How Do You Motivate Employees?

I have heard this many times from managers: “How do I motivate people to get them to do the things I want them to do?”

The answer is: “You don’t!”

It is hard to motivate people because they already are motivated. What we can do is determine what motivates them and use this knowledge to channel their energy toward your organization’s goals.

Some people are like water in a faucet. They have the motivation; all you have to provide is the opportunity. The water is already motivated to flow, but it doesn’t have the opportunity until you open the tap. Others are like mountain streams, which flow swiftly but follow their own channels. People, too, may move energetically, but toward their own goals. We should make it worth their while to channel their motivation toward the results management is seeking.

Also Read: How to Inspire Your Employees with a Vision?

What Motivates People?

To better understand motivation, it’s important to find out what moves a person. What gives a person a reason to take action or behave in a certain way?

From an empirical perspective, having worked with, coached or trained thousands of professionals and managers, I observe two main items or reasons that make an employee satisfied and motivated.

Motivator #1

An employee wants to feel respected, valued, appreciated and recognized. To that point, I love the quote by philosopher Williams James: “The deepest need in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” People have a deep-seated need for feeling important. The best way to get people to pay attention to you is to pay attention to them. That means listening to others, not just hearing them. Listening is active; hearing is passive. Listening is a way to pay attention and respect to a person. If you listen to individuals long enough, they’ll tell you what their concerns and problems are. It’s amazing what you’ll learn.

Motivator #2.

Employees (most of them) love interesting, challenging work or increasing responsibility. Many people I have come across want to do well; they want opportunities for growth and achievement. The challenge about those factors is that they differ for each person. A challenging task or project is totally different for a salesperson, engineer or accountant. The manager’s role is to determine which task is interesting to which person so this person feels a sense of pride or achievement.

Empathy and seeing things from the other person’s point of view is an essential skill for managers to have and develop in order to increase motivation in others.

How Do You Get People to Change?

What we can change – or influence: a person’s behavior, but not their personality. To do that, we must understand them and connect with them. That requires more than training. It requires education. When you train people, you just try to teach them a task; when you educate people, you deal with them at a deeper level relative to behavior, feelings and beliefs. The word education comes from the Latin word educo, which means to change from within.

In behavior change, differentiating motives or intentions from behavior itself is crucial. We all tend to judge ourselves by our motives and intentions; yet we have a tendency to judge others by their actions.

Put another way, we’re inclined to excuse behavior in ourselves that we find unacceptable in others. When our employees are late for work, it’s because they’re irresponsible and have no interest in their jobs. When we’re late for work, it’s because we were attending to necessary details that had to be taken care of. When team members engage in undesirable behavior, we shouldn’t try to assess motives or change them. Just deal with the behavior. We can’t change the motives of our employees, but through positive or negative reinforcement, you can affect their actions.

Remember, people do things for their reasons, not mine nor yours.

Have a motivating day!

How to Turn a Good Leadership Team into a Great One

The enemy of becoming great is becoming content with being good. That is the reason we have many good companies, not great ones, good schools, not a great ones, and good management teams, not great ones. There’s a lot of good, but not good enough to become great.

Most organizations, institutions, teams, and individuals have become comfortable with being good. That’s where they stay. Consequently, there is no urgency, drive, and motivation put into extra efforts to become great.

Good Leadership to Great Leadership Example

When the CEO of a construction company called me to provide leadership development, the company went through a lot of change. They had transferred complete ownership of the company twice in the previous year and experienced a high turnover in personnel. The executive team consisted of nine individuals with very driven, ambitious, A-type personalities.

Their culture was one in which managers made decisions based on the interest of their department or themselves, not the entire company. For example, during budget discussions the managers would fight and argue for who was to get the most resources, instead of allocating funds to implement what was best for the company. The three main departments were functioning as “stand alone silos” instead of “well oiled machines”. The biggest challenge was getting the entire team to commit to change and to demonstrate a true desire to better oneself, the team, and the company.

We implemented the following four strategies to move their management team from good to great –

Great Leadership Management Approaches

1. Embrace the Mover and Shaker Ideology

When teams do the same things as they did in the past, they continue to attract the same results. Change is needed. Initially, the team had lengthy conversations about what was going well, what the challenges were, and where change was necessary. Those discussions helped create urgency for leading the change efforts. Each manager committed to shake up one of their daily routines such as visiting the field more regularly, or walk through the entire office once a day.

2. Focus Growing Trust with Open and Honest Communication

Some of the managers didn’t mesh well together. Rather than collaborating, they were competing with each other. Two of the managers barely knew each other even though they worked on the same client projects. On one occasion they carpooled to a client meeting and learned more about each other during the trip. By spending more time together, mutual understanding increased, so did the trust between them.

3. Focus on Positive New Opportunities

A great team owns their “purpose” and articulates it to the entire organization with clarity and tenacity. This management team met regularly for strategic sessions to align themselves around a clear future direction for the organization. They focused on opportunities rather than challenges, solutions instead of problems, and talked about new market niches rather than complaining about clients. They developed a clear vision of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to accomplish together.

4. Increase Accountability Efforts with Clearly Defined Systems

The team discussed collective efforts, assigned roles, responsibilities, and contributions based on skills and talent. This resulted in specific performance standards and expectations. In addition, they clarified behavioral guidelines that stemmed from their company values. This was the foundation for increased mutual accountability.

As the management team led the change efforts, employees noticed significant improvements. These were the responses from the team members:

  • “Now there’s more listening here.”
  • “We are more open with each other.”
  • “There’s a lot more interaction and proactive discussions.”

This resulted in tangible progress in the numbers. Besides working together better among the managers, the workforce increased by 10 percent, revenues by 50 percent, and profits grew by 300 percent within 3 years.

The CEO summarized the progress in his own words:

We always had skilled people. I attribute a lot of results to making changes in our own behavior. Now we are more skilled in working together as a great leadership team.

3 Signs of a Good Business Strategy

Business and technology keep moving faster and faster. Strategy doesn’t.

Change brings opportunities. Change can also be confusing. The mistake that managers make is that they see all the changes, exciting opportunities, and new technologies and say, “gosh, we have to get out there, take advantage and implement a sound business strategy”. They forget that if they don’t have a clear direction, a distinctive competitive advantage, it’s going to be very hard to win.

Many of my executive clients are very busy, fly around the world, jump from meeting to meeting, and say: “I don’t have time for strategy, the world is changing so fast, we have to move faster. Making time for strategy is a waste of time.” I argue, “It’s the opposite. You got to slow down, clear your head, reflect, think, then set the right strategic direction for the organization and decide what you are trying to accomplish in the future. Having a strategy actually speeds things up.”

Three Key Principles of Business Strategy

1. Goals and priorities

Business strategy starts with having the right goal, setting the right priorities, and having the appropriate mission. The essence of strategy is to set boundaries on what we are going to accomplish as an organization. It is about making choices, trade-offs. Rather than asking “How can we find more opportunities?” try to answer “How can we narrow down the opportunities that will help our company excel and give us the best return?”
Making a list of 15 “top priorities” is easier than saying “let’s focus on those 3 opportunities and let’s do it right.” Deciding what not to do is hard.

2. Deliberate choices

Good strategy is about making deliberate choices to be different, to be unique. How are we going to deliver superior value to our client that is different from how our rivals do it? We cannot be all things to all people. Companies without a strategy are willing to try anything. This is dangerous and not a promising recipe for success. If a company is trying to do essentially the same things as their competitors, they will end up in a price war. Gone are the price premiums.

3. Continuity

Finally, a good business strategy must have continuity. Too many organizations fall into that trap of constantly reinventing their strategy. Continuity comes into place when we clearly determine the big-picture questions around defining the target market, articulating our value proposition, and identify our competitive advantage.

There is a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness. The latter is about delivery and implementing a service and product offerings. Once we set the right goal and direction (doing the right things), it’s about executing and making things better (doing things right). Operational excellence is about continuous improvement.
On the other hand, strategy is about making the (trade-off) choices.

Start by Answering 3 Fundamental Questions

1. Which clients you are trying to serve?
2. How do you add value to your clients?
3. How are you different and better compared to your competitors?

Setting and communicating a business strategy is one of the most important topics on the manager’s agenda. When people in the organization understand and define it, they can go out and execute with passion, creativity and focus. Strategy becomes a cause.

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Change Your Leadership Game by Honing Your Feedback Skills

Become a Better Leader: Practice Constructive Feedback

The phrase “born leader” is often used to describe the world’s most transformational and inspiring leaders, coaches, and mentors.

For some, leadership comes naturally; for others it is a skill that must be learned, cultivated, and refined.

My client Alex is a programming development manager at a pioneering high tech software company. Alex is highly motivated and perseverant. In his personal life that translates to a love of challenging outdoor activities like rock climbing and other adventurous sports. He is active and fit and takes a competitive approach to almost everything he does.

At work, Alex’s ambitious and competitive nature creates a commanding presence and he is considered by his managers to be a results-driven leader who consistently finds innovative ways to meet company goals.

However, Alex has recently begun to notice that the feedback he has been providing to his team has not been effective in motivating them to improve their performance or to produce results aligned with company goals.

After discussing with Alex the dynamic between him and his team and how he communicates with them, we narrowed the root cause to the team’s negative perception of the way Alex delivers feedback.

Alex’s driven disposition is causing him to come across as pushy, aggressive, and forceful, causing his team to disengage. This attitude is preventing his feedback from influencing their performance.

To address Alex’s challenges, we discussed the most effective ways to motivate employees through feedback.

1) Make feedback genuine.

People are likely to pick up on the true intention behind feedback whether it’s communicated through language or nonverbal cues such as tone or body language. It’s essential, therefore, that when delivering feedback, the intention behind it stems from a genuine desire to serve the person who is receiving the feedback,  and that it is delivered in a sincere and supportive way. Otherwise, employees will be less likely to take the feedback to heart and use it to improve performance.

2) Understand that feedback is subjective — an interpretation of  behavior.

Pay close attention to your language signals. Using phrases such as “I think” or “I noticed” conveys to the receiver that the observation about their performance is subjective to the giver and isn’t intended as an indictment. “I” language encourages open dialogue between the giver and the receiver that allows both side to better address the issue or behavior without defensiveness and rancor. By conveying an opinion, you leave room for the receiver to save face and be more receptive to change.

3) Deliver feedback in the moment (or soon after).

Feedback is almost always most effective when delivered immediately following an undesirable behavior or situation. According to an Achiever’s Intelligence poll, over 60% of employees like to receive immediate “on-the-spot” feedback from their managers. This allows the employee the opportunity to immediately change their behavior and then be recognized for it, which will lead to higher engagement and a higher sense of motivation.

4) The goal of feedback is encouraging excellence not causing embarrassment.

Nobody wants to be belittled or treated with condescension. It’s counterproductive and a morale killer. Conversely, providing feedback in a respectful way and in the context of an employee’s positive contributions is very effective.

As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.”  

Delivering feedback that is constructive (rather than critical) and inspirational (rather than disparaging) will be much more effective in motivating and improving the performance of individuals and teams.


How to master cross cultural communication: know when “yes” means “no”

Written by Maya Hu-Chan

A trick question, right?

I am afraid not. This is a real issue for global business leaders and, every day, there are communication breakdowns occurring across the world as different cultural norms conspire to confuse and confound even the most sensible and experienced global leaders.

Here’s a great example. A client rang me recently, very distressed. He is a senior global executive, based in Singapore and working for a US-based American boss. They have always enjoyed a great professional relationship with mutual respect and appreciation.

I asked him what had happened. “My boss told me I was stupid,” he said.

He went on to describe how humiliated and upset he felt and how he did not know how to react.

In the course of my work with this company I had met my client’s boss several times and always found him to be reasonable, sensible and professional. It didn’t make sense to me. So I asked my client, “‘can you tell me the exact words he used?”.

He replied, “We discussed a project I was working on; I gave him my views – and he said my idea was a ‘no brainer’.”


The great news is that I was quickly able to transform my client’s perception of the phone call. I explained that ‘no-brainer’ in America is a slang expression meaning ‘complete agreement’. However this commonly-used US expression had been taken literally by my client, who is from Asia, and what he understood was that his boss thought he had no brain!

The bad news is that this example is symptomatic of a wider issue that has grown ever more acute in line with the growth in global business.

Although confusion can reign between any two cultures and languages, since English remains the global language of business, for now let’s just focus on the issues that can arise between native English speakers and those for whom it is at best a second language.

When we communicate across cultures, we may think we are all speaking English and we may even speak the same words, but we may not be on the same page.
Oops. Did you see what I did there?

Page? What page! I can almost imagine low-context culture readers of this blog searching for an imaginary text book as I type….because, like ‘no-brainer’ I’ve casually used a phrase that native English speakers will understand to be a commonly-used metaphor – in this case for ‘understanding’ – while those from cultures which take their language more literally will have heard me refer to a document or publication that for some reason they don’t have access to!

This challenge doesn’t only apply to complex phrases either. Even the simplest of words can be misconstrued – and that’s why someone responding with a “yes”, can often mean anything but.

How often have you felt there was agreement about something only to find later on that the agreed upon actions or views were not truly supported?

In America and the UK ‘yes’ means ‘I understand’, ‘I agree’, ‘I will do it’ – but in China, Japan, or The Philippines, it simply means ‘I hear you’. Nothing is taken as agreed at all.

To confound things further, while a nod of the head in most cultures signals agreement, in Balkan states such as Bulgaria and Albania a single nod of the head up (not down) actually indicates a ‘no’. Furthermore, in Bulgaria shaking your head sideways actually means ‘I agree’. This is also true in India where the head bobble can mean anything from “yes”, “good” to “I understand”.

So, how should global leaders avoid accidentally appearing to call their valued team members brainless? The key lies in adapting your communications style to fit the audience.

Here are my top tips for global leaders on clear cross cultural communication:

1.Communication is always the responsibility of the communicator. If you are dealing with many different languages and cultures it is your responsibility to check understanding when you are communicating, rather than your audience’s responsibility to work out your meaning.
2.Keep it simple. Use short sentences and clear, consistent, simple words of less than three syllables. For example instead of saying ‘they underestimated our capability’ try ‘they don’t think we can do this’.
3.Slow down. Slow down key words, not the entire statement and make it clear when you are changing topics.
4.Avoid slangs and idiom. Each culture has its share of slangs and idiom: ‘that’s a piece of cake’, ‘let’s get the ball rolling’, ‘catch-22’ etc. They are culture-specific and can make a piece of communication confusing for a non-native speaker.
5.Ask open-ended questions. Try to avoid yes/no questions such as ‘Do you understand?’ or ‘can you do it? And instead, use open-ended questions starting with ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’. This may take more time at first but will reduce misunderstanding in the long run. It is well worth it!

In my next post I will explore further what it means to be an adaptable global communicator.

About the author:

Maya Hu-Chan

Maya Hu-Chan was rated one of the World’s Top 8 Global Solutions Thinkers by Thinkers50, and one of the World’s Top 30 Leadership Gurus in 2013.

Maya is an international management consultant, executive coach and author. Harvard Business School has chosen her book “Global Leadership: The Next Generation” to be one of their Working Knowledge recommended books. She is also a contributing author to 10 leadership and management books.

Maya was born and raised in Taiwan and lives in San Diego, California. She has worked with thousands of leaders in Global Fortune 500 companies around the world. To contact Maya Hu-Chan, please email her:, or visit her website:

Overcoming the Challenge of Leading Virtual Teams

Written by Maya Hu-Chan

The secret to building an effective virtual team?

With more and more companies working seamlessly across cultures and time zones I am often asked by clients what the secret is to building an effective virtual team.

The answer is simple: fresh bagels.

OK, it’s really building trust, but we’ll get to the bagels in a minute.

The challenge of course is that it is much tougher to build trust when your team is split across time zones and continents than it is when you’re able to have a friendly chat across the water cooler every day.

Get together

So perhaps a second step needs to be added to help trust develop: getting together.

I appreciate that there may be logistical and financial challenges for some organisations in getting together, but it is almost certainly a cost less painful than the missing financial targets due to a poorly functioning global team.

Here’s a perfect example. A client of mine, a team leader in a global IT company, asked me to help improve the performance of his project team. He told me: “My team members are all respected experts in their fields and perform to an outstanding level individually; but I don’t understand why they miss their targets as a team by some 75%?”

My client was British and based in Singapore; his team members were based in China, South Korea, South Africa, Japan and Holland. We talked about team-building and he added: “But that’s a lot of culture and time zones to navigate just to build a team!”

We went back to basics. I interviewed every member of his team. It quickly became apparent that they didn’t trust each other and, as a result, were holding back from sharing information and collaborating with each other.

What I found was that, right from the beginning, a few cultural miscues and misunderstandings had spiralled out of control and resulted in a very fractured and dysfunctional team.

At the first few team conference calls, the Dutch and South African members had led most of the discussions. Hearing no questions or objections from the rest of the group, it was assumed that everyone was in agreement with their proposed plan.

As time went on, it became painfully apparent that not everyone was on the same page. Deadlines were missed, tasks weren’t completed and, seemingly, much of the inaction came from the team members from Asia who hadn’t spoken up at the group meetings.

The South African and Dutch team members were frustrated and told me: “I thought we all agreed on the plan! But some team members didn’t keep their commitments. They seemed incompetent. I am not sure I can trust them again.”

On the other hand, Asian team members were equally frustrated: “We never agreed with the decision. They dominated the meeting and didn’t ask us for our input. We need more time to process the information and reach our own conclusions. We felt excluded!”

Avoiding divides

Over the next year, as the project continued, they communicated less and less with each other and worked in silos. What communication they did by emails and conference calls often led to finger pointing on both sides as the divide between the various groups grew wider and wider.

Hardly any effort was made to establish positive relationships among the team members, to better understand the various cultures at play within the group, or to resolve the conflicts in a constructive way. For example, if the South African and Dutch team members had spent some time understanding Asian culture, they would have recognized that the fact that their Asian colleagues were quiet during the meeting was not necessarily acquiescence or their tacit approval. It was much more likely that the Asian team members were taking the time to process the information due to language barriers or they simply disagreed with the decision but were too polite to challenge.

On the other hand, if the Asian members had realized that many from western cultures are more direct and require more active involvement, they could have asked more questions and made more of an effort to make their feelings known.

In the absence of any genuine bonding, along with misunderstandings due to cultural differences and language barriers, the group had each built up assumptions about other members of the team and were jumping to conclusions about each other’s motives. It was like a cancer growing within the team that my client simply couldn’t stem.

Trust is the cornerstone

I worked with my client to bring them together for three days – not only to work on their challenges but also to re-build the trust.

On the first day we talked openly about what each of them needed from the others in order to build better teamwork and the responsibilities each of them had to the others.

What was striking was that their needs were really quite straightforward. They all consistently asked of each other: be respectful; don’t interrupt; listen; say ‘thank you’; and apologize if you’re wrong. In other words, act with consideration and kindness, the basic human building blocks of trust. Somehow these ideals had gotten lost along the way because there was no rapport among the group.

They worked out what their top 5 behavioral rules would be for future team interactions to ensure their new-found team spirit didn’t evaporate again. The team leader turned this into a slide which would always appear at the start of every meeting to remind them of their commitment to each other.

They rounded off the three days with a memorable night out eating Singapore’s famous Black Pepper Crab, drinking ice cold Tiger beer and returned to their countries reinvigorated. One year on the team leader called me with the news that his team had just hit 89% of their targets.

The importance of not forgetting the basics can be seen in other ways too. I heard recently of a global virtual team which takes turns, once a quarter, to send local food from their country to other team members around the globe so that they can all share breakfast or snacks together during their regular conference calls. At a recent team video conference, the U.S. colleagues sent a box of fresh bagels and coffee grounds to introduce team members in the Philippines to an all-American breakfast.

This simple idea has transformed their calls into something that is the highlight of their meeting and the call is now a vibrant and effective communications forum.

Another US-based client was struggling to connect with a member of his new team, based in Mexico City, who seemed very slow to respond to email requests.

Hiding his growing irritation he asked other colleagues, “What’s she like?”

It transpired that the lady had recently had a baby and was balancing work and new motherhood, which explained the sporadic responses. He immediately emailed her, congratulating her on her new arrival and sharing the news that he had become a grandparent around the same time. He even attached a photo of his grandson. Within minutes she responded with a picture of her daughter, starting a dialogue that helped them to quickly build an effective working relationship.

Five top tips

In the latest in my series of 100 success factors for global leaders, here are my five top tips for building a virtual team that trusts each other and works as well together thousands of miles apart as if they say in the same room:

1. Keep your commitments. Do what you say you are going to do. Keep your promises. This may sound obvious, but keeping your word is absolutely essential to earn trust with other team members.
2. Share information equally, transparently, and timely. Make sure everyone, particularly team members in remote locations, are not left out in the communication loop.
3. Give feedback in a culturally appropriate way. Give positive feedback in public and negative feedback in private. Be culturally sensitive when delivering feedback so you don’t damage relationships and trust.
4. Don’t jump to conclusions. Check your assumptions first. Make sure your understanding is in tune with other team member’s cultural tendencies. Listen to everyone’s opinion. Check back to confirm that you understand their point of view. Ask open-ended questions to make sure you are all on the same page. Always take a step back to understand the other person’s perspective and pressures and give them benefit of the doubt.
5. Help other team members without being asked. Maybe you’ve heard of the Pay it Forward principle? Doing something kind and helpful, without being asked, is both a simple act of kindness and powerful way to build trust and rapport. It will also probably make their day!

In my next blog I will talk about how to take advantage of best practice and technology to ensure your virtual team is properly equipped to deliver outstanding results.

About the author:

Maya Hu-Chan

Maya Hu-Chan was rated one of the World’s Top 8 Global Solutions Thinkers by Thinkers50, and one of the World’s Top 30 Leadership Gurus in 2013.

Maya is an international management consultant, executive coach and author. Harvard Business School has chosen her book “Global Leadership: The Next Generation” to be one of their Working Knowledge recommended books. She is also a contributing author to 10 leadership and management books.

Maya was born and raised in Taiwan and lives in San Diego, California.  She has worked with thousands of leaders in Global Fortune 500 companies around the world.

To contact Maya Hu-Chan, please email her:, or visit her website:

Why Leaders Need to “Stop Fighting the Fires” in Their Companies

Dedicated and over-worked

Most leaders are guilty of working too hard at one point or another in their career. Often classified as passionate and driven people, leaders frequently dedicate their entire life to their work. Although this dedication can result in success it can also result in overwhelm, stress and a unhappiness.

A great example of overworking and over exertion comes from Darcy, an manager that just got promoted to lead a team of 120 people in operations. Darcy worked 70 to 80 hours a week, came to work early, left late, worked on weekends and didn’t take vacations. She was extremely successful but exhausted. When I met her I knew something needed to change.

After talking with her colleagues on her team I learned that Darcy was an excellent problem solver. Many people within the company would come to her with problems and she would easily provide a solution for them. This resulted in managers continually coming to Darcy to solve their problems. Before she knew it, Darcy was “fighting fires” all throughout her company as her biggest strength — problem solving — soon became her biggest liability in her management and leadership roles.

Leading by example

Darcy and I worked together to make some fundamental changes. Rather than enabling her managers to come to her with problems she began teaching her mangers to be better solution providers, encouraging them to come to her with solutions rather than problems. Each month she made the time to sit down with them and coach them, helping them to transfer the skills she herself possessed.

This ultimately allowed Darcy to spend much more time on strategy and long-term planning, delegating success critical projects, and setting direction for her team leaders instead of being involved in the day to day firefighting. After our year of working together Darcy reported that the company had met and exceeded all of it’s business goals. And more importantly, Darcy herself was able to grow her staff and decrease the hours she had to work. When we concluded our work, she said with joy: “on the weekends, I now go ride the Harley with my husband instead of working through emails.”

Less is sometimes more

Darcy is an excellent example of how being a leader means providing the tools for your colleagues to succeed. When you put time and effort in to teaching colleagues your skills and providing them with the tools to perform their job, you can focus on the bigger picture and improve the company at a higher level. Darcy showed us that when you step down and do less, you can actually bring more to the company.

The Essence of Strategy

Business keeps moving faster…you better make time for strategy

There is a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness. Strategy is about making unique choices. Operational effectiveness is about things that are part of your daily routine.

A strategy delineates a territory in which a company seeks to be unique. Strategy 101 is about choices. Avoid the natural tendency to be all things to all people. The essence of strategy is that you must set limits. What are you trying to accomplish? The company without a strategy is willing to try anything.
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