Adventures in Interviewing: Shoot Straight or Not?

 

will telling the truth help or hurt in an interview

Just how candid should you be in an interview?

Ever wondered if you should bite your tongue in an interview?  Is it ever a good time to say “Wow, that sounds like a really bad plan?” (It is assumed you don’t follow that up by rolling on the floor laughing).

I’m usually hired to fix things or start them up. This means companies tend to seek me out when they’ve got a vision of some new business line they want to open or when they know something is wrong, have tried lots of things, it’s not working and they need someone else to fix it so they can get on with their main mission.

Now when someone seeks me out, they usually know my reputation. I’m a very straight shooter,  I don’t sugarcoat things, but can take a balled up mess or a really sketchy vision and turn it into something really great. I will also point out very quickly if the glass is half empty and leaking fast. I can fix that too, but not if you’re only seeing sunshine and rainbows. I’m direct because I am going to be responsible for driving results almost immediately, and if there is a blind spot about the problems or hiccups in the plan, it will affect my work. Telling the truth can also let you see how open the company is to adapting their plan.

Sometimes, however, the hiring company doesn’t know me, as I’ve been referred to them by someone else. Hilarity generally ensues.

A personal favorite was the interview with a large bank that wanted to open boutique banking centers in underserved markets throughout the United States. I had been referred to the hiring manager, a Californian, to cover the Southeast. I was the fifth interview in the Atlanta airport lounge, out of five. As this very senior manager sketched out the plan I felt the backs of my eyes beginning to roll. Sure enough, just as every other financial institution headed into the Southeast before had done, they had used census data to select the “perfect” areas for these branches.

The data told them that Location X was an opportunity rich area, moderate, but not too low, income, with a diverse population that was historically under-served by banks. Many were the perfect age for first time home buying.  They were sure they had found the mother lode of an untapped market.

Now there was just one problem. For those of you who can remember the joys of “mean” “median” and “mode” in basic statistics, you may remember that the median is the middle number of all the data in a list. The mean is an average.  The problem with good old Location X was that almost no one in the area was actually making the mean income.  Mode, the number that appears most often, would be the more appropriate measure here. Due to the wild vagaries of the drawing of census tract lines and the strange nature of the city, the residents incomes looked like this (pretend it’s a census tract of 10 people):

1. $10K

2. $10K

3. $11K

4. $170K

5. $10K

6. $ 7K

8. $120K

9. $11K

10. $90K

Wow kids! we’ve got an average (mean) income of $87K!. We’re going to do great! Break out the champagne and the “Grand opening” signs!

Umm, not so fast.

In reality the area was a large cluster of public housing units, surrounding a small college center, with a small area of mid-level housing, mostly occupied as rentals by students (they would be the folks represented# 6, who also helped pull the average age down) or owned by a handful of professors and college administrators ( #10 above) and three gracious streets of grand homes that backed up to another census tract that was much more affluent (that would be #8 and #4). Problem was, the majority of the residents were in public housing (#1, 2,3,5, and 9) and making the income associated with that service. Most were nowhere near ready to make a leap to homeownership.

The gentleman from California was no doubt tired, having been subjected to a long flight, four earnest applicants earlier in the day, and repeatedly mentioned he was catching a plane in 45 minutes, as he hit the highlights of the master plan.

As he listed the areas, I thought for a minute, almost stopped myself, and then said very quietly, “Have you signed the lease yet on Location X?”

I guarantee that was a question no one else had asked that day. I then spelled out why Location X looked good from 10,000 feet up but had never been successful for any of the other lending institutions that had tried similar things in the area.  He looked at me oddly, and wrapped up the interview quickly.

I drove home, cell phone accidentally tossed in my briefcase in the trunk of my car. I may have even lectured myself on the advisability of opening my big mouth.  After the 3o minute drive I had a message. A call from the gentleman’s boss, asking me to call her to talk about the lease, (yes, they had signed it) and explain why I didn’t think it would work. She was about to go into a 6 hour meeting but wanted me to call her as soon as possible, any time, day or night.

I got the gig five minutes into that call. I am certain that no other applicant questioned the wisdom of the plan. And yes, Location X, despite a ton of effort and energy and cash infusions, never delivered as planned, for just the reasons I had mentioned.

On the other hand, lots of people don’t want to “look at the whole picture.” Several years ago I was approached about becoming the regional manager for a large sales team. The hiring manager pointed out that they were currently at 50 people, hoping to move to 90 by the end of the year (it was June). I politely said, “I’ve reviewed your team and by my estimate you have 18 keepers and 32 people who won’t make it, they haven’t made it anywhere else. Which means you have a rebuild on your hands.”

The previous manager had been incented on bringing in bodies without any qualifications tied to the incentive, and bring them in he did. Every single person who had failed at every other sales group in town.  Just by looking at the list of the names it was easy to see who would not be there in 3 months when their guarantees ran out.

The hiring manager hired an out-of-market friend of his, without a sales background, and sure enough, most of the 32 I marked were gone six months later. And the headcount is still nowhere near 50, or 90.

So, do you tell the truth or spout the party line? I think it’s a matter of just how badly you need the role and how much “singing the party line” may cost you individually if you can’t perform at the level expected.  Many companies will lower their expectations as they realize the plan has holes in it, they just don’t want you to be the one to point them out. But if 100% of your compensation is tied to delivery, you can sugarcoat the truth a bit, but YOU need to know what you’re getting into. And maybe, so do they.

What do you think? Tell the truth and shame the devil? Or shut your mouth, get the gig and do what you can once you’re in? What have YOU done? Share in the comments below…

book by Jeanne Goldie

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#3 of 3 Great Reasons why what Worked for you Before, isn’t Working Now.

rapid rise and descent of a business strategy

Your strategy was working great, then it stopped? Here’s three reasons why it may have stopped working

It was Working.

Now it’s not working.

Why?

It’s hard to continually grow success. With rare exceptions, the line to the top of the success platform is more often a series of “one step forward, two steps back, a side step, a loop de loop,” and then, finally, “up we go”. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with in both business and personal life is when something that had worked so well for you previously is now not only not working, but may actually be working against you.

So why isn’t it working?

Joined us in the middle? See Reason #1 and Reason #2

Reason #3. Your product is wearing the wrong clothes.

Your product/business/idea may be great, but it may be dressed in the wrong packaging for your intended audience. Now this isn’t usually the main driver, but can be why growth has stalled. What do “the wrong clothes” look like?

  • Your high tech/impulse purchase product isn’t optimized for mobile access, or you created a high tech mobile product for a “not very high tech” audience. You may have reached the saturation point for the people that recognized your product in the space it is in, but you may be missing a much larger market that is playing in another playground.
  • Your choice of market place isn’t reaching the maximum audience.  Are you a retail store? Are you in a indoor mall? How is your foot traffic vs the foot traffic at a strip center (and yes, it was a very different story 10 years ago)? Or maybe you’re a business website with a non-visual based business who is doing all your marketing over on Pinterest.  Blogging when your audience wants podcasts? It may not be that you’re located in a bad place, you just may not be located in the optimal place.
  • Your packaging doesn’t match what your audience’s expectations. Are you a luxury business with a pre-canned, pre-formatted word template for everything from invoices to your website that reeks of beginning Microsoft 101? Is your website loaded with “Coming soon” and a copyright date of 2011 running across the bottom?

 Well that’s just great, Jeanne. So what do I do now, Little Ms. Fix it?

Read our next article, Charging Back Uphill, Blasting out of a Stall. 

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And in the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, subscribe to our free weekly newsletter and get a your copy of “Reading the Terrain, A field guide for speed reading the Corporate landscape” instantly. It may help you identify some critical mismatches between where you think you are and how those on the outside see your business.  And no, we’re not going to sell your email address to others. Or bombard you with insta offers. We’re just going to send your our newsletter that helps you navigate in a time of constant change.

 

 

When it’s Time to Reframe, it’s Time to Rearrange.

can you reframe a business problem by changing your perspective?

Sometimes you need a new angle.

Sometimes the best way out of a dead end is to look up. Or back. Or down. If the project you’re working on appears to be seriously stalled, due to lack of resources, internal or external politics or even a lack of enthusiasm by the team, it may be time to reframe.

“Reframing” is the act of stepping back and changing your perspective, which then allows you to move forward. You’ve likely heard people label business problems as “opportunities.” What if you looked for the opportunities in your stuck?

  • Could the lack of resources help you create a better, less complex solution?
  • Did the resistance put up by the team reveal a deeper issue, or an ingrained habit that your solution could mimic which would help the team embrace it?

Step back from the solution or plan you made and reevaluate. Go back to review the original issue you tried to solve for and ask some reframing questions about it. If you’re trying to create a customer service solution, go ask some customers what great customer service looks like to them. Trying to cut expenses? What if you grew revenue?

What problem can you reframe today?

Still Stuck? Try this. Get your copy today

 

3 Things you Must do before Every Meeting

Brandon Smith

Brandon Smith: The Workplace Therapist is In!

This week’s guest post is from Brandon Smith, aka The Workplace Therapist! His unique take on the workplace is not to be missed.

Today’s Topic: Three Things You Must do Before Every Meeting:

It is sad, really.  Every working day, the majority of us suffer from worthless and painful meetings that should have been avoided.  These are those meetings that, with a little bit of intentionality, could have been scrubbed dysfunction-free.  So what kinds of meetings am I talking about?  Consider these particularly “dirty” gatherings that could have been made clean with a little pre-meeting hygiene:

“The ‘what’s the point’ meeting” – While you sit quietly in attendance, the question “what is the point of this meeting?” plays continuously in your head like a bad Pink song.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t shake it.  The more you resist, the louder it gets.  As a result, you find concentrating nearly impossible.  When it’s all over, you leave the meeting confused and angry.  Another hour of your life gone forever.

“The birthday party” – The birthday party is a common meeting trap.  The meeting organizer starts with a small list of attendees and quickly the list grows to include everyone he or she knows.  There is little thought put into who needs to be in attendance.  Rather the thinking is something more akin to planning a festive gala.  The organizer thinks to him or herself, “The more people who come, the better.  And who knows?  They might bring food.”  You know you are in one of these meetings when you look around the room and after trying to find the commonality with you and the other fifteen attendees, you say to yourself, “why am I here?”  Pass another piece of cake.

“The ‘I’m gonna be fired’ meeting” – We all know the type.  The person who leaves you a voicemail that simply says, “Call me back.  We need to talk.”  Vague and mysterious, these individuals refuse to tell you what they want to talk about, ever.  As a result, your mind spins every time they make a request to connect.  “What did I forget to do?  Did I say something I shouldn’t have?  What could they possibly be angry with me about?”  They create an anxiety whirlwind in our minds as we begin to plot out worst-case scenarios.  When these people schedule meetings, they do the same thing.  No agenda.  No objective.  Nothing other than a meeting request.  And if the person is your boss, in the back of your mind you wonder, “Am I going to be fired?”  Wasted anxiety and worry that accomplishes nothing other than elevating your blood pressure and shortening your life expectancy.

So how do you avoid these messy meetings?  Simple.  Consider the following prescription on proper pre-meeting hygiene.  Rub-a-dub-dub.

  1. Decide the purpose or objective.  Before calling any meeting, ask yourself “what do I want to get out of the meeting?”  Most meetings are either informational (you’re just wanting to keep all attendees informed with what’s going on) or decision-making (you need folks in the meeting to reach a decision) or both.  Write down your objective in one line.  If you can do that, you are ready for the next step.  If you can’t, do you really need to have a meeting?
  2. Identify who should attend.  Less is always more when it comes to meetings.  Steelcase, a company known for office furniture, has been in the business of studying and providing solutions to make workspaces better for over 100 years.  In their workplace research, they found that the most productive meetings are with three people.  Not five.  Not eight.  Three people.  When was the last time you were in a three person meeting?  There is a natural temptation to expand meeting attendee lists.  This person may need to hear what is said.  That person could have something to contribute.  He’ll be offended if I don’t invite him.  So, before you end up with a party on your hands, seriously consider who is in attendance.  If you are struggling to narrow your list, consider the hourly rates represented in the room.  When I walk into a meeting of ten people, I don’t see productivity.  All I see is thousands of dollars being wasted.  Maybe that’s the contractor coming out in me.  Time is money.  You’ll know you have a good final list when you can say, “This is a good use of the resources I have at my disposal.”  In other words, if it was your cash, you wouldn’t hesitate to pay to have those people in the room.
  3. Send out a meeting agenda at least 24 hrs prior.  No one likes mysterious meetings.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve read one of my many mantras: “In absence of communication, people always assume the worst.”  In absence of meeting agendas and objectives, people will naturally assume the worst.  As a result, the worrying begins resulting in a total waste of mental and emotional energy.  Avoid this by sending out any meeting agenda complete with meeting objective at least 24hours in advance.  This also allows you to clearly spell out what preparation you expect attendees to have made prior to the meeting (Ex: “Come prepared to discuss the attached budget,” “Come prepared to review your department’s accomplishments last week,” etc…).

The steps above are simple and obvious and yet very few meetings qualify as “clean” based on the above criteria.  So, do you and your team members a favor and show up all cleaned up and ready to go.  And spread the word.  All it takes is one badly planned meeting to stink up the place.  Yuck.

 

Brandon Smith is a therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon Smith brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. He blogs at www.theworkplacetherapist.com and is a regular guest on public radio.

Postcards on Change from Belgium

Jeanne Goldie, Organizational Strategist

Jeanne Goldie is a “Start it Up” or “Turn it Around” plug-in strategist for businesses. For the past twelve years she’s worked in the Financial Services industry leading organizational strategy after doing similar work in the government and non-profit sector.

I’m in Belgium this week, getting ready to present Anarchy and the Acco™ Clip:  Lean Startups in Government at the Lean Startups Brussels meeting.

Can you imagine preparing a presentation in one language and then, on a moments notice being asked to present in another language? Yesterday I attended a workshop of Agile experts (an approach to building products and software) explaining the best uses and applications for Agile and XP which was hosted at Sirris.be. The meeting started off in Dutch, and five minutes into the meeting, an audience member requested they switch to English (no, it wasn’t me!). The panel then switched to English, offering 8 presentations in rapid fire succession (similar to the “sprint concept” in Agile) with each presenter offering an aspect of working in Agile in 5 minutes or less. It was a fascinating “deep dive” into an area I haven’t spent a lot of time in, and the experience and enthusiasm of the panel was obvious. After the presentation, the audience was divided into smaller break out groups to discuss challenges with executing and adapting Agile to the workplace, proving some issues are universal. Most of the areas involved the challenge of managing product development in a situation with diffused authority, something not uncommon in any change project. From the discussions led by the presenters it was obvious that the flexibility they had demonstrated flipping languages was also repeated in their project management. An amazing workshop, with lots of great insight and strategies.

The second event was a pitch program at Beta Group Brussels where several entrepreneurs had 5 minute to pitch their products in a way to test their marketability, similar to giving an “elevator speech” for venture capitalists. Over 300 people watched and voted on different applications, it was exciting to watch people passionately pitch their ideas. One interesting note was that sometimes the best, most marketable idea was often buried or missed in the “pitcher’s” enthusiasm for their original concept. One team, creating an online shopping site glossed over their best attribute, creating a routine, simplified, glossy marketing approach for small business owners who were NOT technically savvy, basically letting the business owners subcontract that work inexpensively to a group that would ensure that the their marketing would meet all current technical standards, and marketing for them on a consistent basis across multiple platforms (a huge issue for a frazzled small business owner). It was a great reminder that sometimes we’re so close to our creations that we miss the forest for the trees.

On a side note, much like the US there were very few females in either group, and often the females offered more “service concept” type products rather than application development or strict product development. The females had good insight into the how and why a product would or wouldn’t work, clearly we need to get more women in STEM professions!

Many thanks to my hosts from Lean Startup Brussels who are ensuring I get a great whirlwind tour of the technology community in Brussels. There’s tons of food for thought that has been shared, and I hope to be able to share it with all of you in a slightly more coherent fashion once I get some sleep!

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

What are you NOT seeing? And what is it going to cost you?

 

people with blinders on

Are you stuck in your confirmation bias?

Years ago I would periodically attend senior staff level meetings for my boss when he was out of town. This would happen only a few times a year, but inevitably, my boss would be surprised at the insights I would give him from the meeting. Not the notes on what was said, but my take on the changes in the internal politics. Just by observing the meeting I could tell which departments were in favor, which were jockeying for position and which had fallen out of favor.  Often before he had even noticed.

Why?

When we’re in the middle of something on a constant basis we don’t always catch the subtle signs of impending change.  The details of our day to day existence distract us so we don’t step back and take a look at the big picture, and even when we think we do, we look at it through a filter of what we think is happening. We look for things that will reaffirm what we believe to be true and ignore those that invalidate our truths, there’s even a term for it, “confirmation bias”.

Test yourself today.  Are your assumptions about what’s working (or not working) true? Answer these questions off the top of your head… then go run some tests to verify.

Your revenue generators:

  • Who are your key clients?Are they the same people as previous years?  
  • Any changes in buying patterns? Do you know why? Would they cite the same reason?
  • What about payment patterns? Anyone now a slow payer that wasn’t?

Your Customers or End Users:

  • What questions are your customers asking?
  • Do they indicate movement towards a new product line, a new technology or a new need?  
  • Are they finding you the same way they used to? (Think of the days of yellow pages vs. internet, vs. mobile technology). Can they find you using the method they’re using?
  • If you have a physical location does it show up on Google maps?
  • Does the name of your company, department or group actually indicate what you do or sell now?

Your Team:

  • Morale up or down? Why? 
  • Are you attracting better talent to join your team than the talent you’re losing to competitors?
  • Is your team all from the same background? Schools, geography, ethnicity, gender, age, economic background? Any chance that’s hurting you?  
  • How long have they been in the same roles? Is there an incentive for them to move out if they can’t move up? What will you lose if they move out?

External factors and competition:

  • Is your competitor’s market share shrinking or growing?
  • Is the overall market for what you offer shrinking or growing?  
  • If the market is shrinking, what’s taking the place of what you are offering? Is there a new technology or is someone else promising a “magic bullet” solution to your customer’s needs? What’s attractive about that “magic bullet?”

Find any surprises?  We’re so busy trying to “make it all work” that tectonic shifts can be taking place beneath

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Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

our feet without our noticing. Consider today a starting point, a new commitment to seeing the whole playing field.  For even more things to take a look at, download a copy of our free field guide, Reading the Terrain, by subscribing at with your email address. It will help you look at your playing field with fresh eyes.

Have you ever missed a key change in your industry? How did you catch up? What opened your eyes? Discuss in our comments section.

 

Are you Asking the Right Questions in your Marketing Plan?

A great story from a great marketer, Lisa Zakrajsek, …plus the hidden background of just how Jeno’s pizza rolls came to be…and morphed into Totino’s pizza rolls! Who knew?

Read all about it here

P.S. I’ve had the good fortune to work with some amazing marketers in my career and I know what a difference GOOD marketing makes.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

 

 

 

What Bubble are You Living in? Billy Joel used to live in it too!

 

trapped in a bubble

Sometimes you’re living in a bubble and don’t even know it.

“All your life is Channel 13, Sesame Street, What does it mean? Pressure Pressure.”

“Pressure” by Billy Joel ©1982

What do you and I have in common with Billy Joel? (Hint:the answer is NOT Christie Brinkley. The Katie Lee Joel cookbook is a viable answer but not the one we’re looking for here!).

Sometimes we don’t realize how much we don’t know. If you’ve worked in one type of environment, industry or managerial structure you may think you “know” how things work. And you probably know quite a bit about how things work in your specific world.  You know every quirk of your department, that it’s never a good idea to bring up a new project in third quarter, that the marketing team can always be outvoted by the sales team and that every three months someone will reliably throw a fit about people not cleaning stuff out of the break room refrigerator, complete with a freshly printed sign taped to the refrigerator door and some pointed emails from the person who got stuck doing the big cleanout.

Growing up just outside of New York City, my family didn’t travel much. There wasn’t money for big vacations.  In New York, pre-digital television,  Channel  7 was ABC,  Channel 4 was NBC, and Channel 2 was CBS. Last but not least, Channel 13 was the local Public Broadcasting Affiliate (PBS). Which broadcast “Sesame Street” (for my international readers, “Sesame Street” is a children’s show which features humans and puppets teaching 3-6 year olds how to read, count and learn various life skills. You can see a clip here).

When I moved to Atlanta, Georgia to go to college, one of the first things that surprised me was that the TV channels weren’t the same.  Now, Channel 2 was ABC, Channel 11 was NBC, Channel 5 was CBS and Channel 8 was PBS.

Not exactly a mind-blowing revelation on the scale of “Who is Keyser Soze?” but a small rattling of what my 17 year old self “knew” to be true.  For 17 years the NY channel line-up was my “truth” and Channel 13 was PBS, home of “Sesame Street”. And apparently, the same was true for Billy Joel. So much so that he wrote about it in his internationally broadcast hit song.

I often wondered what the heck people outside the NY/NJ area thought Billy was singing about when he mentioned Channel 13 since it was not their reality. Did they realize it was “connected” to Sesame Street (mentioned in the next line of the song) or did they think it was an abstract reference like “Area 51” or some hip thing they didn’t “get”? “Pressure” came out “pre-internet” so I imagine some people were very confused.

It really was just Billy’s moment in the bubble. In  1982, in his world and mine, Channel 13 was PBS and we assumed everyone would know that.

When you are leading a change, or if you are working in a new environment, are you assuming that everyone else’s “rules” and “truth” are the same as yours? New leaders, new technology, geography, or a change in your customer base can all affect the environment and sometimes we don’t even notice it until it’s too late.

What’s your “Channel 13?” What do you “know” to be true in your world? Is it?

(P.S. Did you get that old lunch of yours out of the refrigerator yet? Because you just know that memo is coming! Watch Billy Joel sing about Channel 13 while you’re doing it.)

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

P.P.S: Need help testing what you “know” to be true? Download our free Field Guide for understanding the organizational landscape before you begin creating change. “Reading the Terrain” gives you easy questions to ask yourself that will help you see your world with fresh eyes and broaden your perspective.  Sign up at the right to receive our newsletter and you’ll get a free link to download our guide. And no, we won’t bombard you with junk mail. Or memos on how you need to clean out the refrigerator.

 

 

Rule #2: What you knew on the very first day, is what you need to remember now.

Remember the first day you worked at this company, this department?  Some slight boredom, endless paperwork tempered with the excitement of starting something new.  You had some time on your hands to observe while you waited for HR to send back your docs, or your first client to call. Most likely you observed some stuff that didn’t quite make sense, processes that didn’t seem to be working well; a system that seemed to have a vital hiccup.   And you didn’t raise a red flag because, hey, you were the new guy, maybe you just didn’t get “how things worked.”

A few months later, the “Kool-Aid” has been drunk and you’re part of the team. And you don’t notice those things as much anymore. Or someone gave you some sort of explanation about them that kind of made sense or implied a higher level of thinking had already thought through that problem.

Except, you were right, your beginner’s eyes caught something important.

When I take note of things on the first week of any assignment with a new team, if I look back at the notes a year later, there is clarity of thought that often points to a key weakness of the group, team or setup.  It’s generally not people perceptions, but rather processes, procedures or underlying assumptions of the business model that have a “hole” which, while not fatal, may keep the business from achieving the greatest return on its efforts.

Go back to the beginning. Did you take notes? (If not, make sure you always do going forward.) You may not have been 100% correct in your impressions, but I guarantee, somewhere in those first few days, you saw a glimmer of one of the problems that is dogging your team now.

Start digging there.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015