Understanding Business Culture and Etiquette in New Zealand

It’s common knowledge that successful business models rely on careful market research. But some factors to success go beyond developing a market-viable product.

In New Zealand, acknowledging cultural differences in business and social environments shows your company’s willingness to integrate into local lifestyle. Understanding the values your South Pacific partners hold dear builds a solid foundation for enduring work relationships.

Consider these tips and insights on New Zealand business dynamics and cultural characteristics when setting up your business.

Overview: doing business in New Zealand

If you’re researching a potential business expansion to New Zealand, you’ll likely have come across some impressive ‘world’s best’ statistics: number one for doing business, second most transparent country, third freest economy.

The small island nation works hard to maintain a competitive economic edge over others in these and other areas. Its government is welcoming to foreign businesses and investors, and provides myriad support mechanisms to market entrants to prove it. Here, though, we explore key attributes of South Pacific business life to guide foreign businesses through their new commercial environment.

Business dynamics

With a largely egalitarian work environment, job titles and rank aren’t as overt in Kiwi business culture as in others. Anyone throwing around their elevated status in the office will undoubtedly lose respect from their modest New Zealand workmates. Rather, the local population generally operates on meritocratic principles, valuing useful ideas and feedback from any and all participants.

Respect physical space

Greetings are initiated with a handshake, and that’s enough for New Zealanders in terms of physical contact at work. Their British heritage shows in their large ‘personal space’ radius.

New Zealanders are direct both in business and social settings. Use data, facts, and evidence to back up your statements.

New Zealanders are direct both in business and social settings. Use data and factual evidence to back up your statements.

Though a multicultural society, hugs and cheek kisses are largely absent in the workplace. For a job well done, you might occasionally witness a slap on the back.

Talk facts and figures

New Zealanders are direct both in business and social settings. Use data and factual evidence to back up your statements. Don’t get in the way of transparency by beating around the bush, or your Kiwi counterparts will lose interest. After all, the country sits just behind Denmark as the second most transparent in the world. If things aren’t clear or informative enough, a New Zealander will say so.

Honesty is the best policy in local business doctrine. Therefore, try not to interpret their ‘no frills’ frankness as rude or harsh.

Keep that in mind for your New Zealand business negotiations: locals won’t be taken for a ride. Haggling isn’t part of commercial culture in the small South Pacific nation, so be upfront and realistic with your expectations. It’s a sign of respect that potential partners make reasonable asks, especially if they can explain the rationale behind them.

Stiff upper lip

on loan from their British cousins is a tendency to avoid emotional expression, particularly at work. Though friendly, New Zealanders can be somewhat reserved

New Zealanders have a tendency to avoid emotional expression, particularly at work. 

Also on loan from their British cousins is a tendency to avoid emotional expression, particularly at work. Though friendly, New Zealanders can be somewhat reserved (at least initially). Lack of emotional restraint is frowned upon in business, and even in social situations. Stoicism and a ‘toughen up’ attitude can be traced back to English roots and a warrior indigenous culture. One only needs to observe the country’s revered sports team – the All Blacks – in action, to understand the emotional wavelength many Kiwis sit on.

New Zealanders relax into their working relationships once a solid rapport is established. Until then, avoid personal or sensitive conversation topics.

Be punctual

Despite its South-Pacific island classification, ‘Island time’ doesn’t feature in social or work elements of Kiwi culture. Their laid-back nature doesn’t extend to appointment times; arriving at a 9am meeting at exactly 9am means you’re almost late.

Keep it casual (most of the time)

Get used to hearing the occasional “sweet as” and “thanks mate” in the office; Kiwi work culture is relatively informal compared to other countries’ business environments. As mentioned above, you won’t hear New Zealanders address their bosses any differently from their subordinates. Locals usually address each other on a first name basis. In good working relationships, nicknames are even sometimes used.

The de facto dress code is smart casual. However, New Zealanders do have the propensity to dress up for formal occasions or important business dinners. As this is not the norm though, any change in dress code to more formal attire must be clearly communicated.

“Can do”: Where Kiwi ingenuity comes from

When a complicated scenario calls for an innovative response, New Zealanders deliver.

When a complicated scenario calls for an innovative response, New Zealanders deliver.

New Zealanders are undeniably practical-minded. If pitched ideas and creative solutions will cause problems operationally, they’ll be the first to identify it.

The good news is locals have a world-recognized knack for avoiding these situations. You can rely on a Kiwi to get stuck in and be proactive about solving problems. When a complicated scenario calls for an innovative response, New Zealanders deliver.

The proof is in the pudding: NZ Agritech

Take the country’s booming agritech (agricultural technology) industry as a prime example. Increasing demand for sustainable agricultural practice has seen New Zealand develop world-class innovations and research institutions. Robotic inventions can now evaluate irrigation systems and overall crop health, as well as the readiness of fruit for picking. Discoveries of how feed components affect the taste of livestock meat have fostered a niche for luxury lamb cuts. Another specific example is Halter’s ‘cow fitbit’ – a collar to track cows’ health to mitigate threats of disease outbreak.

As an employer, your New Zealand staff are proactive, honest and upfront. Utilize your team’s ‘Kiwi ingenuity’ and resilience to facilitate an engaged and productive office environment.  

Cultural sensitivity goes a long way

Communities and groups from all over the world have found their home in New Zealand. As a result, the multicultural nation places high value on acceptance of alternative world views and perspectives. Be open-minded and tolerant, and you can enjoy the benefits of an educated, diverse workforce.

English is the main language of business, and de facto official language for the country. Pay attention, though, and you’ll hear people use a wide variety of languages in different contexts. The indigenous language, Te Reo Māori, receives special attention from the government. Special language and culture maintenance initiatives keep Te Reo Māori alive and connect New Zealanders with their history. Understanding and using Te Reo Māori is a great way to show locals that you understand and care about their culture and background.

Expanding to New Zealand? Get in touch with us

New Zealand is home to a healthy and diverse economic environment. To take advantage of the country’s optimal business conditions, it’s important to get help expanding into new territory. We can help make sure your commercial expansion runs as smoothly as possible.

Biz Latin Hub offers customized business solutions in a number of market-entry and back-office services. This includes company formation and financial services. Our New Zealand team offers expert support to ensure a smooth process for you and your business.

Contact us at here and we’ll help you design a strategy to capitalize on your commercial opportunities.

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