How Māori culture can uplift HR and business

Published 2 February 2023 | 7 min read

Tikanga Māori & HRM

Human Resources New Zealand (HRNZ) has uncovered its three-day workshop on Transforming HRM within Aotearoa, led by Karli Te Aotonga. The aim of this is to develop HR practices that reflect Aotearoa's uniqueness and to ensure Māori are succeeding in New Zealand workplaces. Please read below for the article that has been taken from the HRNZ magazine:

A Māori way of thinking and doing business can be significant when it comes to making a difference, not just to our people but also to our organisations. Kathy Catton spoke with Karli Te Aotonga and Bentham Ohia to learn more.

Karli is passionate about the wellbeing and development of all people in the workforce, particularly the wellbeing and development of tāngata whenua (indigenous people) who are represented throughout many diverse workplaces in Aotearoa. Karli, who is currently working in an organisational development and strategy role for St John, holds a Bachelor of Management in HRM and a Masters degree in Māori and Indigenous Leadership. She has also recently started a PhD in Māori Studies through Aotahi – School of Māori and Indigenous Studies, University of Canterbury. Her research will focus on Māori cultural responsiveness for HR practitioners, an extension to her Masters degree that focused on the wellbeing of the Māori health workforce through HRM.

“We all bring unique characteristics and qualities to the workplace,” says Karli. “To honour the articles and principles of Te Tiriti [the Treaty] and our bicultural nation, and uplift Māori culture, language and identity, the opportunity here is a tikanga Māori-led approach to HR and how we empower, support and foster wellbeing for all people in the workplace.”

"I would want my grandparents and my parents to be proud of me in the way I treat people, not only as a former CEO or manager, but in all aspects of my life."

Bentham Ohia, past Chief Executive of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, agrees with Karli. “As a nation, our competitive advantage is our Māori values. What’s unique about Aotearoa can become a competitive advantage for all businesses, across all industries.”

Karli’s Masters research examined how a Western-led HR approach has impacted on the wellbeing of the Māori health workforce. She found that current HR practice can marginalise Māori and seriously affect their physical, emotional, social and cultural wellbeing. This reinforced for her that we must change the narrative, addressing this through a tikanga-led approach to move away from ‘traditional and contemporary’ Western-led HRM. Since then, she has been approached by HRNZ to lead the development a bicultural HR movement, seeking to collectively transform workplaces and the lives of people.

“I enlisted the support, leadership and cultural wisdom of my cousin Bentham and Koro Timi to work with me on this very important kaupapa,” says Karli. This led to the creation of the HRNZ Transforming HRM Aotearoa programme, a threeday intensive wānanga for people leaders, focused on addressing systemic bias and rearchitecting bicultural HR solutions for organisations and their people. For a course review, see page 40.

"Both parties have equal mana and both people assume the other one is awesome. With this mindset, you can bring a fullness to the workplace."

“We’re not yet 100 per cent sure of the definition of bicultural HRM given the diverse range of industries and organisations represented in Aotearoa, also acknowledging that many organisations are at varying stages of their journey” says Karli. “However, I am optimistic as I am a small part of a community of dedicated and committed practitioners, whose primary focus is to support the transformation and sustainability of the lives and realities of people in their workplaces through Māori culture, language and values.”

What Karli and Bentham have identified is that the tikanga values base of manaakitanga (generosity, care and giving), whanaungatanga (belonging, kinship) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the environment) among others, can be the source of significant growth for people within any organisation.

“These aren’t values that just go on the wall of the office, these are values that are a life enactment to help people reach their potentiality,” says Bentham.

Karli and Bentham provide practical examples of what HR professionals need to be aware of at every stage of the employee lifecycle when working with the Māori workforce.

These practical examples are grounded in te ao Māori (a Māori world view) and grounded in the values of manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga, whanaungatanga, mahi tahi, hūmārie and tuakana teina.

Talent, attraction and recruitment

Karli suggests checking the content of your advertisements. If you are using te reo Māori, make sure it is used correctly. Karli recommends engaging with Māori HR consultants or a local marae or other Māori organisations for guidance. If asking for help internally, consider asking those with strong cultural competency and make sure the person wants to be involved in that way. They may prefer to refer you somewhere else. “Think about where you advertise. Could you share job adverts with your local marae and Māori agencies? To avoid Māori selecting themselves out, are you actively seeking recommendations? Do you ask if there are any special requirements throughout the recruitment process?” asks Karli.

Onboarding or induction

It’s critical to recognise the unique Aotearoa culture, the awareness of the lifeforce of the organisation and how HR can practice family-centric values, embrace the wholeness of the person, and speak to their wider environment and relationships. “A pōwhiri may be appropriate on day one, so that children and whānau are welcome in the workplace,” says Karli. “This forges the relationship between employer and employee. And always ask for support if you need it.”

Establishing employee working groups will ensure what you do is positive and appropriate for the people within the organisation. Bentham advises moving away from the box-ticking exercises. “Whether it’s a wāhine group or an emerging leaders group, these rōpū will be very helpful to support people coming into the organisation.”

Bentham describes the induction process as being like the master and the apprentice approach. “It’s like leading and shadowing. Both parties have equal mana and both people assume the other one is awesome. With this mindset, you can bring a fullness to the workplace. It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it that counts for so much,” he says.

Performance development

In the words of Mason Durie, “Diverse realities require diverse solutions”. Those in the Māori workforce may not be comfortable speaking of their own successes when it comes to a performance review. “Instead of asking ‘what’s gone well?’, change the language and ask instead ‘what project have you enjoyed working on, what else can you do, what else would you like to contribute?’,” says Karli.

Bentham adds, “Building relationships is really important here. Then people can understand about responsibilities and look at how we can problem-solve collectively. Even when companies have to go through redundancies, there is still a choice to be made about how the redundancies are to take place, to ensure that people are supported, and their mana is upheld.”

Learning and development

Sharing, growing and developing in areas together is a great way to engage everyone. Encourage employees to think diversely. And don’t assume that every Māori employee wants the same thing. Learning and development for Māori could also include wānanga, marae and community-based development activity.

Remuneration or reward

Consider the cultural capability of people in your remuneration and reward strategies, including job sizing and position descriptions.

What does this look like going forward for you?

The twenty-two participants who attended the inaugural HRNZ Transforming HRM Aotearoa are already on their way to creating lasting change within their organisations. A rōpū Māori has also been set up as an HRNZ nationwide branch specialism, so iwi Māori HR leaders wanting to make a change can join this ‘movement’.

Bentham says, “Most organisations are looking at Māori values and tikanga, but it’s important that this is transformational and not transactional. It’s in this way we can start to realise the fullness of what’s around us and work together to reach our potential. These values, when integrated successfully, can have a significant role to play in businesses of the future and can also provide a point of difference in the global marketplace.”

Karli’s overriding message is that these suggestions apply to all people, not just the Māori workforce. As HR professionals, we have a duty of care to develop our own competencies in this area. “Consider signing up to a tikanga Māori course or broaden and deepen your HR practice by becoming informed about our country’s history and our bicultural reality,” she says.

Based on the Alaskan proverb “To be a good ancestor”, Bentham encourages readers to conduct their lives in a way that their ancestors would be proud of. “I would want my grandparents and my parents to be proud of me in the way I treat people, not only as a former CEO or manager, but in all aspects of my life,” he says.

Please see the article here.

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