Leadership and management are linked together and are very complementary but they are not the same thing. Leadership is inspiring, motivating and guiding while managing is coordinating, organizing and administering. The profession of human resource management (HRM) combines both leadership and management into an artful and scientific concoction allowing nearly unlimited potential for career growth opportunities. HRM places the HR leader in the front of a team to promote and achieve strategic intent and leadership philosophy. It is the role of the HR manager to lead the planning, implementation, sustainment, training, on-boarding, resource allocation and leadership interactions for the entire team. The management of all of the moving parts involves tenacity, endurance, coolness under pressure and intelligence. In order to achieve these laudable goals of becoming a senior leader in the HR profession I must understand that it takes more than hard skills to get the job done. It also takes an expansion of knowledge and experience to be well rounded and prepared for a leadership role.
In my chosen career field as a human resource manager the goals in which I would like to achieve involve development of leadership skills, breadth of knowledge regarding the business while building relationships with internal and external stakeholders. Other career objectives include increasing my direct impact to business objectives, increasing the span of control including budgeting and manpower planning as well as taking on risks and developing underperforming operating units by utilizing best practices of HRM, lean management and Six Sigma and Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) tools and certifications. The ultimate career path in which I would like to follow would include multiple roles spanning cross-functional teams allowing a broader grasp on the talent afforded to the company. All of the depth and knowledge would hopefully facilitate my future advancement to the head of the corporate HR division leading and guiding all of the interdependent parts from a wing-to-wing perspective regarding the most valuable asset in a company, the people. I would like to manage the human resource portfolio to facilitate the strategic intent of the company while hiring and molding the best and brightest future leaders of the company. In order to do so and achieve my career aspirations I will need to maintain my integrity of my leadership philosophy which is developing people first and ensuring a good fit between organization, person and position. That being said it will be two fold on how I would conduct my professional responsibilities. First I will need to fully incorporate myself into an organization to learn the business and secondly but just as vital I will need to develop relationships with the associates I encounter to try to grasp what their motives and aspirations are so that they can excel in their work environment.
Along the career path from human resource analyst to Director of Human resources there are many detours and growth opportunities such as process improvement (Lean Management/Six Sigma) and business roles that will be needed to learn the business. Taking roles to broaden my experience early in my career will provide a solid foundation and insight into what the internal HR customer needs to fulfill their talent needs. Knowing the business is the best way to understand where the gaps are in talent and how to find the right people for the right positions. This also includes training and promoting talent internally through advancement opportunities, training and expansion roles. My leadership philosophy gravitates toward the core values held by the United States Air Force which are Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all We do. To be a leader one must have integrity to do the right thing no matter the consequences, they must be selfless and humble as well as do their best in every circumstance.
Leadership is composed of multiple characteristic traits both tangible and intangible all of which synergize together to give certain individuals the ability to lead and promote ideas better than others. Although not all of the qualities will be discussed here I will cover the five most influential and impactful traits that would impact the Human Resource profession as a whole and would be needed to achieve the upper echelon of HR leadership. These are:
The three elements of leadership that I will review span communication, integrity and honest, transformational leadership. These three elements are essential tools for implementing my human resource leadership philosophy of developing the right people for the right position at the right time.
Communication is a fundamental leadership competency due to the fact that without it all other competencies would never see the light of day. The main elements of communication include what needs to be conveyed, how it is conveyed and how it is received. Three aspects of communication Foster discuss for communication was interpersonal, active listening and feedback. Communication also comes in many forms and functions. Mastery of the oratory communication skillset is only partial completion of the communication gamut. Business communication includes web-based, texts, email, instant messaging, video conferencing, static reports, dashboards, business forums, presentations, white papers and last but not least, face-to-face meetings. Communication as a leader allows the thoughts, ideas and intent to be conveyed to peers, subordinates and leaders. An understanding on how communication is important to business success is vital because communication is the life blood of the business as a whole. Communication up and down the chain of command as well as cross-functionally builds stronger relationships and provides the highways for the vessel of information to travel.
Communication is made up of multiple aspects which include: thinking, listening, speaking and non-verbal actions. All four of which must be mastered by a manager to be an effective leader (Maxwell 2008 p. 114). The effects of poor communication have tremendous impacts on meeting or surpassing business objectives. In order for the communication to be properly relayed it is imperative the message makes it through the noise of the business environment to the intended recipients as anticipated. Poor communication leads to inefficiency, deceased innovation and poor products or services delivered to the customer.
Foster discussed feedback in chapter three of Maximum Performance. The first is how companies push and pull information up and down the chain of command (Foster 2011 p. 108). Poor efficiency through communication occurs the communication presented is misunderstood, misinterpreted due to vagueness and requires clarification or presents the wrong idea altogether (Maxwell 2008 p 113). The inefficiency starts when the communication is poorly presented. The leader sending the communication wasted his or her time drafting the message because it was not representative of what needs to occur. The next problem area is the interpretation and actions taken by the recipient. It takes time to understand the message and then try to relate it to the business application and once a path is chosen the wrong end state could be achieved all due to poor communication. An example of a poor presentation leads to a negative outcome is that of Target’s financial report on its credit card portfolio. Target represented their facts and figures in the presentation in a way that when read as a stand-alone product represented a story that was not 100% based upon factual and accurate data and communication. The issues were around delinquency rates, three month average past due dates and portfolio yields. All three of these factors are important to potential investors in the credit card holdings of consumers. Although the information was not technically incorrect it was represented in a fashion that did not explain the data and measured it against incongruent data marks among industry participants. Crosby (2011, p. 2) reflects that they did not make apples to apples comparisons and once the data was put into a more realistic perspective shareholders reacted, business became soft and now Target is shopping the credit card segment to the open market.
Communication of the whole picture and not just a small snip it is important regarding HRM because as a leader it is part of the role and responsibility to lead the way and provide a clear picture of the goals, objectives and way ahead. Within Human resource management there is more to achieving a successful project than putting together a project schedule with inter-related work-breakdown structures and corollary scope and requirement documentation. That is all for naught if the goals, objectives and deliverables are not communication throughout the organization while providing line of sight the end state as well as insight into the current progress and potential roadblocks. Through the review of many projects post-implementation reviews communication crops up to the top of the area’s in need of work section.
Communication involves more than daily email blasts to distribution lists. Project management communication involves providing the information when it is needed, how it is needed, encompassing the correct information and to the involving the appropriate recipient. Sending daily updates to the Vice President is not effect or efficient time of either the VP or the project manager not to mention the ramifications and feedback from the chain of command along the way to the VP. The same goes for daily updates on a long term project with large milestones spanning months between completions. The stale data will create a stagnation and complacency among the project team members and once a new item crops up on the project list there will be little or no reaction unless a secondary or tertiary communication method is utilized. The communication method, schedule and content all impact the impact of the communication. Normally projects are short-term with temporary team members which lead to temporary communication venues. This is only complicated by cross-functional and non-local project team members (PMI 2008 Section 10.2).
Communication is a tool used to motivate, inspire, direct and lead. Franklin D. Roosevelt served as president through three elections. John F. Kennedy instilled a can-do attitude in American culture while lifting the space program off the ground. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. transferred his unwavering and unshakable passion for civil liberties to all walks of life. Bill Clinton charmed the electorate and rendered a pending impeachment unsuccessful by showing he had America’s best interests at heart despite his personal liabilities of action. All of these figures in leadership have a common characteristic. The common thread is that when they communicated they had a clear voice in both volume and message. As a leader the voice must be heard clearly and concisely with the message elaborating the intended end point.
Integrity and Honest
“Historically, unethical, corrupt, and illegal practices have been part and parcel of doing business for centuries, in spite of the considerable damage of such activities have caused” (Forster 2011, p 448). Integrity is a leadership skill that surpasses the test of time. It should be easy to understand the term integrity and its ramifications when utilizing or not utilizing its intentions. When something has integrity it is whole. The integrity of a system means that it has all of its pieces and can function. When something is without integrity it is missing components and does not function as it is originally intended to do. If a wheel is missing pieces it is no longer a complete system with integrity and it will quickly become out of round, lose functionality and eventually stop working. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. This seems like an easy value to maintain but it can be tested on a daily basis in which one misstep at any point will put the character and integrity into question which would mitigate and potentially destroy all business acumen the individual accumulated in his or her career. Holding a person’s integrity as a number one value will ensure the decisions are based on honesty, good intentions and for all the right reasons. Integrity is important to the business both in perception by the public as well as internal business operations and stakeholders. The business goals, objectives and strategies coupled with leadership decisions impact the employees, customers and themselves. Business leaders make decisions that will provide a ripple effect throughout the organization and have a far impacting reach. Leadership leads. They must lead by example even when the decisions are hard. Living and breathing with business integrity results in employees down the chain of command following the suit of integrity.
The understanding of the impact of integrity in the business is important because without integrity the framework of the business culture is in jeopardy of collapse. An example of how integrity greatly impacts business is that of the Enron financial/accounting misrepresentation and subsequent demise and bankruptcy. Integrity or the lack thereof, plays a major role in the overall demise of Enron. In the early 1990’s the energy market was continuing to deregulate which left many opportunities for growth in the energy market. Enron, being an energy company, began to purchase multiple assets on liability which in itself was not a violation of integrity. Enron was purchasing the assets on liability and placing the bills on limited liability entities held outside of Enron and their financial reporting. While the liabilities were held outside of the books the profits and assets were reported which inflated operating profit, market share and stock price. All of Enron’s profits were inflated or entirely falsified. The lack of integrity has led to the financial ruin of many employees, families and businesses. The decision to sweep the principles and moral integrity under the rug devastated many people in the wake of the scandal. Integrity is paramount and making the right decision when no one is looking leads to a strong foundation in personal and business transactions (Easy guide to understanding ENRON scandal summary 2011, p. 1).
As if the scandals at Enron were not enough to display the lack of integrity held by financial powers another example illustrated by Forest was that of how truly destructive the consequences of the sub-prime mortgage lending fiasco (2011 p. 457). Through the complete disregard for ethical behavior and reporting their finances accurately proved too much for the fragile economic house of lending to stand. By stating false wealth and overvaluing sub-prime mortgages a short time gain was met with disastrous consequences that resulted in joblessness, ownership transfer to foreign countries and most importantly a loss in trust in the government for not preventing the issues and big business for taking advantage of the people.
Integrity as discussed is doing the right thing in any circumstance even if it is difficult. Knowing what integrity is and implementing it are two different aspects. The leader’s core values guide their actions and integrity is the compass the direction is sought. So when an object does not have integrity it does not work as intended and in order to achieve the objectives and strategic goals of leadership the business unit and leader must have a bridge of workability built with integrity. In order to maintain integrity the leader must be held to a higher standard and his or her word carries the validity of their honor. The leader’s word is made up of multiple parts. They include: What the leaders says. The knowledge held by the person saying it. The expectations or results are expressed and what the leader says will happen and what they will accomplish. All of these are combined into one’s word or honor when stating what will occur. This is a fragile piece of communication which through trials and tribulations gains validity or loses all value based on the integrity of the person stating it. Integrity is honoring your word, doing what you said, when you said it, how you said it and delivering what you said. As a project manager and leader it is delivering the project on time, on budget and within specifications while maintaining expectations of the stakeholders, business leaders, employees and customers. This does not mean that every project will meet the schedule but it does mean that every project manager and leader will need to communicate the project’s health will utmost truthfulness and integrity without pushing the negative aspects off such as the case of Enron and their financial derivations to the truth.
Honesty and integrity are important because unethical behavior may lead to short term gains it will eventually end up disastrous. By basing decisions in honesty and integrity the decisions will never be wrong and can never be questions after the fact regarding what should and should not have been done. Knowing what integrity is will help facilitate the understanding of why integrity is important.
With a foundation of integrity, the expectations are set high within the walls of the leadership role. The leader upholding his or her integrity will be expected to do what they said they would do, do it to the best of their ability and know-how, performed to expectations or informed the stakeholders of the gap between expectations and performance all while achieving this within the timeframe the leader said they would complete it. If any of this cannot be met it is up to the leader to address the deficiency in a timely manner and how to mitigate the gap. In a financial perspective on maintaining integrity, the long-term cost of compromising the integrity is exponentially larger than that of the short-term gain. Business leaders make overarching decisions on how to conduct business and working with integrity encapsulates the decision and prevents potential ramifications from the short-term gain. The backbone of the business goals established in integrity, allow the workability bridge to performance to span from the functional, operational and strategic leaders to the customers and shareholders of the company. The project manager leads the projects to meet the goals of the business and needs a firm foundation in integrity to make the tough decisions and provide sound leadership to the project team.
Foster referenced an amazing point stating “Echoing the work of Jim Collin’s and Gerry Porras on companies that have a ‘purpose beyond profit’, Levitt also suggested that investors and financial advisors should stop evaluating companies’ share prices solely on their short term performance: ‘If they revert to judging companies on a quarter-by-quarter basis, investors can expect the kind of management that also places overwhelming importance on short-term performances.” (Foster 2011, 455). Ethics and integrity are of paramount importance because their basis stands the test of time and the people and corporations based in moral and ethical foundations will also stand the test of time.
Change Management and Adaptability
Adaptability is essential to all aspects of life but becomes even more inherent and important when a leadership role is undertaken. Adaptability and facilitating change management allows the leader to go to the problem area, recognize the issue, resolve the problem or build a mitigation plan to lessen the impact of the troubled area while also ensuring issues do not exponentially negatively impact the business or people as a result of the leadership change implemented. It is imperative to understand the root cause of the change especially in a role that will have a great ripple effect on the business as a whole. Remedying the symptoms will only lessen the pain for a short time but overall does not fix the problem at hand and could potentially lead to a larger unmanageable problem in the future. Adapting to issues and variables in business is an advancement of the normal memorization educational background. Change management and adaptability to the environment requires the person to figure out what happened, why it happened and how to reduce the likelihood that it will happen again. This also eliminates the need to put on daily fire watch and conduct immediate response fire drills to conduct business. Constant fire-fighting puts strain on the employees and hinders productivity of the operating unit and business entity.
Leadership in Human resources require the soft skills of adapting and overcoming issues on a daily basis because they medium of work is dynamic and multi-faceted. In the HR role certain problems will arise due to the impression that employees are not doing their job either because they are capable or because they are cognitively negligent. In either case it is up to the HR leader to utilize their management expertise to understand the actual issue, perform an informal or formal root cause analysis and carry out the actions either directly or by leading the correction team to the solution. A recent challenge requiring adaptability occurred with a manager in a training section of the Human Resources department. The synopsis of the situation was that costs were increasing due to fixed costs increasing due to the mandatory movement of the office from a less than adequate training facility to a state-of-the-art facility. Due to the large fixed cost increase and as well as other inflationary items the customer base is dwindling due to the economy which is forecasted to result in a 10% reduction in hours available.
In order to be able to adapt and manage changes in the business environment the HR manager must first identify the issue that caused the change. The next is the investigative process to find out what is causing the impact on business while lastly as the leader it was up to him to implement a solution. At first glance the HR manager thought about relocating to a cheaper office space or trying to retain the amount of business but moving was not feasible and the lag time to create new business would not solve the problem. Since the causes of the change have been identified as a rent increase and significant loss of business the true leader and adaptable professional must rise to the occasion and think outside of box to adapt the current situation and manage the changes to still remain productive and cost efficient. The HR manager could decide to increase the rates of the training services but politically speaking having a valid reason for costs incurred would be hard to sell up the chain of command since leadership initiated the move. Since the HR manager was working in a cost center and not a profit center his hands were tied in some of the potential solutions.
The variable that is costing the most financial heartache is the cost of the facilities. This is a shared facility and after some research it was found that each business unit is charge by the amount of square feet used. The HR leader went to the staff to garner their input on how to save space and the plan arose to have varying schedules including work-at-home options alternating between workers, issuing laptops so that shared space could be utilized and a discretionary budget to purchase the workspace desks, work pods and tables needed to have a cohabitated work area all while reducing the space by half and eliminating 50% of the fixed cost. This is a pure example of how leadership must have the skills to adapt and overcome as well as manage changes professionally and expertly without clear direction, guidance or path to the solution.
In chapter 3 of Maximum Performance by Forester (2011 p.96), it is stated that communication is the lifeblood of organizations and is the primary medium for getting things accomplished. With this simple statement a multitude of variables are addressed. Great communication accomplishes the greatest of feats while poor communication facilitates some of the biggest failures and debacles in human history. Communication being the foundation of how information is transferred from person to person and the fact that I want to lead a Human Resource division within my company I must master multiple forms of communication within multiple media forms. It is hard for the troops to follow a general into battle if they do not fully understand what is being said. In reality the general with poor communication skills would not be a general in the first place because it takes great skill and knowledge to rise to the upper ranks. Over the next four to five years, as I advance on my journey in the HR career field I plan on working on my communication skills in various ways that include in-house training, volunteer opportunities and increased responsibility in my current job function.
The first way is to push myself to the limit by joining a public speaking and leadership skills. The club of interest is that of the Toastmasters International. This would help fulfill multiple areas in need of development including public speaking, general communication and leadership skills. Provided that each club expects its member to participate and take full advantage of the resources available I will be able to artfully craft my communication skills and directly correlate the polished skill set to the advancement of my career. Joining a group that would push me to prepare, present and speak in front of a group of knowledgeable recipients will help me take my skillset to the next level. The Toastmasters International club will allow me to work on my oral communication as well as leadership traits through their training programs.
I also plan on joining leadership groups outside of my department which impact cross-functional teams. As part of these roles I am going to move up from a contributor to the events to a functional lead position where I will need to lead and convey the ideas to my team. Putting the skills into practice will help hone my abilities and produce the results needed to take on larger challenges presented by positions up HR hierarchy. The roles that I am most interested in are those involving communication for across the board corporate events. This will allow me to craft documentation, presentations, schedules, newsletters, SharePoint sites, or other media to convey the message while also giving me the tools in the process. Joining these groups will allow my written communication skills to flourish and improve throughout the course of the project.
Taking the tools of internal volunteer work and participating in the Toastmaster International club I also plan to step up on the big projects and voice my opinions, knowledge and ideas in conjunction with my current stance of receiving and acting upon the received information. I plan to lead forward by communicating my intentions and ideas to the group as a whole while also taking on larger responsibility in the HR functions regarding medium to large scale projects. This will allow face time with senior leadership while I present my projects to garner acceptance and promotion of my ideas and implement changes to conduct business in a better more efficient manner.
Last but not least I plan to become part of the marketing task force regarding next year’s community donations collection for underprivileged children. This will allow yet another venue for my communication skills as well as broaden the audience requiring me to craft and deliver the message in different fashions, at different times to entire different groups. As for the other half of communication dialogue, my listening skills will be enhanced by utilizing active listening while taking part of the speaking engagements and listening to the needs of the underprivileged children charities in order to better transfer their message to potential donors. Increasing my active listing skills will allow me to better understand the needs of the people in the Human Resources function as well as better understanding the business needs.
Transformational Leadership/Leading Change
Leading change in business is necessary because everything changes every day and if we do not change with it then we will be left behind. Although change occurs rapidly everyday it is hard to prepare in regard to training for every scenario in the business world. A plan is only good until it is ready to be used and then it will change but on the flip side if you fail to plan you plan to fail. The dichotomy is exciting when preparing for the unknown. Over the course of the next 4-5 years my goal for increasing my ability to adapt and overcome is by building a rock solid business foundation which will give me the breadth and depth needed to take on a senior leadership role in the company and execute it with great success. Transformational leadership and becoming the tip of the leadership spear incorporates the ability to maintain the flexibility to adapt to natural and unnatural forces while still maintaining the external customer focus needed to be successful. This ability to lead change relies on creating change, customer focus and organizational learning.
In the HR function it is necessary to roll with the punches and adapt to customer needs while not trying to impose their progress to attaining and developing great talent. Flexibility and adaptability are necessary for success in transformational leadership but that must also be accompanied by knowledge and vigor to get the job done right. Through my career transitions I expect to move positions every 18 months and within the 4-5 year time frame I would like to have the experience of 3-4 differing business operating units within the corporation. Transformational leadership can also be used as a competitive advantage among businesses as well as between peers when competing for specific roles throughout the company. Business is full of risk and instability due to emerging technologies, transparency in business models and increased globalization and building a proven track record of success amount diverse and overarching business needs provides the ammunition needed to move up the corporate ladder. To incorporate the knowledge base of the proposed cross-functional HR assignment I will also venture into the implementation of scalable best practice frameworks regarding HR and leadership throughout the organization. In order to become more adaptable I plan on working the implementation of best practices and continual service improvement in the HR functions I take part in. By being a change facilitator I can learn to adapt and guide the organization into a bend but do not break modus operand.
Persuasion and Negotiation
Tom Landry succinctly put it “Leadership is getting people to do what they do not want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve”. In order to get people to complete task and objectives they do not want to do it is imperative that they are persuaded to do so. Persuasion itself is guiding others toward the adoption of an idea, thought, or action. Persuasion is a necessity in business to make ideas come to fruition. Negotiating contracts and developing guidance documentation all require persuasion of one party to meet at a common goal. Persuasion requires a multitude of different attributes including negotiation skills, listening skills, insight, knowledge, courage and confidence.
In order to prepare my persuasion skills for greater roles and responsibilities in the mid-term future I will need to incorporate my other training venues into the progression of my persuasion and negotiation skills. During the tenure in which I participate in the extra-curricular volunteer activities I will need to focus on developing my thoughts and ideas as well as how to present them to the target audience in order to gain buy-in and ultimately have my idea implemented into the processes of the groups. This will coincide with taking on leadership roles within the varying organizations requiring increased responsibility and opportunity for success.
While working through my potential positions it is important to have a direct line of sight to the customer whether it is an internal customer or external customer. Negotiations and areas for growth in persuasion exist when dealing with the needs and wants of the customers. Persuading top notch talent into the organization requires talent and skill. Getting a highly sought after resource to join the team may take more than just a salary number to garner their support and efforts. HR professionals must manage stakeholders’ interest from various and sometimes conflicting areas all while persuading each unit to do what is best for the company as a whole and not just for the individual operating unit. I can develop my tactics and skills by taking part of multiple negotiations between operating units as well as become the subject matter expert in specific organizational functions and HR functionality.
In developing my leadership skills I would also like to focus on adapting to change. As pointed out earlier I feel it is imperative to adapt to the ever changing business climate in not only my selected field of Human resources but in business interactions as a whole. When looking back over the leaders that have impacted my career I can pointedly show that they all had characteristics revolving around confidence, especially under pressure, resolve, professional and expertise. All of these traits coupled together, once developed, would help me perform under pressure and adapt to evolving circumstances. In order for me to hone these skills I wanted to take a different approach and wanted to join a local college’s offering for an improvisational class. This will place me in a situation that I have not encountered before and also test my adaptability and resolve for success under pressure.
Finally in order to develop my leadership skills I plan to take on more responsibilities and leadership aspects of my job function. I will initially start to take on special projects that will lead small teams but in the process I will not only serve my company as a project leader in the HR function I will also be developing my leadership skills by doing one of the hardest functions of leadership and that is leading without direct authority over the person you are leading and guiding. This is difficult because I will have to use my communication, leadership, negotiation and persuasion skills to garner the support from the team to accomplish the special projects.
Conclusion and Lessons Learned
Leadership is much more than a position it is the action of the person that makes them a leader. Each leader has positive traits that promote his or her ability to lead in an ever changing environment. From my experience the five areas that impact my Human Resource career trajectory are integrity, communication, problem solving, persuasion/negotiation and adaptability. Each attribute is a tool in my tool kit that will allow me to excel and fulfill my career objective of become the Head of the Human Resources department I learned that there is more to a leader than a role they fulfill in an organization. Leadership is the skill and finesse of getting people to do something that they normally would not do on their own. I learned that being a leader is more than just skills but also a responsibility to the people you lead. Integrity and dedication to the mission as well as the men and women you lead is the driving force behind being a leader.
There are multiple ways to lead and multiple opportunities to take the reins and guide the stagecoach but without the proper core skills the ultimate result will be a leadership failure. In order to achieve my career goals I need to constantly work on the core foundation of Human Resources while also sharpening the leadership skills that will benefit the company of tomorrow.
Throughout this process I defined what I wanted to achieve in my career and that is to be the head of the Human resources department. Achieving that goal would not be possible without formulating the end state first. Through the process I determined where I wanted to go and with the career plan I have a method to get there as well as the tools and training plans to increase my knowledge base and skill to be fully prepared for the opportunity. In closing, Human Resources is a vital role in business performance and success. I have the strategic goal stated and now need to work toward the goals and objectives for the next 4-5 years in order to proceed in my career path. With the tools and training I should be able to achieve my long term goals while achieving success in my current role.
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