Monthly Archives: November 2011

The one with people in boxes

[Author’s note: this post is quite long – get snacks]

Some time ago I was introduced to a non-exec director of the business I worked for. He had been a senior player with one of the global consumer brand businesses and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss their approach to talent to see if there was anything we (the business I worked for) could learn from it and utilise to drive performance of our own organisation.

During the conversation he introduced me to the concept of the 9-box talent model. It’s a model that plots performance against potential and maps the plots on those axes into 9 boxes. I am struggling to find who originally developed it but it’s based on work completed by GE & McKinsey. Where you were placed in the model would dictate how your career path was framed, what opportunities were open to you and how much investment and support you got. It looks something like this…

I am a fan of models. Not the literal interpretation of them but the way in that they help me see things differently, model information and to get clarity on a situation. I left the meet quite excited about what could be achieved with the 9-box model. This excitement lasted about 48 hours until I understood the quagmire that I would have to wade through to get data to populate the model. I will explain…


Most businesses have performance management systems. Of those systems, most have some form of rating. Given the rating is often tied to reward it is subject to scrutiny and verification, well at least they were in our business. So this should be simple? Wrong!

If the score someone achieves is likely to colour their career for some time to come you have to challenge the number being put in the box. Which means asking what is being measured? I’d stake a decent wager the objectives on which the rating being based is so called ‘hard measures’ and those will be in the form of metrics of some sort. I don’t want to go into the challenges of developing metrics but my views align with a friend of mine Neil Morrison and he shares his views in this post.

But seriously, of the two (performance and potential) performance is the easier to measure so let’s just say we plot our performance measures against the 3 boxes along the bottom and move on to potential


One of the dictionary definitions of potential is “a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed” but in people terms how do you measure potential?

The simple answer is you ask ‘them what make the decisions’ and that is often, I believe, what happens. The subjective realities form a view of individual potential somewhat akin to an internal stock market.

If you want a more objective measure you are in to some form of measurement and having asked several well trusted colleagues and peers over recent years the methods that come up time and time again are these 2:

1. Learning Agility

Learning Agility is defined as “ability to adapt to one’s experiences, make sense of them and make the most of them”. It is based on the work of Sternberg at al (1995) and they found it to be a better predictor of organisational success than cognitive ability. The development of a tool to measure Learning Agility was pioneered by Michael Lombardo & Robert Eichiner who went on to form Lominger (now part of Korn Ferry Whitehead Mann).

If you read Lominger’s publications on Learning Agility it talks of four types: mental, people, change and results and I am probably oversimplifying here but basically I think  their assertion is that learning agility correlates with potential. So measure learning agility and Bob’s your Uncle…


YSC (Young, Samuel, Chambers) are a consulting business who, in their own words “help…define, identify and develop your leadership capability”. They are global organisation and work with some very impressive companies.

They have developed a tool they call JDI (Judgement, Drive, Influence) based on Peter Saville’s WAVE.

They define judgement as problem finding, analytical rigour, framing issues, problem resolution. They define drive as ambition, self assurance and initiative. They define influence as self awareness, environmental radar and the range of influence.

So fill in the questionnaire, wait 5 minutes and a view on your potential will appear.

Again, that seems simple, doesn’t it?

Well I have two problems with both these measures. Firstly, I have never managed to convince a board that the exercise is required let alone the investment. In simple terms I’ve never done it and whilst they both appear elegant solutions I can’t really say.

The second problem is on more of an emotional level. If you look back on your career (waits 10 minutes whilst you reflect on your career) and think about the people that have REALLY influenced your progession, what they awoke in you is probably very difficult to measure. You know when people say to a child “you can be anything you want to be”, neither of these two solutions appears to account for the ability human beings seem to have for latent greatness. That’s what really bothers me, the idea that we will pass people over based on a set of scores when what we could be doing as managers and leaders is helping them understand and realise they have greatness within them that can’t be scored.

So why bother?

So why have I written this (extremely long) post? Well this stuff has been bouncing around in my head of late and a few conversations I’ve had recently have brought it front of mind but also to share where I’ve got to in my explorations to see if anyone else has great stuff to share.

The reality of all of this is that 9-box is a step forward from succession and development planning based on performance alone and an organisation doing this well would likely be way ahead of the curve in finding greatness within their businesses but the ‘divine discontent’ module in my head still wants to find latent greatness…


Sternberg, R.J., Wagner, R.K., Williams, W.M. & Horvath, J.A. (1995) Testing Common Sense. American Psychologist, 50(11), 912-927


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The one with a book review

It’s not often I get invited to review something so when Peter Gold asked me to review his book I leapt at the chance for 2 reasons. Firstly, because why not share a point of view and secondly, because Peter is want to express his own opinion so why not express right back!!

The book is called “Who moved my HR software?” and features the same central character as Peter’s previous publication “Who moved my talent?”. It features our protaganist Henry yet again fighting the demons of intertia and resistance to try and move an organisation forward.

I think Peter’s writing style owes much to Patrick Lencioni in that he attempts to take corporate issues that are over complicated and shrouded in smoke and mirrors and simplify them to allow professionals to focus on the nub of the problem.

The book is engaging, easy to read and short enough to digest in a single sitting. It takes the overly complicated lingo surrounding inhouse systems vs software as a service, coupled with inhouse hosting or the cloud and puts them in terms even I could understand.

I must confess there were a few occassions when I felt a little patronised and once or twice where ‘the Queen’s shilling’ of the book being sponsored made my teeth grind a little but it’s well worth a read for those in HR or those who are struggling with the concepts of SaaS or Cloud computing generally.

You can get a free copy (and being a book about technology it’s available in PDF, Kindle, iPad & audio versions) here

I should also point out that I did not take the queen’s shilling for writing this but will however demand a pint paid for by Gold’s shilling next time I see him!!

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The one with the good fight

Opposites attract, right?

Well as far as magnets go, yes, but when it comes to organisations it doesn’t always seem to hold. I’ve just finished reading an interesting post from Alison Chisnell, which is well worth a read on why organisations hire for compatibility rather than capability and it’s the following line that provoked this post:

“In my view, organisations and senior management teams don’t have to be harmonious or devoid of conflict and issues to be effective”

I couldn’t agree with Alison more. In fact I personally think the best organisations are rife with conflict but the right kind of conflict.

Some time ago I wrote a post about the gender pay gap and women in senior roles. If you care to read it, it’s linked here but one of the articles cited there said this:

“Organisations benefit from “feminine leadership” with the challenge facing organisations the need for competitiveness, aggression and task orientation (what could be considered male traits) are seen as less valuable than good communication, coaching, being intuitive, flexible and more people orientated in general (stereotypically female characteristics).” (Powell et al, 2002)

It seems to me that some conflict in the work place is about land grabbing, jostling for position, ego, politics and the type of win/lose behaviour that leaves the business fighting itself rather than focussing its energies on resolving issues and improving its position versus the competition.

Positive constructive conflict is good. It takes two (or more) points of view and challenges them to scrutiny to find the best route forward for the business but the focus is on best for the business not best for the individual. Some of the people I have respected most in my career are those who are secure enough in themselves to come out the other side and say “I was wrong, your way is better”.

I once worked with a very strong minded Head of Operations and we would fight like cat and dog in the meeting but once we’d got to agreement we’d walk out of the room, one would buy the other a coffee and get on with our day. It wasn’t personal, it was business. We were MEANT to have different points of view, we saw the world very differently and it was in the conflict between those two views that we got to some great outcomes for the business.

Whether it’s having more feminine characteristics or indeed females in the organisation, improving individual self awareness, giving people confidence to admit they can be wrong or the business being focussed on not indulging in political behaviour I’m not sure. It seems to me the more organisations can fight the good fight and move on to improving the better they will be for it.

A coach once said to me, “you don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree”. He got his bill paid without question but I’m still working on it….


Powell, G.N., Butterfield, D.A., Parent, J.D., (2002) “Gender and Managerial Stereotypes: Have the Times Changed?” Journal of Management, 28(2)


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The one where it’s in the family

I am currently job hunting. I have made no secret of it and although I have chosen not to discuss the blow-by-blow activities of my job hunt here there is something that I would like to share and get some views on.

I understand and am quite comfortable with the idea that some jobs in some industries are very specific. I understand that in order to be a surgeon, a bricklayer, a commodities broker, a lawyer or a book editor that I will need very specific skills that are also very specific to that role and industry. However, I work in learning and development.

Whilst my roles have included elements of industry specific development it’s been my stakeholders that have given me that specific knowledge and my expertise has been in how to transfer that and in the delivery of the ensuring programme. Likewise developing managers and leaders always has some context but the general skills and abilities one would require to deliver that work are very transportable (in my opinion and that of others) and again I can ask the correct questions of the correct people to understand and embed the context into the work.

Therefore I am surprised when on a regular basis I am told that I am not worthy of consideration for a role (my words not theirs) because I don’t have for example ‘financial services’ background. Having reflected on this at length (there’s plenty of reflection time at the moment) there’s a few reason that come to mind but this is just my starter for 10:

  1. The world is being an insecure teenager at the moment so managing it’s insecurities by making industry background a prerequisite
  2. ‘No one gets fired for buying IBM’ – is it individuals playing safe on hiring ‘people like us’ to make sure they are not exposed in the organisation?
  3. Some industries, even in transportable roles such as mine, are just very different, very complex and need specialists?
  4. The individual manager doesn’t want to have to invest the time getting an individual up to speed on context?

That list is by no means exhaustive and I would love to know your thoughts on them and any other reasons you can think of…

One final thought, given the events of the past few years is it just me that thinks that some industries could do with actively seeking talent from outside their own sphere in order to gain objectivity and challenge from people who weren’t inside their respective bubble when it burst? No? Just me????

I was going to try and work in the analogy of people who intermarry and therefore reduce the diversity of the gene pool with a ha ha reference to the British Royal Family but it didn’t seem to fit anywhere but think about it for a second 😉



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The one where I fear for the natives

I love books, always have done (as long as I can remember) and hopefully always will do. What’s more publishers and bookcase makers should love me as I like to buy my own and generally like to keep them. That said in the past few weeks I have had a revelation. The fact that I have too many isn’t the revelation, the revelation was actually that I have 3 types of books:

  1. Books I have read and will never read again
  2. Books I have read and would consider reading again
  3. Books I have kept because they contain information I wanted access to

With a new objective to reduce the number of books I have in my home 1 and 2 are easy – give category 1 to a charity shop and find more efficient ways to store category 2. In reviewing the entries in category 3 I had a sub-revelation that actually most of these are now redundant as the information they contain is out to date versus that available online. Which got me to thinking….

When I was kid calculators were becoming cheap and widely available, so we all nagged our Mums into getting us one and a generation of people were amused by typing 55378008 into a small machine. In thinking back I remember arguments about why would you need to learn mental arithmetic when you could work it out on a calculator but now with hindsight it’s abundantly clear that a) mental arithmetic is far more valuable than just “doing Maths” and that b) my Dad is better than most card games than me due to his superior mental arithmetic.

Likewise when I was a kid if you wanted to access knowledge you needed either something or someone who gave you access whether that be parents (or other such grownups), a friend with the Encyclopaedia Britannica or for that tough to reach stuff a trip to the local reference library. Therefore, when you got some knowledge you tried (or at least I did) to retain it, whether that be in your head or in a book for future use.

In reflecting on my revelations with books the thoughts that I spiralled into involved the digital natives (or generation Z whichever you prefer) and their evaluation of and access to information and from that knowledge. Given my generation’s attitudes to mental arithmetic given access to calculators, will the natives given access to Google/wiki etc dismiss the need to learn and retain knowledge relying on the fact they have easy access to it?

This leaves me with 2 very pressing concerns:

  1. What happens when there’s no signal?
  2. How will they ever know the satisfaction of winning a pub quiz without cheating?


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The one where the contrast is lost

Barack Obama travels in style – whether it be Airforce One, Marine One or ‘The Beast’; the President of the United States is well catered for when it comes to transportation. However, if I had a question about transport infrastructure, I wouldn’t ask the person who manages it for the White House. I wouldn’t have the same requirement, resources or infrastructure to make what I’m sure would be excellent advice relevant to me or the organisation I was working for. That may seem a strange thing to open a post about people with but I promise I’ll return to it.

Yesterday I attended a session at #cipd11 which was all about HR & Social Media. To be honest I wasn’t going to write a post about it, the main reason being that Doug Shaw wrote two great posts (here & here) which didn’t seem to need adding to….but things moved on and here we are.

The session had 2 speakers – Neil Morrison, Group HRD at Random House and Matthew Hanwell, HR Director, Community & Social Media for Nokia. Neil’s half of the session concerned how Random House have approached their employees usage of social media and how they use it as part of engaging their teams but also for engaging with authors and readers. It was an interesting session and the thing that struck me was it was very portable – to do what Random House have done you only need buy in not capex.

Then came Matthew whose session was likewise very interesting and concerned how social media is now part of the way Nokia operates. How transparent communication and collaboration has developed their organisation and shared some great stuff about what they do and how they do it. However (and there had to be a however) what Matthew and Nokia have done requires significant investment both in terms of technology and resource. It requires a reengineering of internal communication and is only likely to feasible and valuable in an organisation that like Nokia is big and global.

I enjoyed the session and came away with plenty to think about and have already shared some of the content with people I know who were not in attendance.

Where it got interesting was in the write up published in People Management Daily (a version of People Management produced at the conference). If you were to read this article you would not know that Neil was there. There was absolutely no mention of him or his content. The article focussed purely on Matthew’s content.

Given the number of big global companies and the rest I was surprised at the exclusion of ‘the first half’ because for my thinking it would be as relevant if not more so to 95% of HR Practitioners who may be trying to move their organisations towards embracing social media. Even for the big global players, trying to start the journey what Neil discussed in terms of behaviour would be incredibly relevant.

Is this indicative of HR’s obsession with “shiny” when actually what delivers real organisational value for most of us is good stuff done well? To return to the original analogy what we ended up reading about was a fascinating insight into Barack Obama’s transport infrastructure when what we could have read about was the contrast between that and people who deliver results with a Toyota Avensis and a Premium Economy seat on Virgin….


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The one where the label’s different

The last time I was at an exhibition similar to this (#CIPD11) was about 2 years ago. At the time my badge had a nice weighty corporate job title which started with ‘Head of’ and left those reading it with the (correct) impression that I  lead a function within a significant organisation and more importantly to them had budget and some discretion.

As I have said previously I am here as a guest of the CIPD. I am here because one of the CIPD digital team (thank you Mrs Thomson) likes reading my blog and thought I would be an interesting addition to ‘noise’ coming out of the conference. So as far as the exhibitors and my badge are concerned I am a blogger working for a company called blogger. It looks like this:

As interesting as this may be to some people (and to all 4 of you I am grateful) to those who seek a signature of the line which is dotted I am a lost cause…..for the moment. Well to be honest, they get the ‘lost cause’ bit but aren’t neccessarily on to the ‘for the moment’ bit.

With a fair wind and some luck at some point soon I hope to land another job which gives me a nice weightly job title and some budget to spend (I do like spending organisational cash). There have been some enlightened folks about the place today who have asked enough questions to understand that ‘blogger blogger’ may be my badge, it hides a person who could be of interest to their business in the short to medium term.

However, there have been a fair few who seeing the ‘blogger blogger’ badge have in true pre-Samaritan fashion ‘crossed to other side’ to avoid what is in their eyes a conversation that holds no value.

Whilst I understand why they’ve done this (and confess I’ve probably done similar in my early years of flogging job ads) with now some platinum highlights and a few trips around the block to my credit I would counsel those averting their eyes on the following:

  • It’s about the long game
  • Appearances can be deceptive
  • There are several ‘blogger blogger’s here and they all have much larger readership than me – dismiss them at your peril


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The one where it must evolve

If you read this blog or follow me on Twitter you will I’m sure be aware that I am at the CIPD annual conference in Manchester. It’s the first time for some time that I’ve been to this event and like many who’ve been on hiatus I’m suprised by how much quieter it is both in terms of exhibitors and visitors.

Neil Morrison wrote a post at the end of day 1 making the self same point and whilst not wanting to rehash his post, I have reflected on it and some of my own experiences so want to share what I believe would be a good next step in conference evolution. I should say at this point that I don’t think is an issue facing just the CIPD, I think it’s a challenge to conference organisers everywhere.


Neil makes the comment “Some will argue that the unconference format is the way forward, but I’m really not that convinced”, I am not wholly convinced on the idea of pure unconference (if you don’t know what I mean read this) but my belief is that the next step is what you could call conference/unconference.

Let’s take a moment and reflect on where we are. The modern conference in principle looks something like this:

The conference keynotes and conference sessions are the big down “broadcast” arrow, the horizontal arrow represents the inter-delegate conversation (larger that it would have been thanks to things such as Twitter) but the up arrow remains small – the only real “up” being the brief Q&A sessions that are always a rush as the session draws to a close.

Personally, I like some broadcast. I like hearing what other people are doing. I like hearing what other people have made work and landed in their organisations. That may be just be me…. I think the idea of using that broadcast mechanism to stimulate debate and interaction in an unconference format (more free form and drive by the participants) would be far more productive for attendees and also allow the presenters (broadcasters) to get some meaningful feedback on their work. Also, some (limited) case study does make it easier when influencing internally in my experience – an idea endorsed with “big shiny company X does this” tends to get more traction than “we came up with an idea on a fag pack at a conference”.


Neil also makes the point, “With a three-day ticket costing over £1000 people will think twice about the value an event like this can give them compared to other uses for limited funds.” I agree with him in that a) it’s a lot of money and b) it’s a difficult time. My thinking (and here’s where it may sound a bit hairbrained) is that you need to make the cost of attendance minimal (administration only). I realise that the conference is a major revenue stream for the CIPD (and others like them) BUT I am not suggesting kissing off the revenue….

Imagine you increased the number (and quality) of the visitors by 10. Firstly, your conference/unconference sessions would be buzzing, the venue would be alive with energy and most importantly (and this is where it could make sense) the exhibition hall would be awash with visitors and the stands would be overflowing. Your exhibitors would be buzzing and both the number of exhibitors and the prices you could justifiable charge them would increase.

Now I understand the quality piece may be tricky. That would require some strategic inviting and ensuring the “Who’s Who” of HR were here, which would mean that it would be THE PLACE to come, network and meet the people who are moving and shaking at the top of our profession.

I was just about to press publish and realised that I am here as a guest of the CIPD and this post may feel like biting the hands that feeds etc but this is NOT a criticism of the operation or organisation of a massive event. This is a desire to see an increase in sharing, improvement and networking which can only develop our profession.

So there you have it….my solution to all conference woes. What next? Was going to work on the solution to the eurozone crisis but it’s time for a beer so that’ll have to wait!


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The one where the elephant stays on the table

So yesterday morning Sir Terry Leahy keynoted at CIPD Conference in Manchester. All the cliches that are often applied are not actually cliches for this man – he was a captain of British industry and his leadership saw a business go from “also ran” to “King of the Castle”.

My intention here is not to tell you what he said as Doug Shaw did an excellent job of that in this post but to share some reflections of watching one of the most successful business leaders in a generation hold court and follow up on a post I wrote a few days ago which posed a question.

In an industry that has featured the full effect of Sir Stuart Rose, the polished delivery of Justin King and the tour de force that is Sir Phillip Green, Leahy was always the also ran when it came to showman ship and charisma. His appearances were very structured, his press photos always in front of a store and until yesterday I couldn’t have told you what he sounded like.

It was therefore quite a surprise to me that to hear someone who was relaxed, not charismatic but engaging and still true to his Liverpool roots (although with a little city polish). The man who stood in front of me had the calm self assurance of someone who is not talking about possibilities, but has delivered results. He goes to sleep at night knowing the impact he had, the shareholder value he returned and the world which now rests at his feet.

What he had to say was relatively interesting. He made some comments about the business that I know some in the room would question but painted a pragmatic picture of operating a growing FTSE100 business. The acknowledgement that was lacking for me was the assertive, possibly aggressive, stance that Tesco take commercially. Having worked for both a Tesco supplier and latterly a company that competed with some categories at Tesco, you may be forgiven for thinking the description given today was of a benevolent responsible organisation when in fact it may be both those things but it’s an organisation that takes no commercial prisoners and neither should it.

Some, including Doug in the post linked above, question the dominant position Tesco have achieved in the UK and in some markets overseas. If there is concern there I don’t levy it at Leahy and his team – if Tesco is out of control it’s the fault of regulation and legislation, not of an organisation that is inherently there to return share holder value.

In thinking about us all sitting there listening to him it almost felt like a lion addressing a room full of wildebeest . Not for a moment was anyone from the room going to ask a question that didn’t play to him returning an answer that comfortably allowed him to continue to referring to Tesco as “we” (he left the organisation in the Spring of this year). No one, myself included, moxied up the neccessary guts to ask the question I was hoping that someone was going to ask…how did he think Tesco’s current performance reflected on his legacy? Did this challenge him as Level 5 Terry (in Good to Great speak) and render him a mere Level 4 (despite the awe inpsiring growth in market capitalisation).

In a conversation with Philippa Lamb (who had interviewed him for this session) I raised the question I was hoping someone would ask and acknowledged there was no way she could have asked it, but I am disappointed that no one person in the room asked the question that HR professionals should be asking rather than a nice stream of interesting questions that played to Sir Terry’s tried and tested responses.

The elephant remained on the table, the lion left for a meeting in Milan and the wildebeest all shuffled off for a coffee and to muse over how many Tesco Clubcard points they had.

Them’s the breaks!

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The one with a few pre-match thoughts

I have an interesting week ahead.

Largely on the back of this blog I have been invited by the generous folks of the CIPD to be at their annual conference and exhibition. Since the invite is blog related I have a journalist pass and can effectively join any session I want…. The downside of this for you gentle folk is likely to be a rush of posts this week so please consider this your due warning.

I’ve just started the process of collecting stuff together to chuck in a bag and was thinking about the last time I went which made me remember a few things I thought I’d share:

Billy No-Mates

I last went to this event in either 2002 or 2003 with my then boss and aside from him, I knew no one else there. This time it’s VERY different, due largely to Twitter I know quite a few people going and through various conferences and meet ups in pubs, they are not just avatars but fully rounded (in some cases!) people who it will be good to catch up with. That said there are a few people going who are still just avatars so putting people to pictures will be good.

The (Print) Media Parties were best

I went to several parties whilst there (thanks mainly to the fabulous client service director at our recruitment advertising agency) and for the most part they were hosted and paid for by the print media. Telegraph, Guardian, Sunday Times and Personnel Today. I think the online guys were there but they were definitely the side show and not throwing money around (well not at a bar in my vicinity). I think this time it’ll be different!

Level 5 Terry

The opening keynote on my last visit was Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great”. I had never heard of either him or the book previous to hearing him speak. I came away enthused and read the book. I filed it in the “some great ideas as part of the mix” a view I still hold. But the idea that really stuck with me was Level 5 leaders and how, amongst other things, they ensure succession and the business continues to be successful once they have departed.

The opening keynote this year is Sir Terry Leahy. It goes without saying (so I’ll say it) that he was phenomenally successfully during his tenure as CEO of Tesco. The question I am hoping he addresses or someone poses to him is how does Tesco’s performance since his departure reflect on his legacy? I am going to the keynote so will follow this up but I’d be willing to put a sizeable wager on it remaining in the box marked ‘elephant in the room’

For the record I believe that Tesco is an incredible business. I don’t feel any resonance with the brand and it’s not my choice of shopping experience but I think what they have achieved is astounding. Whether they should have been allowed to achieve it and the impact they have is a whole other kettle of fish but I am very interested to hear what he has to say considering under this leadership HR apparently went back to personnel in both name and operation and did not sit on the executive.

Anyway enough of this….I’m off to find the 7 chargers I seem to need any time I leave the house these days. If you’ve just got ‘a week’ then good luck with that, if you’re going to #cipd11 then see you in Manchester!


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