Tag Archives: Change

How Can We Be Prepared? The Smart Way!

24 Jun

I think most people would agree that we have to be prepared for whatever may happen, but that is easier said than done! The way we balance our preparedness makes a major difference in balancing between day-to-day life quality and future consideration. At work it is similar. We prepare by following appropriate studies of our subject, e.g. Human Resources, and ensuring that we understand key principles and how various aspects should be handled and why. We have prepared by learning the theory of our subject, but how ready are we to convince others to follow what we are able to do and be impressed by our interactive demeanor? We have to understand the environment we are working within and people we are working with to be truly effective.

One example of attempting to be prepared, that I remember very well, is when I set-off on my first extended travel journey many years ago. When I look back it is unbelievable how much stuff I decided to take with me. I bought a very large backpack and filled it and had items attached to it including the following:

  • A small tent I bought at the railway lost-property office
  • A suit (Burton’s) in case I found a job in Paris (the official purpose of the trip was to take CII Insurance exams at the Paris centre – more an excuse than true objective!)
  • Foreign language dictionaries, some “Teach Yourself” language books and writing materials
  • A plastic bowl and cleaner in case I had to wash clothes
  • More routine travel stuff and shoes etc.

As you can see, I was well prepared for some specific things, but not really for travel. For example:

  • Apart from some Youth Hostel information I had no travel guides and although there were cities I wanted to visit, I had no idea what I would do when I got there (anywhere!)
  • I had a shortage of day-to-day comfortable clothes, particularly for walking
  • My backpack was so heavy I was bowed over as I walked – I had not considered (sensibly) that I may have to carry my luggage with me while sightseeing

Travel was so different in those days (pre-EU) with no cell phones, electronic devices or internet. Most information I obtained from information booths at train stations or from other travelers. There were also currency restrictions and a maximum of £40 could be taken out of the UK at that time – not that I had much more available!

So, I was very well prepared for things that were unlikely – finding (or wanting) an office job so early in my travels and imagining I would have time to spend learning languages. In contrast, a key pastime became visiting breweries and enjoying free beer and just enjoying the company of other hitchhikers!

My “portability” issue was quickly resolved. I stayed at a Youth Hostel in Suresne (Paris) for a week or so and left most of my luggage there as I set-off towards Yugoslavia. I was certainly more trusting in those days, but when I returned a few months later everything was still there – and I hadn’t needed any of it! On subsequent similar trips I took only a small bag and that was perfect. I had flexibility and comfort and was able to concentrate on what was most important – becoming familiar with other countries and other people some of whom I am still in contact with and influenced my ultimate (so far) move to Canada.

How important do you think it is to plan and thoroughly prepare? Looking back and considering the twists and turns in life – and changed interests – I think it may be more important to became very skilled at recognizing and knowing how to respond to opportunity and sometimes enjoying going in totally different and unanticipated directions. What do you think?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

Considering Goodwin Sands and Critical HR Change!

13 Jun

Not so long ago (maybe 5000 years) there was no sea separating Britain and France and people (presumably) could walk from Dover to Calais and stop for a meal on Goodwin Sands without  the risk of being stranded and drowning.  Today, the Goodwin Sands are a reminder as land, in the middle of the channel, that surfaces only at low tide and allows curious tourists to fleetingly tread where few people choose to tread.

There are no records from that time, but you can imagine the HR challenge when mid-channel people realized their lands were being flooded and had to choose whether to resettle in France or England. Similarly, Personnel had to choose between becoming Human Resources or ressources humaines and enjoying bland or spicy food!

How fast do people respond to major impending change? I understand the water rose gradually so the risk was not of immediate drowning. People did not have to swim to the closest shore, but noticed their lands becoming increasingly submerged and non habitable.

We can imagine that some people of the mid-channel lands, as soon as they recognized that the flooding was unstoppable, sold their belongings for whatever price, studied English or French and left as soon as possible for solid land where they could start again.  Was that smart or was that giving up? It is amazing how many of us will remain until the last moment in adverse circumstances as we are nervous about leaving what we have become accustomed to.

Many people, however, were fighters and would not accept inevitable change.  They built sea-walls, elevated their dwellings to as high as possible and resolved to fight.  Maybe they out-survived their neighbours by a hundred years or so, but having a home increasingly surrounded by water was not really preserving quality of life, but refusing to accept the need for change. We are unlikely to look back with surprise, as humankind still choose to reject reality, e.g. global warming, and cater only to short-term selfish needs with little regard for the future.

Some people refused to accept the changes that were happening and fought on, ignoring until too late the rising water. Maybe they ultimately drowned – maybe they invaded and replaced folks living on higher ground who had prepared better.

How does all this relate to Human Resources – to every aspect of our life?  It is not water that threatens most of us, but in a business environment the unstoppable flow of online information and technological know-how that can make anyone somewhat of an expert on most subjects. It can be as simple as acquiring appropriate technology with the right algorithms to explain what it all means and reach certain conclusions.

We cannot pretend change is not happening and expect our traditional HR way of doing things to endure regardless of the environment. Consider the following:

  • Many traditional HR approaches were based on the limited technological capability that existed at the time and were, of necessity, somewhat simplistic and untimely including, in particular, traditional performance management. Now we have the ability to factor in everything and develop systems, if we desire, customized for each employee and interactive in real time
  • Much HR strategy was based on our expertise on HR subjects (exclusive knowledge) that was not shared by others who were expected to defer to our “expert” HR opinions. Such humility no longer dominates and other function peers can elect to become experts in whatever interests them, based on all the online research materials available
  • Respect for “superiors” can no longer be assumed. This can reflect in family life and at work when different thinking (technologically influenced) of new generations may result in viewing earlier-age bosses and influencers as somewhat out of date, and strict hierarchical organizations (suppressing employees) similarly belonging in the past

We are being flooded by information delivered through the internet, by data collected, sorted and transmitted online and by intelligent programmed machines that can make decisions and interact, train and provide help, better than us, on multiple subjects. Is that the flood we have to be prepared for that threatens to submerge or swallow HR? If so, how can we be prepared and remain as essential to business support as in earlier days? For example:

  • We must expand HR skills consistent with today. We program the machines and make them work for us, but how well do we use them? How well do we instruct them? To what extent do they reflect the culture and needs of our organization or are they largely off-the-shelf purchased items that sound good?
  • Do we tend to try to use new technology, not to develop new approaches but to keep all the concepts, programs and processes we are comfortable with alive, but using a more efficient platform? 
  • On a day-to-day basis do we demonstrate that we can resolve problems (regardless of any technology) using our interactive/analytical HR skills and clearing the way for our business partners to proceed with their priorities without serious impediment?

Like the mid-channel fighter/survivor, we can use all the wonderful modern technology to move forward to achieve better things, rather than simply sustain what is currently in place. What we liked in the past was often the way it was because it was the best we could do, at that time, with the resources available.  We celebrated our progress and glossed over the limitations because there was little else we could do at the time. We were very happy with what we had and can continue to be happy (fulfilled) as we, with open minds, bravely move into the future as an integral part of the new world!

What do you think?  With all our enthusiasm for new technology, have we sufficiently adapted our minds to utilize it to the full potential?  Are we clinging too much to the past?  In the case of the new generations, are we clinging too much to what we are comfortable with in providing leadership although the context may be significantly different? How can we change our thinking?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

I Must Admit HR is Getting Better, Better all the Time!

3 May

It does not seem so long ago, maybe two or three years when HR seemed to be going through a period of great uncertainty. A lot of discussion was about why people disliked HR, why HR was not respected and why HR was not at the table. At the same time (and earlier) HR seemed troubled about HR identity and was seeking to align more closely with business partners which, in many cases, seemed to include less emphasis on people and less emphasis on the HR problem solving role and ability to respond to challenges.

HR people have been frequently criticized for being too reactive, but today, it seems, it is becoming not only respectable but critical in our constantly changing environments. New style HR people (similar to many in the past) are able to react promptly to deal with issues and in many cases convert reactive into transformative to further interests of the organization.

The improvement in HR that I have noticed, from sentiments expressed by many HR people, is a significant increase in professional confidence and renewed pride that we have distinct skills to benefit an organization. Our skills complement other functions but our skill pattern may be significantly different and being a business partner does not mean agreeing with everything presented to us. We must take a stand when necessary to support achievement of organizational goals that may sometimes differ from the direction pursued by some functional executives.

With this new, more practical thinking, we also seem to have greater confidence in looking within our function and taking steps to revitalize HR including critical evaluation of programs that may have been key to HR for many years. For example:

  • Less emphasis on large somewhat fixed HR programs (e.g. performance management) and more emphasis on a more modular approach using the integration of mainstream data rather than stand alone HR programs
  • Being fully part of the business and with high credibility HR people close to the action (ear to the ground) and at any time ready to respond to support organizational interests and deal effectively with any organizational challenges and       threats
  • Not being obsessed by being at the big table, but making sure we are at the right small tables (e.g. functional) where the action takes place and we may be involved early enough to be part of the strategic thinking and contribute positively rather than challenge after the fact when people already feel committed to the planned action. With such a strategic and business focused role, HR would automatically have a very legitimate place at the big table and the new confidence and practical support of HR would be welcomed
  • HR confidence that our specialist expertise on people issues translates into present and sustained business advantage and we are able to sell concepts in the most practical and acceptable way.  Not only employee issues, but significant focus on our community, our customer/sales focus and external resources of various kinds that may be critical and needed at any point
  • The evolving more pragmatic HR seems more ready to take a strong stand on critical matters (e.g. ethics and corporate values) and to achieve this recognizes the need to develop the appropriate negotiating and diplomacy skills. We cannot just be stubborn people in an HR world of our own (sometimes the problem with old style HR) but be straight-talking business-sensitive leaders able to gain the respect of those we deal with
  • HR is coming of age by the way we seem ready now to question all our HR beliefs. It is very difficult not to develop a bias and our bias may have matched perfectly the conventional way of doing things in the past, but be outdated based on the technological capability now available. We must grasp the opportunities and be leaders in redesigning how we do many things and how we may train and impart user confidence during a period of organizational transition.
  • The success of HR in the future may depend very much on the ability of HR to attract the right talent and be able to meet staffing needs with the minimum of delay. I would have liked to say that HR has simplified and made the process more practical, but there still seem to be major philosophic differences between different HR people. There are HR people who make the selection process very complicated and try to match such things as attitude. There are others who support a simpler and more objective process. The key to success would be HR’s contribution to effective organizational design to ensure that the culture of the organization is able to assimilate most employees, regardless of different styles. I believe trending, particularly, by HR generalists, is moving more towards a simpler recruiting process, but at this point, opinions continue to be very divided

I must admit HR is getting better – it’s getting better all the time! I offer some thoughts on this subject which I believe are supported by many modern day HR realists and seem consistent with the beliefs of many HR students who, of course, will soon be setting the HR trends for tomorrow. HR improvement is dependent on realistically acknowledging evolving business and people differences and expectations and balancing them in the most appropriate way. Success of HR depends on us knowing who we are, what we can do and to updating and adapting much of what is already in place to reflect the present as it is and move confidently into the future. I believe an increasing number of HR people are committed to change and that gives reason to feel confidence about the future of our profession.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

 

How Can We Make HR Better for 2015 and Beyond?

11 Jan

What can I do – what can we do – to make HR better as we move into the future and face challenges distinct to this point in history? Depending on how we see life, everything may seem about the same, but in reality, the way we acknowledge and with an open mind handle the differences will define HR and its relevance as we move ahead. Here are a few thoughts:

  • HR must have a distinct identity. We cannot just be followers trying to keep everyone happy. We must be clear in setting our allegiances. We must be integral in meeting the goals and needs of the organization, but at the same time be clear about HR, business and society principles that govern our actions and also the actions of the organization – often legally. We cannot simply compromise (or cave-in) to keep people happy. If our actions are questionable, in making one person (e.g. the big boss) happy, the “equal and opposite reaction” is likely to be making a number of other people very unhappy while our HR reputation (and business) may be tarnished.
  • If HR is prepared to take a strong stand on certain matters (e.g. ethics and corporate values), we must also develop our negotiating and diplomatic skills. To be effective in the future (as in the past) we must be able to present our positions while taking into account the sensitivities and specific interests of those we are addressing. Whenever possible, we would not just say what we believe is right, but why it is right (giving context) for our specific business and our diverse colleagues and employee population. We cannot just be stubborn people in an HR world of our own, but straight-talking business-sensitive leaders able to gain the respect of those we deal with.
  • We must question all our HR beliefs, particular those of us who have been in HR for a significant time. It is very difficult not to develop a bias and our bias may have matched perfectly the conventional way of doing things in the past, but be outdated with the technological capability now available. Staking our reputation on standard, generic HR programs based on a specific point in time (e.g. performance management) no longer makes sense when customized ongoing programs (individual specific) are the way of the future. We must grasp the capabilities and be leaders in redesigning how we do many things.
  • We must recognize the strengths of others. Older very experienced employees and younger employees with a “new age” skill set can complement one another in a superb way. We must learn how best to share strengths within our diverse workplace community rather than stand apart and criticize. The young should not count the days until the old people are gone, and the “mature” people should not discount the young and expect them to come around to the old way of thinking – the wisdom of the past! The reality is that the young are developing into the future leaders and we must support them and any style differences more appropriate to our changing world.
  • The success of HR in the future may depend very much on the ability of HR to attract the right talent and be able to meet staffing needs with the minimum of delay. HR can be big winners if the process (including for contingent workers) is simplified and streamlined as much as possible, possibly using central registries for most regular positions. The key to success would be HR’s contribution to effective organizational design (supported by environmental technology) to ensure that the culture of the organization will assimilate most employees, regardless of different styles, rather than seeking to hire a specific type of person. HR future success will also depend on recognizing our limitations e.g. in defining the psychological make-up of a candidate through a conventional recruiting process.

These are just a few thoughts on this very complicated subject. We have to be realistic and recognize that we can make HR better by being very honest in acknowledging evolving business and people differences/expectations and balancing them in the most appropriate way. Success of HR depends on us knowing who we are, what we are and developing a confident and holistically balanced approach in meeting the needs of the business and our internal clients. Many of the differences are already in place and a major challenge, to make HR better, is to update and adapt much of what is already in place to reflect the present as it is and move confidently into the future.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

 

HR and the Danger of the New Broom!

10 Nov

We are all probably familiar with “new brooms”. A new CEO or functional executive hired to shake up the organization, or hired because we believe he/she will bring a new vitality and resolve to make things better, while not being inhibited by unwritten “taboos” and allegiance to the status quo – people or entrenched ways of doing things.

I have worked with many new brooms and often HR plays a critical role in supporting the new executive and at the same time revitalizing HR in line with the new organization direction. This can result in dramatic transformation of the organization and increased business success, but if not handled well, the result can be negative and actually reduce business capability and competitiveness.

I am not against new brooms. Sometimes it is necessary to shake things up a bit. The danger, from my experience, is the new executive who cares more about consolidating his/her own power base than what is best for the organization. The type of new broom executive who gets rid of talent he/she does not see as loyal to the cause or to him/her personally. The type of person who gives no credit to anything that came before his/her regime.  This can include dismantling excellent programs and very often destroying a culture that may have been key to past success, but not his/her success. Excellent and highly productive employees may be terminated because they do not (opinion of the “new broom”) fit with the new team.

I have probably seen the most damaging examples of organizational cleansing in a sales environment.  The new sales executive arrives with great excitement and expectations. With earnest expression he/she lets everyone know that things will change (for the better) and no longer will such-and-such be tolerated. Usually with a grim expression and at lavish kick-off meetings, the new sales leader makes his/her pitch. The new era begins and heads start to roll and very often past colleagues of the “new broom” are hired to replace them.

Subtly (or not so subtly), the failings of the previous sales organization (and its executive) are broadcast and the scene set for any poor interim results to be blamed on the previous management.  The new leader focuses on cleansing the organization of its past sins even though the company record may be very credible. The more he/she focuses on past problems rather than forward vision, the more reason for concern.

The new broom is usually insistent on total control in setting up the new organization, and demanding total freedom to work “miracles”. The people he appoints as leaders within his team are usually smart, competent professionals.  They follow the party line, give the impression of being strong and independent, but, most of all, demonstrate that they are totally committed to the new leader. They are sales people; they are excellent role players and know the role they have to play!

The current sales force may have its misfits – mainly people strongly identified with the previous sales organization. Whether they are misfits based on their previous allegiance or their work style is another question. However, they usually include a number of very individualistic star players with strong egos developed over the years and integral to their success. They are not humble and generally not very respectful, but, nevertheless, they are stars and the company has benefited and can continue to benefit from and build on their excellence while, as necessary, diplomatically reining in some of their eccentricity.

You would think that the new sales executive would want to win over these high performers – flatter them, give them some kind of special status and take credit for their continuing success. Often the intent seems opposite and the new sales executive is prepared to sacrifice them as part of demanding absolute control and respect.  With all their imperfections, these feisty stars have a record of excellent sales, customer connections and relationships built up over years and the potential to continue to achieve.  They do not fit – they usually say – but in sales isn’t the most important fit the ability to achieve and sustain a superb sales record?

If the new broom is really so smart, don’t you think he/she should have the skills to manage and motivate all sales people – not just those in his/her own image – be able to integrate strengths from the previous regime into the new regime? If he/she is adamant about rejecting anything that came before, wouldn’t that be putting self-interest ahead of company results? Sadly, that often seems to be the case, and the new broom is ultimately terminated after he/she has dangerously affected the organization and before his/her vision has achieved anything meaningful. It is then time for another new broom to come in to rebuild and continuity and sustainability is again affected significantly by another round of change.

What do you think is the best position HR can take in such volatile environments?  It depends, of course, on how much trust we have in the new broom (after we get to know him/her). Whether we trust the person or not, we have to work closely with him/her to support when possible and to try to steer away from particularly questionable moves when we believe organizational interests are threatened. In some cases, the new broom may not want to work with HR, see HR as negative and obstructive, but we have to persist and maintain our HR credibility and integrity in all our dealings. The HR role comes with great responsibility and we must maintain our commitment to the organization, even though conflict with an executive (e.g. new broom) may be very unpleasant and our employment may be at risk at various points.

In some cases, we must share the guilt if we were directly involved in recruiting the new broom. We do what we can to make it work, for the new executive and for HR, but in many cases, it becomes a sad blip in the history of the organization that we are more likely to survive if we remain true to our HR principles. We will then become part of the recovery with some risk that the cycle may be repeated. What do you think? Should we be able to minimize such risks?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

Are We and the Millennials Ready for Change?

18 Oct

For years, we have debated the need for change (HR and Business) in a monotonously repetitive way and finally change seems to be in the air. Not, however, based on agreement or consensus between the debating parties, but more, it seems, based on what we believe the millennials expect in a working relationship.   This is somewhat unprecedented, that we care so much about what the new generations want, that we are prepared to abandon principles and ways of doing things that we (many of us) have clung to for decades.

At least this way, people do not have to admit that they were wrong (or debate whether they were) but develop and prepare for change based what the millennials want. The possible explanation is that we did it right for our time and we are now changing it, not for us, but for new generations (a new business model) whose needs are different.  

A cynic may claim that the needs of earlier generations were equally profound, but in the past, they were suppressed.  This time around, there is more acceptance that the millennials will set the pattern for the future. That is hard to dispute, as earlier generations inevitably fade out of sight. The old generations (as throughout history) are being replaced by new generations (including millennials) and this time we are promoting change earlier than usual, possibly before the millennials change their mind or mellow and adapt to their “designated” role in society.

Whatever the reason, it is time for change and we are more ready for change and that is good. Do you agree? The millennial style business will be more efficient and more inclusive (so they say) and one aspect of the desired change that is strongly publicized is the need for frequent and real time performance feedback. How will this affect the traditional way we conduct business?

IMPACT OF REAL TIME PERFORMANCE FEEDBACK

  • The traditional HR performance management program will be dropped or extensively reformatted – used more for coaching than evaluation? Do you agree?
  • Real time evaluation (by the direct supervisor) will be based on real time work performed and using relevant work criteria aligned to the goals of the functional unit
  • There will be ongoing disclosure between the supervisor and employee concerning performance level and both will have access to relevant online data and tracking processes

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS

  • Whatever may be said about millennials wanting ongoing feedback (and coaching) it will only be welcomed from a manager/supervisor who is respected. If annual feedback is resented, more frequent feedback from a similar style supervisor will be even more resented
  • Millennials giving feedback to other millennials is no guarantee of greater success. Once people from any generation establish their place within society and adopt related values, earlier homogeneous qualities may rapidly dissipate

THE NEED FOR GREATER OBJECTIVITY

  • If work measures are as objective as possible, employees are more likely to accept them as valid. Supervisor opinion about the attitude or personality of an individual (as at present) could be challenged as intrusive or subjective and resented rather than welcomed as helpful. Most supervisors do not have the skills to make such judgements
  • Objectivity based on work criteria established at the outset (and clearly measurable) is essential partly due to the projected greater proportion of the workforce who will be contract and temporary employees. There is not time to delay work evaluation and base it on cumulative factors and personal assessments rather than real time work performance

These are just a few thoughts about current changes in the workplace. Do you think that change is being prompted primarily by the reported different needs of millennials, or is it change that most people accept as necessary and particularly because of technological change and our related greater capability to meet business needs without overcomplicating?   One aspect I have not addressed is recruiting. For certain positions, the process may be more analytical and complex than at present, but for the majority it could be primarily online with limited personal intervention – a fast and efficient system, particularly for contract and transitional positions. What do you think?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

 

Beware Small Men Who Cast Long Shadows!

28 Sep

The actual quote that caught my attention was “When small men begin to cast long shadows, it is a sure sign that the sun is setting”. The origin seems unclear, but what it conveys seems sombre and foreboding. I interpreted “small men” as “small minded people”. Not men of small stature (short) but men (or women) who may be deficient in many ways, but, nevertheless, exercising a dangerous level of control over our lives and our world. The sun setting is a warning that our future, if any, could be perpetual darkness – all gone. If I use the term “small men”, as explained before, it is not referring to stature or only men.

Who are these “small men”? I am sure we all know some. Many are motivated by personal greed and skilled in finding ways to justify action against anything affecting their personal gain or selfish ambition. They may act alone, or in concert with likeminded people. Collectively they can influence the structure of our society and divide people into those who use (for control or gain) and those who are used (most of us!).

Who allows the undeserving to control our lives? History confirms the pattern and the way those in power cling to power and their domination over average people. In our part of the world, it is only since the Industrial Revolution that there has been a progressive move to improve the lot of employees and working conditions, including limitations on child labour and other exploitive practices. It required legislation and the passing of such legislation met with intense opposition from the traditional ruling classes and nouveau riche business owners. They feared the increasing power of political parties representing the working classes, and giving too many rights to the people (including unions) that may inhibit their businesses.

It is not in our history to care too much about other people. It may be in our various religions, but interpreted by people in a “safe” and convenient way. We may establish social conventions to satisfy obligations of our faith, but generally making sure they do not close doors to personal opportunity, that may, by many, be seen as including exploitation.

Those in high places control by preserving their power. Frequently they try to convince us that it is the best way – that their power somehow benefits us and we should follow them. Big men are committed to what they say, take their responsibilities (for our future) seriously and without being completely unselfish, do nothing intentionally to harm us. Small men have personal goals we cannot trust, may pretend to care about people but do not and do not really care about the future (sustainable environment) much beyond their own lifetime. They may not deliberately harm or disadvantage people, but are indifferent to their fate if they are not important to their pursuit of wealth and power – or caring may limit their personal gain.

Times are changing. When we were small, my mother told us repeatedly about the horror she felt when they announced that that Atom bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wiping out much of the population. In many respects, she saw this as the beginning of the end and a terrible testimony to the capability of men to destroy. She had lived through the war and peace came at a terrible price. Destruction by fire (primarily bombs) continued to be a great fear during the cold war. War and destruction was the fear in peoples’ minds and could be visualized in very graphic terms. In our lifetime, the battle has become very different and distinguishing between friends and foes, big men and small men, is very difficult – they are often indistinguishable.

We have to think it all through and draw our own conclusions. To do that we have to reason and question, including principles we have lived with all our lives. The person who may appear big, successful and caring and claiming to protect our interests and freedoms – is he really a small person casting a long shadow and slowly turning off our light and our world, as the sun goes down?

Thank you for your interest and for caring – I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have,

Ian

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