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Table of Contents

Assessing Inter-Cultural Communication Challenges in the STANBIC Standard Bank S.A. Core Banking Replacement Program - Part 2



1.1 Introduction

This research proposes to explore the impact of communication and intra-cultural communication within the business environment of the STANBIC Bank South Africa. Standard Bank is attractive for this type of research because of the employee diversity. An added feature, which makes the bank interesting for research, is that STANBIC Bank has grown to a global bank after starting in a developed country one hundred forty-nine years ago so it was established before the advent of the Internet and Information and Communication Technologies. The employees at the organization must have computer experience and be willing to continue their education as information technology changes. The bank offers in-house training and employees are expected to take advantage of all training opportunities. (Standard, 2012)

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A crucial priority within the banking industry is to develop well-defined communication strategies. All stakeholders orient to the appropriate business goals and focus on the same objectives with good communication strategies. The modern explosion of internet use and information technology (it) has added challenges to managing business and projects within institutions. The difference between the 1900s and the 2000s in how information and knowledge are handled can be difficult to understand and even more difficult to manage without researching and planning specific project designs. Stanbic started growing its market geographical area in the early 1990s. It now has 17 sub-Saharan operations plus it has operations in carefully selected new emerging markets. In the new millennium, the ability to unify information and processes has caused a paradigm shift in information management, fuelling an explosion in the business market place. Data that formerly were collected and managed within the confines of a management information systems department now reside in web-based management systems, where end-users and non-technical managers can directly access, create, modify, and implement them. (Augustinian et al., 2005)

Hershauer (2007:9) has stressed the importance of communication information technologies (it) starting in the 1990s “information systems (is) that support executive decisions for complex and varied operation within a global economy.” Simmons, an instructional designer, has discussed the performance impact of the communication strategies used at the successful fortune 500 company, intel.

A close tie between business, performance technology, and communication strategies will focus understanding and support for the direction of the organisation. While various combinations of performance interventions have been developed to help build a high performing organisation, they cannot be effective without a communications program. (Simmons, 2012: edweb, sdsu, edu)

In other words, no matter how many strategies implemented for improved performance, the key to success rests with the ability for employees, upper management and all stakeholders, to communicate well. They must each understand what the other person means and they must have opportunities at regular intervals to discuss any confusion they may have occurred or any changes in the direction that upper management wants to pursue. The globalization of the business world includes perhaps more than any other industry, the banking industry. A great challenge for STANBIC is the fact that the bank has branches in continental sub-Saharan Africa. Maintenance of good communication is essential, especially with the representation of so many languages and cultures within the bank and externally in the country where a bank branch is located. Standard Bank Group has a 149-year history in South Africa. Not only has it expanded with branch banks in other countries; it has also expanded access to ATMs throughout continental Africa.

Inter-cultural communication presents many difficult challenges. In general, the ability to understand the languages and dialects between the employees poses the most obvious challenge. Sigband and Bell (1994:78) emphasize the importance of international and intercultural communication skills in order to facilitate understanding between different cultures. Samovar (et al., 1998:3-4) also stresses the change in the nature of communications due to ICT that results in different cultures interacting in a world with no more borders or boundaries separating them. Scott (et al., 2002:78) noted the complexities of what people are communicating during intercultural communications (a) their history, (b) their experiences, (c) their unique perceptions, (d) their culture and (e) their language. Cultural differences include behaviours, habits and types of food; a culture has a natural shared meaning based on their culture’s history. Successful or failed communication strategies are the factors determining project outcomes. Communication can make a difference in how successful a bank is at playing in the regional sandpit against larger or established national competitors. Another piece of the communications challenge, which is just as important, is successful communications with the clients of banking institutions. When companies grow from national to regional players, they face with new challenges introduced by operating in new environments. Each environment of operation introduces additional languages, cultures, and communication challenges, not only between countries but also between regional offices. Challenges arise when miscommunication are made due to different languages and to different cultural behaviours. For example, different cultures differ in how they show respect to their managers, how they problem solve and how they deal with risk. A simple difference such as personal distance may cause resentments and misunderstandings. Some cultures are comfortable communicating while resting a hand on the other person’s arm while others do not like to be touched at all.

Employees are the human factor or the resource of an organization; employees are the most important resource in service industries because they connect with the customer. Resources moved between offices provide individual growth opportunities and the opportunity to leverage knowledge gained in one area in order to lower implementation risks in other areas. The strategic importance of communication cannot be overvalued. An organisation’s ability to overcome the challenges that exist can seem unsolvable yet many strategies in the literature to overcome both project communication and intercultural communications have good ideas. Both successful and failed strategies published in the literature. The literature on communication challenges is diverse. Some companies such as intel, a fortune 500 company, have embraced information technology wholeheartedly in order to communicate throughout the company’s hierarchy. The company’s strategy includes offering a biweekly employee newsletter delivered through the email system, developing in-house videos to meet training needs, and offering an on-line chat room to assist inter department communications (Simmons, 2012). Other companies have encouraged daily network employee communications by improving their in-house networking capabilities. Paramaswaran and whinston (2007:136) agree that this is a good strategy for building loyalty and a sense of community within a business entity; it can have a positive effect on a business because the community is “a business eco-system of customers and partner firms.”

According to Kock (2008), communication is more complex in a distributed (offshore) context due to dispersed team members, language, time zone, and cultural differences. STANBIC is implementing Facile, a core banking replacement. The program will be in use across seventeen African countries, South Africa and various disparate locations in India (where the facile vendor, Infosys®, is located). Differences in cultures influence “the effectiveness of knowledge transfers” (Javidan et al., 2005) taking place between the various key groups. According to Hong (et al., 2008) the communications capabilities between team members are an important factor that influence project performance (PP). Javidan (et al., 2008) describe “performance orientation” as one of the main nine GLOBE Cultural Dimensions which is considered the “degree to which a culture’s people (should) encourage and reward people for performance” (p.62). GLOBE is the acronym for Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Effectiveness a research study that evaluated over sixty world cultures. The researchers in the project numbered 160 and included social scientists including business management researchers. Along with performance orientation, the seven other cultural dimensions evaluated by GLOBE were (a) “power distance, (b) in-group collectivism, (c) institutional collectivism, (d) uncertainty avoidance, (e) future orientation, (f) gender egalitarianism assertiveness and (f) human orientation” (Javidan et al., 2005:62).

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1.2 Problem statement: research questions

This research explores intercultural communication in the work environment in a segment of the employee and vendor population working on the core bank replacement at STANBIC Standard Bank. The research consists of a survey of a selected sample of in-depth interviews with STANBIC and Infosystem employees. The research evaluates internal and external intercultural communications. The purpose is to identify problems of miscommunication due to language and cultural differences using a survey. The research is important because intercultural communications are part of the business environment, which influence the success, or failure of projects and organizations. For the purposes of this research, the human resource sector at the bank are divided into three teams. Each team (Centre, Country, and Infosys), has a unique knowledge and experience, and if shared effectively, can improve the core banking replacement program success and reduce implementation time, which, in turn reduces cost. The three intercultural teams surveyed in this qualitative research study; they are (a) STANBIC Standard Bank S.A. Centre (located in South Africa- denoted as Centre). (b) Countries with bank branches (Nigeria, Namibia, Uganda, Botswana, Swaziland or denoted as Country), and (c) Infosys®, the vendor setting up Facile (denoted as Infosys).

Below is the list of research questions:

  • What are the cultural communication challenges and barriers, affecting the program between the various parties (Centre, Country, and Infosys)?
  • What is the impact of the cultural communication challenges on the success of the bank and the bank’s programs?
  • Are there perceptual communication challenges that affect the way Centre (SA) and Country engage and communicate?
  • What is the impact of perceptual communication on the program success? Are measurements of perceptual communications possible?
  • What are the reasons for the perceptual challenges? Could it be differences in the frame of reference?
  • Does the experience and knowledge of the various teams (Centre, Country and Infosys) affect the way Centre (SA) and Country engage and communicate? What specifically causes poor communications? Is it a lack of understanding different languages? What other miscommunications occur? What are the cultural perceptions between employees of shared communications?
  • Do limitations not yet consider affect management and other key parties at the Country, Centre, and Infosys? What are the limitations that negatively affect satisfactory program communications?
  • What is the impact of the limitations and challenges on the success of the Core Banking Replacement program?
  • What are the reasons for the limitations and challenges of communications between the Country, Centre, and Infosys?
  • How can the bank and the vendor address these communication challenges?

1.3 Research objectives

The primary research objective was to determine the challenges that exist in implementing large-scale programs across Africa as it relates to the core teams’ interactions, in other words their bi-directional communications. The three teams and their communications reflect at least three different cultures (a) south Africa (where the centre is located), (b) African countries including Botswana, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, and Uganda (where Stanbic branches and atms are located) and (c) India (the vendor of the core banking replacement, Infosys®). The research evaluates the quality of their communication. The impact of their intercultural communications on the success (or failure) of the program is evaluated. It may be possible that traditional communication management strategies work for enhancing intercultural understanding. Perhaps a strategy needs only a little tweaking to encourage inter-cultural communication within the banks environment. On the other hand, specific techniques may be necessary to deal with inter-cultural communications. This research evaluated the evidence to try to reach a conclusion by using two methodologies. One was a literature review and the other a selective survey of employees at Stanbic. The research offered a possibility to evaluate whether or not Stanbic was able to develop its it capabilities and management strategies in order to enhance communications as well by correct areas of miscommunication. The purpose of communication is to share ideas and feedback so one could generally state this research’s objective as learning whether useful communication was taking place in the work environment of Stanbic. The research proposes to pinpoint problems in intercultural communication that may hurt the successful integration of facile the core banking replacement, into the Stanbic African family of banks. Facile is an important and essential way to enhance the it/ict at the bank and make the bank more attractive to customers and to engage all the stakeholders by allowing for easier access of information. Therefore, any problems between cultures working at the bank, especially miscommunications could unquestionably have negative impacts on the mission of Stanbic to embrace the new core banking replacement software. By engaging several team players from the three teams the state of communications at Stanbic, whether good or bad will become clear. The knowledge will be helpful in deciding whether the bank human resources management should start serious interventions or if the different cultures are communicating well. The value of the research is to learn more about African intercultural communications as well as to understand the quality of the intercultural communications in the African sector of Stanbic.

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Summary of Chapters

Chapter 1 explains the basic purpose of the research and introduces the organization where the research will take place. It presents an introduction to the current literature on the subject of intercultural communication and includes the solution one organization designed to enhance communications using all the ICT available to them. The chapter also introduces the research process and the reasons the research is important.

Chapter 2 is the literature review.

Chapter 3 explains in more detail the research methodology and the reasons for choosing the descriptive qualitative design of the research when it uses a literature review and survey. The questionnaire for the interviews is there. Descriptions of the participants selected for the interviews are there listed in tables.

Chapter 4 has the results.

Chapter 5 explains the limitations of this research project and makes recommendations based on the conclusions.

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