Political Wisdom

August 24, 2014

RakeThere is an old saying “Too soon old – too late smart.” During my long career in a large organization, I somehow managed to do some pretty bonehead things politically.

I will never be someone who is politically brilliant because I am far too outspoken. But I have learned some things and want to pass on an idea to others.

In some training sessions, we learn about how people have their own unique learning style. Some of us learn only by doing, some by hearing , some by visualizing, etc. I remember one class where we all had to reveal our most useful learning style.

When it got to my turn, I said, “My style of learning is the rake.” Everyone in the class looked a little puzzled, so I explained. If I step on a rake and the handle comes up and thwapps me in the face, I have learned something that I will never forget.

That is a pretty accurate description of how I learned my horse sense on political mistakes to avoid. It is not to say I have found all the potential rakes out there. I still get konked from time to time, but hopefully each new learning is from a rake I have not seen before.

I will share my own list below only as an example. It is more helpful if you make up your own list based on your personality and situation or the mistakes you have already made.

Start with just one or two key things and build your list over time. It is a simple matter of keeping a computer file and remembering to add to it every time a rake handle hits you in the face.

Whipple’s 14 Rules for Political Survival (soon to be 15)

1. Know who butters your bread – and act that way
2. Act consistent with your values and spiritual rightness
3. Make 20 positive remarks for every negative one
4. Don’t grandstand – practice humility – no cheap shots
5. Understand the intentions and motivation of others
6. Follow up on everything – be alert & reliable
7. Do the dirty work cheerfully – not too good for it
8. Agree to disagree – walk away with respect
9. Don’t beat dead horses – repetition is a rat hole
10. Be aggressive, but not a pest – it’s a fine line
11. Constantly read people’s intentions & desires
12. Administrative people have real power – cultivate it
13. Keep an active social life with work associates
14. Always, Always be considerate and gracious

I often wonder how long my list will be when I take my last breath in the nursing home. We tend to learn political lessons in all areas of our life, not just at work.


Book Released This Week

August 22, 2014

Trust in Transition Cover060To my friends and associates:

I announced the existence of my new book on this blog a couple months ago and have written a few posts about some of the key points since then. This week was the official launch of the book. YEA!

Info at www.astd.org/transition

When organizations go through major changes such as mergers, acquisitions, or other large-scale reorganizations, trust is often lost, and as a result most transitions do not live up to expectations. My book offers a multitude of ideas to prevent the problems or repair the fragile trust that has been damaged. It is the result of five years of writing and extensive research coupled with my 40+ years of practical experience

Here is a link to a brief (two minute) video about the book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDf6UTafrO8&feature=youtu.be

If you are involved in a transition of any kind — or are likely to experience change — you will find this book quite useful, regardless of your position in the organization. I will be doing international programs, keynotes, and workshops on the ideas over the next few years, so if you are interested, just contact me.


Your “Stop Doing” List

August 16, 2014

BankruptFrom time to time, we all get overwhelmed with activities, and most of us turn to a “To Do” list to manage the priorities. There are several systems that help keep people organized and assist them on making the most of their time.

In this article, I suggest that having a specific “Stop Doing” list can be just as helpful at managing time as having a “To Do” list.

Time is Precious

Time is the most precious commodity we have. What makes something precious is comprised of two factors.

The thing must be of intrinsic value to us and it must be scarce. Diamonds and coal are chemically identical and both have intrinsic value to us, but diamonds are very difficult to find, so their value is infinitely higher.

Time has value to us because it is all we have to live with, and nobody can get more than 24/7 each day. Therefore, time has extremely high value: it is both important and scarce.

Numbers Game

Most professionals are in a perpetual state of overload. That is because in the pressure cooker of day to day activities, more items come onto the plate than can possibly be accomplished.

If you doubt that, just take a look at your e-mail inbox. In every meeting there are new action items to be accomplished and precious little time to do them. It is a habitual problem that leads to burnout and even death due to stress.

People watch the incoming texts and activities closely trying to manage the load. The common refrain is “I have no time to deal with that now.” They often forget to cull out the non-essential things that take up their time. Anything taken off the plate is a reason to celebrate.

Modeling Prioritization

Individuals who focus on stopping things show others that time utilization needs to be managed from both ends. Leaders are used to making tough decisions with budgets and other resources, but they sometimes fail to see how their most precious resource (their own time) is being squandered.

Those who manage time actively and vocally send a clear message to the entire organization that seconds really do count.

10 Tips to manage your “Stop Doing” List

1. Keep track of what you are doing.

If you have a mechanism to actually see how your time is being spent, you can manage it better. I like to think of colors.

When I am doing “green” things, it means I am using my time wisely. “Yellow” things have marginal value, and “red” items are really wasting my precious time. Just keep looking for the color. It can be a kind of game as you sit in a meeting and watch the air turn from green to red before your eyes.

2. Delegate more!

This has a dual benefit because often people are eager to help out if only given the chance. There is always some risk when delegating, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Learn the skill of good delegation and press yourself to apply it more than you currently do.

3. Finish things.

Don’t dabble in work. Be crisp with completing assignments so your inbox is clear for new items.

When something is completed, celebrate for a second because you now have that off the plate.

4. Brainstorm

Spend some brainstorming time with your inner circle cleaning house of useless activities.

5. Create a “Sacred Cow Pasture.”

This is a visual board where you post paradigms that have been broken where you no longer have to do what used to take up your time. It is refreshing to fill up a “Sacred Cow Pasture.”

Everybody benefits! For example it takes courage to admit we no longer need the quality report because our systems have reached a higher standard.

How about doing away with the “cost” meeting and substitute an efficient dashboard? The possibilities are endless.

6. Challenge everything.

Try a zero based approach to your day where you come in as if you were a new employee. Ask “why am I doing this and what could be done to eliminate the need for it.”

7. Handle your time like a budget.

Think of your task list as a fixed number of things – like say 50 things. In order to make room for a new activity, you must take at least one old activity off your prior list.

8. Reward people who bring up ideas for your “Stop Doing” list.

If you reinforce this behavior, you not only help yourself, you help the entire organization because everyone will get the bug to eliminate marginal activities.

9. Go on a “Safari”

Hunt down and kill at least 3 unnecessary activities. It can be a fun activity once you get into it.

10. Go away!

If you are not there to do things, they will get done just fine most of the time. Go out and visit some customers or attend a seminar for your own development.

While you are away, have an administrative person keep track of the things that you would have done if you were there. These are all items you can challenge in the future.

Your “Stop Doing” list is as important as your “To Do” list. Don’t neglect it.


Merger Double Duty

August 9, 2014

small babies twins on parental hands isolated on white backgrounThe announcement of a merger can send people scurrying to their offices to begin piling up sandbags of defense against the flood of change.

Many mergers are handled with all the sensitivity of a Gestapo raid. The story below may seem extreme, but it literally goes on in many organizations that rush into a takeover.

In the planning phase of the merger, top management has a gag rule on information because they are afraid people would panic if they knew what was going to happen.

They are convinced that to avoid sabotage, and other problems, it is best to keep things “under wraps” until the merger is ready.

Rumors start as a result of all the secret meetings. Layoffs are expected, because one primary result of a merger is to consolidate staff positions.

People are aware of this and hope they will be one of the survivors. In reality, some people are smart enough to hope they do not survive.

Top brass announces the merger, but it is really not a shock to the people in the organization. They are just glad to have the news out in the open. Being held in the dark is a most uncomfortable feeling. Now, at least people will know if they are “impacted” or not.

The dreaded day approaches and finally arrives. The boss calls the impacted people in one by one to tell them the bad news.

Guards walk them back to their area to get belongings and escort them out the gate. A quick handshake and the exchange of the employee pass is all it takes to complete the deal.

Oh sure, there is the promise of support from HR: “Go to a place off company property over the next week, and we will help you network in the community for another job.”

A packet arrives in the mail to sign up for COBRA Insurance to tide over the family. I would have thought they would call it BOA CONSTRICTOR Insurance rather than COBRA Insurance. At least that title would fit the reality.

A remaining employee, let’s say Mary, breathes a sigh of relief until the boss calls her into the office and says,

“As you know, we have let Jake go, so you will now cover his responsibilities.”

Mary says, “But I already have a full workload of customers, and I don’t know anything about Jake’s job.”

The insensitive Boss says, “Just do the best you can, and remember, as one of our most talented people, you still have a job here.”

In a daze, Mary wanders into Jake’s empty office. She looks around and shakes her head. “Well, I might as well dig in here and see what Jake’s job entails.”

She looks halfheartedly into Jake’s desk drawers, throws out an old can of shoe polish, and starts trying to make sense of the mess. She looks at the 4-drawer file of Jake’s former customers, now her responsibility.

Think about this scene. Have you ever tried to decipher someone else’s files with no crossover? It is impossible.

The sound of the phone ringing in her office wakes Mary up. She runs down the hall and grabs the phone in time.

It is the familiar voice of one of her own customers. Thankfully, she is able to answer the question and satisfy the concern. She does a double take and realizes that there are 14 messages on her answering machine from the past two hours.

She starts clearing out her backlog and becomes totally engaged in her old job – the one she knows and can handle.

Every day for the next several weeks, Mary goes to Jake’s office for a couple hours (usually including her lunchtime) in a feeble attempt to keep the most vocal customers in Jake’s area from blowing up.

There is little understanding or history to back up her actions, so she is not very effective. It is impossible to keep up with Jake’s workload in a couple hours a day, so Mary focuses most of her attention on the job she understands.

Customers eventually write nasty e-mails to the top manager who jumps all over the area manager. Customers are taking their business elsewhere because there is no service being rendered.

The boss rushes into Mary’s office and says, “Mary, you are not performing like your usual self. We have customers that are your responsibility who are defecting. I know you are super busy, but you simply cannot afford to ignore customers who are in need.”

Mary says, “You are right, Bill. I cannot. Another thing I cannot afford is to work here for you any longer. My family and my doctor tell me I am heading for a stroke, and I am simply unable to perform what is expected. Therefore, I am handing in my two week’s notice.”

Note the simple but inevitable consequence of a decision by top management to ignore transparency out of fear. The old saying, “penny wise and pound foolish” applies in this case.

The company lost valuable customers and one of its most valuable employees. In addition, this situation is going on multiple times in the work unit, because Mary was not the only one whose work load doubled with no training.

There is no way to make up for this damage. It is a major blow to the business; in many cases it is fatal.

The fault here is not the merger itself. It is the veil of secrecy around the planning that was the major culprit. That is silly because holding back information really did not prevent it from becoming common knowledge.

Limiting transparency made the damage much worse than it could have been.

I am not saying that mergers are a picnic if people are informed ahead of time, and there are legal restrictions on how much information can be shared.

Many of the problems will occur no matter how the disclosure is handled, but if we contrast the above scenario with a slightly modified one, the result has the potential of a brighter outcome.

The area manager calls all employees together on day one. He says, “We are contemplating a transition, and we are probably going to need a layoff in the next few months.

None of us are happy about this, but it will probably happen. The best thing you can do now is focus on your job. As we plan for how many people will need to leave, I will keep you informed and be available for questions.”

During the next couple of weeks, the need for a layoff becomes clear. The boss calls Jake into the office and says, “Jake, as you know we are projecting a layoff. It looks like you will be impacted and either be let go or have to assume a different role.

I would like to work with you to find the best option for you and see if we can keep you in the company in a different role. I will do my best.

You should begin networking now, both inside the company and outside. In the meantime, can you please work with Mary to introduce her to your customer base?

I will tell her that we are combining her job with yours, but we will reduce her report writing duties to allow her more time to accomplish the combined area.”

In the discussion with Mary, the boss stresses that she is a highly valued employee being called on to stretch her influence with the customer base. A reduction in paperwork will provide some relief in order to allow her more face time with customers.

She will also receive a modest bump in pay as a result of the increased responsibility. She will inherit Jake’s accounts and should get up to speed on them over the next two weeks.

I grant that this second scenario is far from easy or painless for all parties, but the consequences are far less debilitating for the business.

By treating all employees like adults from the start and leveling with them, many of the problems in the first scenario were prevented.

The most significant reason for the difference between the two cases is that the top boss or HR function allowed the local manager to operate with transparency.


Nepotism and Trust

August 2, 2014

 

Man kissing woman's foot.Nepotism comes from a Latin root “nepos” meaning nephew. In ancient times, it was used to describe a process in the Catholic Church whereby celibate clergy would elevate their nephews to higher position because they had no offspring of their own.

In modern organizations, the practice of nepotism is alive and well, and it can have devastating impacts on trust.

It is interesting because in some cases we tolerate nepotism without question and in others we find the practice repugnant.

Several societies still have a monarchy whereby a person is born into the line of succession. We accept this practice in numerous legitimate societies without difficulty. We also usually accept the practice of passing on a family-owned business to the offspring of the owner.

In business many people struggle with the appointment of a close relative or friend of the family if the person appears to be under qualified for the position.

In most cases, the future of people working in an organization is at least loosely linked to the health of the entity, so when they see a poor match for the job get appointed as a leader simply because of a blood connection, it feels like a slap in the face at best.

The same helpless feeling occurs in the more common practice of cronyism, where an incumbent leader selects a favorite person based on qualifications other than how well the person is likely to perform.

I doubt there are many people alive who have not experienced some form of angst upon realizing they are now reporting to a supervisor who is a poor leader but a close friend of the big boss.

The sad truth is that there is no effective cure for this problem. It can go on at any level in any organization, and it usually trashes trust.

How can leaders do a better job of bringing along new talent if there is favoritism involved? First, you must realize it is a rare situation where there is absolutely zero favoritism.

Few top leaders will promote based solely on the credentials of the individual without regard to the chemistry fit between individuals.

Some form of advantage is at play in nearly every promotion.

I think it would a refreshing change if a leader got up and said, “I am appointing Mark to the job of VP HR. You all recognize that Mark and I have worked together in the past and he is one of my favorite people.”

Being upfront about a slanted call is far better than just ignoring the bias and expecting people not to care. They do care, and the honest approach will at least show some integrity along with a modicum of sensitivity.

One thing to avoid is trying to run a sham whereby the leader indicates several candidates will be interviewed by the team but has already chosen who is going to get the position. That practice is debilitating and is easily detected.

The leader who does this is going to suffer a huge loss in credibility and trust. If you have already made up your mind, do not run an interview process that looks like a fair one because you will be exposed more often than not.

There are exceptions where there is a legal precedent for interviewing several people even if the choice appears to be a foregone conclusion.

It may be an appointment in a government agency or simply an internal company rule that each position must have competition before a selection is made. In these instances, keeping an open mind that a better candidate may surface is the appropriate antidote, because it is often the case.

When trying to appoint a blood relative, it is crucial that the person have at least the potential to do well. There have been numerous examples of a leader bringing in a son or daughter where it led to the demise of the organization.

A classic example was when the brilliant and hands-on leader, Dr. An Wang, appointed his son Fred Wang to succeed him at Wang Laboratories in 1986. The company was losing its technological advantage, and Fred was unqualified to reverse the slide. By 1989, Dr. Wang fired his son, but it was too late to save the company.

Keeping the leadership in the family can work out well if there is adequate attention to the grooming of the individual and if the person has the requisite skill levels in terms of Emotional Intelligence and mental agility.

One thing is for sure, the practice is not going to end any time soon, so get used to that empty feeling of helplessness when you get wind of a future appointment in your organization.


Building Culture in a Merger

July 26, 2014

High-fiveWhen two organizations merge or there is an acquisition, the ability for the two cultures to work well together is paramount. This aspect is most often the stumbling block that prevents the merged unit from being successful.

Managers often assume this will happen naturally over time, so they give this aspect little attention when planning the merger.

WRONG!

Achieving a stable culture where people are at least supportive if not enthusiastically driving a singular mindset is the most significant challenge for most change efforts.

Do not assume things will work out; instead, take a highly proactive approach to defining a new culture.

In every case, even when the action is described as a merger of equals, one group will feel they have been “taken over” by the other.

Curiously, in many instances, both groups feel they have been taken over because employees in each former group need to modify their procedures to accomplish the union.

Usually, one of the parties is assumed to be in the driver’s seat, so it is the other party that needs to endure the bulk of changing systems.

Lack of trust and genuine animosity lead to resistance when it comes to blending the two groups into one. It is common to have the conflict occur as passive resistive behavior.

People will have the appearance of agreeing, but subversively undermine the other group however possible. This kind of “we – they” thinking can go on for years if allowed.

What actions can management take to mitigate the schism and promote unity? Here are a dozen ideas that can help:

1. Start early -

Do not let the inevitable seeds of doubt and suspicion grow in the dark. Work quickly after the merger is announced to have teambuilding activities. Openly promote good team spirit and put some money into developing a mutually supportive culture. Good teamwork is not rocket science, but it does not occur naturally. There must be investments to accomplish unity.

2. Have zero tolerance for silo thinking -

This is hard to accomplish because human beings will polarize if given the opportunity. Set the expectation that people will at least try to get along at all times.

Monitor the wording in notes and conversations carefully and call people out when they put down the other group. This monitoring needs to include body language. Often rolling eyes or other expressions give away underlying mistrust.

3. Blend the populations as much as possible -

Transplant key individuals from Group A with counterparts from Group B. If this is done with care, it will not take long for the individual cultures to be hard to tell apart. Sometimes the transplanting process is unpopular, but it is an important part of the integration.

4. Use the Strategic Process -

It is important to have a common set of goals and a common vision. If the former groups have goals that are not perfectly aligned, then behaviors are going to support parochial thinking.

When conflicts arise, check to see if the goals are really common or if there is just lip service on this point.

5. Reward good teamwork -

Seek out examples of selfless behavior from one group toward the other and promote these as bellwether activities. Verbal and written reinforcement from the top will help a lot. You might consider some kind of award for outstanding integration behavior.

6. Model integrated behavior at the top –

Often we see animosity and lack of trust at the highest levels, so it is only natural for the lower echelon to be bickering.

People have the ability to pick up on the tiny clues in wording and body language. The leaders need to walk the talk on mutual respect.

7. Co-locate groups where possible -

Remote geography always tends to build polarization in any organization. If merged groups can be at least partially located under one roof, it will help to reduce suspicion by lack of contact.

If cohabitation is cost prohibitive, it is helpful to have frequent joint meetings, especially at the start of the integration process.

8. Benchmark other organizations -

Select one or two companies who have done a great job of blending cultures and send a fact finding team made up of representatives from each group to identify best practices.

This team can be the nucleus of cooperation attitudes that can allow unity to spread through the entire population.

9. Make celebrations include both groups -

Avoid letting one group celebrate milestones along the way while the other group is struggling. Make sure the celebrations are for progress toward the ultimate culture instead of sub-unit performance.

10. Align measures with joint behavior -

Make sure the performance measures are not contributing to silo thinking. If the goals are aligned for joint performance, have the measures reinforce behaviors toward those goals.

Often, well intentioned measures actually drive activity that is directly opposite to the intended result. One way to test for this potential is to ask, “what if someone pushes this measure to the extreme – will that still produce the result we want”?

11. Weed out people who cannot adjust -

A certain percentage of the population in either group are going to find it difficult to get over the grieving process. Identify these individuals and help them find roles in some other organization.

It will help both the merger process and the individual. On the flip side, identify the champions of integration early and reward them with more exposure and more span of control.

12. Create incentives for the desired behavior –

People should be encouraged in every way to act and think in an integrated way. This can be encouraged by having the incentive plans pay out only if both units perform seamlessly.

If something awful happens with the business during the integration, don’t panic. Often by working through a crisis or emergency, the vestiges of the old order are wiped out and a strong joint identity emerges.

Use any type of problem as a way to draw people together in a stronger union rather than a reason to focus blame on one particular group.

The road to a fully functioning integrated culture can be long and frustrating. By following the ideas given above, an organization can hasten the day when there are few memories of the old cultures, and people feel a sense of belonging to a single new order.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. This information was extracted from “Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change” – now available at www.astd.org/transition


Don’t Eat Dessert First

July 19, 2014

Cheesecake with fresh strawberries on white plate closeupAs a leader, how many times a week do you say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” When you do, you make a mistake that often leads to lower rather than higher motivation.

Seeking to motivate employees is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved.

Leaders who think this way want to eat the dessert before the entrée. While the temptation for the tasty stuff may seem irresistible, it is not a wise strategy because after dessert, the main course is less appealing.

Leaders do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation. So, what is the dessert and what is the entrée?

The entrée is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The dessert is how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

Why do many leaders try to reverse the conventional order; try to motivate people by making them feel good?

1. Poor understanding of motivation -

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to sweeten things (reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace), but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out -

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people it will feel like a better culture.

The only way to improve the culture is to build trust.

By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

3. Using the wrong approach –

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear.

You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks -

Individuals will gladly accept any kind of tasty dessert the boss is willing to dish up, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the cheese cake.

Putting the entrée before the dessert means working on the culture to build trust first.

Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment. Motivation within people will happen. Then, when dessert is added, it is much sweeter.

Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us.

As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people. What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels.

An example is when you set a vision and goals then allow people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.”

If we seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, we are going to be disappointed frequently.

Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team the ability to choose their own methods to achieve goals.”

An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in a healthy environment has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation.

The way to create this is to build a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization.

You accomplish this through consistency and by letting people know it is safe to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal.

You work to inspire people with a vision of a better existence for them and by really hearing their input. Doing this helps employees become motivated because:

• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun.
• They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work and that is what drives their behaviors.
• They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally.
• They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals.
• They truly enjoy the social interactions with peers. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except they are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins.
• They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful.
• They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work.
• They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake: not the full meal.

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create.

If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world. The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve.

It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings. Describe it as a new way of life rather than a program. You should see evidence of this in every nook and cranny of the organization.

Do not skip directly to dessert by attempting to motivate people with special events or gifts.

Instead, dine with your people on motivating factors and build the meal around a culture of trust.

The end result is that many people will choose to be highly motivated, and the organization will prosper. Then, if you give some tangible perks for reinforcements, they will be like a wonderful dessert that is more meaningful and longer lasting.


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