Posts Tagged ‘Empowerment’

” A government servant doing his official work as per prescribed rules!”


Source: Prakash Sankhala

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In my long career in hi-tech, there were two HR chief’s I was fortunate to observe from close quarters though their tenures were short. Both ladies, early in their career, graduates from TISS. In the years that followed we went different ways. But I continued to measure the HR chiefs I encountered subsequently and they all fell short by lengths in comparison.

This post is about one of them, U.

Passing out from TISS, she joined the org as an Executive Assistant (EA) to the Big Boss – not sure if this was her first job in the industry. Several months later she was sent to the Division dealing in hi-tech and also the most profitable of the many in the brick-and-mortar company as the HR chief, essentially a one-woman team.

A hurricane on the move, only benign.  Some saw her as a very useful ally and others, an overbearing youngster, often going beyond her brief running smack into know-all senior line-managers.

Was she ‘successful’ in the traditional sense? I don’t know, for, can’t recall her being feted in public as such in her short stay. During which time, all the same, some magic she had wrought, I thought. 

What did she do?

  • In all her thought and action, org’s interest was the first and foremost, possibly the only preoccupation, I suspected. Yet, not wearing it on her sleeve.
  • Abs fearless, she thought nothing of taking up issues with and questioning pet theories of the senior executives until satisfactory closure. Of course this was possible because she sought and got the crucial support of the Big Boss, all credit to him. In this regard, perhaps her earlier stint as his EA helped.
  • Though young, she had the maturity to go for the doors that were open to her rather than bang her head against walls that wouldn’t budge (some seniors). She could live well with both kinds.
  • Most part of her time she was out sitting one-on-one with employees. Like with the bosses, she would mix her praises with provocations to get them spill out their guts, all work-related of course. She would herself address many of those problems by offering solutions, work-around’s or through counselling with, yes, subsequent follow-up’s. And the more complex issues would be taken to their bosses. If you’re not happy, why are you working here still…? OrWhy are you still doing the same work you did over the last two years? Aren’t you good for anything else? Or Why are you not getting promoted? Not doing good, eh? are not unusual in the provoking sessions which, to be sure, did not end in destructive fire-works. Her disarming and bonafide ways let her get away. These sessions revealed the swirling under-currents and provided useful inputs to the manager, otherwise impossible to get. And she would take points-of-view from the boss back to the employee. Yes, playing politics it was, but constructively. Issues often got fixed before too late.  Of course the bosses too had their sessions with her.
  • She would play it likewise with peers running their feuds to the detriment of the org.
  • She was no cat’s paw nor did she play favorites. Nor cowed by heavy-weights.
  • A high-energy person with an infectious enthusiasm in a team, also good to talk to when chips were down.
  • In her own role she was constantly wanting to do more. I remember going with her for campus recruitment of trainee-engineers. After watching me a few times from the side-lines, things came to a point when she carried on with the technical interviews all by herself rendering me superfluous!

That’s what a capable and empowered HR can deliver. Want to settle for less?

Neither the land nor the heavens would ever be the same after her premature and unfortunate transition a few days ago – she was one to stir up the stew wherever she went for the larger good.



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Here’s the latest addition to the lore of what wonders could be wrought through end-point empowerment. Obviously no procedure manual would be able to cover even a small fraction of the large number of field scenarios that occur in real world of customer service. Remains largely unpredictable.

Here we go:

(Lightly edited for readability and conciseness from here – there was no way to reblog the article entirely from its source)

The IndiGo Way of Delighting Customers – A Case Study


“Excuse me, khane mein kya hai?” (“Excuse me, what are the meal options?”), asked the elderly gentleman seated with his wife just one row behind me. The question was directed to an airhostess of an Indigo flight to Pune from Kolkata (India) on a July 2016 evening. All the passengers who had a pre-booked meal, or wanted to purchase on-board, had already been served with their choice of food and beverage, and the cabin crew were busy with cash consolidation and preparing to clean up the deck.

Unlike the passengers around, I was not really taken aback by the loud and out-of-protocol address, as I was already afflicted with the couple’s high pitched conversations in Marathi and Hindi throughout the first hour of the flight. It seemed they were not used to flights. They had even interacted so audibly with their immediate neighbor, an old formally dressed man seating by the aisle seat that I knew they hailed from Satara, returning after spending some time with their newly born grandson at their son’s place at Gangtok (Sikkim). Their son had booked the journey tickets for them, the first leg of which was from Bagdogra to Kolkata, and here they were on their last part of the trip.

“Can I see your boarding pass, Sir?” asked the air hostess politely.

“Here it is”, said the elderly gentleman in a Marathi accented Hindi and extended a card to her.

“Sir, this is the one for the Bagdogra-Kolkata sector, can I please have the pass for this sector?”

To this the man seemed visibly unsettled, searching for the right card with continuous ramblings in Marathi. His wife joined the commotion with “Just see how heartless they are, we haven’t eaten anything since lunch.” The gentleman found the right card and handed it over to the lady in uniform.

As I was finishing my drink over a gripping novel, I paused for a moment to watch the drama happening live beside me.

“Sorry sir, you do not have a meal booked for this sector. You had one in the flight from Bagdogra. However, if you wish, you can now purchase any food or drinks”. The standard pitch.

“Yeh kaise ho sakta hai? Plane mein khana milna hai to? Pehla flight mein bhi diya tha?!” (“How come that’s possible? Planes serve meals, isn’t it? We were served food in the first flight!”), stated the gentleman with a demeanor that said won’t-pay-whatever-hell-comes-up-you-better

The lady excused herself for a quick whisper with her senior, handing over the boarding pass to her.


The lead lady, trained to expect the unexpected, came to the spot in quick time and was straight to the point, “Sir, what would you like to have?”

Seriously, none of the nearby passengers including me was expecting this.

“Dekha? Maine bola tha na?” (“See? I had told you!”), the man said with a smile, oblivious that he was going to receive a free meal. “What do you have in the meals?”

The no-fuss actions that followed next were heart-warming. The lead lady served them 2 sets of sandwiches and mixed fruit beverages with a smile and a wish, “Enjoy your meals, Sir!”.

The couple happily gorged themselves on the food over a high-pitched conversation in Marathi.

I returned to my novel.

Even though the sentences in the book were running in front of my eyes, my mind was absorbed in something else. I was reminded of a talk by Subroto Bagchi, co-founder of Mindtree Ltd…his point was on the right mix of process along with empathy in building and running an organization. All problems of the world can’t be solved by following the right process, unless you have an empathy element to back it up. It becomes particularly important when one deals with the most important aspect of one’s job, people.

If our lead lady had adhered to the laid down process, she would have rightfully refused to oblige the old couple with food packets. That was we had expected out of her. But when she decided to exercise her acumen of empathy, it suddenly made more business sense to all of us…Probably Indigo lost INR 500 (peanuts compared to their daily transactions) as a result, but what they gained was vastly in excess. It satisfied two old people without hassles, averted a possibly ugly scene, created many appreciating passengers, and made me write this blog lauding them.

“Process is not a substitute for building an emotionally rich organization. Process without emotion can quickly bring you down to the lowest common denominator.”

Subroto Bagchi, Co-founder, MindTree Ltd

Let’s not lose sight of the key enabler here: Indigo’s empowerment of its field staff – the end-point delivering the service – that encouraged the lady to make the gesture she did.


Source: Amit Dey, Deputy Manager, Learning & Development | HR at EXL at linkedin.com. And thanks to Anshuman Deshmukh, HR Manager at Genesys International for bringing the article to my notice.

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An earlier post (https://tskraghu.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/the-secret-saucein-action/) presented a few examples of how customer satisfaction/delight results when the end-point of service-delivery is empowered to act in response to a situation outside of the rule-book.

Here is a recent example where a misguided adherence to a rule-book resulted in a death that was perhaps avoidable. Please read this sad account appearing in Times Of India (17th Feb 15) of an accident to understand how screwed up our systems and procedures, followed by a short take on what/how end-point empowerment could have saved a life in this instance:

Hit by stone, railway commuter falls victim to cop’s apathy in Mumbai

CR Train
Pradeep Gupta, TNN | Feb 17, 2015, 02.35AM IST

MUMBAI: A woman aged 29 lost her life because she was hit by a stone while she was on a train, returning home. She fell onto the tracks, unconscious, and though help reached her within 30 minutes, she could not be saved because of the alleged obstinacy of a GRP constable.

The incident occurred on February 9. Badlapur resident Darshana Pawar (29), a receptionist at the Navi Mumbai office of an MNC, boarded a local at Thane. Around 7.45 pm, a stone hit her on the head, making her fall off the train ahead of Ambernath station; she was standing near the door of her compartment. Her fellow passengers pulled the chain, but the train stopped at Badlapur station. The station master was informed and he took the next CST-bound local to reach the spot.

By 8.10 pm, the station master, with the help of a good Samaritan, Madhu Birmole (was on her way to CST to take a train to Vadodara), took Pawar to Ambernath station. There, Birmole took over, and at 8.18 pm, with the help of two porters, brought Pawar to the nearby civic-run Chaya Hospital, where a constable from the Kalyan GRP also reached. Within minutes, Chaya doctors recommended shifting Pawar to the government-run Central Hospital in Ulhasnagar. At this, Birmole requested the constable to give her possession of Pawar so that she could be taken to a private hospital, but the constable denied, saying it was against the rule-book. “I told him her condition was critical. He told me I wasn’t her blood relative and so had no right to interfere,” Birmole said.

At Central, after administering first aid to Pawar, the doctors told the constable to shift Pawar to a better-equipped hospital. By then, it was 10.27 pm. Birmole again sought possession of Pawar, but the constable refused. Helpless in the face of the GRP cop’s attitude, Birmole left. The constable, whose name hasn’t yet been made public, left for KEM Hospital, Parel, taking Pawar in a civic-run ambulance.
KEM denied admission to Pawar on the grounds that there were no vacant beds, forcing the constable to go to J J Hospital. It was 12.30 am. Pawar was admitted 15 minutes later, but the medical aid had come too late. At 4.45 am, the woman succumbed to her injuries.

The GRP allegedly also did not visit the accident spot for panchanama. When the Pawar family visited the spot, they found the victim’s bag, with her cash and cellphone missing.

On the entire matter, GRP commissioner Ravindra Singhal said, “I am ordering an inquiry.”

Why did the constable insist on going by the rule-book?

May be he was trained to believe the rule-book specified everything that had to be. Or, it could be that he was hounded in the past for acting outside of the rule-book on some occasions. Or, he did not read the book right in this instance. etc. etc.

In today’s world, more often than not, it is impossible to anticipate every possible situation at the final point of service-delivery. It is very necessary to empower the agent (employee) at the end point to act in the best interest of the customer and his own organization. This empowerment and its scope must get enshrined in the rule-book, training and recognition processes and instilled/reinforced in the staff.

When does the agent exercise his empowerment? That’s easy to answer – to handle all those situations not specified by the rule-book. And that would be quite a handful!

Empowerment does not imply the agent is left to draw solely on his intelligence and imagination to handle a contingency in the field. For example, in this instance, the GRP constable could be equipped with a map showing pre-approved hospitals and which of these are suitable and closest to an accident site – this simplifies enormously the decision process for him and cuts out the crucial delay in rushing the victim for immediate medical attention.

[Of course the use of a map could be extended in many ways. For starters, a history of accidents in the past easily identifies accident-prone spots and resources to provide immediate medical relief could be strengthened near these spots. If the map is online and accessible to the cop, it could tell him about the availability of beds as well]

In practice it is quite possible on some occasions decisions taken at the end-points are not entirely optimal. Hounding the erring agents is generally counter-productive. Abstracting and propagating the lessons learnt from both good and bad decisions strengthens empowerment.

In summary, it is no exaggeration to say empowering the end-points of service-deliveries makes all the difference between the winners and the rest.


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Of all the things that waiters/waitresses (henceforth just referred to as “waiters”) could do to increase tips, how important would you place “giving mints” at the end of a meal in terms of effectiveness?

It turns out, you and I probably greatly underestimated the psychological process behind mint-giving.

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers tested the effects that mints had against a control group (where no mints were given) in order to measure their effectiveness in increasing tips.

The results were surprising to say the least.

  • The first group studied had waiters giving mints along with the check, making no mention of the mints themselves. This increased tips by around 3% against the control group.
  • The second group had waiters bring out two mints by hand (separate from the check), and they mentioned them to the table (ie, “Would anyone like some mints before they leave?”). This saw tips increase by about 14% against the control group.
  • The last group had waiters bring out the check first along with a few mints. A short time afterward, the waiter came back with another set of mints, and let customers know that they had brought out more mints, in case they wanted another.

This last test was where waiters saw a 21% increase in tips versus the control group.

At first glance, the last two groups seem very similar: two mints (per-person) were brought out, and the waiter mentioned them.

So, what was different?

In the last test, the only difference was that the waiter brought out the second set of mints after some time had passed, and mentioned that they had done so in case the table would like some more.

Researchers concluded that this seeming genuine concern for the customer (“I thought you might like more mints…”) and the spontaneity of the gesture connected with customers much more than the additional pieces of chocolate mints would imply, even if the waiter did this for every customer.

This is good to know, because it means that it’s applicable to businesses outside of restaurants.

So, how can a business utilize this knowledge?


(Source: See Credits below)

There’s more to this story than the positively-reinforcing gratuity for the waiter.


If we closely look at this scenario, there are 3 essential elements to it:

* Buyer buys a product and/or a service.

* the product or the service is delivered (the waiter could be doing intermediate deliveries too).

* At the end-point of the delivery, the delivery agent is empowered to give away from a range of freebies.

Selecting a freebie appropriate for the occasion and giving it away with finesse and solicitousness are both a matter of training and the employee’s imagination.

It’s easy to see paying attention to this end-of-service experience is a low-hanging fruit in its impact on the overall service experience.

Most self-employed appliance-repair technicians do it in some ways. But mostly overlooked in the organized sector of the industry.

An example from the organized sector:

Class-room training courses usually include hands-on exercises. These are usually very focused and easy enough to be completed within the limited time-slots allotted in the tight course format. A more ambitious course may allow in its format for elaborate projects/case-studies demanding in-depth application of the skills or concepts learned.

Now we get to the ‘mint’.

At the end of the course, the instructor could point out how the projects and their challenge could be further enhanced by interested participants working on their own time outside of the course. And if someone chooses to do so, the instructor could make a time-bound offer of a certain number of free telephonic support calls to help him complete his extended project.

Only imagination limits what could be wrought by the ‘mints’ at the end-point of a delivery.




Credits: The slightly edited extract included in the post is taken from an interesting blog post at https://www.helpscout.net/blog/the-psychology-of-personalization-how-waiters-increased-tips-by-23-percent-without-changing-service/ . Image is from openclipart (waiter shokunin).

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On reaching the airport he completed the check-in formalities and had an hour on hand before boarding announcement. He headed for the club, a special lounge offered by the airlines. As a frequent traveler, he was entitled to free admittance to the lounge.

He freshened himself up and settled down comfortably. A rack on the far side held newspapers of the day and some magazines. He picked up a magazine – he had already read the papers at home. The weekly was two-weeks old. A trifle irritated, he went for the monthly magazine on current affairs. Here again he had seen a more recent new issue with a magazine vendor.

He was not one of those guys to let the sleeping dogs sleep. He went up to the hostess in the lounge and drew her attention to the stack of dated magazines lying on the side-table.


The lady made a quick check and found it so.

She apologized to him and withdrew to her desk promising to take up the matter with the organizational function responsible for timely replenishment.

That was that. He resigned himself to reading advertisements, obituaries and reviews of some art shows.

In less than five minutes the hostess stood before him.

As he looked up, she handed him a stack of fresh magazines.

When his eye-brows arched up, she volunteered: ‘I bought them now, Sir.’

The magazines would have cost at least fifty rupees. He was certain she did not have the time to take it up with her back-office.

He was overcome with a sense of guilt: ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…you didn’t have to buy them out of your pocket.’

‘Don’t give it a thought, Sir. My company pays for it.’

Seeing a quizzical look on his face, she explained: ‘Sir, I’m allowed to spend up to fifty rupees a day for right reasons. This was one.’

This is a simple yet powerful story on enabling the (wo)man on the job to respond to unanticipated situations in the field towards an endearing outcome. It was shared with us as his personal experience by a senior executive – I cannot recall who it was – in an internal training program.

It is easy to imagine any number of scenes of a similar kind:

A staff in a shopping mall gives out a candy to distract a child throwing tantrums.

A cabbie takes a cut in the fare because of a detour made that his customer did not need.

A stores clerk taking in a return of goods when it could be argued both ways.

Etc. etc.

These acts are more commonly observed in operations that are not encumbered by thick policy books. This is not an argument against policy books. It’s just that a policy book must allow room for an employee to respond appropriately if the situation merits.

What about some corporate examples?

Lack of empowerment manifests in different flavors and is usually much more debilitating. That’s a story for another day.


Credit: openclipart.com(j4p4n)

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On a weekend a mirasdar (a big land-owner) went to his mango orchard accompanied by his son. The resident guard received them and conducted them around the numerous fruit-bearing trees in the orchard. At the end of it, the visitors rested in a hut and called on the guard to fetch some mangoes.

When the mangoes came, the mirasdar and his son feasted on the ripe, juicy and sweet fruits. Verily food of the gods.

They happily took leave and made to the second orchard nearby also owned by the mirasdar.

Here again, he ordered the guard working in this orchard to get some mangoes.

When the mangoes came, the mirasdar took one bite and rejected them: ‘These taste sour, get some sweet ones.’

The guard brought a second lot.

These too were set aside by the visitors as not sweet.

A few more rounds happened of the guard fetching the fruits and their rejection by the mirasdar.

Finally the mirasdar and his son got up to leave disappointed at not having had good mangoes.

The mirasdar pulled up the guard: ‘You’ve been working here now for over a year. Don’t you enough to identify trees with sweet fruits?’

The guard politely told him: ‘Sir, frankly, I’ve not tasted these fruits myself. I see you paying me to guard the orchard against pilferage of fruits and not for tasting them.’

The son drew himself up to admonish the guard, but was restrained by the mirasdar.

On their way back, the mirasdar asked the son who of the two guards should be given charge of the new orchard the mirasdar was buying.

The son’s choice was for the first guard who knew about his trees.

The mirasdar had a different view: ‘You see, the first guard knew which of those fruits were good. How do we know if he hasn’t taken bags of them for himself? Only a step away from tasting the fruits. On the other hand second guy was doing an honest job. We need people like him to work for us.’

OpenCA thinkingboy ryanlerch

This is an old story of wisdom that may not hold in present times.

Today the first guy would be the man of choice. He had knowledge of his trees. He would use it to take extra care of those trees bearing sweet fruits. Who knows – he might even hold those fruits separate from the other produce and recommend they be priced with a premium. Clearly he has enlarged his job for the mirasdar’s profit and hopefully his too. The gains of his empowerment and initiative far outweigh loss due to pilferage if any.

Admittedly a possibility, pilferage – the downside of empowerment, a far less problem, could be addressed by other means.

Winners secret sauce today is to find imaginatively newer ways of empowering those who are on the job, and the latter seizing the initiative to enlarge and enrich their jobs, of course with checks and balances against possible abuses.

This is an obvious corollary emerging from today’s reality – it is neither feasible nor wise to comprehensively anticipate every possible situation faced by one on the job and specify in advance responses for the same.

How often we forget every pair of hands comes with a head of their own! And unfortunately, more often than not, so do the hands.


. .
Credits: ryanlerch at openclipart.com

PS: This post was originally written for madgigs, a company implementing an interesting concept for both the professionals and the prospective employers. For more information, visit their site at madgigs.com/

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This cute story of unintended consequences of technology comes from Les Mckeown, a good read for those managers who think all the wisdom lies under one hat. And, also how customers could be engaged advantageously.


In the early 1990s, my business partner and I owned a chain of Pizza Hut restaurants in Ireland.

Reckoning ourselves to be great innovators, we spent around $50,000 (to us, an enormous sum at the time) on state-of-the-art “ordering units.” These were, essentially, wireless hand-helds that enabled our waitstaff to take orders at the table and send them instantaneously back to the kitchen, where tickets would be printed out telling our cooks what pizzas to make.

These gizmos, bleeding edge as they were at the time, worked flawlessly. Too flawlessly, in fact.

The orders got to the kitchen so fast that if a customer changed the order even seconds after it had been transmitted, the originally ordered pizza would already be under construction back in the kitchen. Even though changed orders represented a small percentage of total income, our losses due to food waste went through the roof.

The kitchen staff was dumping unwanted thin-crust pepperonis to make, say, stuffed-crust ham and mushroom–and in a business run by margin control, this was a cost we simply couldn’t afford.

Trial, Error, and the Unexpected Solution

For weeks, we (the management) tried everything we could to stanch this mistake. First, we had the kitchen staff wait five minutes before starting a new order, but it just caused chaos, as cooks squinted at tickets to see the timestamp and then did the mental arithmetic for when to start making them. So then, we tried telling the customers to be “sure” about their orders. That worked for about five minutes. Then, we asked the waitstaff to delay sending in the order, but that didn’t work, because the technology wouldn’t process multiple orders at one time.

Eventually, in frustration, we called the staff together at our flagship restaurant to tell them we were going to junk the technology and go back to the old way of taking orders–handwritten slips that made their way back to the kitchen at a more sedate pace and which allowed for more flexibility with customer changes. Adopting the technology was a mistake.

But just as the meeting was coming to an end, one of our waitstaff piped up from the back of the room.

“Have them hit send,” she said.


“Give the hand-held to the customer, and let them hit Send after they’ve placed their order,” she explained.

Brilliant! And that’s what we did.

We turned the order-submission process into a little bit of restaurant theater, complete with explanations that their order would “begin baking the moment they hit the button!” The customers loved it, and they got the subliminal message–once you hit Send, there’s no going back.

And although it didn’t eradicate 100% of the order-change issue, our food-waste cost dropped to a manageable level.

And I learned two things that I have stayed true to ever since:

1. When you have a problem, don’t expect the so-called smart guys in the C suite to fix it.
Talk immediately with the employees who most have to deal with the problem every day.

2. If you can make it fun, customers will put up with a lot.
Think of the extremely long wait lines at Disney rides.



Via inc.com

Les McKeown is the author of the best-seller, Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track – and Keeping It There and is the CEO of Predictable Success, a leading advisor on accelerated organizational growth. His latest book is The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success.

Credit: openclipart.com (warszawianka)

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I call up the SP later and say to him: ‘You’re a senior guy and you have been with us for some years now. You have, on past occasions, taken up work, at personal inconvenience. You also know how important this assignment is to us. If I tell you to continue working, you would regard me as also insensitive. If I tell you to pack up and return, it means upset customer and possible loss of business. So I trust you to take the call yourself. And I will back your decision.’

PS: The SPM decided to return from the assignment prematurely, he did undergo a minor surgery that put him out of action for a few weeks; he appreciated that we stood by him. He went on to do well with us for a few more years. The customer did hit the ceiling initially; we explained the compulsions and he saw us going to great lengths to protect his interests and he continued to stay with us thereafter. 

These are tough times for a manager to take decisions. Trusting (a good) employee’s judgement in such adverse conditions is a kind of employee empowerment of high-order that corporates often shout about. A strong message such as this willingness to bite the bullet has enormous pay-back. Nevretheless, the manager must exercise due-diligence and be seen to be in firm control of the situation right thru. And he must quickly resolve in a way that takes into account divergent interests. If one thinks hard enough, numerous ‘gray’ solutions would pop up between the ‘will’ and the ‘won’t’ that the two parties in conflict could be persuaded to accept. Or, there are ways to soften the ‘will’ or the ‘won’t’. In any case, time is the essence; the more the situation festers the more difficult becomes the acceptance of a middle ground. 

Did I put the employee’s interest ahead of my customer’s interest, against the credo of a service provider? No, I was bringing back alignment of the two stake-holder interests as much as the situation would allow, still swearing by the same credo.


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