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Table of Contents

Assessing Inter-Cultural Communication Challenges in the STANBIC Standard Bank S.A. Core Banking Replacement Program – Part 9




5.1 Introduction

Although the survey sample was small the respondents offered a variety of opinions and also solutions for existing problems in communication management and personal communications within the STANBIC Standard Bank S.A. The respondents included representatives from the vendor, Infosys who are facilitating the core replacement transformation.

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In general, the two biggest challenges are issues of communication and tolerance. Training in personal communication techniques should be offered with in-house workshops. The training should include listening skills, giving directions and taking direction. Along with communication training, tolerance training must be done in order to alleviate the problems with cultural intolerance. Tolerance training would also help greatly improve communications. People would be more willing to talk together about the project rather than immediately think of national or racial issues. Cultural issues may be very sensitive; they may also be life and death such as informing employees about HIV.

Finding ways to reward teamwork are essential Weekly sessions must be implemented with all the stakeholders as consistently as possible. All the stakeholders must be in attendance every two or every three weeks in order to work out resource and logistics problems that the team members cannot solve. The weekly meeting will allow the team members to brainstorm in order to come up with problem solutions. The weekly team meetings are also crucial as a way to continually emphasize the shared goal of the team and the shared goal of STANBIC so everyone understands what they are striving towards.

This research has been a very satisfying project. More surveys need to be undertaken in order to allow the employees of STANBIC and the vendor, Infosys to share information which can be used to facilitate the core banking transfer.

5.2 Summary of main findings

The comments Respondent #1 that “rules of engagement between the various teams must be very clear” which was a sentiment repeated by many of the respondents. The majority of the respondents stressed the difficulties in communicating due to misunderstanding the spoken language between employees. Some of the respondents discussed in more detail the problems with understanding the English spoken by the Indians from Infosys due to the Indian accent. Others mentioned that even between Africans but Africans from different countries miscommunications occurred due to misunderstanding the spoken language. Respondent #2 explained in more detail that problems arose with employees who could not understand the “South African accent as well as the Nigerian and Ugandan accent” which is especially a problem with long distance communications over the telephone. There is also the issue of interpretations of words being different and the expressions for certain situations are misunderstood. On the other hand, a few of the respondents said that there were no communication problems because English was used as the common business language. Although in the beginning of any new situation there exited a time of becoming adjusted to new cultures that became easier over time as people got to know each other. Some of the cultures are more comfortable with a close personal space to others, even to overlapping or touching the person they are talking with while on the other hand those practices can be offensive to some cultures.

Not enough ground work before entering a new country with a branch or with ATMs was another complaint. The people in the country who will be entering the STANBIC family need more information to prepare. STANBIC also needs to develop consistent, practical strategies for preparing the STANBIC bank employees and the vendors for working with the new language and culture. Some cultural differences mentioned which created obstacles were (a) the Indian habit of wanting to please, (b) Indian working better at face-to-face communications, (c) the South African habit of openness and aggressiveness. The personalities of the Indian and South African cultures can clash when an Indian employee is always agreement, does not speak up, and therefore the South African employee ends up seeming (or being) pushy and demanding. Not only that the Indians are not full-fledged STANBIC employees they are only there from the Indian vendor Infosys (Finacle) to set up the core replacement transition. Therefore, they can find themselves in situations where “they will often take a back seat, and would rather raise issues during one-to-one sessions” according to Respondent #4.

Solutions suggested for Question number 1 include: (a) follow-up verbal conversations with email and documentation, (b) use a consistent and practical road map to ensure better introduction to new countries, (c) use face-to-face meetings as much as possible especially for technical matters, (d) have a translator available so they can be called upon when needed. A general sentiment was that the South Africans needed to step back and let the other develop at their own pace so they can become independent. Employees must understand that the success of the transfer is in each of their hands; they must not wait for the Indians to do everything for them. Respondent #9 suggested that the bottom line question that must be answered is “What are the cultural norms as this can increase the business benefits more that communications?”

There needs to be an appreciate for other cultures and an atmosphere of reaching a common goal. The goal of the bank needs to be part of each employees thinking rather than competition between other nationalities. Because of cultural differences there is a need to learn how other cultures hear and take directions. For example, Respondent #2 pointed out that some people will simply nod their head in agreement even when they do not understand what they are being told.

Respondent #3 was very concerned about the effect of poor communications which has the capability of “tearing the communities down” which then requires strong intervention to repair. Some problems such as losing focus of the shared goal resulting in nonalignment could be remedied by weekly team meetings.

The respondents reported some very unfortunate problems for example, “Centre goes into a Country with the attitude that the locals are incompetent” (Respondent #3). But the locals of course are highly educated; they are knowledgeable and have value information to add for the success of the bank. Some of the cultures are more prone to using conflict rather than to work cooperatively. Team work needs to be rewarded and communications within teams would be very much improved with weekly face-to-face meetings. Infosys and the Indian team take a lot of blame for problems even when they have nothing to do with the problem. Then frustrations show up as nationalism or racism. Some individuals need personal guidance in order to learn about the system, the bank and how to work with people from other countries.

Each country has unique social and health issues. Some countries have a very low level of development. Therefore, South Africans may have problems adjusting to bad roads and difficulties in finding necessities. Respondent # 6 mentioned a health issue that must be discussed openly and that is the HIV epidemic in Uganda

Perceptions, which may or not be true were reported to be a “massive issue” by both Respondents #1 and #2. The teams do not have a focus on the same goal and problems result in what actions are taken. There is no sense that everyone is working for the good of the bank and also to make Africa better. Gossip starts from the lowest levels of the business hierarchy and people start to think it is true. No facts are available to counter the lies and/or the facts are not reinforced enough. Mutual respect between senior management and the other employees needs to take place. Both inferiority and superiority complexes were mentioned as the cause of misperceptions. Also there is a resistance to change generally in the business world. Each person needs to understand the challenges the others are facing. There also needs to be an understanding that is crucial that everyone speak up; that there is no reason to feel embarrassed about speaking up. Everyone is trying to facilitate the transformation but everyone seems to be pulling in opposite directions.

The respondents were pointing out often the need for consistent and useful information sharing which need to be happening regularly if not daily. The situation with communication problems could be alleviated by sharing the same information with everyone. Asking questions should be rewarded. Now people are afraid or embarrassed to speak up if they do not understand something. The countries rely on the Centre or compete with the Centre instead of working together to eventually stand on their own as their banking facility is developed. Integrated and integration were key words used by the respondents to describe the problem of communication and the necessity of communicating the integrated plan. Teams and employees do not understand that the effort is a joint effort. Developing a framework and making it known was also emphasized. One of the respondents commented on the lack of vision or “visionary work” so that the future challenges would not come as a surprise.

Respondent #9 suggested that the difficulties were not so much communication based as they were the problem of operating the business from so many different sites. The work is at a high speed and there is little time to make sure information has been successfully understood. Also when everything is being done in hurry there is no time to discuss details or to decide together what would work out best. Respondent #9 also noted that there existed “a system of triangulation: risk management, associated speed, and communications” which needed to be attended to. The respondent warned that not having time to deal with the details would not lead to good outcomes down the road.

When asked what were the biggest impacts that were challenging the success of the project two respondents observed that it was communications (information communications). One respondent stressed the problems of cost and schedule impacts. Another respondent also mentioned costs plus “understand the product” very well and communicate that understanding. Finally, one respondent pointed out that time delays equal costs so when there are errors in implementation, more hours of work are required and more cost is incurred. When the respondents were asked about the reasons for the challenges the basic answer was still a problem with faulty communications. The examples they gave included the need for well-defined roles, enough resources, a strict timeframe, resolution of conflicts detailed planning sessions and evaluation of the hardware components. Suggestions for dealing with the communication challenges included

(a) Planning must take into consideration resource constraints. (b) Country resources could run sessions (meetings). (c) Focus on a common goal and make it part of everyone’s consciousness. (d) Build social interactions and enhance verbal communication understanding. (e) Face-to-face communication which does not end until everyone understands the discussion. (f) Teach soft skills of communication to reduce conflict. (g) Invite feedback and then act on it.

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The general feedback from the respondents mirrored any many ways the substance of their answers to the questions. A suggestion for informing Country was to use bullets, use graphics, and send short messages. Follow up after requesting information to make sure it is delivered. Countries are “left out in the cold” and need to be made part of the STANBIC family from the beginning. Using an open mind to interact with people of different cultures is essential. There must be an alignment of the Infosys and the Core banking which needs to include the teams involved plus management. Communication challenges must be addressed all the time and evaluations made as to whether or not there is a balance or instead an overload of information to digest. Make sure roles are delineated, not only individual roles but also team roles. There needs to be found a way for as many face-to-face interactions as possible. No micro-managing let people develop their confidence and take responsibility. Initiate early communications and sharing of information with the countries. One respondent said it beautifully “Eloquence is truth spoken concisely.”

This research used a selected sample in order to choose participants for in-depth interviews. The sample was small (ten participants). Two of the respondents were interviewed over the telephone instead of face-to-face. This was an unfortunate development but necessary due to their work schedule which put them out of the country at the time of the survey.

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