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Making progress means living by your values

man and daughter

What do New Zealanders mean when they talk about making progress?

In a nutshell

  1. Living by your values is one of the indicators that make Kiwis feel like they are making progress.
  2. Many feel that they are making progress, but we are challenged by the fact that not everyone is. With one nervous eye on the economy and our job prospects, they head back to their roots and enjoy the small things and connect with nature.
  3. Companies need to tune into that tone of voice and celebrate the underlying character of fairness and connection.

A recent survey we carried out for ASB investigated how people see their lives in relation to progress and what contributes to that perception. Living by your values is one of the indicators that make people feel like they are making progress, so we have been looking at how this measure of progress ties into the Kiwi Codes.

Earned Success

With many of our family and friends living overseas, it’s likely you’ve received the annual round robin family Christmas newsletter from some of them. It’s not a common habit in New Zealand because while we are happy for people to forge their own path, we are less keen to have our noses rubbed in it… “Johnny got a scholarship and Susan is Head Girl and likely to be picked for the Olympic ice dance junior training squad and Dan has just been promoted to second in line to be the first man to fly a kite to Mars” … you get the picture – oh, and there will be pictures too.

‘Pull your head in’ is likely your response when you receive something like this. Because while we respect people’s progress and achievements, we like to see that it has been earned. This was a key learning from our deep dive into the Kiwi character through the cultural codes that guide how we behave and how we assess the behaviour of others.

Social Equivalence

The ASB/TRA survey showed us that two in ten New Zealanders feel that they are going backwards (i.e. making no progress at all). This was a hot topic in last year’s election. In particular, the focus was on whether our country’s recent economic growth was good for all New Zealanders or just a subset of the population, leaving too many people behind. The social equivalence code relates specifically to this issue and reflects Kiwi’s innate sense of fairness, but is also a source of tension when we think we are falling short.

The country has so far been largely immune to the tumultuous shifts in political and popular movements overseas but if half the population feel they are going backwards or just standing still we might want to consider what role companies need to play to improve people’s lives.

Further evidence is in the New Zealand Values study where we see an upward trend for how well people think the economy and business is doing, and a downward graph for social conditions. If business is doing well but people aren’t then our respect for and warm feelings towards brands is likely to take a downward turn too. The way we talk to people and the way we look at the products and services we offer needs to reflect the national mood.

Outward looking

We are doing okay as a country and the New Zealand Values study shows increasing patriotism and nationalism, but progress is measured by how we are doing personally and employment is a key component. People rated jobs and financial security very highly as a contributor to progress.

However, people also see a connection between our standing in the world and the economy, so while reflecting national pride and status tonally works, the reality is that our growing success on the world stage is good for the economy and that’s good for jobs.

Self-expression and determination

We see individual expression and self-determination reflected in the way that different groups rate different things as progress.

For Gen Z and Y professionals, getting to the next level in their career and studies is key so for half of this group the last time they felt significant progress was when they got a job or promotion. Whereas in rural heartland, health, family and community carried more significance in their sense of progress.

Respecting differences by treating people as whole people in the context of their whole lives is an important learning here and a reason why slicing people up into their interactions with a company’s individual touch points doesn’t work. Companies need to be relevant to engage people and that means being empathetic to the context of their lives and their values.

Connection to nature

Environmental issues don’t contribute to personal progress, but it is in our DNA and, whether we are doing well or badly, connection to nature is a social and economic equaliser. It doesn’t have to be a luxury guided walk – a walk in the park or a day at the beach works for everyone.

The New Zealand Values survey does show that we feel that the environment is getting worse, but it also shows that our willingness to act as individuals is in decline. Which isn’t to say we don’t care – instead we feel that it is largely out of our individual control, and want corporations and governments to act on our behalf.


Humour is our coping mechanism, turning tragedy into comedy is second nature. So even if we are not all forging ahead like the authors of the annual round robin newsletters we have our sense of humour to fall back on.

So whereas the ASB/TRA progress survey shows we are mainly doing okay, we are challenged by the fact that not everyone is. While we see our country gaining in global status, we still have one nervous eye on the economy and our job prospects. So Kiwis head back to their roots and enjoy the small things and connect with nature. Companies need to tune into that tone of voice and celebrate the underlying Kiwi character of fairness and connection. New migrants to New Zealand get it – so should brands.

Colleen Ryan
Partner at TRA
Colleen has a curious and strategic mindset fueled by 40 years of experience in business across Europe, North America and APAC countries. With a fascination and deep understanding of what it is to be human, specifically applying principles from cultural sociology, social psychology, behavioural science, and cultural analysis, she brings breakthrough insights to brand strategy, creative development and customer centricity.

Understand the forces of culture and shape radical ideas

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