes the birth of this magazine – Perak Insights. The aim of this magazine is simple: to share ideas on how to create a better Perak. This pilot magazine serves as a platform to receive honest feedback, as you, the readers, gauge the depth and clarity of our content.

To that end, I trust you will be inspired and stimulated with the content of our work and I hope that this magazine will be our foot into the global intellectual world.

 

Dr. Mazalan Kamis is the CEO of Institut Darul Ridzuan. He also writes at his blog: www.mazalankamis.com. He can be reached at mazalan.kamis@idrperak.com.