Posted: 27 Jul. 2016 05 min. read

Culturally intelligent innovation

Challenge of embracing a different way of being.

Callaghan Innovation, a New Zealand Crown Agency is taking on the challenge of embracing a different way of being and doing to engage credibly with Māori and thus drive innovation.

Many people talk about the strong connection between diversity and innovation – but how does it really work in practice?

Deloitte recently spoke with Esther Livingston, General Manager for People and Capability at Callaghan Innovation about Callaghan’s unique and impactful approach to connecting with the Māori business world and the mutual benefits.

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand Crown Agency that launched three years ago with the task of helping New Zealand business realise the value of their innovative ideas faster. . Livingston’s role has involved developing a new way of thinking about diversity to meet her organisation’s innovation objectives.  To achieve this Callaghan needed to find a way to engage credibly with Iwi. They did this by appointing someone who had a level of ‘mana’ and was widely respected by local Māori to lead the initiative.

Where did you start?

Our Chair and CEO wanted to introduce a Māori perspective to our business so that we could effectively and credibly engage with the Māori world and business community. The Māori economy is worth approximately $40 billion and is a huge driver in the success of the New Zealand economy. We feel we are in a really good place to support the Māori economy as Māori are looking to tap into the technology-based economy and grow assets beyond their traditional resources of forest, land and sea. The Maori are well positioned to use technology innovation as part of this growth. Additionally, we have strong Māori representation on our Board who were very supportive of this vision.

Our first action was to appoint Hemi Rolleston as General Manager of Māori Economy. Hemi drove the development of our Whakataukī (a proverb, or spoken guidelines) for Callaghan Innovation, which was created and endorsed by Māori. The Whakataukī created for Callaghan is a spoken endorsement of our vision, purpose and organisational design. Callaghan Innovation’s Whakataukī – rukuhia te wāhi ngaro, hei maunga tātai whetū means to dive into the unknown in the pursuit of excellence.

What are other leaders doing to advance diversity and inclusion in Callaghan Innovation?

We saw a business challenge in trying to integrate diversity of thinking into wider organisational processes. Our next focus, therefore, was to gain support for our vision of credible engagement with the Māori world beyond our Executive Leadership Team (ELT). We developed ‘Kia Maia, a two day total immersion-thinking programme that we initially ran with our ELT and Board and then rolled out across the organisation.  We also created an [smartphone] app that was distributed throughout the organisation and supported this immersion thinking.  We also began initiatives throughout the business to support Matariki and Māori language week. Over time these initiatives have become embedded within the organisation.  We also worked with Haka Master, Jack Thatcher to develop our Callaghan Innovation haka that embodied our Whakataukī. We have developed our own kawa, which determines the protocol for various engagements such as new staff commencing, or leaving, recognising successes of staff and board members.

What do you perceive to be the tangible outcomes of your diversity and inclusion focus so far?

We started out with a reasonable amount of resistance to our initiatives, but, over time, visible support has grown within the organisation and our way of doing business and engaging with colleagues is undergoing a practical shift.

In the Māori economy, the approach to doing business is to establish roots, heritage, understanding and relationships first. Talking sales, service provision and finances is always secondary to the development of the relationship. Now, in our ELT meetings, it is standard for one of the leadership team to say a condensed version of their pepeha (introduction that establishes one’s identity, connections to iwi and the area from which they are from) to begin the meeting, to reflect the Māori approach to doing business and to emphasise the focus on roots and relationship building. ELT members are also expected to be able to open and close a meeting in Te Reo.

These cultural changes and practical shifts are evident in other areas too. For example, now we would never provide food at a work event without blessing the food and opening and closing the event in Te Reo.

What challenges have you faced in embedding diversity and inclusion into the business, and how are you working to overcome them?

We have made headway but we are certainly not there yet in terms of completely diverse and inclusive practices across the business. We have dealt with resistance as we faced it and the cultural change we require is beginning to happen.

We have realised that diversity is not always something that comes naturally to people or an organisation, and it’s something we need to practice. A potential area of focus for us is looking at the way Hemi and his team engage with customers – by focussing on the customer connection and relationship first, and the sale or service provision second. At the moment, this approach is used by a minority and hasn’t been widely socialised across the organisation. We think it could be really effective in other areas of the business as an alternative to a traditional engagement method.

This idea could be socialised across the business through an oral approach, which is a method Māori use really effectively to engage with people – it means taking time to really understand people and their diverse backgrounds. For example, Hemi tends to communicate through video – it would be unusual for him to communicate through email or another written form. However, this approach would need to be considered within the context of our wider business; many of our employees are scientists and prefer communication to be in a written form.

What are your key reflections and thoughts for the future following on from the strides you’ve made?

For me, the introduction of diversity and inclusion practices in our ELT has allowed us to use a variety of different experiences and perspectives when it comes to decision making. For example, our Chief Executive is very encouraging of diversity and inclusion in her decision making. While she will make the final decision, the decision process is always very iterative where she wants to hear and consider what you would do. The rest of the ELT are modelling the behaviour of our Chief Executive, and I personally find that I am making better decisions as a result. Sometimes the process isn’t as easy – but the outcomes are certainly better.

A challenge that lies ahead for us is continuing to develop our organisational culture to one of the diversity of thinking. Something that I think could be successful is adopting an organisational mentality that it is okay to not know all the answers. For example, a project team could present on a project at a hui and not have all the details finalised. This is okay; as others in the room might have the answers or can help you reach them. I think this approach would be really valuable for three reasons: firstly, the ‘gap’ in knowledge allows diversity of perspectives to come in; secondly, more people will become more engaged with both the problem and the solution as they co-created the solution or outcome; finally, involvement in solution or outcome development will make people feel less like an outcome is being ‘done to them.’

I have found that since adopting this approach to problem solving, I have become more relaxed about the content of the decision-making, or having control over it, because I trust in the process. If talented and engaged people are able to have their say, then the right outcome will be reached because the right process is in place.

For this approach to be accepted and used through the organisation, some cultural shifts will need to be made. Callaghan Innovation is a science organisation, and scientists are used to knowing or having the answers. Cultural change would be required for people to be okay with not having the answers upfront. Additionally, we have a culture of being able to ‘re-litigate’ decisions and change them later if people don’t agree with them. Cultural change would also be needed here to help people accept that final decisions are in fact final. The co-creation approach should help with this cultural change – as even if people don’t like the final decision, they will at least understand how and why it was reached, and know that they were heard during the decision making process.

Callaghan Innovation are making inroads into cultural and thinking diversity. By embracing New Zealand’s Māori heritage and a more relationship-driven approach to the way they do business they are transforming the organisation and how they innovate. Callaghan Innovation attributes the success of the programme to the support from leadership and their focus on and accentuation of the positive. Or as Esther states;

Kia kaha, kia toa, kai manawanui – be strong, be determined and be brave.

For more information, contact Chris Boggs, Director, Human Capital NZ,  or Esther Livingston.


Meet our author

Cat Pinfold

Cat Pinfold

Client Manager, Risk Advisory

Catherine (Cat) is a Manager in our Risk Transformation Practice. She has 15 years of Human Capital experience across Financial Services and Manufacturing in some of Australia and New Zealand's largest firms.  She has worked across a broad range of Human Capital disciplines and change programmes.