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Spur ReplyJun 9, 2023 11:20:40 AM30 min read

What To Do if Your Business Transformation is Stuck in Neutral

Are you currently preparing your organization to successfully adopt and utilize new technologies, processes, and/or strategies?  

All too often, change efforts and innovations hit a wall when people can’t let go of the old systems or processes. Or they just aren’t ready or willing to adopt the new. Our years of experience working in change management with both large and small companies across a variety of industries have allowed us to develop a simple framework for leading transformation. Our approach will allow you to move past the “neutral zone” by prioritizing the most important element of managing change: your people.  

Dan Overgaag Overgaag and Mimi Wehner, leaders of business transformation and change management at Spur Reply, sat down to discuss the framework and how to effectively leverage it across your teams and organization as a whole.  

Dan is a managing director of Spur Reply’s business operations practice. He specializes in advising organizations on their business transformations and has 15+ years of consulting experience leading projects and strategic initiatives enabling the successful adoption and transformation of Business and Revenue Operations priorities. He enjoys using a process-driven and analytical approach to enable companies to maximize their effectiveness and draw clear, actionable insights that help meet their goals. 

Mimi is a Director at Spur Reply with 20+ years of management consulting and industry marketing experience in sectors including technology, retail, media, wireless, and manufacturing. She specializes in leading complex transformations through strategic planning and change management. Mimi is passionate about bringing multiple solutions together to address her clients’ business challenges and achieve sustainable, long-term results. She believes that leading people through empathy, courage, and vision are the keys to organizational transformation. 

Dan and Mimi overview the human dynamics causing your innovation or transformation to be stuck in neutral, identify the best levers to engage people, shift mindsets, and motivate behaviors, and lastly, how to accelerate your people’s progression from neutral bystanders to engaged adopters. 

Check out the video and transcript below.

Transcript of the conversation

MIKALA FLYNN (WEBINAR HOST): Hello, hello! Thank you for joining our webinar. We are excited for today's discussion on how to accelerate change in your organization. I'd like to start by introducing our speakers for today. We have Mimi Wehner, a director for Business Operations, and Dan Overgaag, a managing director of Business Operations.
Just before we get started, I wanted to let you know that we will be answering any questions that you may have at the end of today's session. So, we encourage you to drop your questions in the Q&A section of the chat as they come up. If we run out of time before getting to a question, don't worry. We will make sure to get those answered in a follow-up communication, along with the webinar recording post-event. 
With that being said, let's get started. Dan, I'll pass it over to you.
Dan Overgaag: Excellent. Thanks, Mikala, for the introduction, and welcome everybody. And thank you for joining the webinar today. 
So, when we're leading important business strategy, innovation, or change initiatives, we often find ourselves feeling that there isn't a clear path forward when our efforts seem to be stalled or stuck in neutral. And kind of like the photo, we find ourselves at the edge of a cliff without a bridge to cross. So, what we want to explore is, what does that transformation look like when it's stuck? 

What are some of the symptoms that show when you have a people readiness challenge? One sign is that people don't engage actively in the effort. And, at other times, it may feel like you're pushing the change efforts up a hill or up a cliff like we see here. And people at all levels are putting up visible or subtle forms of resistance to the transformation and they're not able to move out of that analysis stage — the paralysis by analysis — and [don’t] have the confidence to leap forward and move ahead. 
We see other symptoms show up in potentially low levels of proficiency with the new process or the systems that you're putting into place, minimal adoption of the new ways of working, and potentially minimal utilization. 
Mimi Wehner: Well, and Dan as we go forward today, we want to weave in the story of work that we did with a client who approached us, because they had a transformation stuck in neutral, and they wanted our help, and [to learn] how to accelerate it forward. 
And they definitely were seeing some of the symptoms that Dan described, particularly resistance. They were seeing their leaders kind of becoming turf-oriented and the change that they were trying to make is they were wanting to restructure and transform their global salesforce.
So, their leaders were becoming very focused on what that would mean for their own teams instead of what it meant for the bigger picture. And we were seeing that poor engagement where there was negative water cooler talk bubbling up or there were people not engaging actively in meetings or kind of pulling off, resigning…even from the project team. 
So, it was definitely where there were symptoms of people focusing more on the ‘I’ instead of the big picture ‘we.’ And particularly leaders not being able to help their teams build a bridge from one side of this canyon to the other and being able to channel that energy toward the future. 
Dan Overgaag: Yeah, excellent. And as Mimi stated, we will kind of follow the same client study…throughout the rest of the presentation. But, we're all here today because we've experienced or maybe are currently experiencing a change initiative, an innovation, or a transformation that's feeling stuck. And you might be seeing some of the symptoms that we've just kind of described. 
And we know that it's not all about the strategy, the technology, or the different processes — the business processes that you might have. It's about people being so comfortable with their old way of working and kind of unable and not ready to adapt to the new. So, maybe like the mountaineers here, they're looking at this crevasse and feeling pretty comfortable where they're at and not ready to quite move forward across this crevasse. 
And the challenge is, it becomes a cycle where once that transformation loses momentum, it reinforces people's attachment to the current ways of working, and therefore, their fear of kind of the new way of working. And for some reason, it's really easy to assume that people and the different teams that are engaged will just figure it out or deal with the change. 
But when an impactful transformation loses momentum — which manifests itself in outcomes getting stalled and the results not being achieved — ultimately, support wanes, funding can get cut, and excitement and all the energy that you built up at the beginning is all lost. So, when you hit that point, it's important to zoom out and really think about and hone in on what might be going on kind of throughout the organization. 
Mimi Wehner: I love that ‘zooming out’ here, especially if you look at this picture of this crevasse here. And that's really the goal of our webinar — to zoom out so that we can see what's going on underneath. And what from a human dynamic standpoint is going on that causes people to be in this cycle that Dan described here. 
We also want to, as part of the webinar today, share strategies and best practices for what to do about it. And we like to call these strategies and best practices ‘people readiness’ so that we can equate them with other types of readiness that we often prioritize in a transformation — maybe that system readiness or business process readiness or strategic readiness. But it really takes all of that, plus people readiness, to successfully land important change. 
And so, this is where our client really was. They had prioritized and really invested a lot in a really brilliant strategy for transforming their global salesforce. And they had a lot of work in process around the systems changes and program changes that were needed. But there was a gap around people readiness and they hadn't incorporated that into their plan. And so that's why we were beginning to see some of these dynamics of people entrenching, I guess, and being so comfortable with the old ways of working.

The current structure had been in place for a long time, and a lot of people had a lot invested in that…in the existing structure. And we were also seeing leaders expressing concern and maybe fear about some of the new ways of working that would come with the new structure. 
They were not seeing a way across the crevasse because they were worried about things like, ‘How would decisions be made? What would the identity of them and their teams be in this new structure?’ And with that, then, what would change in terms of their influence and their relationships and the culture and the organization? 
And honestly, we find that those types of really important types of beliefs and concerns cause transformations to stall. And so, while they had done a lot of great work around the strategy and the systems and the processes, they just didn't have a pragmatic approach to people readiness. And so they were seeing where the transformation — kind of the third circle here — was definitely stalling. They were losing executive support. They were losing funding. And energy across the organization was definitely declining. 
So here's where we get to go underneath the surface and see what happens. Why do people respond this way? Because when a transformation is stuck in neutral, we can't just keep pressing forward without doing a bit of analysis. And we like to use this classic change curve as a way to think about this, because, as people, we all process change in a similar way going from shock through to dejection before we can engage, adopt, and then fully integrate new ways of working. 

And what we find is that there are really three factors for the different journeys that we as individuals or as teams have on the change curve. And the first is, ‘How significant is the change to us?’ I think we can all think of changes where it's like, ‘Hey, I'm only on the green side. This is all good. This is easy.’ But then, there are other changes that impact us in a more significant way. 
The second factor of our journey on the change curve is, ‘What other change have we been going through?’ A lot of times we find that teams that are resistant or stuck on the change curve have gone through a lot of other changes. So they really have change burnout or change fatigue. 

And the third factor is, ‘What's just a team or an individual's natural capacity for change?’ And this is something we can mature in and learn and get better at. But different teams tend to have different levels of agility for change. 
And so what we find is that all these factors impact teams getting stuck here on the change curve as our diagram is showing us. People tend to spin because it's rarely a straight journey across the change curve. But teams that are having a hard time letting go of existing ways of working and are fearful of the new tend to get stuck here, especially when again, those fears about the new are related to their role in the organization or level of influence or relationships. 
Dan Overgaag: Yeah. Well stated, Mimi. And I think I’ve seen and I know Mimi you've seen a number of situations where leaders of an organization are clearly on the right-hand side of this change curve but their teams may just be learning about the new program or the transformation and haven't even really started along that change curve yet. And so, it's natural for leaders to want their teams to adopt to the new strategy or system quickly so that the results can be achieved as soon as possible. 

But adoption gets stalled if people are getting stuck in this middle loop and in the bottom of this change curve. Or we may also see where leaders themselves are in this swirl and not able to fully buy-in and this shows up in the way that they lead their teams and engage in the effort or in the initiative. 
Thinking back to our client story again, our client in this case study definitely had key groups caught up in this change and in this loop in the change curve. And they were having a hard time understanding how they could possibly let go of their current team structure, the different compensation plans and quotas that they had set up, and the different customer relationships that they had built. 
And, as a result, they were in states of denial and frustration and putting this transformation again kind of in neutral and getting this transformation stuck and unable to move forward. 
Dan Overgaag: The challenge was that the client’s leadership team was not acknowledging their own place in the change curve, let alone the place of the critical team, such as the regional sales manager group. And this was one group in particular that was stuck and they were the key influencers in this project. And as a result of that, the whole thing stalled out. 
But, thinking about it, and kind of taking a step back, we'll see how there are benefits of this neutral zone. Sometimes, if you stop and you look and you plan while you're stuck here, this stall can be a plan or a time when you can create new solutions and generate new excitement and foster a different level of energy than you had before. 
Mimi Wehner: Exactly. So, how do we move forward out of that neutral zone? And we'll show where some of those innovations can fit into this time. I like this picture because it shows this guy — who is quite brave honestly — for going from one side of this canyon to the next.
And sometimes it's hard to slow down in order to speed up. But that's what we find often needs to happen when a transformation is stuck in neutral. And for me personally, I'll say that doesn't come naturally. There are four strategies that we use to accelerate out of neutral. But we have to sometimes pause in order to activate these strategies. 
So the first is to work with leadership to align on the big picture. I will say, this is so often where there are gaps. Leaders think they're aligned but they really haven't had that conversation and there are gaps there. 
The second is to understand where different teams are on the change curve. As we talked about, there are times when we can hear innovative ideas and actually find new solutions when we're stuck in neutral. And it's during this time when you're actually talking with teams and trying to understand the reasons why they're stuck, that some of that innovation starts to happen. 
The third is to build the map across the canyon. And this is where we help define the plan for how we are going to help and support teams in this transition. 
And then, finally, is to monitor. To kind of understand and be able to measure how well the organization is moving forward and to be able to then identify ways to tweak the plan.
These are the steps that we took with our client. So, we worked with the leadership on articulating and visualizing the big picture and the reason for the change, we conducted interviews and did a change impact assessment — really working with some of those teams like the regional sales managers that Dan mentioned to understand what was holding them back. And again, this is where some of those innovative ideas come out from some of the biggest dissenters. 
Then we helped them build a global cascade and communications plan to be able to bring the teams through the different stages of awareness and engagement and adoption. And then we worked with our client to look at where they had some existing pulse surveys and other types of tools that they could use to monitor their progress so that they could know how well the change strategy was working and the programs were working to move the organization forward. 
Dan Overgaag: Yeah. And Mimi, as you were just talking about moving the organization forward — at Spur Reply, what we've done is really think about this and create a methodology to activate those strategies that Mimi just walked us through. And we call our methodology ‘LAND-IT’ because the goal is ultimately a successful landing of the transformations. 
And we wanted to merge the best practices across many different methodologies that we've used or have seen into a very pragmatic and agile approach that makes sense to our clients. And while the world is never as nice and linear as this chart might suggest, it really helps to understand and know all of the key phases to consider when trying to navigate an organization from an old way of working into a new way of working that ultimately transforms how they work together as an organization.

And we found this to be a very flexible and adaptable framework for thinking through those different people readiness priorities that we’ve teed up. And for today's webinar in particular, where we're focusing on how to accelerate out of that neutral zone and out of that stuck spin zone, we're going to focus on the first four phases which are leadership alignment, understanding stakeholders, navigation along the route, leveraging communications and training and coaching, and then making sure to use data to measure how people really are and how well they're going through this journey. 

So, we're going to get really practical and look at specific best practices and different levers for each of these first four phases of our LANDIT methodology. 
Mimi Wehner: All right. Let's jump in. I know we all think and know that change starts at the top. And this principle really holds true when we're dealing with the kinds of resistance or neutral zone symptoms that we've been talking about.
So, the [the first of the] three best practices here — to just talk about how we leverage some of these with our client I've mentioned before — is working with the leadership team and getting them to really think about the big picture outcomes and the ‘why' of the change. There was a lot of alignment around the ‘what’ that had to happen but some of the bigger picture just hadn't [been] talked about. 
Then we also worked with them on the second best practice of talking about what some of the endings were for them individually and as a team because there were definitely going to be things that were going to be left behind. And then this enabled them to also have those types of discussions with their own teams. 
The third best practice here is having visible sponsors of the change within the organization and then taking that change leadership into the organization through change champion programs. 
Dan Overgaag: So, I kind of mentioned it earlier, but thinking about that theme of taking a moment to slow down in order to speed ahead…we'll take a look at this assessment phase. This dimension is essential when the issue is a people readiness challenge and understanding why critical groups get stuck, what endings their challenged with letting go of, and what concerns they may have about the new way of working or whatever you're moving toward. 
And one key finding that we found is that a primary cause of resistance is a change in decision-making power within an organization. So understanding if that is a root cause of the stall is critical so that the right engagement forums are developed in order to navigate teams through what is a very significant type of change and very impactful for certain groups. 
And we found that, often, just taking time to ask the teams about the types of change they're seeing begins to help teams move forward. And creating a visualization of a team's perspective on the change is really important so that the change leaders can build plans that resonate with them in terms of communications and support and the coaching that Mimi was just talking about. 
And there's something about seeing your concerns noted and explained and addressed that, again, helps people move along that change curve. People want to feel understood. And if they can see their concerns and that you're understanding their concerns, they're going to be much more willing and able to progress along that change curve. 
So, thinking back to our client example — in addition to working with the leadership team, we also gathered insights on the impacts on various groups that were impacted. And really spotlighting those that seemed to be the most stuck in decision-making was changing across the board as part of the new structure — and that kept coming up. So, a visual map of these groups helped us identify those that would need the most support for the change and those influencers who we needed to focus on first to ultimately be successful with our change in the transformation. 
Mimi Wehner: All right. Navigation. Dan, I think you mentioned at the beginning that this is really a linear process. And I think that shows up a lot here with navigation because a lot of times we're asked to help out [we’ll hear] ‘Help us develop some communications.’ And that's certainly important. But it's often done, then, in parallel with the leadership and assessment work. And that usually works fine as long as we're building those communications through the lens of what the vision is and what different audiences...need to adopt the change. 
Some of the best practices in this phase, particularly for stuck transformations, is incorporating two-way forums. It's really important to enable teams to have a chance to share their perspective and concerns and engage in conversation. 
The second is quick wins or pilots. And this is, again, where some of that innovation happens when your transformation is stuck in neutral. It really starts to bubble up, particularly if those quick wins involve teams that are highly resistant or most concerned. 
And then, communicate frequently. Something we all know. Often, we start it too late. But that communication, and including in that, really hopeful messages. And part of that is the whole kind of ‘WIFM’ — what's in it for me — type messages. And the WIFM can be thought about from a couple of different constituencies. 

So, first, what could be in it for individuals, for teams, for customers, partners, and for the company? So, thinking about that hopeful message from all those different points of view. 
In terms of leveraging this with our client, we really tried to build into our cascade and communication plan two-way forums, such as town halls, Q&A sessions, and manager one on ones. And we find that, particularly where there's resistance or a lot of concerns, those one on one manager meetings are the most productive forums for helping people move from you their comfort with the old ways to being able to embrace new ways of working. 
Dan Overgaag: And the final phase that we'll cover today as part of accelerating your change and getting out of that neutral zone is around data. And it might be surprising to people that it is possible to monitor and measure and track people's readiness for change adoption. 
And, yes, people are a lot more emotional than dashboards always report. But it is possible and necessary to measure people's attachment to old ways of thinking and their buy-in into the new. It's feasible and critical to measure sentiment, along with tracking the initiative progress, the schedule, the budgets, and all of those things when your transformation is showing the symptoms of being stuck in neutral. And I think that we’ve found being resourceful to be key to this type of measurement and leveraging what you have, or different types of measures. 
For example, you can leverage simple pulse surveys to ask people if they're aware of the new vision and why the transformation is happening. Ask them how positively they see the change being for the company but also for them as individuals. 
And also thinking about tracking against the symptoms that we teed up at the very beginning such as training attendance, proficiency scores, [and] monitoring the questions that are submitted. And by leveraging all that you can tell how engaged people are in the process and within this change. 
And, thinking to our client story again, we found that they had many measurement tools already in place, but they weren't looking at them to measure change readiness. And they weren't looking at the data that they were receiving through that lens. 
So, ultimately these people readiness metrics became a major factor for our clients in their go-no-go decision. So, to kind of summarize and wrap up our client story, these types of indicators told them that they had a lot more communication and awareness building to do before they could really move forward with the transformative change to their sales structure that they were looking to accomplish. 

And, so, for them, the focus shifted to a pilot, which Mimi just referenced earlier. But they included a pilot so they could really prove out the details of the new structure in parallel to building awareness and understanding across the entire organization, which, ultimately, was a winning approach that yielded long-term results for them. 
So where do you go next? Where do we go from here? We've captured four key next steps to think about if what we talked about today resonates with you and you see yourself and your change and your transformation in what we've discussed. So, the first is to take a step back and look at the symptoms objectively. Are you seeing signs of people readiness that are causing your effort to stall?
Secondly, ask a few key teams where they're at on their change journey. How are they feeling about letting go of the old processes, the old ways of working, and jumping forward with the new? Where are they on that change curve? 
Mimi Wehner: Next is to look at a few of the best practices that we've shared today and think about how you could integrate some of those into your transformation plan. 
And then, finally, don't try and go it alone. You probably have resources in your organization that can be of help. Maybe you have internal communications or training or some change management people that can support you or external resources because having a coach, a sounding board, and extra help to create these programs is certainly key to success. 
So, we want to end on this quote. “There are far, far better things ahead than any we need behind.” And we know that people on this call are people that are probably often carrying the flag and being the voice of enthusiasm behind change. And just know that your belief in the positive outcomes of the future can really build confidence and optimism in the organization. 
So, thanks for listening and we would love to hear your comments or questions. 
Mikala Flynn: Awesome. As a reminder, if you do have any questions, there's still time to add them to the Q&A. With that, I will get started with our first question, which is for Dan. What is your advice if our leadership doesn't want to resource these types of people readiness efforts? How do I get them to buy in? 
Dan Overgaag: Yeah, it's a really great question and one that we see a lot. I think the starting point is to ask about the cost of not investing. What's the cost of not investing in your people readiness efforts and what's the cost of not doing a great job within your transformation? Because if you think about the cost of the strategy, the solution, or whatever else you might have done that's already been invested, it could be a pretty sunk cost. 
And for the executive leadership, you need to position things in terms of what they care about. So likely revenue and likely profit. So focus on the revenue gains or the cost savings the transformation will yield assuming the change and specifically the people readiness part is achieved. 
I think the second part of the question is resourcing. And again, I think I would position it in terms of tradeoffs. So, to accomplish the change that you're looking to do and the people readiness efforts that are required to be successful, and assuming you have no additional investment or resources, that workload has to be picked up either internally or somewhere. 

So, what then becomes de-prioritized? And the answer from the executive team is likely, ‘Nothing,' which I think then reinforces the need for additional funding or resourcing, or whatever it might be. So, I think it's about positioning the cost savings against kind of the sunk costs already, and also kind of the prioritization of work efforts. 
Mikala Flynn: Awesome. We did have someone who wanted to learn a little bit more about the case study. So, Mimi, what was the biggest lesson learned from your client case study? Was there any major key point that they should have done differently from the beginning? 
Mimi Wehner: Well, one thing I want to say is our client was doing a lot of things right. I know to be a case study in this webinar we had to highlight why their transformation was stuck. But there were a lot of things they were doing, and they were asking a lot of great questions. 
I think the one thing, maybe in hindsight, is to — kind of like I you're building your all-up strategy and system readiness and process readiness plans, start that people readiness planning as well. We often find that organizations say, ‘Well, we don't know everything about the change or what we're doing, so we don't want to start communicating yet.’ 
And so, what happens is often communications end up being pushed way down the project plan. But it's a lot better to communicate something early like the vision and why we're doing this. And be comfortable saying, ‘We don't know all the answers yet and we hope that you can help us figure those out.’ So just starting earlier.
Mikala Flynn: That makes sense. We had another question on the data phase of the LANDIT methodology. One best practice in the data phase was including people readiness metrics and transformation decisions. Can you kind of go into that a little bit more?
Dan Overgaag: I'm happy to take that one. Yeah, again, I think it's a really good question. And I think you have to remember the goal of people readiness metrics is to enable you and allow you to adjust or focus your plans as you move through your transformation in order for the change to be fully attained and fully adopted. And the people readiness metrics will help guide that process and help guide you through kind of the adjustments and the focus areas that you want to tackle.
For us, there are really two types of metrics to consider. First is what we would call attitudinal metrics, which are things that address the attitude toward the change or towards the impacts. And you can get to that through things like pulse surveys which I mentioned earlier which might inquire into the awareness or understanding of the change. You can look at things like net promoter scores (NPS) scores, social listening devices, and meeting with different focus groups again, to kind of understand what the underlying, prevailing attitude within the organization is.
Then the second set of metrics is really behavioral-based. And these are things like proficiency scores and productivity metrics, usage metrics, process quality metrics, etc. Again, things that are capturing [answers to questions like], ‘Are the behaviors that we're we were anticipating or looking for — are those happening?’

I think another best practice when it comes to the data phase is to include those people readiness metrics with your other program metrics, with your initiative steering committees (SteerCos), quarterly business reviews or go-no-go decisions, budgeting decisions, etc. 
For example, if you have several key teams whose proficiency scores during end-user training are really low, then this should be discussed and addressed and tackled head-on as part of a larger go-live readiness decision along with system readiness. Those two need to go in parallel and have the same level of attention and focus.
Mikala Flynn: Great. And then we have a question on probably one of the most stressful parts. So how have you seen companies measure the return on investment (ROI) of change management? Mimi, I think this one's for you to take. 
Mimi Wehner: My turn? (laughs) Yes. Because often, change management or people readiness is viewed as kind of soft or discretionary. And there was a great article I read on Prosci actually. So, I’ll kind of frame up the way they propose this, which actually I think is great. They say, ‘What's the overall ROI you're trying to achieve with this transformation?’
So that's, yeah, x dollars. And then asking, ‘Well, how much of that depends on people utilizing whatever the new business process or system is?’ And if there's very little dependency on people adopting and using this, then there's probably not a lot of ROI on change management-type investments. 
But, in most cases, if you're honest, there's a high dependency on people utilizing whatever it is you're building. So then, once you kind of know how much of the overall value is dependent on that utilization, that helps you then build an ROI around the investment in communications and training and engagement. 
Dan Overgaag: And I think, Mimi, what you just said, kind of ties to the second question or maybe it was the first question on, ‘How do you position these efforts with resourcing with your executive team?’ And I think exactly what you just said — What's the cost of not doing it? It's equivalent to your ROI. And if not investing in people readiness is going to put the whole transformation at risk, that's a pretty significant ROI and a pretty big risk. So, it is important to think about people readiness as a significant portion of any transformation. 
Mimi Wehner: Well, exactly…and a second way to maybe validate the value is to look at it from a risk mitigation standpoint. So you can ask, ‘What's the risk to our employee satisfaction if this really lands poorly? What's our risk to our partner satisfaction — NPS — if we don't do a good job of preparing partners? What's the risk to our brand if part of this doesn't land well and that ends up impacting the end customer?’ So, it can also be a risk mitigation investment.  
Mikala Flynn: Wonderful. We still have a little bit of time if anyone wants to get a last-minute question in. We can give you about 30 seconds for that. Otherwise, if you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to Dan (or Mimi via email. Their emails are currently on their title, and you can expect to get the recording with the transcript in about one to two days. 
And thank you Dan and Mimi for presenting us with this awesome webinar and thank you all for attending. 

The transcription has been edited for clarity.


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