Assessing Inter-Cultural Communication Challenges in the STANBIC Standard Bank S.A. Core Banking Replacement Program – Part 4

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2.3 Communication and intercultural communication

The continent of Africa is a huge geographical area embracing incredible diversity in languages and cultures. STANBIC has approximately 52 000 employees so the diversity is large in the organization. Internal communications have challenges to overcome from language misunderstandings to business etiquette differences to social habits and behaviours. Intercultural communication adds a complex layer to the already complex trial of understanding each other. In the banking and financial services industry the need to communicate with people from different cultures is not a choice; it is part of being a professional. Organizations count on their employees to be able to show tolerance and understanding for other cultures. If there is a failure of communication between the cultures of the employees or of the clients, the organisation could also fail (Meyer, 2006: 294) Tolerance is another way of describing having sensitivity to people from different cultures. DeVito (2011) notes that for the most part the global society is moving closer to tolerance and only extremist is involved with hate groups acting out with racism, homophobia, and other intolerant behaviours. DeVito (2011:19) explains that people are trying to ‘say or do the right thing’ when they are with people from other cultures, this will ultimately lead to all cultures coexisting. The countries on the African continent are interrelated and interdependent through trade, knowledge-sharing, migration, the Internet and the environment. The countries and people of Africa are interdependent in terms of economy too; in other words, good communication between the diverse cultures of Africa is essential.

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2.3.1 Communication and Different Cultures

Bennett (1998) reminds us that the historical ways of dealing with people from different cultures are no longer acceptable; in the past, we would avoid people that were different, try to convert them to our beliefs, or kill them. People with the same culture have a similarity-based communication called ‘monocultural communication.’ These are a group of people, for example who have “common language, behaviour patterns and values from the base upon which members of the community exchange meaning with one another” in their daily lives (Bennett, 1998:2). This group of people shares assumptions about messages to expect and responses to expect, “in monoculture communication, difference represents the potential for misunderstanding and friction... so social difference of all kinds is discouraged” (Bennett, 1998:2).

Intercultural communication — communication between people of different cultures — cannot allow the easy assumption of similarity. By definition, cultures are different in their languages, behavior patterns, and values. So an attempt to use one’s self as a predictor of shared assumptions and responses to messages is unlikely to work. Because cultures embody such variety in patterns of perception and behavior, approaches to communication in cross-cultural situations guard against inappropriate assumptions of similarity and encourage the consideration of difference. In other words, the intercultural communication approach is difference-based. (Bennett, 1998:1)

So many of us have learned the Golden Rule: to treat other people the way we would like to be treated but what Bennett is explaining is that in intercultural settings that kind of strategy will not work. (Bennett, 1998:209)

Steinberg (2006) points out in her textbook, An Introduction to Communication Studies how the word ‘communication’ is used over and over again in daily life but instead of the meaning becoming clearer it has come to mean many different things. She defines communication with three different perspectives. A simple technical definition for communication is the “sending and receiving of messages or the transmission of messages from one person to another” (Steinberg 2006:12). The technical definition describes whether the reception is good or if the signal is strong enough that the message is easy to hear read without a problem. The process definition includes the transmission phase but is more complex because it also includes interpreting and understanding the message. Process communication is an active ‘process’ that may take only a few seconds. Steinberg (2006:12) explains the complexity.

Communication is a central aspect of all human existence – communication is a human phenomenon. Through communication, all personal and social relationships create and establish communication... (It) is a way of being human... (It) is a complex and dynamic process of exchanging meaningful messages. (Steinberg 2006:12-13)

Samovar (et al., 2006:12) explains that process communication is not rigid like technical communication; process communication begins and continues without coming to a fixed end. Like in other processes, this type of communication has a changing nature that develops over time. Communication is something that develops our self-concept; all types of communication, including non-verbal affects our beliefs and even our attitudes (Steinberg, 2006: 40)

Transactional communication develops out of the process of communication. This is the communication necessary to make progress in work relationships as well as personal relationships. In the transactional process both people who are communicating are responsible for the outcome of the shared messages. They are sharing or transmitting information, creating meaning, and receiving some response. A quality of relationship develops which, can be good or poor. Steinberg (2006:13) suggests a very succinct definition is “a transactional process of exchanging messages and negotiating meaning to establish and maintain relationships.” This type of communication is important to nurture between team members and the stakeholders in any work project. In a project as big as the STANBIC core banking replacement project is critical. If healthy, positive transactional communications do not develop, the project may very well fail and the bank will lose money. Transactional communication is very difficult to establish and maintain. In intercultural situations, the complexity of establishing healthy communications in the work place adds more difficulties. Steinberg points out that the transactional type is the best because there needs to be a mutual give and take that can develop a mutual agreement before the end of the conversation. (Steinberg, 2006:40)

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There are different pieces that make a culture unique. The pieces can organize in a way to make communication easy and people will get along well. On the other hand, there is the possibility the pieces will be misplaced and bad communication, meaning conflict, can happen. Communicated pieces of a culture making up intercultural communication are symbols, norms, values, language, history, religion, and social organization. Metaphors, similes and comparisons communicate symbolic information in language but symbols are not always verbal. In airports and on highways many of the signs have symbols drawn on them so everyone, even people who cannot read, will understand. The peace symbol made with two fingers forming a ‘V’ means something else too. It means ‘Victory’ for people who survived World War II. Norms are the rule in groups that are mostly informal rules about dress, behavior, and perhaps respect towards elders. Children growing up around a set of norms adapt through role modelling. Sometimes the norms are not even noticed until someone ‘breaks’ the rules or starts trying to change them. People in the group face covert or overt punishment for not following the norms. (Chaney & Martin 2004: 10) There are values all human beings share across cultures such as the importance of truth, justice, and equality. (Froemling et al., 2011:238) Different societal groups have values that they follow and feel are appropriate for their culture. (Kendall, 2001:77) Intercultural communication with language requires not only speaking well but also listening well.

Each culture experiences history differently; they have distinct experiences. Cultures learn different messages from history shared and reinforced in their societal group. (Samovar et al., 2010:25) In contemporary times, religion is in the mass media often to identify cultures. Religion in different cultures is similar in terms of having prayers, rituals and worship. Religion affects groups’ behavior in complex ways. The basic foundational purpose of religion is to give people a guide for living life well. (Samovar et al., 2010:25) Social organizations are structures of culture that reflect a hierarchy in the society’s design like nomadic, tribal, nuclear family or extended family. Other ways societies are organized are by government types and educational institutions.

2.3.2 Communication Management

Chaney and Martin (2011:4) have written that the types of people international companies need a workforce who can think in terms of working at a global entity. The Internet knows no borders so people are communication in a virtual space is very different from the nation-states system. Transmission communication has become fast, efficient and easy but that does not mean that everyone understands each other well. Translation software helps people transcribe foreign languages into a language they can understand. Still there are nuances like hand gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice that a software application cannot translate. Face-to-face is necessary for building working relationships in an organization especially during large transformations.

2.3.3 Internal Strategies

A Project Manager (PM) needs to be able facilitate communication within the project team, with the sponsor as well as the other stakeholders. When communications are consistent, the chances of a successful project are far more likely. Flynn and Mangione (2008) have shown with their research that “individuals with differing expertise and backgrounds can be both beneficial and challenging” (p.1). Projects need to include experts from a variety of backgrounds such as computer scientists, data technicians, coders, accountants, financial computer modelers, marketing departments and banking experts to Namibia only a few. Although these team members have different areas of expertise, they need to be able to collaborate and cooperate. The IT and ICT expert C. Poole has experience using extreme programming to manage projects. He also helps projects that have faced difficult problems trying to develop the desired product. Poole (2002) has suggested that the more experienced team members work with the less experienced in order to help projects run more smoothly. IT experts traditionally come from departments that do not use collaboration. Employees who are computer scientists, programmers, and IT engineers are more comfortable working alone without any input from others. This tradition needs a persuasive leader in order to help change the ‘loner’ behavior. Demonstrating how a behavior change will benefit their portion of the project and benefit the whole project is often useful. (Poole, 2002; O’Rourke, 2003; al Neimat, 2005)

Dennis A. Simmons is a Material People Systems Program Manager who uses the “Materials Communication strategy” (Simmons, 2012, edweb.sdsu.edu). The purpose of the Materials Communication strategy is to send messages or a piece of information (a) quickly, (b) accurately, (c) effectively, and (d) efficiently. The strategy stresses the effects of communication as opposed to using communication tools.

Create effects, maintain effects, increase effects, and decrease effects. These objectives are directly linked to enhancing performance that meets the strategic goals of the organization and the line of business they support. Communication that create ‘effects’ focus is on that which did not exist before - new awareness, a fresh attitude, and a new behavior by the target audience. This strategy leads to communications about a change and they create excitement and motivation. (Simmons, 2012, edweb.sdsu.edu)

Simmons (2012) explains the seven steps, quick start plan used at Intel. (a) Step 1, clearly defining the objectives of communications in the organization is essential. So is clearly defining why the objectives of the project are so important. Accurately share the reasons that the communications are necessary. (b) Step 2, evaluate the audience and identify the target audience. The action necessary to accomplish this step is to (i) review information about the perspective audience, (ii) choose the appropriate audience and then (iii) focus on accumulating information on the audience chosen. (c) Step 3, the “key measures” must be listed the communication is designed to help the target audience understand exactly what action needs to be taken. (d) Step 4, can be complicated or at least complex in large companies. Simmons states that Step 4 is to make sure there is a clear understanding of the channels of communication available. It is also essential to understand when the timing of the communication will have the most effect. This requires study and listing the channels of communication; then “plot out your timeline for each” channel (Simmons, 2012, edweb.sdsu.edu). (e) Step 5, requires taking the budget into consideration. The three cost variables to keep in mind are the (i) channels of communication, (ii) the time duration the channels are in use, and (iii) if the appropriate resources are available. (f) Step 6, is to gain feedback. A small test audience will judge whether the message you have developed is accomplishing its purpose. (g) Step 6, Simmons calls “establish indicators” (Simmons, 2012, edweb.sdsu.edu). He means identify appropriate measurements in order to measure the success or failure of the communication. These seven steps are the foundation of the Communication Management Group at Intel. The Intel Communication Management Group puts their Materials Communication strategy to work in several ways. By (a) publishing a newsletter every two weeks, (b) offering a chat room for interaction between business units with other directors or experts, (c) making available web links for all the employees on their desktop website plus through the email, (d) producing videos on topics like safety requirements, new systems, new tools, and many other hot topics. (Simmons, 2012, edweb.sdsu.edu)

Establishing good communications are important for successfully making changes in behavior with the purpose to improve performance. Slovitch and Keeps (1999) have explained that interventions with the highest impact should enhance employee’s performance, which will lead to the likely results of increased performance and a lasting change. Kotter’s (1995) eight steps to transforming an organization are is a good strategy for management and teams. He evaluated small and large companies to understand why changes made in a company often fail. He concluded that the best process for a successful transformation has eight steps. He also emphasized doing all the steps and doing them in order. Kotter’s “Eight Steps to Transforming your Organization” include the following in the order he puts them. A general lesson from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result. A second very general lesson is that crucial mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains. (Kotter 1995: 59-60)

Kotter’s (1995:61) steps for transformational success include the following phases. (a) Step 1, the members of the team must recognize and understand the sense of urgency for change in order to beat the organization’s competition. (b) Step 2, the group must act cooperatively as a team and be empowered to make change. (c) Step 3, the vision must be shared and a strategy to reach the vision must be designed. (d) Then in Step 4, communicate the vision. (e) Step 5, overcome obstacles and empower all team members to solve challenges. (f) Step 6 offer the team some tasks that offer short term wins. This provides positive reinforcement. (g) During Step 7, the changes made are set in place but the flexibility for more change (growth) will still be necessary. (h) Step 8 is the continual process of reinforcing new behaviors by linking them to corporate success. There must be a commitment to leadership development.

Sharing knowledge is important in the modern business world. Knowledge is information in the form of data or a verbally communicated message needed to solve project problems or problems in the institution. Knowledge is the data accumulated, organized and shared with the stakeholders that need it. Alhawari (et al., 2012) considers knowledge management an essential step of risk management. Callahan (n.d.:17) proposes, “a knowledge initiative can have two broad objectives by providing immediate business value and developing a capability that enhances the knowledge environment.”

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2.4 Summary

Developing countries must be willing to offer training courses in order to meet all the demand of a successful bank “Beyond performance, banks must be interested in training bankers that are highly professional and diplomatic and most of all credible for a more and more sophisticated clientele” (Harangus 2006 p. 698). Also Harangus (2006) emphasizes the importance of the human factor in a banks success going so far as to state that “The main ingredient for making profit in a bank is human resources” (p. 698). At the same level of importance, she includes “moral or ethical values” (p. 699). In order to measure whether or not a communication resulted in a successful performance outcome the preferred outcome needs definition. A few of the performance outcomes commonly desired include (a) a change in behavior, (b) a particular action, (c) a better awareness of a situation or a goal, or (d) acceptance of the message in the communication. (Simmons, 2012, edweb.sdsu.edu) It is importance that successful companies have placed a high value on making sure all the employees understand the values of a company has been mentioned throughout the. The values and the value system of a company are not something that employees must accept under threats. On the contrary, a common value system throughout the company means that each employee understands very well the goals and the objectives of the company. (Bacal, 2004; Simmons, 2012; Stolovitch & Keeps, 1999). Many words used to indicate the vision of a company includes the goals, objectives, aims and the overall purpose of the company. Many adjectives describe different communication strategies managers’ use. That is why it is so important to define what people mean when they say “well-defined strategies.” Using the same definition for ‘well-defined’ is the only way to make sure people are communicating the same idea. Simmons (2012) defines well-defined strategy “aligns with the organization’s business goals” and employees use (edweb.sdsu.edu).

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