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Table of Contents

Assessing Inter-Cultural Communication Challenges in the STANBIC Standard Bank S.A. Core Banking Replacement Program – Part 6



4.1 Introduction

The answers to the questions were recorded and transcribed. The most important data addressing the topics of this research are transcribed below. Table 4.1.1 indicates how the interviews were carried out. Respondents #1 and #2 were interviewed over the telephone. Respondents #3 through #10 were interviewed face-to-face. Table 4.1.2 states the gender, nationality and African work-experience. Respondents #1 through #17 and #9 are male. Respondents #8 and #10 are female.

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Table 4.1.1. How survey conducted

Table 4.1.2. Nationality/Work Experience/Gender of Respondents

Table 4.1.3 describes the work area of the respondents and their position For example, Respondents #7 through #10 represent the Centre team. Table 4.1.3 demonstrates the diverse leaders interviewed who are working within the management of the core banking replacement project.

Table 4.1.3. Position of Respondents

4.2 Answer to surveys

The answers to the surveys are categorized by the questions. If there is a response to the question, the response and the respondent’s numbers are under the appropriate question.

Part 1 (4.2.1-4.2.3)

4.2.1 Do you believe there are cultural communication challenges and barriers, affecting the program between the various parties (Centre-STANBIC; Country-South Africa; Infosys-India)?

There was a consensus among all the respondents that communication challenges exist based sometimes on problems with understanding languages and sometimes with cultural behaviours. That is why the “rules of engagement between the various teams must be very clear” according to Respondent #1 (R#1). Of course “cultures differ and the way communications are distributed differ” between cultures (R#1). R#1 is a South African based in Namibia and Botswana.

Respondent #2 (R#2) described a problem due to “not understanding the South African accent as well as the Nigerian and Indian accent.” R#2 is a South African based in Nigeria and Uganda who has been working in Africa for more than 20 years. “This causes problem with over the telephone “voice calls are always an issue to understand what team members are saying. There is also the problem that the interpretation of words used is not always the same in English.” R#2 suggested a way to address the problem and that is to “Always follow up with an e-mail and with documentation. (These precautions should be taken) preferably before the session (meetings) in order to prepare. The best style would be to follow up in the e-mail and documentation ‘in point form.’ Short point by point explanations would be adequate to greatly relieve the problem.”

Respondent (R#3) stated bluntly that “Yes, challenges are caused due to the language.” R#3 is Ugandan. “The expressions differ per culture which causes misalignment and misunderstanding. As a team we need to be socially bound, we try to please others, but (instead) we are antagonistic. For example, some people pat other people on their back when talking to them.”

Respondent #4 (R#) disagreed and observed that “South Africans and Indians have a good emotional connection.” R#4 is an Indian who works with Infosys. This respondent is based in South Africa because of the core replacement program. “Both teams have the same work ethic and work culture. They work long hours, they are dedicated and they are driven by the dates (deadlines). The Indian team (Infosys) however is not likely to escalate any issues even if beneficial, as they do not want to lose the respect of others. And they do not want to be causing "hurt". In the Centre (SA), resources are more likely to escalate (problems). The Indian team is very polite and sensitive to the views of others. They work well with others, regardless where (at both locations - the Centre and in Africa). The Indians recognize that their position is as employees of Infosys as the vendor, so-they will often take a back seat, and would rather raise issues during one on-one sessions.”

On the other hand, Respondent # 5 (R#5) stated that “from the South African (SA) side there is a big culture difference.” R#5 is British, was based in South Africa but is involved with all the international Infosys programs. “SA resources (employees) are more open and aggressive on what they want” whereas Indians are “more soft, do not like to disappoint (so) they are “not confrontational.” “It’s the same in WIPRO, Indians are compliant by shaking their head and forcing feedback to ensure you (understand) the correct information. Interpretation differences between what we communicate and the way they interpret it is a ‘straight line’ example.”

Respondent #6 is a South African who is based in South Africa but has been working in other African countries for STANBIC having been employed there for more than 26 years. R#6 stated a big problem is “Language” It is an especially difficult problem because it is necessary to communicate with “a lot of conference calls and especially if there is a problem with the lines the “ability to understand what each other is saying is very difficult.” R#6 recommended “more face-to-face should be required for complex and technical areas. It would be the safest way to “assume everybody is in sync with what they are doing. Everyone has to get to a common base and then move forward. The SA way – being overbearing is not good for the working environment. People clam-up and do whatever they want do whatever the case.” There is also a problem of logistics. R#6 said to “Get the right people at the right location. Everyone needs to be focused on the same goal and not approach the project as an opportunity to of build relationships. Building relationships is key and then you can deliver.”

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Respondent #7 (R#7) is South African. “There were cultural barriers at the beginning (fairly large). The management from each country (Namibia and Nigeria) stifled communications. The countries said that their resources (employees) should not be swayed, and stand their ground. We approached it from our side and had to get them to understand that they are not that different. Centre had to convince the two countries that they are one bank now like an extended family example. External pressures caused them to move together and build their relationship. Communication channels had to be put in place (everything now goes via the centre). The people of the Indian culture go out of their way to help. This is sometimes a bad thing. This can waste time and they feel embarrassed that they cannot do something. SA-and Namibia have a very similar culture. There is a common “deep-age perspective.’ They understood the impact of (the problems) when SA-Nigeria never saw each other eye-to-eye. Nigeria, for example, would rather listen to Namibia than SA, although we never dictated.”

Respondent #8 is South African. R#8 “Yes, Understanding is an issue (infrastructure team are well aligned from the Centre, but there exists a challenge to relate to the Country). Lengthy design sessions with Infosys at the start of program, involved Nigeria in this session. This was more of a challenge in Namibia and Uganda, as they were not included in the initial sessions. There is a big challenge around communications via telephone. You need one-on-one sessions, and there will still be necessary assistance with telephone connections. There is a need for a translator at Country-side sometimes. Face-to-face meetings assist in building the relationship and understanding the dialects.”

Respondent #9 (R#9) is a South African Indian. R#9 also disagrees with the general affirmative answer to cultural communications challenges and barriers. “It’s a myth. It does not exist and over-emphasis placed on it. English is the agreed business language.” R#9 states that the problem is not a problem as far as h/she has seen. R#9 has not experienced this at all to date in interactions. The real question is “What are the cultural norms as this can increase the business benefits more than communications?”

Respondent #10 is a South African Indian. R#10 answered “Definitely, SA and India (have some cultural problems). There are specific ways in which India operates. They will not sign-off if someone else needs to sign-off. In SA it is different, in that people are enabled and empowered in their space. This becomes a major expectation challenge. The Indians that have international exposure are better informed. From Country there are also challenges. We are driven and strong, and we do not give them the opportunity to grow. Pushed on them (Pressure them).”

4.2.2 In your view, what is the impact of the cultural communication challenges on the success of the program and how would you evaluate it?

R#1 emphasized the need for all employees “to have an appreciation for other cultures. In order for the bank to be more effective in helping employees from other countries (not South Africa) is to engage the country earlier.” R#1 also said that there needs to be a “road map in place and some elements can be done in advance.”

R#2 suggested that response to discussions should be sent via mail. Otherwise there may be only ‘lip service’ on an action. Verifying work is done is easy when it is physical work, but more difficult when needing information. When they do not understand they will not admit it, due to cultural issues. They hear you but do not necessary understand it. It is absolutely crucial to request confirmation of their understanding. The way you phrase it (a directive or information) is crucial in order to manage their expectation. Unfortunately, there is no clear communication structure. Multiple requests from Centre are often necessary. There is a lack of coordination for requested of information. Central point should not be a postman; the use of central repositories should be the number one choice. (This is an example where a share “point type” of structured solution could be very helpful.)”

R#3 observed that the state of cultural communications “tears communities apart. People try to avoid each other. Ways to address this problem would be to (a) engage each other in social activities with the intent to learn each other’s’ cultures, and share. (b) Allow teams to share time and understand their behaviors. We need to be mixed up. A \good example is Dawn in Uganda (sharing the space).”

R#4 said that “from the Infosys side; learn to escalate earlier. There should not be a concern about escalating and hurting others, especially when agreed and components are affecting their delivery. Rather than pinpointing issues, we should rather have a general feedback with action items. So phrase communication (issues) as general communications and not specific to individuals.”

R#5 suggested “require multiple sessions to break down the barriers. Face time is crucial. Personal relationships are cool “

R#6 “Team dynamics: the team should be sufficiently equipped for the role and have information available. And each party is sensitive about their situation and should get correct recognition in place.”

R#7 “Balance is right now; that center owns the communications. Nigerians do not have empathy. South Africans have empathy and understand why it was requested. They are very driven and to their own detriment and to the detriment of the program of achieving the program goals (common base). It is difficult to measure but best mechanisms should be requested in a survey and feedback received. There need to be group sessions where countries can provide input and sessions chaired by their own MD (road sessions). We get desensitized, due to the size of the bank. Accept there will be some misses. Try to hit the NB ones and miss the less important communications.”

R#8 “Lack of understanding and executing tasks based on their own ideas (no alignment). This is where weekly touch base helps a lot. Have weekly sessions with country and checkpoints help with alignment. Do not necessary need interpreter on both sides. One side is good enough It may be offensive, but crucial to continue. Infrastructure team leads are also placed in country. This helps a lot.”

R#10 “Huge impact, have this not only on Core but also from peripherals and Infosys - this is having a major impact. Executives are learning from the past by placing key resources on site (PAS), we need more of a communications plan on how to deal with Infosys in areas where (two other employees who are vendor resources) do not operate. We need to understand the various cultures of the countries as this will impact how we should engage them. Some more reserved cultures will not speak up in a forum etc.”

4.2.3 Do you believe there are perceptual communication challenges that affect the way Centre (STANBIC S.A.) and the country engage and communicate?

R#1 repeated the need for all employees to show “appreciation for other cultures, and spending time to understand other cultures. (Plus) the center must engage countries early enough to allow them to prepare themselves.”

R#2 Centre goes to a country and thinks they (Country) are incompetent. Locals have more knowledge than external parties do. Very secretive. Locals are idiots, and center is idiots. But in fact they are highly educated and knowledgeable. The perception is that SA comes to “do the job” but not to impart knowledge. Impacts relationships with center South Africa and India, access to systems (read access only?) No honest communications and team process. Indians are more secretive, and always separate from bank (how they feel comfortable, talk to themselves, not seen as not knowledgeable), and high turnover off staff. Due to numbers Nigeria are more individuals, and they are driven. Other Africa countries Botswana, Namibia are more laid back (with attitude that they) can do it ‘tomorrow.”

R#3 The impact is “inferiority complex. You do not feel you have the same information, and people should not feel intimidated or fear to ask questions. Also the opposite - a superiority complex when you believe you are better, so receiving party back and wait for info rather than engaging.”

R#4 there is a problem because employees are “not experienced at all with the program.” R#4 went on to explain this can be expressed as “nationalism” or even “racism.” R#4 stated that “it is perceived that issues are related to Finacle, although Finacle may not even be a part of the problem.” These types of issues in the atmosphere “affect communications and moods within program” according to R#4.

R#5 answered “Definitely. Indians are very dedicated and want to make things happen and they work long hours over weekends. This then becomes precedence. There is a belief that Finacle will do it all (very high expectations), and so some believe that everything will be done for them. Users are then surprised at delivery that they still need to do a lot of work. Communication problems in Uganda and there is a major concern around HIV.”

R#6 “Perceptions are reality. Limited attempt by people to change negative perceptions on an individual level. Look at dynamics and agendas; dog-eat-dog, protect own image. What is needed is to get a team view. Relationships need to be addressed one-on–one. There is too much conflict avoidance. The position is often taken from country that they are subservient. SA takes the role. Uganda will follow processes more whereas others use conflict.”

R#7 Africa thinks we do not understand their market and that they do work very hard. We do appreciate it, but do not say it enough. We do not understand their market: this is a perception in Clint’s Details can be detrimental because they are often not used (future requirements). Experience how different countries handle themselves. That Africa has the people and drive to put US to shame. Like identity setup between the teams - Ask Namibians and Nigerians what they work on. Countries took ownership from a country perspective. Centre sees that it is building for Africa. Countries do invariably not understand that it is for Africa and also specific for them.”

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R#8 “The Infosys team is working with SA. No major issues. Infosys teams are also experienced with working with other countries.”

R#9 “Assumptions are often made not necessarily (accurate) perceptions. Centre was doing this 24x7 for a few years. We are embedded in the program, that terminology has become second nature, but we expect them (external parties) to be in tune. Second issue is we do things differently. And then try to marry the various ways (methods and approach) and this is causing the communications challenges.”

R#10 “We are seen as being in SA and on a high horse, and do not understand the environment, legislation, family time, etc. In Uganda the things we have in SA, but they do not like roads, water, personal challenges make the cultural challenges difficult and need to be better understood.”

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