The sky’s the limit for businesses that retain good people

Using Māori concepts to lift workplace culture.

māori conceptsIt’s no secret that keeping good people is key to getting the job done and done well. With more building – and rebuilding – to be done following natural disasters and not enough people to do the work, attracting and retaining good people is crucial.

We know that recruiting and holding onto new employees is expensive and time-consuming. Moreover, turnover negatively affects the productivity and morale of your employees.

But it’s not doom and gloom. The construction and infrastructure sector has become more inclusive over the years. More Māori and Pasifika are working in these industries, and diversity is growing across the board, which is great news.

But we need to retain these essential skilled people. So, how can we do better?

Applying simple Māori concepts can improve morale, worker involvement, health and safety, and productivity. Studies have shown that championing Māori values in the workplace can create a more inclusive environment in general, and this inclusivity makes for safer, happier, and more productive workplaces.

Here are some ways that you can simply and effectively adopt Māori concepts for the benefit of your business and your people: Tonkin +Taylor – Thinking differently and te ao Maori 2021 (YouTube).

Arahi mai i runga: lead from the top.

Something worth doing must be led from the top. Without leadership buy-in, new ideas lack the guidance and support to succeed. It’s important that senior managers and supervisors are comfortable applying these concepts in the workplace and committed to creating the environment for success.

Start by reviewing/developing your company values.

Kotahitanga, or uniting around a common purpose and shared values, creates strong, resilient teams that can rely on each other to get the job done. Your company values may include Māori values such as:

1. Manaakitanga: Caring for people.

This includes your employees but also extends to your customers and the public. TradeCareers has created a set of guidelines to support employers in fostering respect in construction worksites. Use these resources to help you enact manaakitanga in your workplace.

2. Kaitiakitanga: Guardianship of the environment.

Sustainable building practices and the protection of natural resources are becoming increasingly important in our industries, especially as we look to the next generation. Implement sustainable business operations that minimise environmental impact and promote the preservation of natural resources.

3. Whanaungatanga: Building relationships.

Foster a sense of belonging and inclusion within your business, where everyone feels valued and supported as part of a larger whānau (family) network. Get to know your employees as people beyond just the work that they do. Invite their families to a work BBQ and strengthen those wider relationships – your workplace community extends beyond the payroll.

4. Rangatiratanga: Leadership and self-determination.

Cultivate leadership qualities that empower individuals to take ownership of their roles and contribute to the success of the business. Nurturing strong leaders is essential to the longevity of your business and to the growth of the industry.

This is only a snapshot of the Māori concepts you can incorporate into your company values. There are loads of resources out there to assist in building your values. Try starting here: Lessons to be learnt from Māori business values – SBN (

Next, apply your values to your processes.

1. Recruitment: Manaakitanga / Whanaungatanga.

TIP: What is your approach to recruitment? In addition to the norm, consider forming relationships with local schools, community groups, and iwi. Including existing staff by asking them for recommendations from their own networks emphasises your commitment to Whanaungatanga and enhances the culture of your business.

2. Induction: Manaakitanga / Whanaungatanga / Kaitiakitanga / Rangatiratanga.

TIP: The process of mihi whakatau welcomes new workers into a whanau environment and provides a safe space to start their journey. A mihi whakatau concept can be adapted to complement your current process. The simple act of providing kai or food is known as ‘whakanoa’ and celebrates the inclusion of new hires in the business.

TIP: Be organised in your induction process. Start how you mean to go on – this is your chance to instil your values from day one and reflect the culture of the business. Include all administration, internal processes, health, safety, wellbeing, equipment issues, and training.

3. Mentorship/Pastoral Care: Manaakitanga / Whanaungatanga / Kaitiakitanga / Rangatiratanga.

TIP: Mentors ensure that expectations are maintained and can provide a safe space for new employees to openly talk about their experiences. This can be an informal way to manage any issues that may affect performance during the early stages of employment and allows you to monitor how new hires are fitting in and contributing to the business’s culture. Mentorship is a continuous process and may take longer for some, especially those who are new to employment.

4. Be Authentic/Kia pono: Manaakitanga / Whanaungatanga / Kaitiakitanga / Rangatiratanga.

TIP: Treat everyone with respect and be true to your values. This is led by the leadership team, managers, and supervisors and extends right down to the newest employee. Every level of the business is responsible for living your values and is empowered to hold others accountable. Mā mua ka kite a muri, mā muri ka ora a mua—those who lead give sight to those who follow, those who follow give life to those who lead.

5. Invest in your staff Haumi Matauranga: Manaakitanga / Whanaungatanga / Kaitiakitanga / Rangatiratanga.

TIP: Your staff is your greatest asset. Simple, short training sessions, as well as complex technical upskilling, increase your capability and supplement the business’s mana. If your focus is retention and succession, training should focus on making the workplace a welcoming environment and promoting future leaders.

Other Māori concept models

1. Te Whare Tapa Whā

Designed by Sir Mason Durie as a model for understanding Māori health, the strong foundations and four equal sides of a wharenui illustrate the four dimensions of Māori wellbeing. These are:

Taha tinana (physical health)

Good physical health is required for optimal development.

Taha wairua (spiritual health)

The spiritual essence of a person is their life force.

Taha whanau (family health)

Understanding the importance of whānau as a source of strength and support.

Taha hinengaro (mental health)

Thoughts, feelings, and emotions are integral components of the body and soul.

As with a Wharenui, a person is only as strong as the four walls that support them. This model assesses how the health of one wall (taha) can be unstable and affect the health of the others.

Te Whare Tapa Whā can be used to evaluate the health of individuals, teams, and departments and allow you to look at possible causes and remedies to actions, problems and challenges. The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand offers some useful advice on how to incorporate this model in your workplace – Finding balance: Te Whare Tapa Whā (Workplace) | Mental Health Foundation.

2. Tuakana – Teina

This model refers to the relationship between an older person (Tuakana) and a younger person (Teina) and is a reciprocal form of mentorship that pairs more experienced workers with those new to the team. Tuakana is the support person and advisor to the Teina, and the Teina shares their knowledge with the Tuakana – usually around technology and the latest trends. More than just mentoring, Tuakana-Teina is also an opportunity to develop leaders within your team and upskill your workers while fostering strong, supportive working relationships. Ako Aotearoa has created a  really practical Tuākana Mentor Book to assist employers with implementing mentorship in the trades.

By incorporating Māori values and concepts into your business practices, you’ll build a work environment that embraces whanaungatanga and create a space that focuses on the safety and wellbeing of the ‘whānau’ above the self.

There are great examples of where this has worked and continues to enhance the commitment of staff to believe in the culture of the business: Iwi partnership on Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway (YouTube).

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

Enjoy the journey.