Although there are large corporate organisations operating in New Zealand, it has a larger proportion of small businesses than in many developed countries. This means that organisational structure tends to be quite flat, with managers and employees collaborating closely to foster a real team-orientated environment. Smaller businesses also tend to mean broader roles for workers, giving the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills and really influence the success of the business.
Business owners and managers in New Zealand try to maintain an open and flexible working environment which rewards initiative, hard-work and productivity. New Zealanders expect their managers to support them and allow them to express their opinions freely. Respect is earned by actions rather than through status, and a can-do attitude goes a long way at all levels of employment.
Compared to many countries, New Zealanders can be quite informal with each other. Most workers are on first-name terms with their colleagues, even if there is a gap in seniority. However, many people are a bit more reserved when they meet strangers or new contacts, so it’s perhaps best to use titles and surnames to begin with, unless introduced by first names.
Despite the initial formalities, New Zealanders are generally friendly and sociable, so once introduced a warm relationship can be developed relatively quickly. As a rule trust is given quite readily, but any abuse of this trust will most likely end the relationship entirely. It is important to treat your colleagues and contacts the same, as highlighting the status of one person above another is frowned upon.
Business letters in New Zealand are styled in a similar way to in the UK or Australia. For emails, start off with a relatively formal exchange, for example beginning your message with ‘Dear’ and ending it with ‘Best wishes’ or ‘Kind regards’. If you continue to exchange emails the tone may become more conversational, but as a general rule you should follow the lead of the other person.
Although New Zealand has a reputation for fairly relaxed business dealings, the dress code is usually relatively formal, with men generally wearing dark-coloured suits with a collar and tie or an open-necked shirt. Women may wear either suits or conservative dresses. However, with the high number of small businesses, you are likely to find a bit of variation in the dress code, so check with your employer or colleagues.
In business both men and women in New Zealand tend to exchange a brief handshake at the start and end of a meeting. The traditional greeting of the Maori people is called the hongi, and involves both people gently pressing their foreheads and noses together at the same time. This generally occurs during the Maori greeting ceremony of pōwhiri. Although you probably won’t need to understand this custom to do business in New Zealand, it may be useful if you decide to visit a Maori marae.
Try to make sure you confirm meetings in advance and arrive early or on time. Missing a meeting or turning up late will be seen as an indication that you are unreliable and may negatively affect your future business prospects.
Meetings are usually fairly relaxed in style and small talk beforehand is the norm. Good topics include the weather and sport, but keep it polite and not too personal. Business cards may be exchanged without ceremony. Despite the informal communications, the actual content of a meeting is taken seriously. It is very important not to rely on sales techniques, exaggerated claims or pure charm – New Zealanders appreciate directness and detail in business dealings. When presenting a proposal, state all the facts, figures and terms clearly for the best results.
New Zealand considers itself to be a fairly egalitarian society, so try to treat everyone with the same degree of respect and you should fit in. If you travel to any Maori sites or meet Maori contacts, try to read up on their customs and understand something of their cultural sensibilities.
Although New Zealand recognises English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language as official languages, almost all business dealings in New Zealand take place in English.