Part 5: Clearer leadership and governance

New Zealand Defence Force: Resetting efforts to reduce harmful behaviour.

In this Part, we discuss the role of leadership and governance in Operation Respect. We cover the need for:

Culture arises from what leaders pay attention to, prioritise, model, and measure. How leaders react to events is also important.44 Leaders shape organisational behaviours by what they communicate explicitly (what they say) and implicitly (what they do). The explicit and implicit communication is sometimes called the "tone from the top".45

Leaders throughout the chain of command need to role model respectful and inclusive behaviour. To do this, leaders need to understand what is expected of them, be held to account for the behaviours they display, and demonstrate the behaviours they expect and encourage in others.46

Culture change programmes require changes in deeply held beliefs and norms of behaviour. They require leaders who can communicate effectively about why change is needed and how it can be achieved.

Leaders can do this only if they are properly supported with the right knowledge and develop the right skills.47 They need support to discuss sexual harm, sensitively manage complaints, and instil a positive workplace climate.48 A shared organisational understanding of why change is needed, and what it is being done to achieve it, supports effective programme leadership.

We expected to see:

  • senior leaders prioritising Operation Respect;
  • leaders having a clear and shared understanding of their role in driving the programme;
  • effective ways to hold leaders to account; and
  • robust governance arrangements to ensure that senior leaders are providing adequate direction and oversight of the work.

Summary of findings

Leaders have been working in challenging circumstances due to NZDF's involvement in the Government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This put significant pressure on the organisation and its resources.

Despite this, we saw a high level of commitment and motivation from leaders to achieve success with Operation Respect. However, the role(s) of leaders in Operation Respect and the mechanisms for holding leaders accountable for progress were not clear, and effective governance structures were not in place. Without these, the programme has lacked sufficient direction and influence. NZDF has taken steps to address this through the establishment of a new Operation Respect Programme Board.

At present, leaders lack clear performance expectations for delivering Operation Respect's objectives and outcomes. This means that there is a variable level of priority given and action taken. Where leaders are making progress, this is mostly due to their personal level of motivation, interest, and ability to lead on Operation Respect. This is positive but not enough. In our view, NZDF needs to embed accountability for Operation Respect in all leaders' performance agreements.

For leaders' commitment to Operation Respect to be translated into action, senior leaders need to play a more active role. NZDF needs to focus on building the capability of leaders, develop more robust ways to hold people accountable for progress, and improve the governance arrangements.

Roles and responsibilities of leaders in Operation Respect need to be clarified

Senior leaders need to take an active and visible role in setting direction

We saw high levels of commitment to Operation Respect from senior leaders. Service chiefs made a clear effort to champion Operation Respect by speaking publicly about it and being clear that harmful behaviour was not acceptable. However, we did not see what role they had in the work beyond this. We expected, for example, to see Operation Respect regularly discussed by their respective leadership boards. We did not see evidence of regular discussions.

Senior leaders had different views on how culture change should be pursued and their roles in it. Each camp and base was mandated to develop its own priorities, in line with the Chief of Defence Force's directive. However, in our view, more guidance, direction, and accountability was needed to ensure the quality of, and priority given to, Operation Respect work.

In our view, service chiefs and the Commander Joint Forces need be more actively involved in setting the direction for Operation Respect. This includes participating in work to clearly define what Operation Respect is intended to achieve and why it matters for NZDF's success. They also need to promote a shared understanding of the problem, determine what behaviours are needed to create safe and respectful environments, and identify what will need to change to achieve this. This is likely to require examining organisational practices to assess whether they are still relevant. This does not mean that Operation Respect will become "top down". Instead, it will create shared objectives that all parts of the organisation can work towards and demonstrate that leaders are open to making changes.

It is critically important that service chiefs and the Commander Joint Forces appear as a unified leadership team. In our interviews, we were told that NZDF personnel expected to see more from their leaders in support of this programme. We were told about some examples where senior leaders had visited camps and bases and held forums where they spoke about Operation Respect. When this did occur, it created a sense of approachability. We were told it made an impact. There needs to be more of this and senior leaders should be supported to do it.

The capabilities leaders need to support Operation Respect must be defined

Leaders at all levels have a role to play in Operation Respect, and their roles and responsibilities need to be understood. In our view, more work is required to set out the capabilities needed for leaders to support Operation Respect, the training needed to ensure that they develop these capabilities, and better ways to hold leaders accountable.

In Part 4, we outlined the important role of commanding officers in leading Operation Respect-related work in the camp, base, or unit. Senior non-commissioned officers also play a key role in preventing, responding to, and supporting people affected by harmful behaviour.49 All leaders, including junior leaders, need to recognise and respond appropriately to harmful behaviour when it occurs or when it is reported to them.

We heard examples of many leaders who were focused on role modelling and acting quickly when harmful behaviour occurred. This is positive. Evidence suggests that this helps to create a culture that prevents harmful behaviour occurring.50 For example, we were told that Waiouru Military Camp had a strong focus on role modelling and setting clear expectations. Those in command we spoke to talked consistently about setting clear expectations and role modelling behaviour.

However, the extent to which leaders felt that they had enough knowledge of sexual harm and bullying, and the skills to manage it, varied. Some leaders saw Operation Respect as a priority and felt that they had the right knowledge and skills to lead this type of work. Other leaders did not treat it as a priority. Some we spoke to were unsure about how to create a safe and inclusive environment or what prevention activities were appropriate.

The extent to which leaders prioritised Operation Respect depended on individual motivation, confidence, and skills. There are several risks with this:

  • Lack of consistency between leaders sends mixed messages to personnel about the prioritisation of Operation Respect across NZDF. This could undermine organisational efforts.
  • Without the right guidance and support, well-intentioned leaders might deal with harmful behaviours in ways that are counterintuitive or potentially cause further harm.
  • Where positive changes are occurring, progress is not sustained when these leaders move to new positions.

In our view, NZDF needs to define the capabilities that leaders need to effectively support Operation Respect work. Capabilities include competencies, knowledge, resources, and tools. Part 7 discusses resourcing and access to the right expertise.

More effective methods are needed to hold leaders accountable

Having effective ways to hold leaders accountable for progress on Operation Respect is crucial for changes to be embedded. Developing better methods to ensure leadership accountability should be prioritised as part of leadership development and talent and career management and included in the strategy and plan. The career management system is a key means to hold leaders accountable.

Two types of accountabilities are important:

  • Leaders must be accountable for delivering aspects of the Operation Respect programme and for delivering results – for example, camp and base commanders need to be held accountable for progressing their Operation Respect action plans, and service chiefs need to be held accountable for the implementation of Operation Respect plans in their service.
  • Leaders must be accountable for exhibiting the behaviours that will support Operation Respect – for example, role modelling appropriate behaviours, responding appropriately when harmful behaviour occurs, and initiating the activities needed to create safe and respectful climates in a unit.

In our view, more effective methods are needed to hold leaders accountable in both areas. Most leaders we spoke to, including senior leaders, could not provide specific details about how they were held accountable for progress on Operation Respect. There were no accountability mechanisms built into the camp and base plans – it was not clear whether plans would be reviewed or whether there was any expectation of ongoing reporting of progress.

In general, leaders on camps and bases said they would be held accountable if there were serious incidents that had not been properly dealt with. However, we did not see evidence that the way leaders were responding to harmful behaviour or supporting those affected was properly evaluated. We also did not see any evidence that leaders were held consistently accountable for the environment in their unit.

Many people we talked to felt strongly that some leaders who harm others are not held accountable and continue to be promoted. As well as setting the right work environment and responding well to complaints, people felt that performance appraisal systems should record harmful behaviour when it has occurred to assess people's suitability for promotions.

Senior leaders' communication about Operation Respect is important

How senior leaders communicate about Operation Respect is important. Leaders need to be able to talk about sexual harm in nuanced ways. This involves identifying and responding to backlash and resistance (see paragraph 4.128). They will need the right support to do this – we discuss this further in Part 7.

Leaders need to be prepared to share what they have learned during their careers about the importance of behaving in respectful and inclusive ways. Senior leaders have often been in the organisation a long time and will have seen how norms of behaviour have changed. We heard from experts and those in NZDF that leaders being open and honest about their own experience is important to build trust. This can also help show that NZDF is willing, where appropriate, to support people to learn from their mistakes.

There is a risk that some leaders who have been with the organisation a long time will have engaged in harmful behaviour in the past. During our audit, we heard frustration expressed about people in leadership positions who have engaged in harmful behaviour that has not been properly addressed. NZDF will need to carefully consider how it will respond to these sorts of concerns because they will undermine perceptions of the organisation‘s commitment to Operation Respect.

Governance of Operation Respect needs strengthening

Suitable governance arrangements are required to ensure that senior leaders can provide direction and maintain appropriate oversight of Operation Respect. Effective governance arrangements are also important to create collective responsibility for the work happening throughout NZDF.

Changes to governance arrangements were made immediately after the 2020 review. However, in our view, these changes did not succeed in providing the direction needed for Operation Respect.

NZDF is taking steps in the right direction. In our view, service chiefs and the Commander Joint Forces all need to play an active role in governance. We also think there should be regular interaction between internal governance arrangements and the external Operation Respect Steering Group.

Oversight of progress in Operation Respect was insufficient

After the 2020 review, Operation Respect was moved from the Human Resources Directorate to the Health and Safety Directorate in the NZDF. The Executive Health and Safety Board governed Operation Respect.51 The programme team continued to report to the Executive Committee.52

Following the 2020 review, we expected to see discussions in these groups about what was needed for a successful Operation Respect reset and how to strengthen governance oversight and accountability for delivery. We reviewed the minutes of these meetings from the time the 2020 review was released in July 2020 to June 2021. We did not see evidence of these types of discussions.

The various workplans, such as the Plan on a Page and the plan for addressing the 2020 review's recommendations, were presented at these groups. Timelines for activities being completed, such as the creation of a refreshed strategy, were provided. However, many of these activities were not completed or not completed on time. The lack of an organisational strategy and joined-up approach, for example, was identified not long after the 2020 review. It took more than a year for this work to start. We did not see evidence that this delay was discussed at the governance meetings and that senior leaders were holding the programme accountable for delivery.

Several people we spoke to agreed that the governance arrangements were not effective and they were frustrated with the lack of meaningful progress. NZDF has now created the Operation Respect Programme Board.53 The purpose of the Board is to ensure cohesion across NZDF's Operation Respect initiatives, oversee and manage the work programme of Operation Respect, and ensure that the Programme Board's decisions are carried out in each individual member's area of accountability and influence.

The creation of the Programme Board is positive. However, in our view it operates more as a steering group or management board (which is also required). We think there is still a need to strengthen governance arrangements.

Currently the Executive Health and Safety Committee still provides the main governance of Operation Respect. There are some advantages to this. It recognises the relationship between Operation Respect and health and safety. Senior leaders, such as the Chief of Defence Force and service chiefs, are members of the Executive Health and Safety Committee. However, it will be important to ensure that the Executive Health and Safety Committee sets aside sufficient time on the agenda to ensure robust governance of the programme. The Committee also needs to ensure that Operation Respect is integrated with other work occurring outside of the Executive Health and Safety Committee.

The Executive Health and Safety Committee will need to take a strong role in directing the development of the strategy and ensuring that the right discussions are had across NZDF – including among leaders. In our view, the Chief of Defence Force, service chiefs, and the Commander Joint Forces should also consider setting aside additional time to work out how they are going to lead and what to expect of others.

The role of the External Steering Group should be enhanced

The External Steering Group is an advisory group that was established in April 2017. The purpose of the Group is to provide external perspectives and advice to assist NZDF in monitoring and delivering Operation Respect. The group consists of eight members, including the Chief of Air Force (the chairperson). Seven of the members are externally appointed and all bring a range of relevant expertise.

The External Steering Group provides reports to the Chief of Defence Force via the Executive Committee about their view of the delivery of Operation Respect. The External Steering Group also advises on any factors that might affect or require alteration of Operation Respect's activities. The Chief of Defence Force is not formally accountable to the External Steering Group and is not bound by its advice.

In our view, the External Steering Group has the potential to play an important role in Operation Respect. Members bring considerable expertise, but the Group is not being fully utilised to influence the programme.

After the 2020 review, the External Steering Group met with the NZDF Advisory Board to share what it felt needed to happen to increase the effectiveness of the programme.54 This was a positive development. However, it would be beneficial, in our view, for there to be more regular engagement between the External Steering Group and those leading the work (through the Programme Board) and those governing the programme (through the Executive Committee and/or the Executive Health and Safety Committee).

Recommendation 8
We recommend that the New Zealand Defence Force strengthen the governance arrangements for Operation Respect, including the way the Operation Respect External Steering Group is used.

44: Meredith, L, Sims, C, Batorsky, B, Okunogbe, A, Bannon, B, and Myatt, C (2017), Identifying Promising Approaches to U.S. Army Institutional Change: A Review of the Literature on Organizational Culture and Climate, RAND Corporation.

45: Office of the Auditor-General (2022), Putting integrity at the core of how public organisations operate, at

46: Castro, CA, Kintzle, S, Schuyler, AC, Lucas, CL, and Warner, CH (2015), "Sexual assault in the military", Current psychiatry reports 17(7), 54; United States Department of Defense (2021), Hard Truths and the Duty to Change: Recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military; House of Commons Defence Committee, 2021.

47: Celermajer, D (2018), The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach, Cambridge University Press.

48: Castro, CA, Kintzle, S, Schuyler, AC, Lucas, CL, and Warner, CH (2015), "Sexual assault in the military", Current psychiatry reports 17(7), 54; United States Department of Defense (2021), Hard Truths and the Duty to Change: Recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military.

49: When people join the NZDF, they join as either a commissioned officer (often just referred to as officer) or a non-commissioned officer (often referred to as an NCO) with a specific trade. Officers hold positions of authority and command roles. NCOs are not commissioned but earn their position of authority by rising through the ranks. NCOs take on leadership positions within their units, but they are of lower rank than commissioned officers.

50: United States Department of Defense (2021), Hard Truths and the Duty to Change: Recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military; House of Commons Defence Committee, 2021.

51: The Executive Health and Safety Committee is primarily a mechanism to provide assurance that health, safety, and well-being matters are well managed, including but not limited to the due diligence obligations as set out in section 44(4) of the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015). The members of the Executive Health and Safety Committee are Chief of Defence Force, Vice Chief of Defence Force, Chief of Navy, Chief of Army, Chief of Air Force, Commander of Joint Forces New Zealand, Chief Financial Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Joint Defence Services, Chief of Staff Headquarters New Zealand Defence Force, and Chief Defence Strategy and Governance.

52: The Executive Committee is responsible for the oversight of NZDF's performance, meeting organisational and operational requirements, and delivery of long-term NZDF strategy. The members of the Executive Committee are Chief of Defence Force, Vice Chief of Defence Force, Chief of Navy, Chief of Army, Chief of Air Force, Commander of Joint Forces New Zealand, Chief Financial Officer, Director of Defence Legal Services, Chief People Officer, Chief Joint Defence Services, Chief of Staff Headquarters New Zealand Defence Force, Chief Defence Strategy and Governance, and Warrant Officer of Defence Force.

53: The members of the Programme Board are Chief People Officer (Chairperson), Director of Safety (Deputy Chairperson), Assistant Chief of Army (Delivery), Assistant Chief of Air Force (Training and Support), Assistant Chief of Navy (Personnel and Training), Joint Forces Representative – Chief of Staff, Defence Human Resources Representative – Assistant Chief Defence Human Resources, Deputy Director Defence Legal Services (Personnel), Chief Financial Officer Representative – Financial Controller, Joint Defence Services Representative – Relationship Executive, and National SAPRA.

54: The role of the New Zealand Defence Force Advisory Board is to support the Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force in their role as Chief Executive of NZDF.