Executive Coaching – A Thorough Approach to Goal Setting

An organization has retained a coach for one of its executives. Everyone — the coach, the organization’s sponsor, and the executive — has reviewed the parameters of the engagement and feels comfortable with it. Self-assessments and 360s have been gathered to provide data on the executive’s areas of strength and opportunity, and to reveal insights into current performance. The executive is ready and eager to begin.

What’s next? Setting goals.

It’s not an overstatement to say that how a coach and executive handle goal-setting is the biggest indicator of success throughout the engagement.

When compiling a list of possible coaching goals, the executive and coach must first answer the question, “Whose goals?” There are several possible directions:

Goal type 1: Executive-led

Goals may be set by the executive herself. These might arise from her understanding of the self-assessments and 360s, both of which suggest areas of developmental focus. They might also stem from self-awareness and insights she already had. And in cases where she has ideas that aren’t fully formed yet, having a coach’s open support to explore those areas might be all she needs to shape them into goals.

Goal type 2: Joint

The executive and the coach may also work together to set goals. By considering data in the context of the executive’s role, they can collaboratively identify possible explanations about why the assessment and 360 results are the way they are. From this shared understanding, they can generate goals to address areas for improvement.

Goal type 3: Sponsor-driven

The executive’s organization might suggest or mandate particular goals, often as part of a performance improvement plan, last-chance agreement, or other remediation. Goals established by the organization will likely be top priority, and possibly the sole focus of the coaching. It is crucial the executive understands that the organization is driving goals and will hold him accountable.

Regardless of how coaching goals are determined, any potential goal should satisfy a set of fundamental criteria:

Goal criteria 1: Business focus

A coaching goal should satisfy a business objective. This might include helping the executive perform better, developing skills (her own or those of her team) that contribute to organizational success, and leading more effectively. Developmental goals that do not have direct links to business objectives are best left to other kinds of efforts, such as psychotherapy.

Goal criteria 2: Attainable

While a goal might be a stretch, it should not be unrealistic. If the executive finds it nearly impossible to make progress, it will sap his motivation and turn coaching into a grind. Instead, ensure selected goals have short-to-medium term payoffs to keep him engaged in and committed to continuing the coaching process.

Goal criteria 3: Actionable

A coaching goal needs to be specific and actionable. To determine if it is, start by translating a goal into a set of observable actions. If you identify a behavior and it could be captured on a recording, then that’s a behavior worth using. However, if it would be impossible to capture that behavior on a recording, then either come up with a different behavior or identify a different goal.

There are four types of behaviors to consider: Behaviors that the executive is not doing now but needs to start doing; behaviors that the executive is doing now but needs to do more; behaviors that the executive is doing now but needs to do less; and behaviors that the executive is doing now but needs to stop doing.

Goal criteria 4: Measurable

Lastly, a goal needs to be measurable so that you can show if it was achieved. Measurements can be quantitative (ex. achieving a tangible, objective “X” number of events over “Y” period of time) or qualitative (ex. achieving subjective milestone targets regarding professional development, customer satisfaction, leadership skills, or strategic contributions).

Following these guidelines at the start of an executive coaching engagement–establishing clarity about the purpose of coaching; knowing the executive’s coachability; determining who is setting the goals of coaching and why; and selecting goals according to a how well they fit a common set of criteria–maximizes the likelihood of achieving overall coaching success.

These guidelines are similar to the SMART Goals model that has been around since the 1980s. However, within this traditional conceptualization of goal setting in coaching, there is a piece that is missing. This piece has to do with a fourth type of executive coaching goals: Emergent goals.

Occasionally new goals emerge during coaching, sometimes well after sessions have begun. It is incumbent on both the executive and coach to keep their collective “third eye” open for new issues, ideas, awareness, and insights that organically surface. This emergent material can serve as the basis to generate new coaching goals for the executive.

Of course, there may be real-world reasons that prevent adding emergent goals to the current engagement. Perhaps there isn’t enough time, funding, latitude, or resources to address them adequately at this time. But where possible, incorporating emergent goals — either as extra goals or as replacements for lesser goals or goals that have that have been achieved — adds value to a coaching effort.

Taken together, these guidelines lay out a roadmap for the executive and coach to follow throughout a coaching engagement. As coaching sessions proceed, the executive and coach can reliably track progress on achieving selected goals and make mid-course adjustments and corrections as needed. With some hard work and diligence, both she and her coach will hopefully be able to celebrate goal completion and coaching success at the end of their engagement.

About: Paul Bayon, Psy.D., is Principal at DILAN Consulting Group.

Organizational Values: The Most Underutilized Corporate Asset

After over 30 years of working with organizations globally, I can confidently state that most companies don’t fully understand and embrace organizational values. Further, those that do have a competitive edge.

You only have to read the headlines to see abuses of power and corporate malfeasance: Wells Fargo, Amazon, NBC, Uber, United and The Weinstein Company, among others. Most of these companies say the right things. Unfortunately, they fail to act accordingly.

Take Wells Fargo. One of their values reads: “What’s right for customers. We place customers at the center of everything we do. We want to exceed customer expectations and build relationships that last a lifetime.”

Yet, they’ve often done the opposite. Story after story documents how Wells Fargo has systematically betrayed their customers’ trust. This is no way to build relationships that last a lifetime.

Not all value breeches are sensational enough to make headlines. But, make no mistake, they are equally damaging. Everyday violations eat away at morale, decimate employee engagement, and undermine your brand and bottom line.

I don’t think most corporations intend for this to happen. I believe they simply don’t know how to reinforce values while negotiating complex day-to-day demands.


So, what to do? First, let’s make sure we have a shared definition of “corporate values.” Here are two I like:

The first comes from BusinessDictionary.com: “The operating philosophies or principles that guide an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with its customers, partners, and shareholders.”

The second comes from a pioneer in the field of organizational development, Edgar Schein: “The rules of behavior. It is how the members represent the organization both to themselves and to others. This is often expressed in official philosophies and public statements of identity. It can sometimes be a projection for the future, of what the members hope to become.”

Reading these, it’s not hard to imagine how values might be applied to guide and influence nearly every aspect of organizational life.

Yet, more often than not, values are relegated to a page on a website or in a binder. In fact, most leaders and employees can’t even recite their organizational values, so it’s no mystery they don’t apply them. This is a huge missed opportunity. 


Is your company walking the talk? This is a question that needs to be asked regularly. Reflection is an essential precursor to calibration, learning and growth.

To assess your current state of effectiveness, ask yourself if any of these statements are true for you or your organization:


  • You have difficulty recalling your organizational values.
  • You feel drained, unmotivated or burned out.
  • You have difficulty meeting objectives or feel unfulfilled even when you do.
  • You find yourself procrastinating.
  • You feel misunderstood, disempowered or resentful at work.


  • The organizational strategy is unclear.
  • Trust in leadership is low.
  • Decision-making processes are opaque and/or decisions don’t stick.
  • Morale, engagement and/or productivity are low.
  • The board or leaders think the values don’t apply to them.
  • People are promoted or rewarded even when behaviors contradict values.
  • Inappropriate (bad) behaviors are not addressed effectively.
  • Employees tend to keep their personal and work lives separate.

If a few or more of these statements are true, you probably have a values gap. Either your organization isn’t living its values, or your personal values aren’t aligned with your organization. 

The Fix

A commitment to organizational values and personal alignment with said values can be a huge business differentiator.

You can draw a straight line from values to performance. When employees see leaders acting with integrity, trust in leadership strengthens. This improves morale, which correlates with employee engagement. Engagement generates productivity and ultimately drives strategy. In addition, values-driven leaders shape culture by creating a critical mass. Never forget that culture eats strategy for lunch.

Here’s how great companies implement values:

Values guard culture. Values should be visible in how you treat each other internally, and how you engage with everyone in your extended community. Every relationship matters and builds (or undermines) a values-driven culture. This is especially true for leaders. They are the most important stewards of culture and must embody the values in everything they do or say. Also, consider whether your organizational structure and employee development initiatives support your stated values.

Values are embedded and celebrated. Every day, values need to be called out, modeled, discussed and celebrated from the top down. For example, choose an employee of the month for being the best role model of values. Informal reinforcements might look like taking a great employee to lunch or showing public appreciation.

Values are a part of all performance discussions. Too often, we evaluate and reward employees for business deliverables without consideration of values. This communicates that values don’t matter, especially if the same person has exhibited poor behavior. Instead, send a message that values do matter by collecting feedback through 360 evaluations, upward appraisals and customer satisfaction surveys.

Values guide decision making. Revisit values at the start of any decision-making process. Later, use them to gauge the effectiveness of your decision-making process and to ensure that decisions are congruent with your stated ideals.

Values are user-friendly. One organization I worked with had 10 values and 2-3 behaviors for each value. The consequence was no one remembered them. We recommend four values with associated behaviors to ensure that they are succinct and memorable.

Values are revisited. Revisit, edit and recommit to your values annually. As companies change, it is essential to ensure that you are still focused on the right ideals and behaviors.

The word “value” is defined as the importance, regard or worth that something is believed to deserve. If you make a point to genuinely embody your organizational values by embedding them in all your processes and discussions, then surely you will be telling everyone that they truly matter, and your company will reap the benefits of setting clear expectations in an environment where people are held accountable.

In other words, if you want your values to matter, you need to keep them front and center.

About:  Eugene Dilan, Psy.D., SPHR is the Founder and CEO of the DILAN Consulting Group.

This article was first published at Forbes.com (April 2018). 

Perfectionism in the Workplace – A Rising Challenge

By Bart Magee, Ph.D.

Perfectionism is on the rise in society and in the workplace, meaning that business leaders need to be more prepared to manage employees with perfectionist attributes. An excess of perfectionism in the workplace leads to a number of negative results including poisonous stress and anxiety, difficulty building teams, avoidance of feedback, indecision, employee dissatisfaction and burnout. Fortunately, there are a number of effective strategies that organizations can adopt to address the challenge. 

An important study published recently documents the rise in perfectionism among young adults over the past three decades.  The study, authored by Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill and published in a major psychology journal, analyzed the responses from 41,641 college students on a psychological measure called the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale. The measure has been given to students across several decades in the US, Canada, and the UK, providing the researchers with a robust, longitudinal sample. The scale’s three dimensions of perfectionism are: 1) Self-oriented perfectionism: striving to attain perfection and avoid failure, 2) Socially-prescribed perfectionism: perceiving excessive and unfair demands of perfection from parents, peers and the social world, and 3) Other-oriented perfectionism: setting unrealistic standards for others and treating them with hostility and distain when they fail to meet them. The results were dramatic. Between 1989 and 2016, self-oriented perfectionism scores increased by 10 percent, other-oriented perfectionism increased by 16 percent, and socially-prescribed perfectionism increased by an incredible 32 percent.  This last finding is the most worrisome one as socially-prescribed perfection is the most debilitating of the three and is associated with greater increases in major mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior. These dramatic results are a challenge social scientists and mental health providers to address a growing social problem. The findings should also be a wake-up call to business leaders and human resource professionals, as they point to the need to adaptively respond to the new cohort of perfectionist employees now entering the American workforce.

What does this mean for the workplace? First of all, it means it’s time to dispense with the widely held myth that there are good and bad sides to perfectionism.  For too long, business leaders have tried to have it both ways. They have attempted to nurture the “good” qualities of perfectionism (high-achievement orientation, attention to detail and self-motivation) while tempering the bad ones (anxiety, black and white thinking, difficulty with feedback, avoidance of risk). Businesses do this by setting high expectations for employee performance, constantly monitoring and measuring them, and providing them incentives and reprimands. These are coupled with workplace practices supporting employee self-care, team work and development of soft skills.  But every employee knows which standard comes first and the perfectionist’s response to soft support is to assume they are not serious at best, a trap at worst. As a client of mine recently told me upon hearing that her employer was changing to an “unlimited” vacation polity, “I guess that’s the end of my ever taking a vacation.” As long as perfectionism is buoyed by workplace culture no amount of counter supports can temper it.

Assuming there are “good” sides to perfectionism also presupposes that you can’t be a high-achiever without perfectionist qualities. In fact the research shows that the opposite is the case. High achievers possess qualities that are mostly absent from the perfectionist mindset. Truly high achievers are decisive, confident, not afraid of risk, seek feedback, don’t avoid problems or difficult conversations, can easily delegate, and enjoy mentoring others. Perfectionists work hard to look confident, but underneath are driven by fear of failure which is why they often have difficulty making decisions and shy from risks. Feedback isn’t something sought after, as recognizing one’s shortcomings, for them, isn’t an opportunity growth, but a source of shame. And the anxious focus on one’s performance above all else leaves little room to address the needs of others, hindering one’s ability to effectively supervise, delegate and mentor. 

The second important take-away from the study is that given the rising perfectionism among the younger generations, workplaces need to change the way they manage employees, set performance expectations and give feedback, as common practices easily exacerbate the problem and lead to decreased performance, burnout, and mental health problems.

What are some workplace practices that can temper perfectionism and promote a healthier orientation toward performance and achievement?

  1. Reasonable goal setting. A good place to start would be to use the SMART goals guideline. The SMART mnemonic stands for Specific/Significant, Measurable/Meaningful, Achievable/Actionable and Timebound/Trackable. Not only does this model have empirical support, but it can help keep goals realistic and grounded in reality. Recording and tracking progress is a good counterbalance to the perfectionist tendency to seeing a never-ending horizon of impossible-to-meet expectations.
  2. Model learning from failure and experience. This one can be one of the most difficult changes for organizations to implement. While there is considerable evidence that recognition of one’s limits builds learning and growth, it’s hard to shake the feelings learned in childhood that failure is bad, shameful, should be avoided, and quickly forgotten. To change this, organizations need to create a sense of safety around mistakes and an environment where leaders model their own failings, where coming up short is recognized as part of the process of testing out new ideas and inevitable in a world where some variables remain out of control. Rather than reacting to failure as with a “whose to blame?” attitude, the response should be one of curiosity: “What happened?” “What can we learn?” This can help address the perfectionist’s avoidance of risk and difficulty with decision-making.
  3. Create a collaborative environment. A team-based culture can go a long way toward diluting the overly self-focused mindset of the perfectionist. Effective teams, 1) share common goals, 2) act in concert, 3) depend on one another for results, 4) achieve more together than they would individually, 5) see the team as a primary source of commitment, and 6) account for performance collectively. 
  4. Recognize employees’ need for emotional support and an environment that is not unduly stressful. This means a real commitment to emotional well-being and minding workplace culture. Once again, there is ample evidence that the best performance comes from an optimal state of engagement that is focused and motivated to reach personal and professional goals, but is free of stresses caused by work overload, lack of control, lack of real feedback and reward, a breakdown in community, an absence of fairness, and conflicting values (Maslach, 1997). In other words, the work environment matters and can mean the difference between employees who are engaged, growth-oriented, and collaborative and ones who are overly self-focused, anxious and difficult to manage. 

The team at DILAN Consulting Group has extensive experience helping organizations develop themselves utilizing effective models and strategies to transform workplace cultures, enhance leadership skills and build effective teams.  A guiding principle of our work is that effective organizations are cohesive, flexible and responsive to both internal and external demands. Organizations that work to respond to internal human needs and manage change effectively are also best at adapting to evolving markets and dynamic business environments. The many challenges around perfectionism are just the kind of internal demands that if effectively addressed will result in a more resilient, responsive and ultimately successful business.  

About: Bart Magee, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Senior Consultant at DILAN Consulting Group. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of Access Institute, a community based mental health non-profit located in San Francisco. 

How to be Coached: A User’s Guide to Optimizing Outcomes


Congratulations! You’ve found the right executive coach and are eager to get started. Since you are a go-getter, you’re used to meeting high expectations and hope the coach will help you become an even better performer. But you may be unsure how to get the results you want from coaching.

There are two key elements that set up success: collaboration and proactivity. Coaching is a collaborative process where you work together to achieve your goals. The coach is knowledgeable about how to succeed, but only you are an expert in what works for you. You must also be proactive. The more you put into the process the greater your return will be. You must be willing to do the work to unlock growth. Are you ready?

Next, there are two questions to ask yourself before you start:

1. What do you want to get out of coaching sessions?

2. How do you envision your coach helping you?

It is important to know what you want from a coach. For example, if you want to be more engaged with your team, the coach will help you practice and increase team connection. Note that an executive coach differs from a sports coach. While a sports coach dictates goals based on the team’s aspirations, an executive coach guides you towards your own goals. Awareness of what you want helps both of you maximize the effectiveness of your sessions.

Once your engagement has begun, there are eight ways to stay collaborative and proactive throughout the process:

1. Trust

Believe that your coach is personally invested in your success. This means you can feel comfortable asking questions, seeking direction, or admitting you don’t know something.

2. Be honest

Coaching helps you learn more about yourself and how to perform at your best. The more upfront and open you are, the greater benefit you will take away from each session.

3. Establish rules

It’s important to talk about ground rules from the beginning. These may include frequency of contact, confidentiality, expectations and commitments, and when the engagement will end.

4. Set goals

The engagement should include personal development goals based on your role and what you need to learn to go further. You will set your own goals and the coach will guide you in reaching them.

5. Learn eagerly

Your coach is investing their own time and energy to help you. To be a good collaborator, it is important to set an intention to learn enthusiastically and seek out support and resources that will amplify growth outside of sessions.

6. Seek feedback

Accepting feedback can be painful because we don’t want to hear we are not perfect. Remember, you can trust your coach to be supportive and invested in your success. Seek feedback to build on your strengths and to find growth opportunities.

7. Stay curious

Curiosity and inquiry are at the heart of growth. As you move through your sessions, take time to look inward, be honest about what you see, and challenge what you think you know.


Never forget the coach is there to guide you to achieve your goals, and it is your responsibility to do the work and be proactive in each session. When you step into a proactive space with your coach, you show yourself and others that you are ready to work up to your highest potential.

About: Felix Caraballo, PhD is an organizational psychologist and Senior Consultant at Dilan Consulting Group.


What should you look for in a coach?

Despite what you hear, not all coaches are created equal. Making sure your Executive Coach has the right qualifications is as important as being proactive. At DILAN Consulting Group, we offer the highest level of expertise because all our consultants hold a doctorate in either clinical or organizational psychology. They have the most training of any profession in the areas of human motivation, behavior, learning and change. In addition, our Clinical Psychologists are also licensed, a process that takes years of supervised experience that gives them access to tools and instruments only available to Clinical Psychologist. This means we use scientifically validated methodologies. This expertise in combination with our own professional experiences managing teams and organizations as well as supporting senior leaders in a wide range of industries allows us to provide deeper insights that drive better outcomes.

Watering The Flowers: A Feedback Primer For Leaders

Feedback is an art that can be learned and deserves our attention. Even at its best, feedback can create anxiety for everyone involved. At its worst, it can damage relationships if handled poorly or avoided out of fear.

Regardless of how daunting it may be, leaders are expected to give feedback to direct reports. Business demands it and research shows it is the most effective tool for managing performance and improving employee engagement. As a clinical psychologist, I go one step further: Feedback is the best tool for managing relationships, period.

Unfortunately, few leaders receive training in how to give and receive feedback well, so they plod along, unaware of how their personal experiences influence their ability and willingness to engage.

Before we can talk about suggestions for how to make feedback more effective, these are the foundational elements needed to create success.

1. Self-Awareness: Effective leaders spend time reflecting on their own personal experiences with feedback. They know what has been helpful to them and what has not. This awareness is essential to approaching feedback with empathy. Never forget there is a human being on the receiving end of your comments.

2. Platinum Rule (Not Golden Rule): Self-awareness helps you understand what you need or want, but that may be very different from what someone else needs or wants. The Platinum Rule tells us to treat others the way they want to be treated, rather than the way you would want.

3. Strong Relationships: There is no excuse for not establishing a great rapport with your direct reports and colleagues. Without the foundation of a good working relationship, feedback can be hard to interpret and your motivations may be questioned. Trust and respect allow feedback to be received positively.

4. Do And Say Less: Feedback is a conversation, not a monologue where you list off everything they’ve done wrong. Leaders will be most effective if they can get the other person to reflect on their own performance first. This helps them to practice reflection, which will make both of your jobs easier going forward.

5. Shared Responsibility: It is your job to help your team be successful and if they missed the mark, then you missed the mark, too. Seek input on what you could have done differently to create an environment of shared responsibility instead of blame. If you model taking responsibility, they will learn to do the same.

Building on those elements, we offer a simple process for giving feedback: the RFP model. We created it with a client to help them move away from the mandatory annual review to a more productive, ongoing conversation. They have embraced it and are seeing communication and performance thrive. What was once a check-the-box event, is now a two-way conversation that addresses what both parties have learned and what each will be doing differently going forward.

Here’s how it works:


Begin with a status update in which both parties take time to reflect on their own contributions. Ideally, the direct report speaks first. Be sure to cover:

• Successes and what has gone well.

• Recent challenges and/or misses (not necessarily failures).

• Recognize unplanned work, achievements and learning.


Each person delivers feedback about what went well and less well, if it was not already covered in the Reflection phase. Feedback should be specific, actionable and timely, and should include:

• Developmental feedback (what they can start, stop, do more or less of).

• Recognition and appreciation.


If needed, establish goals and action steps for change, including:

• Desired future state, based on individual and/or business needs.

• Specific outcomes, activities and deadlines.

• Manager-explored opportunities to provide more support.

The art of feedback requires continued practice and fine-tuning. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but by following the simple steps above, you’ll find it is doable and rewarding. Making the above practices part of your regular conversations will continuously improve your working relationships and enhance performance, as well as build the trust that enables your positive intent to be understood. Lastly, remember to water the flowers – if you acknowledge any movement in the desired direction, they will surely grow.

About:  Eugene Dilan, Psy.D., SPHR is the Founder and CEO of the DILAN Consulting Group.

This article was first published at Forbes.com (May 2017). 

Leadership and Mindfulness

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way” (Frankl, 1992).

Stress Today

Stress today is everywhere. Leaders are often adept at managing highly stressful situations, but we are all interested in improving our performance. Self-care is critical for many successful leaders. While everyone learns to value aspects of balanced living in different ways, there’s a lot to be said for the simple yet meaningful practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness has received a lot of attention recently, while some leaders are now seasoned practitioners – other leaders are still Mindfulness beginners.

Why Mindfulness, why now?

We are now living in what some have termed a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) (Harvard Business Review, 2014). Leaders are forced to manage each aspect of how this impacts their organizations and employees. It is a new year, 2017. The intensity of last year will most likely spill over, so how do we ameliorate the stress of a volatile and unpredictable world? Enter mindfulness. The answer may be found in being a more mindful leader. Or essentially, a leader who also practices mindfulness.

Leadership is about inspiring and guiding everyone to be the best they can be and mindfulness fosters the ability for practitioners to live in the moment, to take control of any situation by having the presence to remain engaged, flexible, and even calm in an unpredictable and volatile world.

How do we practice Mindfulness?

The FEEL Model by Liz Hall (2013) is a helpful acronym that leaders can use to begin a mindfulness practice. Try FEEL,

Focus – set an intention on what you are trying to achieve. Being mindful is often about paying attention to something – our thoughts, our emotions, our bodily sensations, etc. One may have the intention to focus on their breath for three minutes (for example) before they start a challenging task.

Explore – as you breathe, notice what arises (our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodily sensations), notice each with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgement.

Embrace – each sensation with awareness – breathe as you note each emotion, physical sensation, or thought. Try not to push away or judge what you notice. Just let each experience come and go, like clouds floating by.

Let Go – this is about not holding on to something pleasant or unpleasant for too long. With your awareness, return your attention to the sensations of your breath. Continue to let go as you begin to breathe again.

Practicing mindfulness often does not feel easy or natural in the beginning. Like many new tasks and challenges, the barriers within us are often our biggest hurdle. Many beginners find taking an eight-week mindfulness course as the most practical and informative method to begin a practice. Practicing mindfulness is known to reduce the of impact stress in our personal lives, our job performance and our overall well-being. Research has consistently shown that practicing mindfulness increases productivity by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive well-being, even happiness. As a leader, fostering mindfulness will not only improve work-life balance but it will enhance your ability to choose how you respond to any given challenge or circumstance.

May we all have a more mindful and balanced – 2017. Keep practicing and stay present.

About: Felix Caraballo, PhD is an organizational psychologist and Senior Consultant at Dilan Consulting Group.

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