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By understanding our culture’s inherent weaknesses when trying to grow businesses overseas, New Zealand will have a much better chance of making really good money from them.

“New Zealanders cling to a number of belief; beliefs that have become central to how we view ourselves as Kiwis and that are part of our mental models,” says Tony Smale, director of Forte Management, and author of a Nov. 2009 NZTE sponsored report, ‘Playing to our Strengths: Creating value for Kiwi firms’.

Among our myths is the idea that New Zealand’s lifestyle is way too cool to be worried about our economic performance he says. There’s also the ‘ordinary Kiwi’ belief that we’re all really just the same.

“We fail to recognise just how special our top performers are and what huge impacts they have on business performance,” Smale says. “That they either intuitively think differently or have developed specific mental models that are different to most. If you want a high profile example of a top performer and the impact on an organisation – think Rob Fyfe and Air New Zealand.”

Smale says a recent MED report stated that if a manager’s performance is shifted from the bottom quarter to the top quarter, it is equivalent to increasing labour output by 41% or capital by 77%.

The most damaging myth is the #8 gauge wire, DIY self-reliance belief. While a defining advantage for a pioneering nation, it is a misfit with a modern knowledge-based economy. Such an attitude is good for going stuff on a small scale than to growing businesses and extracting the maximum value for our efforts he says.

A first step to stepping outside our cultural beliefs is for a company to carry out an intellectual assets assessment Smale says.

“Businesses that fully exploit their intellectual assets create greater returns and value for their shareholders,” he says. “Intellectual assets are represented not just in legal patents and trademarks, but also in the business’s personnel, their collective knowledge, know-how and accumulated experience, customer databases and relationships, trade-secrets and many other elements that are often not even recognised, let alone recorded, protected and managed.”

Another way to capture value is to own and manage much more of NZ business’s distribution channels.

“Many of our products and services find their way to the end user via long and complex channels; channels that frequently play Kiwi firms and sectors off one against the other,” Smale says. “Those channels often create and harvest more value than the Kiwi producers. But, perhaps more significantly, they create communication barriers between our firms and the people that actually use the products, compounding our habit of thinking for our customers, and our reluctance to listen and respond to customer feedback.”

From a business point of view, this is not just about cutting out the proverbial middle man.
“It is about bold promises, reassurances, building direct relationships with the people who buy the product – and getting one step closer to the people who consume the product,” he says.

Understanding ourselves better, how we think and engage with our customers, and how they want to think and want to engage, we will be in a much better position to adopt innovation and management practices that help create and harvest maximum value without the need to work even longer and harder Smale says.

Understanding and acting on Kiwi cultural weaknesses allows overseas success

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