The Case Study of the Swedish-Baltic Financial Institution N
Obtaining the Necessary Data
During fall 2013 I negotiated access to N, now a Swedish-Baltic merger financial institution and a former Swedish bank of farmers, households and small- and medium-sized businesses. In 2005, N made a buy-out offer to the minority
Fig. 1 The semiotic ecosystem of the nexus of practice (Adopted from Hult (2015, 244))
shareholders of an Estonian financial institution that I have chosen to call X in this chapter, which was a strong international brand with home markets in Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania. This Nordic-Baltic international alliance was undertaken by the Swedish banking company in an attempt to meet its customers’ changing needs, and reflected the fact that key customers had expanded or were expanding from their home market to the Baltics and to other Nordic countries. The Swedish financial institution, having only limited previous internationalisation experience, decided to use the Baltic experience gathered by X in order to enter all three Baltic countries via investing in the existing network. Similar to other Nordic financial institutions, such as Nordea and Saxo Bank, (Sanden 2015, 76), N has several business areas. Administration and support functions are partly centralized and partly decentralized between business areas. The centralized/partly decentralized set-up is also how the company’s communication department is organized, consisting of a group communication unit, a communication unit for Baltic banking and four home market-based communication units in Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
N’s communication policy reflects the same centralizing-decentralizing tendency in its dual aim of remaining local, but becoming an international brand:
As a relationship bank focused on building long-term mutually beneficial relationship stakeholders, the Group’s Communication shah be conducted on the ‘receivers’ terms’. This means that communication shall be adapted to the culture and conditions prevailing on the relevant market, where the main target group is customers. /--/ Internal communication in general shall focus on stimulating dialogue, engaging employees to act as brand ambassadors and cross-cultural communicators (The Group’s communication policy).
This internationalization and localization discourse was present in several other official statements and texts, such as the annual report, and had clear implications for what languages were used, valued and studied in different branches of the company. My interview with the Head of N’s Internal Training Academy in Estonia revealed that courses in Russian and Finnish were very popular among N’s Estonian employees, since there was a need for those languages in the Estonian market. The Estonian branch also offered in-trade training in Estonian for the Russian-speaking employees, if needed. Swedish was valued among those planning to work/working at the Swedish headquarters. Swedish was, however, not required in these functions. About internal communication, the Group’s Communication Policy states:
The Group’s language is English. (-) Internal regulations shall be published in such language that the relevant employees are able to understand their duties.
This indicates that the internal communication managers played a central role in language choice-related decisions. Furthermore, my interview with the Estonian Head of Internal Communication revealed that communication managers frequently not only translated internal messages in English into local languages, but also adjusted and adopted the texts so that they fit with the local culture of communication in order to ensure that everybody read and understood the message: “While Latvians prefer more emotional texts, Estonians would rather receive their information in bullet-points”. Intranets in home market languages were also much more essential and busier than the Group’s intranet in English. As the Estonian Head of Group Communication explained: “It is not that much about language competences, but more about a habit to communicate and receive info in one’s own language”. The fact that N is a merger of several financial institutions also affected the way in which respondents experienced the identity and the communication culture of N. Many had already worked in X and the way things were done in X was part of their historical bodies that they carried with them to N, as we will see below.
Mapping the communication flows in the organisation revealed that many language management-related decisions (about language use, status and acquisition) were taken in different country-based branches in relation to the history of N. It quickly became clear that internal communication managers negotiated not only between different levels of the organization but also between different communication cultures: the old ( X and the former N) and the new, and the country-based cultures. Internal communication management thus played a crucial role in facilitat?ing information and communication flows and the choice of language in different communication situations.
Internal Communication shall enable each employee to become engaged and committed to the values and challenges of the group, as a whole, as well as each employees local units’ specific challenges. The group will always strive to ensure that all information reaches employees through the Groups’ Internal Communication. (-) Internal communication in general shall focus on stimulating dialogue, engaging employees to act as brand ambassadors and cross-cultural communicators (Group’s Communication Policy).
Based on Spolsky’s (2009) claim that language management takes place where it is possible to detect “language managers”, I decided to focus on the internal communication managers’ activities. Besides daily contact via e-mail, the heads of group and local internal communication teams “met” on a weekly basis for half an hour through telephone conferences (or telcos), which had taken place on the same day and time since N had become a Group. Based on that information, I chose the weekly telcos as my site of engagement (see Fig. 1), from where I could start to navigate and map the most important cycles of discourse (related to language) activated at the nexus points where historical bodies (see the definition in Sect. 2.2) met in interaction (Scollon and Scollon 2004, 153). The telcos were furthermore part of what Scollon and Scollon (2004, 5) would call management discourse, i.e. the way managers and administrators talk among themselves, carry out their everyday work, and construct and maintain certain identities and power relations, and thus were an ideal place to trace language management.