Taking action versus getting it right

One sunny April day an enthusiastic Head Office Manager gave instructions to his regional and local staff that he expected them to be taking positive action to work with Māori and Māori ways of working.  This was the early 1990s when Māori responsiveness was developing momentum in the Department of Justice. 

In response one local manager decided to have some Pou carved and placed at the entrance to the departmental premises.

He researched the carving and identified the history of the land on which the Pou were to be placed. On the advice he received he contacted local Māori who blessed the project. The manager informed Head Office that he had taken a proactive initiative that had significance to wider responsiveness developments at the local level.

Manager surprised by response
The following week the manager received an impromptu visit from two kaumātua. He was pleased to see them and was keen to talk about the Pou. So were they.

The kaumātua introduced themselves as mana whenua of the area and said he should take the carvings down because:
  • the organisation had not sought mana whenua approval
  • the imagery was not appropriate and in fact was making a contradictory statement about the mana whenua history of that land.

Manager distressed
The manager was hugely distressed. He thought he had taken all the right actions and sought the right advice.

The work going on in the Department of Justice at he time was based on a very straightforward methodology which can be summarised as follows:
  1. You can only know what you need to know when you know why it is important to learn in the first place
  2. You can only develop and apply skills to handle the situations you face when you know the difference between actions that are appropriate and those that are not
  3. You can change your behaviour any way you wish but for sustainable change, learnt skills need to be  practised.
  4. Individual behaviour change can be counteracted by systems and processes that are informed by contradictory values
  5. Organisation-wide change needs a comprehensive organisation-wide framework and approach
Said one senior manager of the Department of Justice, “This is all very well but it is too slow. We need to change our systems and processes urgently as they are holding us back.” The reply he received at the time still applies.

“You can start the change process at any point on the above 1-5 scale.  Just make sure that if you start at step 4, that you and your people know what steps 1 – 3 are all about and that you can operate effectively at those points”.

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