How culture and strategic partnerships help fuel transformation

Multinational insurance and finance corporation AIA New Zealand’s dream is to help make the country one of the healthiest and best protected nations in the world. That’s no small undertaking, and as CTO for the company, it’s Marc Hale’s core responsibility to help achieve that goal by providing a secure and stable platform on which the business can operate and innovate.

“As New Zealand’s largest life insurer and leading health insurer, our purpose is to help New Zealanders live longer, healthier lives,” he says. “With that in mind, we have a science-backed vitality platform that helps New Zealanders understand the current state of their health, remove barriers to better health, and create incentives to stay motivated to improve health through exercise and nutrition. For us, it’s about enabling the technology platforms that support and deliver on that.”

Of course, those platforms can only perform properly when the strength of the people behind them are optimized. So building a cohesive internal culture is integral to IT success, as well as achieving personal and professional goals.

“That is a really important part of the role,” he says. “What supports our organizational strategy from technology is building an engineering culture, being customer-obsessed and outcome-focused, and simplifying and modernizing our technology stack. We really live and breathe it by building a stronger bench around our talent pipeline.”

Part of those efforts is embracing internships, and encouraging people from more diverse backgrounds to get into tech roles by working with IT training and development accelerator Mission Ready, and TupuToa, which develops talent from the Māori and Pasifika community.

“I think there’s an underrepresentation in STEM fields from school,” Hale says. “As leaders, we can be more involved, and champion our organization when it comes to offering people shifting career opportunities. We live in a fast-changing world as we look after IT, and we’re custodians of systems and businesses that will hopefully outlive us. So it’s important to adapt, keep learning, and be able to drive teams forward through motivating them with new technologies and the right problems to solve.”’s O’Sullivan recently spoke with Hale about developing an ever evolving mindset for digital transformation that equally strengthens the business and engagement with customers. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On the approach to transformation: Each role I’ve had over the last 25 years is really a personal transformation. We take on broader roles, more senior roles, or other roles in the organization as we learn about the business, and each of those comes with its own challenges: language barriers, cultural barriers, acronyms, company culture. There’s a real amount of change that comes with every change in country or role. It’s a personal journey of discovery and a way of getting to know yourself better and deeper, too. There are a lot of challenges we face day to day, as leaders, but in each role we take on, we grow, hopefully learn more too, and become a little wiser. It’s always a worry if we treat transformation as a project with an end date. It’s about continued change. For me, it usually starts with an assessment of the current state—where are we, from a technology, people and skills perspective. That’s the foundation. From there, it’s important to engage key stakeholders. In my role, it’s the rest of the executive team and my boss, the CEO, who make sure we develop a shared vision, and are able to collectively prioritize once that vision has been set in motion. Things change, priorities shift. So you have to embrace change and understand that change management is a continual process. Monitoring progress and having a feedback system is critical as well.

On embracing culture: It’s rare that anyone would step into a greenfield environment and have something to build from scratch. Legacy systems are always there. How legacy they are will somewhat depend on the business and the role that someone stepped into. But legacy systems and processes—often very intertwined—are key things to look out for, and not underestimate in terms of the complexity they can bring. Budget constraints, of course, are ever present and need to be worked through very closely. One of my key relationships is with the CFO. We need to work closely to understand what the implications are of taking or not taking certain decisions in our modernization journey. I think culture is a big piece of this too. As technology leaders, we need to understand where the resistance to change is, and try to face into that early. It’s not an easy conversation. People are generally wedded to the way we’ve done things—I find myself in this group as well. It’s natural to want to be more efficient and more effective at what you do, so changing that dramatically is uncomfortable. And trying to understand whether it’s discomfort because of the fear of change, or through lack of skills is an important differentiator. Either of those can be tackled, but if you get them wrong and try and tackle it with the wrong solution, it can become harder.

On combating change fatigue: We have a high cadence for change. I think there’s no fear of that. But it needs to be balanced with a sense of progress and being able to set milestones for deliveries. Often things will need to run as projects, and other things will live as longstanding products as we adopt more agile ways of working. There’s a real balance to it and no real end date to transformation; it’s a continual improvement journey. Sometimes that needs to be accelerated, and acceleration can fit more naturally with transformation because it feels like a bigger change in a shorter timeframe. But overall, organizations should be comfortable being in constant transformation, and people should feel continuously challenged disrupting themselves. For me, ever present are the changes, challenges, and making sure we have stability and availability of our systems. That plays into change management and being able to address how continuous change is in an organization.

On collaboration with the leadership team: There are a number of stakeholders that the role has and we meet often. I have one-to-ones with each of the other execs and it’s where we can really get into the detail of what’s working, what isn’t, and where some of those priorities might be shifting. Ultimately, it’s about time and being accessible as an extension of the leadership team when they’re having key discussions. It’s also about making sure IT can be pulled into conversations at the right time, and not feel like an isolated part of the business. Being able to show adaptability is key. Setting forward a vision and being too stuck with a direction can often feel like IT is inflexible and not agile. So being able to demonstrate building platforms, and a capability that enables the business to go faster really builds trust. The more conversations I have with my boss and with my peers is always time well spent.

Change Management, CTO, Digital Transformation, IT Leadership