‘About Holacracy’ Blog

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Holacracy is a fundamentally different “operating system” for organizations. Holacracy revolutionizes how a company is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed. - Medium. You can also follow this blog directly on Medium.

5 Keys to Habit Change

June 20, 2017 - 12:58pm
Successful Holacracy® Practice Means Successful Habit Change

Traditionally, work needs managers. Employees depend on them for permission before making decisions. Managers feel good because they get to help, and employees feel good because they get support.

But there’s a problem. This co-dependent relationship might serve some primal social instinct, but it has nothing to do with the organization’s purpose. The conventional management hierarchy has upsides (and historically it has worked well), but increasingly we see its limits.

The Holacracy approach to self-management offers a solution, but if you want to work in a self-managed company, you’re going to have unlearn some habits that previously served you well.

Changing habits is no small task. According to Duke University, about 40% of what you do isn’t a conscious decision; it’s a habit (more here). We’re only running the show about 60% of the time.

Since habits are automatic, we don’t often even know we need to change them. So, how do you strategically support habit change across a whole organization? Well, HolacracyOne’s approach integrates the very latest research on habits with our experience of helping hundreds of clients build their Holacracy practice to create a unique learning approach.

Here’s a breakdown of the basic principles that guide our approach to habit change:

Honor autonomy.

Changing the habits of an entire organization comes down to changing the habits of individuals.

Eventually, enough people practicing a new habit becomes a new social norm. To focus on changing “the group” misses the point.

Instead, speak directly to the individuals involved and acknowledge their right to make their own individual decisions. Be honest with them. Educate them. Proactively ask them to experiment and try new things. Otherwise, they’ll never get far enough to experience the benefits of the new habit themselves.

Make it conscious.

Since habits are largely unconscious, you need to shed light on the most critical behaviors. Heightened awareness allows each individual to notice when old habits are triggered. In turn, these triggers alert you to the need to practice the new behavior — when X happens, do Y instead.

For example, an important habit for Holacracy practitioners to embrace is to “Clarify references to ‘we.’” The point of identifying this habit is primarily to make people aware of how often the word “we” is used in organizational life, and how often it creates ambiguity.

Here are a few critical behaviors that help bring consciousness to the often unconscious use of the word “we”:

  • When you hear the word “we,” ask: “Who do you mean by ‘we?’ Is there a specific role you’re referring to?”
  • When a discussion seems to take forever, ask: “Is it clear which role holds the authority to make this decision?”
  • When lots of people are pulled into a meeting (or email chain), ask: “Which roles need to be involved here?”
Make it concrete.

Habits are behaviors.

You can’t ask someone to change how they feel or think about something, but you can ask them to consider taking a different course of action.

It’s much fairer to allow everyone the right to think and feel as they wish — you can’t control that anyway. Instead, ask for agreement to or consideration of a new behavior.

A Holacracy practice is built on a series of paradigm-shifting behaviors, like processing tensions and clarifying roles and role-ationships. However, each of these “umbrella” habits is made up of numerous small, specific behaviors — new ways of acting that add up to a new paradigm. To make the shift, it’s helpful to identify and describe the habit changes that you would like to see as concretely as possible. For example, “bring at least one agenda item to every tactical meeting,” is far better than, “process more tensions.”

Focus on one habit at a time.

When you’ve identified the habits you want to work on, don’t try to attack them all at once. Pick one at a time, and focus on it for a week or two. This will be enough to begin the process of establishing that habit, although you’ll need to keep practicing for it to truly become automatic.

If you try to change too many habits at once, you’ll find it difficult to remember them all or to notice the triggers. Keep it simple.

Habit expert BJ Fogg explains that simplicity can even substitute for motivation. Meaning, even if you don’t feel a lot of motivation to do something, you may still do it if the task is simple enough. If we’re at dinner and you ask me to pass the salt, I’ll likely do it because it’s such an easy thing to do. The question of motivation never even enters the picture.

Be patient.

Our colleagues at Precision Nutrition, a Holacracy-powered company, are experts in habit change. Founder John Berardi makes a critical observation: “Habit change is easier, but takes longer than most people think.”

No doubt you’ve encountered so-called experts and programs that promise to help you shift a habit in 21 days or 30 days, but the truth is, it typically takes more time than that. Researchers at University College London found that on average it takes about two months before a new behavior becomes automatic, and in many cases it can take much longer — up to eight months.

So don’t be surprised if it takes more time than you might expect to get comfortable with these new behaviors. The good news is, that as Berardi also notes, it’s not as hard as you might think — it just takes patience.

Need Habit Support?

At HolacracyOne, our goal is for you to become self-sufficient in your Holacracy practice, but we know you will likely need support and coaching to get there.

Our Glassfrog Habit Support Program can guide you during your transition or when onboarding new team members. Through sequenced, bite-size lessons, you and your team are given a simple roadmap to follow. Of course, following that path is up to you.

Contact us to sign up for GlassFrog or enable Habit Support.

5 Keys to Habit Change was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.

7 Things You Can Learn from Holacracy ® (Even If You Don’t Practice It)

June 7, 2017 - 11:14am
1. Learn to Love Tension

Tension is not usually a positive term. When we feel tension we try to relieve it, release it, relax.

Individuals practicing Holacracy, however, recognize that tensions are powerful. We use the term tension to refer to the feeling you get when you recognize that something is not working as well as it could be. Perhaps a mistake keeps getting repeated or a process is inefficient and cumbersome. You could call it a “problem” that needs to be fixed, but that misses another part of what you’re sensing — the potential for a solution.

When you sense a tension, you are tuning in to a gap between how things are and how they could be.

Tensions, in this sense, are one of the organization’s greatest resources, because they reveal the pathway to growth and improvement, based on real experience, not abstract ideas.

A day-to-day Holacracy practice is all about translating tensions into meaningful change. Even if you don’t use the specific methods we use, you too can learn to love tensions and the possibilities they reveal.

2. Don’t Ask for Permission

In traditional organizations, there is often an assumption that you can’t do anything unless you’re given permission to do it. Holacracy practitioners hold the opposite assumption: you can do anything unless it’s been explicitly forbidden.

Think about it — why do you feel the need to ask permission? Most likely, it’s because you’re concerned that without it, you might step on someone’s toes, and inadvertently cause problems for other people.

And while that sounds like a valid concern, it quickly adds up to a culture in which everyone feels it’s someone else’s job to prevent them from feeling tensions, and everyone blames each other for the things they don’t like. The result is fear-based inaction. This holds back both individuals and the organization.

Holacracy’s processes create trust that tensions can be resolved. We encourage individuals to take initiative and proactively respond to issues that impact their work without having to get everyone else’s buy-in. Removing the expectation that people will ask permission and the fear of causing tensions for others — unleashes far greater creativity to serve the organization’s purpose.

3. Be Selfish

Too often, in a business meeting, people try to anticipate what others may like or not like before others say what they actually want or need. We may “pre-filter” our requests and ideas so as to avoid any push-back from our colleagues.

But what if you trusted that the meeting process itself would create space for others’ objections, opinions, and concerns to be voiced, and help you decide whether you needed to take those into account? Then you could feel free to state exactly what you want or need, and other people would have that information too.

It might feel like you’re being selfish — but that can be a good thing! Imagine: If your colleagues don’t even know what you really want, how likely is it that you will find an optimum solution — one that works for you and everyone else? Holacracy facilitators encourage this in meetings by asking the person who added an agenda item, “What do you need?”

So go ahead, be selfish — let people know exactly what you think would help you serve your role better, then let them be the ones to raise the objections. You also may discover that your colleagues are in fact eager and willing to help you and are happy to be given a clear path to do so.

It’s harder for people to help you if you don’t tell them what you need.

4. Dare Not to Care

One of the most helpful things Holacracy does is create clarity around roles and accountabilities — so that you know exactly what falls within your circle of responsibility. And just as importantly, you know what does not.

As human beings, it’s in our nature to try to be helpful, and many of us have a tendency to jump in and try to solve an issue once we become aware of it. If a customer complains about something or a colleague is struggling, we want to fix it. Oftentimes, however, that’s not the best use of our time and energy. We have other priorities we should be focused on.

If a surgeon is headed into the operating room to save a life, and a colleague stops to ask her about why receptionist’s computer isn’t working, it’s critical that she does not care about that issue. Not all such choices are so clear cut, but the principle holds: By not caring about one thing, you express your care for something else.

Knowing when something falls outside your role, and saying “No, that’s not my responsibility” may feel uncomfortable, but it could be the best thing for you and for the organization. It may expose an area that needs clarifying, so that someone is explicitly accountable for that issue. If you simply absorb that tension, the organization will lose the opportunity to adapt its structure, and you’ll be distracted from the things that really need your time and attention.

So dare not to care — you’ll be helping the organization evolve.

5. Don’t Say “We”

Holacracy’s founder, Brian Robertson, likes to say, “We isn’t a good worker.” Yet too often, in business meetings, you’ll hear about all kinds of things that “we” intend or need to do. “We are ready to do something about that website.” “We need to move on that conference plan.” “We must fill that position before the end of the year.”

When you hear “we,” ask “who?” Clarify who exactly is responsible for the action — which role will ensure it is carried through? It could be that there is no clear role to take on that accountability, but then you know that you need to define that role and assign it to someone.

If it’s everyone’s responsibility, then it will end up being no one’s responsibility.

6. Don’t Do Deadlines

Deadlines are common currency in the business world, and most people find it hard to imagine running a business efficiently without them. We regularly promise “what-by-whens” and expect others to do the same — without them, how would we be able to count on each other for anything?

The desire for deadlines is understandable, however, there are big downsides. However organized and well-intentioned we are, there will be times when reality subverts our best-laid plans. Unexpected events may require us to shift our priorities, and we can’t predict these when we make our deadline commitment.

Individuals need to be free to adapt and use their time to best serve their roles and the organization’s purpose, rather than being forced to prioritize less critical tasks simply because they made a blind promise to someone else. Instead of promising what-by-whens, try offering projections and daily updates, and then creating more transparent task management systems (we love David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach) so that everyone can see and adapt to the changing nature of reality.

Read more about the Holacracy take on deadlines.

7. Clarify Agreements

There a common misconception that Holacracy’s processes push to make everything explicit, which in fact is not true. If something is working, we leave it alone. “It’s okay until it’s not okay” is our approach.

When it’s not okay — meaning, when someone takes notice that something isn’t working as well as it could — often it points to a mismatch between our assumptions and the expectations of others. It’s at these moments that it’s helpful to make explicit agreements and clarify who is accountable for what.

Whether you practice Holacracy or not, it’s helpful to pay attention to where you are holding implicit assumptions about what someone is responsible for, and consider how these might be affecting your working relationships with your colleagues.

Holding an implicit agreement over someone’s head is actually a very unfair practice, and tends to lead to frustrations and disappointments. If something’s not working, check your assumptions and see if there’s an agreement you can clarify.

Learn more about Holacracy.

Contact HolacracyOne to discuss options for adopting Holacracy.

7 Things You Can Learn from Holacracy ® (Even If You Don’t Practice It) was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.

This Time it’s Personal

May 30, 2017 - 3:14pm
Why Holacracy® Differentiates Role and Soul

This post comes from the Holacracy® Habits Support Program and was titled, “This Time it’s Personal.” I wanted to share the content more widely because several Holacracy practitioners and coaches said it was helpful for navigating the person/role distinction. Any GlassFrog users on the Premium Plan get access to the full habit program, which delivers sequenced, bite-size lessons to build the skills and habits essential to Holacracy practice.

Last time we introduced you to the “does my role care?” map. Your habit for now is simply asking yourself this question. Silently. In your own head. Consistently.

This lesson is specifically about the upper right corner of the map. The question, “do you personally care?”

“Does My Role Care?” Decision Tree

This point is fairly nuanced, so let’s start with something familiar. A simple question.

If a forest is a collection of trees, an organization is a collection of…what?What makes up an organization? What are its parts?

The typical answer is something like “people.” “People make up an organization.” But that’s not completely accurate. An organization can’t exist without people, that’s true, but people aren’t the parts of the organization.

“But without people, the organization doesn’t exist!” we agree. But people aren’t the parts. They are the lifeforce. They give the organization energy.

Think of it this way. Your body has parts. Arms, legs, kidneys. But so does your corpse. The difference, and it’s not a small difference, is life and death. An organization without energy (human or otherwise) is dead.

So, if humans are the lifeforce of the organization, what are the parts? Well, it’s more accurate to say an organization is a collection of roles (i.e. functions) not people.

This point is critical, because Holacracy is built upon this distinction. Conventional approaches conflate people and roles into one single thing when they are actually two (or at least it’s helpful to think of them as two).

This is what we mean by the differentiation of “role and soul.” Making the distinction allows us to ask important questions like, “does my role care?” with more clarity. Because in the real world, roles and souls aren’t just differentiated…they are also integrated. They work together. Which also means they’re easy to mix up.

Understanding how they are different (without excluding how they work together) just allows us to more clearly and quickly process our tensions. Which is why regularly asking yourself, “does my role care about this?” is so important. It gives you clarity.

Now, as you do this, you may discover that you care personally about something that the organization doesn’t actually care about. It should be obvious that the organization doesn’t care about what you eat for lunch or where you go on vacation.

But what about your salary? Or leaving work early for that doctor’s appointment?

In traditional organizations, there is no way to meaningfully and consistently distinguish between personal and organizational tensions. You may have already realized if you have an issue with your salary, for example, you can’t effectively process that from one of your roles.

Instead, engage the roles who have decision-making authority over salary, and represent yourself as a person. If it’s not clear where that authority lives, propose something in governance.

Remember, the purpose of the Holacracy constitution is to govern the organization and its roles, not the people within it. This habit is a way of saying that you don’t want to confuse the tensions you feel as a person with those you feel in your roles.

Think of it this way. The first baseman is a position (i.e. role) on a baseball team. The expectations of the position of first baseman don’t change depending on the player’s personal issues.

Now, if the player in that position is dealing with salary issues, then yes, it absolutely could impact how he (as an individual) performs any given instant. But it doesn’t impact the formal expectations of his position.

He is still expected to do the assigned job (e.g. catch a ball hit in his direction, throw the ball to second base, etc.).

If the player has salary concerns and he or she feels like it’s impacting his ability to energize his role, then that needs to be figured out. But he shouldn’t be trying to figure that out during the game. This is what we mean by “as first baseman” he or she doesn’t have an issue.

The person filling the role has an issue. Not the role. That’s the distinction.

We make that distinction not because we want to ignore issues like salary or career development, but quite the opposite. We simply need to get clear what the issues are (role-related or person-related) so that the tension can get processed in the right place

This Time it’s Personal was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.

Self-Management & Human Growth: Two Sides of a Coin (Part 3)

May 10, 2017 - 4:19am
Photo from Unsplash by Alex HolyoakeCracking the Code of Holacracy

This article is the third part in a five-part series titled "Self-Management & Human Growth: Two Sides of a Coin."

Part 1 — Beyond The Structured Holacracy Process
Part 2 — Change is Hard. It’s Not a Cliché, Just a Basic Law of Nature
Part 3 — Cracking the Code of Holacracy (this post)
Part 4 — Re-conceiving the Challenge of Change (coming soon)
Part 5 — Upgrading Your Personal OS & Unleashing the Organizational Soul (coming later)

“It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” — Mark Twain

Each time I come upon this quote from Mark Twain, a slight smile crosses my face. In fact, changing behaviors is one thing, but sticking with the new behavior in the long-term is often the real challenge. We all know from personal experience that deciding to do something doesn’t mean that we are actually going to do it. How many times have you started a new diet or implemented meditation in your routine, and ended up with your old habits after a few months, or even a couple of weeks?

Most leaders would agree that improvement and change are core organizational priorities. I'll go even further by saying that human capability will soon — if not already — be a decisive success factor for companies. And yet…

Contrast between individuals’ desire for systemic changes and their desire to undergo changes themselves (unidentified source)

I started to dive into these reflections around change shortly after my professional experience at HolacracyOne, the management consultancy that spearheads the development of Holacracy. Beyond the disruptive organizational framework that defines how a company is structured, how decisions are made, and how organizational power is distributed, I discovered at the core of Holacracy a powerful catalyst that drives not only structural change in the organization but also self-improvement and personal growth.

Holacracy: A Developmental Catalyst for Adaptive Change

When helping organizations implement Holacracy, the core of the work is to focus on implementing and building people’s new behaviors, and on reinforcing those new behaviors.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Socrates, a gas-station attendant character in a book published in the 1980s by Dan Millman

There's no effort towards deliberately pressuring new Holacracy practitioners to suppress their old patterns or convince them to think differently upfront (at least of what I know of the Holacracyone's implementation process). Paradoxically, I think approaching change through this lens creates less resistance to change, which means more room for maneuver to grow. In fact, we, humans, have a fundamental need for a sense of control. It means that when we are asked to think or do something in a particular way, it may well feel that our freedom is restricted, and that the requesting person is taking control over us. As a natural reaction, we are more likely to refuse, asserting our ability to sustain control. Look at kids! We call this phenomenon psychological reactance. From an evolutionary standpoint, this boomerang effect makes perfectly sense as when we are in control of our environment, we have a far better chance of survival.

Thus, the old behaviors can organically be detected as no longer useful, and ultimately acknowledged as irrelevant and ineffective in the new Holacracy paradigm — all that process with no need for preliminary persuasive work to behave differently. This approach seems to eventually generate a deeper and more sustainable change in people’s mindsets.

In order to successfully encourage ingrained habits and sustain a lasting Holacracy practice, this behavioral approach is facilitated by a series of ingredients.

First, Holacracy offers an environment that supports change. In fact, it is embedded into the DNA of the organization. In other words, it is not a tool stored in the closet that you activate when you're inclined to or in the right mood. No. It is ingrained in the DNA of the organization, which psychologically amplifies the sense of commitment and consistency — ingredients that have be proven to be pivotal for lasting and sustainable change. One study reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2013 suggests that our environment including clothing influences behavior and attitudes because it carries a symbolic meaning. So, what we wear (literally and figuratively) is actually subconsciously changing how we act. Dr. Jonathan Fader, sports psychologist for the New York Mets, says these findings totally hold-up in real life: “When you put on new fitness gear, you begin to get into character like an actor putting on a costume for a performance. As a result, you expect to have a better performance, making you more mentally prepared for the task.”

From a very practical point, GlassFrog, the cloud-based Holacracy software tool, supports such a system of behavior reinforcement. The GlassFrog team recently launched a compelling Holacracy® Habits Support Program for building and deepening key Holacracy habits. As a next step, we could imagine extending the feature strictly from the behavioral lens to the belief system (mindset) by simply extracting decades of research in neuroscience and behavior science out of libraries to put it into people’s hands at the press of a button. Elementary examples that support lasting habits essential to a successful Holacracy practice could include features such as the ‘foot-in-the-door’ or endowed progress techniques, challenge features (like friendly duels helping users get more active and engaged), a gaming feature (you know, like me, that play is known for being a central ingredient in learning), a Smart Coach System by your side (a sort of intelligent system helping the user understand how s/he can do better next time.), and so on.

Foot-in-the-Door Technique illustrated by Calvin and Hobbes — Gradual changes lead to great results, and small compliances lead to bigger ones.Examples of Endowed Progress Technique

Holacracy also frames change through its own language mindset. Holacracy has a very specific verbiage focused towards creative entrepreneurship. Using such an empowering language mindset has a direct and positive effect on the energy in the environment. Scientific studies have shown that the smallest shift towards actions-oriented and/or positive affirmations can have immediate effects on one’s energy, outlook, and sense of control.

Holacracy offers no other options than a radical change. Holacracy has often been criticized for being highly disruptive. Paradoxically, I believe that radical, sweeping, comprehensive change are source of greater growth and are easier for people than small, incremental change, when well supported. How do I explain this counterintuitive fact?

“According to Newton’s Third Law, all forces come in pairs. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction — the law of opposites […] The more potent the difficulty, the more powerful the growth. Good timber does not grow with ease. ”— Benjamin P. Hardy

Let’s take the example of a dietary experiment that has been run as part of a medical study. The results of that study showed that people who made moderate changes in their diets got the worst of both worlds: they felt deprived and hungry because they weren’t eating everything they wanted, but they weren’t making big enough changes to quickly see an improvement in how they felt, or in measurements such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

In addition to these characteristics that aim to support lasting Holacracy behaviors, there's an uncanny phenomenon that surfaces from practicing Holacracy, which I would call the “mirror effect” — the one feature that would be highly interesting to integrate into GlassFrog.

Holacracy as a Psychological Mirror to the Otherness of Self

Have you ever experienced what happens when one brings personal (vs. organizational) tensions in a Holacracy meeting? Any memories of what happens when the Holacracy process catches you in your victim stance? Not pleasant things, right? While this resulting process may feel ruthless at first sight — some may say inhuman; the term impersonal would be more appropriate, in my opinion— there's a potent psychological dynamic that emerges from such events.

Not only are you seeing yourself as others sees you, you are also seeing yourself as if you were an other. You're capable of witnessing yourself from a different lens that your usual one. You see this “other self” by adopting an alienating perspective on yourself. It is you that you see in the mirror, but the you you see has not quite the same familiarity and immediacy as the you you know from inner experience. The you you see in the mirror is distant and yet close. It is felt as an other, and yet as yourself. This experience is as much exhilarating as destabilizing. Said differently, Holacracy offers you to see a more objective and true reflection of yourself including aspects of your reality that might have been invisible to you until now. It forces you to see all that's unpleasant within yourself that was not directly accessible to your eyes until now.

In that sense, “the Holacracy process holds up a bittersweet mirror for you.” — Brian Robertson, Holacracy pioneer and HolacracyOne partnerBy Olivia Mc Gilchrist — Jamaica Biennial installation (2014)

While the “mirror effect” might feel truly uncomfortable and intrusive — after all you haven’t asked anything to anyone! — this is a great opportunity to go deep into self-examination and self-discovery work, until eventually uncovering the nature of your fears, attachments, resistances, and making your belief system visible and conscious. When you feel ready to receive all of the portions of the layout the mirror offers to you — the sweet as well as the raw — that mirror can turn out to be a powerful weapon to engage in a thoughtful self-reflection — “holding up the mirror,” so to speak. I have painfully been there, in front of that mirror, seeing the reflected image of my self. It left me stunned and hurt, with absolutely no capacity to associate any words with what was happening to me at that time. And, instead of falling so easily into the victim attitude and pointing fingers at someone, I chose — somewhat miraculously — to look closely and objectively at my patterns, at what they were reflecting, at what they were telling me. And I worked on them. Painfully and eagerly.

It is a euphemism to say that initiating such inner work on its own, without support, is delicate. Holacracy won’t offer that support: it is deliberately silent on people’s needs (and again, with good reason in the first place!). I like to say that Holacracy pushes you to jump to the second floor, that said, it won’t help you walk up the staircase. Most of the time, the “mirror effect” I am describing remains at an unconscious state and doesn’t really absorb the full value of what such reflections have to offer whether there is inner adjustment needed, wanted, or not. And without conscious reflection, it seems quite hard to me to receive the full benefit of such a learning experience. Most of my field observations showed me that people who don't receive the appropriate support when needed get stuck at the last sub-phase of their catalytic journey. This state is called cognitive dissonance in psychology. It can challenge people’s sense of identity and self-worth in a deep way. In the end, not everyone is comfortable (yet) with the degree of freedom and responsibility that Holacracy affords…

This cognitive dissonance phenomenon and the complexity behind the psychology of change piqued my curiosity to the max. It intrigued me so significantly that I dove deep into behavior science, neuroscience, and cognitive linguistics, and enrolled in a developmental psychology coaching program offered by two professor researchers at Harvard University, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. In a next blog post, I'll share a foretaste of what I found out after reconciling the data I absorbed from these different fields.

☞ If this blog post has left you curious, or you would like to further discuss these questions, do not hesitate to reach out. I welcome feedback and reactions.

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» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.