Don’t Shy Away from High Standards

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Ever had a manager who really pushed you? Who constantly demanded more out of you? I’m talking someone who didn’t have to say it, but expected you to push and drive for more on a daily basis? To be better. To be on point. To be on time – aka 15 minutes early. To have deliverables and commitments ready means reviewed 3 times the week before it’s needed. To be prepared – aka to have five pre socialization meetings before the actual meeting. To be proactive. To take ownership. To make the client look good. To add value. To speak with conviction. To expect more out of yourself, more than anything.

Fortunately, I had a few managers like that early on in my career. True leaders who constantly issued positive challenges to me. Direct, prescriptive and lucid directions or ideas on how I could be better, take on more responsibility, add more value to our clients, teams and organizations.

Regardless of you’re personal, communal or professional doings – what makes you better as an individual is accountability for your own: attitude, efforts, results. What makes you better in a more leadership-centric role: accountability, effort and ownership over the team’s results. And so on up to the highest levels of organization. 

Today, there’s an epidemic that’s society wide but especially impacts individuals within organizations. People avoid setting high standards for themselves…we’re all guilty of this at some point, just some more than others. Individuals, especially in large organizations, do everything they can to say they’re “innovative”, they’re “leaders”, they’re “engaging”, they’re “proactive” – but this is far from the truth. Most folks are hiding in organizations. And they run like Usain Bolt when high standards are placed on them by others. Setting high standards for other people? That’s why influencers, mentors, managers, coaches, executives, etc. who are good are in short supply, high demand. Setting high standards for other people is hard because it feels confrontational, and people avoid conflict at all costs.

Success + growth today – is predicated on seeking out and staying close to those people who set ridiculously high standards and expectations for you personally, communally and professionally. Sound familiar? Well when you hear people talk about you as the product of the 5 people you most associate with, it makes sense.

Don’t just set high standards and expectations for you personally. Seek out those who demand more of you. Finding them can be hard. Expecting and accepting their challenges is harder. So rise to the occassion, and express gratitude as you grow and learn from them.

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Not only is the story somewhat entertaining if you have experience in a corporate/consulting/team setting but it also does something for me and something for you (readers).

For me, it provides an opportunity to document and reflect on some of the more important experiences that I’ve had so I can pull from them later.

For you, if you’re into this type of thing – whether looking to have more influence, be a better coach or find yourself in a management capacity – I think there are some good lessons…

First, if you’re looking to be a more effective <manager, coach, mentor, influencer, etc.> you have to know your people before you can deploy any strategy around building and growing their capabilities. Why? Let me draw a parallel to horse racing – the jockey knows how much he can get out of his horse – i.e. how much he can drive the horse on a given day. But each horse is different. Sometimes you have a horse that knows zero bounds and would run itself into the ground if you asked it to. Other times, you might be sitting on the next secretariat, but with a sensitive demeanor, or poor attitude. People are the same so you have to learn how to drive them – and that usually takes time, getting to know them. The story below highlights how my manager tapped into my competitive nature and issued positive challenges to get more out of me. You’ll also see that positive challenges are one of the primary tools influencers and high performers use.

Second, when talking about the high level of standards required in achieving & sustaining high performance or influencing people – we have to mention details. In the story I’ll paint a picture for why the tiniest details matter. High performers have ridiculously high expectations. It’s in their DNA to almost “look down” on folks who don’t uphold these types of standards. Plus, each time you cut a corner, or let something go, you’re creating an opening for “good enough” to be acceptable.

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First, let’s level set on semantics I used in the title of this paragraph. A ‘manager’ could plausibly be anyone who oversees the responsibilities, efforts and results of a single other person or it could be anyone with a ‘management’ title – a range which could run up from a small team or division manager to a regional director or CEO.

So when I say direct manager, I’m referring to a manager in consulting. Where he was responsible for growing + building me as a consultant and ensuring that I was performing for the client. But by defenition, doing the bare minimum – i.e. making sure I delivered just enough, making sure the client was happy, making sure I didn’t fuck things up too much – that would be enough by definition as far as his management responsibilites are concerned.

But that’s not a high performer…I’ll reiterate: a high performer is someone who sets high standards for themselves and isn’t afraid to push high standards and expectations on those around them. That’s exactly what he did.

I remember these days vividly – even missing them at times – the laughs, camaraderie and ridiculous personalities of colleagues and clients (especially). We were about three months into the most challenging engagement I had ever been on. It was in the wealth management business unit of a large investment bank – working on an initiative that had c-level visibility and lots of attention,  when I first dropped the term ‘irregardless’.

My manager – we’ll call him Andy for now – and I were debating how an array of financial account types (think retirement vs. brokerage vs. trust, etc.) would require different back-end processes to support a front end experience that collects varying types and amounts of required regulatory information from clients.

In the heat of debate, I said something along the lines of: “well, irregardless, the individual and brokerage accounts have the same reg requirements”.

Andy fired back with: “no, that’s not right”.

Perplexed, I said: “what do you mean that’s not right? I’m looking at the requirements right in front of me”.

Andy just laughs and, while jumping onto a call we were 6 minutes late for, said: “Sorry dude, I meant that first part of what you said was wrong. It’s regardless. Irregardless isn’t a word, you know that right?”

I couldn’t help but laught, knwoing he was right, and mentioned in passing that I had my mom to thank for that habit.

Over the next few months I focused big on getting rid of that word – and other poor verbal habits I had. Bad habits, straight up, are tough to rewire. And I could have chose to ignore something seemingly so miniscule. Because how much does it really help you to use the mental bandwidth, willpower or discipline to avoid tiny mistakes lke that? Ones that don’t really seem to be a driver of benefit or value. Surprisingly, it’s a tremendous value-add over time because you begin to catch even the smalles of issues in verbal + written semantics. The problem, is that it’s not measurable – which in business many times means it’s invisible – and certainly not gratifying or noticeable for your performance review.

The engagement was moving along at hyper-speed and I came to know just how detailed Andy was. I’d always prided myself on attention to detail being one of my competencies. But he was on another level, and it just came with ease for him. It was his standard.

That type of a-game standard can be one of two things: intimidating or inspiring. Either you welcome it, and embrace the positive challenge issued to you, asking you to rise to the occassion or you dismiss it and pick apart the rationale or motive behind it. Accepting the challenge is always the decision that makes you better.

About 8 months into the engagement I had grown a lot and learned a ton from Andy. I had built trust with the clients, as well as Andy, and was driving things on the ground at the client site managing stakeholders while he was overseas or working remotely from out of state.

In one of our last meetings together in New York we had a number of senior clients in a meeting where I was walking through a massive road map of our requirements, process flows and an inventory of product capabilities. Andy was sitting directly to my right at the corner of a big conference room table, and I was answering some questions about potential engagement dependencies with other initiatives when I decided again to drop the word irregardless.

Client A: “What happens if feature Y doesn’t get delivered before X as we expected?”

Adam: “Well, based on our analysis and discussion with blue team, you really don’t need Y before X, because X can piggy-back off of Z’s requirements – which has a guaranteed delivery ahead of X. So “irregardless” of Y’s delivery, we still get X as part of day one minimum viable product.”

*Almost immediately Andy slides over a little bit and I feel a nudge on my foot/ankle, so I glance over at him. He’s glaring at me with a smirk and shaking his head. We have a client who may take the cake for being the toughest we’ve worked with, and Andy can tell he picked up on my “interesting” word choice. After the meeting:

Andy: “Dude, seriously? Great job in there, but irregardless is still not a word. English is my second language. You gotta be better. Especially with ‘client A’ in there. You know how he is – he loves those <consulting firm x> guys – don’t wanna give him any ammunition against us.”

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Assuming you’ve made it this far (thanks for suffering through it), I bet some of you are saying “wow, that’s petty”. While that’s ok, my assumption is that you’re not used to setting high standards for yourself. More specifically, you’re not comfortable with someone challenging you or setting seemingly unrealistic standards for you to live up to.

The story is just one of many examples of attention to detail, professionalism and leading by example type lessons from Andy. I’ve never in my life been told that I needed to focus heavily on attention to detail until my time with him. And you know what? I needed to hear it multipel times before I owned it and got around my natural defense mechanism, which was my old narrative that I was always the most detailed person in the room.

So, take home messages. Do you want to have influence on people? Having influence requires that you expect first from yourself, and then from others. That you can issue positive challenges to people’s competence, character, contributions and connections to team or customers. Today, more than ever, setting high standards is tough because people shy away from them, don’t believe in honoring the struggle, and avoid conflict at all costs. But you can’t back down from the expectations of others, and you can’t adjust your high standards to accomodate those around you.

The highest performers, managers, coaches, mentors, etc. change the way you think. They challenge your character. Hold you to universal standards. Never say don’t sweat the details or allow you to cut even the smallest of corners personally, communally or professionally. Having influence requires you to challenge the way people think, challenge them to contribute more, and to “role model” the way it’s supposed to be done.

Andy did that for me day in and day out. Andy developed influce with me. And for that, I’m fuckin’ thankful. Hopefully this little story helps you think about how to perform better and influence people positively.

 

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The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

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Author Peter F. Drucker was a management legend and his writings, based on a 65 year management consulting career, are landmarks of professionals working in just about every sector imagineable: private and government, businesses and non-profits, and in some of the most important industries of the 20th century including automobiles, manufacturing, and even working with high ranking government officals.

Written in 1967 and updated as recently as 2006 – Drucker speaks extensively about rapid change and innovation in the United State’s increasingly global and service oriented economy – specifically highlighting and honing in on how two key subsets of the economy are impacted: individuals and organizations. The rapid change and innovation, brought on by advancements in science, technology and engineering are not focused on heavily within the scope of the book but are considerd. Specifically, they’re considered as the catalysts or drivers for structural change in our economy back then as well as today.

Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” to describe the new type of individual worker our economy’s organizations began to demand as a result of the structural changes and advancements. Essentially, knowledge workers are individuals who gather and leverage information to analyze, communicate and make decisions on behalf of themselves or an organization. Knowledge workers, Drucker argues, were already becoming a majority of the workforce at the time and in the future, everone would be a knowledge worker. The first key narrative, highlighted by the quote above, is that you don’t require brilliance, off the charts intelligence or a slew of innate leadership qualities…

“Effectiveness can be learned.”

The second key narrative is that each and every one of us is a knowledge worker – either for ourselves, within an organization, or both – and despite not every one of us having an “executive” title, we all have executive responsibilities. Learning how to be more effective, Drucker argues, is our responsibility as individuals, organizations and society as a whole. Making better decisions, using time more wisely and being more aware of how our habits and tendencies impact others is essential for society, and therefore must be learned…

“Only Executive Effectiveness can enable this society to harmonize its two needs: the needs of the organization to obtain from the individual the contribution it needs, and the need of the individual to have organization serve as his tool for the accomplishment of his purposes. Effectiveness must be learned.”

Drucker accurately and wisely had the foresight to predict the importance of the role computers and machines would play in the economy – and that it would be our responsibility to learn how to be effective, in harmony, with these technological advancements.  In addition to these narratives, Drucker offers eight key practices of effective executives and then walks through the “how” to be effective in seven key chapters, both of which I’ll discuss below.

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Efficiency has always fascinated me. Finding ways to do something better has been a life-long mission. But it isn’t always easy and just because I’m interested doesn’t mean I’m good. I always believe that just like with anything else, there are ebbs and flows in life, where we consistently need to be refreshed and reminded of how we can be more effective.

One of those refreshers for me ended up being this book. But first, I heard about it from Tim Ferriss (go figure), a few podcasts, read about the deep work of knowlege workers in Deep Work by Cal Newport and heard or saw the knowledge worker concept which Drucker coined referenced extensively. Allegedly, the book was great for “anyone looking to maximize productivity and efficiency” – but I was a bit skeptical, and here’s why…

First off, I saw when it was published and knew Peter Drucker was old. I assumed this was your typical book on management in the context of corporate organizations. And typical in the sense that it was dry and boring, which many books like this can be. I’ve also been a long time fan of Michael Porter – the legendary Harvard Business School professor, author of Competitive Strategy & Competitive Advantage, and founder of the Institute for Strategy & Competitiveness.

Being a fan of Porter’s, I have started seeing the work of another wizard from Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen (Author of Innovator’s Dilemma and a few more) – and I have to say that some of their work competes with eachother. And competition, as Porter would agree, is a good and necessary thing. But with all of the rapid innovation and change of today it’s extremely hard to predict which business, entrepreneurship and management concepts are worth a damn today or will hold a candle in tomorrow.

I did so because within the first few pages you realize that the book is designed for anyone managing and making decisions for themselves or for other people.

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First of all, this book is one of the best books on management and decision making I’ve encountered. Probably the best. Despite it’s consultant-speak and management terminology that may bore some readers, the good news is, it’s short and concise. Drucker does an awesome job outlining case-based examples that simply make sense in lehman’s terms and to anyone.

Because the book is highly leverageable – meaning it’s specific, prescriptive and actionable (and I’d expect nothing less from a consultant of 65 years) – I’d recommend this book to absolutely anyone who wants to manage themselves and/or others more effectively especially when it comes to time management and decision making processes.

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Sure, this is a phenomenal read for executives, business professionals, managers and of course entrepreneurs. But some of the lessons are shockingly applicable to all of us when it comes to productivity, time management and decision making. I’m going to focus this section there, and the next section will have a more straight-lined synopsis of the chapters.

 

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Being truly effective combines both effectiveness and efficiency. This pursuit is challenging whether you’re truly a big wig executive, an entrepreneur, young professional, college student or work-from-home mom. Getting the expected results of your own efforts and/or the efforts of your organization is the end game, and yet it can only be done effectively by combining both.

Effectiveness is doing the right things.

Efficiency is doing things the right way.

Being Truly Effective Is Doing The Right Things, The Right Way.

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This is a huge problem today. We’re surrounded by an overload of stimulus from information that’s more readily available and increasingly distracting. Even within a workplace or organization, we’re constantly distracted by completing deliverables and actually executing on tasks, versus sitting in meetings, joining conference calls, each with competing priorities and levels of importance. So how the hell do we stop multi-tasking? Well, we’ll get to that in a bit.

“I have never encountered an executive who remains effective while tackling more than two tasks at a time.”

Knowing what has to be done is not enough. You have to be able to prioritize it to be effective. Asking yourself “What must be done now?” or “What is massively urgent right here and now?”, and then focusing on that answer only.

The other key here is delegating. Asking yourself, of the top priorities on your agenda or to-do-list, are there any that are best suited to be delegated to someone else.

“…he (Jack Welch) asked himself which of the two or three tasks at the top of the list he himself was best suited to undertake. Then he concentrated on that task and the others he delegated.”

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Alluded to earlier, there is no strong positive correlation between brilliance or intelligence and effectiveness. It is a discipline that can be learned and must be learned.

“Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual.”

Intelligence, creativity, imagination and the valued resource of knowledge are all well and good. But they are nothing without effectiveness, which converts them into results.

At the time of writing, today and into perpetuity the value of knowledge…more specifically the authority of knowledge…will always be demanded, and will always take precedence of the authority of position or leadership.

“…The experience of the human race indicates strongly that the only person in abundant supply is the universal incompetent. We will therefore have to staff our organizations with people who at best excel in one of these abilities.”

In order to build and hone effectiveness, Drucker outlines five essential habits:

  1. Manage Your Time: Effective executives know where there time goes
  2. Focus on Results Outside of The Organizaton: Effective executives focus on outward contributions
  3. Focus on Opportunities, Not Problems: Effective executives build on strengths
  4. Effective executives focus on the few major areas where superior performance wil produce outstanding results.
  5. Effective executives make effective decisions.

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In college and in looking for your first job you constantly hear about time management. It’s hilarious, because very few of us, even athletes, really had to effectively manage our time relative to real deadlines and commitments the way you do in the working world…and that is true whether your working for yourself, in an organization, or both.

The mistake most of us make is starting with looking at our work and analyzing what must be done. You know, drawing up a to do list? While that’s well-intentioned, the plans always land on paper (or digitally) and rarely turn into execution.

“Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed. The analysis of one’s time, moreover, is the one easily accessible and yet systematic way to analyze one’s work and to think through what really matters in it.”

In order to see results in your life, business, etc. you have to follow a three step process for analyzing your time:

RECORD YOUR TIME –  before you can manage your time, you actually have to know where it goes. Developing a log and closely tracking how every minute of the day is spent provides valuable information to be more productive in the future when managing time (step #2) and looking for opportunities to consolidate chunks of time together where real work can be done. How you record your time isn’t important. Just remember, the more granular level of tracking you can perform, the better you can systematically manage time, which is the next step…

“To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, therefore needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks.”

MANAGE YOUR TIME –  this is effectively, analyzing your log of how you spent (spend) your time, and looking for non-productive and time wasting activities. One of the biggest goals, alluded to in the quote above, is to block out large chunks of time. Learning, growing, making big decisions and doing anything that is really worth doing requires large blocks of time. How do you do this? Via a number of key questions…

  • Identify time-wasters by asking “What would happen if this were not done at all? and when the answer is nothing at all, bingo, you can get rid of those tasks, activities, meetings, etc.

Remember folks, busy is an option. Learning how to say that little two letter word is crucial…

“It’s amazing how many things busy people are doing that never will be missed…actually, all one has to do is learn to say ‘no’ if an activity contributes nothing to one’s own organization, to oneself, or the organization to which it is to be performed…”

  • Intelligently delegate by asking “Which of the activities on my time log could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?”; this is especially true if and when you’re running a business or managing the execution of other people. If you’re the brains behind the operation or the one in charge, delegation is actually a misleading term. When you’re in a meeting, your not getting work done. Work and meetings cannot happen simultaneously. If you can send a junior member of the team to attend the meeting on your behalf, or teach them how to build reporting tools, then your not asking them to do your work…you’re having them take care of the work of the team so that you can focus on your own deeper work.

“Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization. For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time.”

  • Free up those around you and help make them more effective by asking, without being afraid of the truth, “What do I do that wasters others time without contributing to their effectiveness?”

CONSOLIDATE YOUR TIME – here is where the rewards pay off for anyone looking to find more time to focus on the people, projects and tasks that matter. Once you’ve recorded, analyzed and managed your time you need to look for what’s left over. How much “discretionary” time is available for the big tasks that will really make a difference if completed?

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Drucker emphasizes “looking upwards from your own work and outwards towards your goals”. Occupy your thoughts with results intead of efforts. Focus on on asking “What can I contribute that will significantly improve my own results & performance or the performance of those I serve?

“The focus on contribution is the key to effectiveness: in a man’s own work – its content, its level, its standards, and its impacts; and in his relations with others – his superiors, his associates, subordinates…”

What I take away from this, most certainly, is to focus on a duty to your own results and the results of the people you serve. Taking pride in what you do for yourself and for others drives you to focus outwardly on how your contributions can transfer into results.

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Part of the outward responsibility an executive or knowledge worker has with respect to contribution, is to look for opportunities. Drucker emphasizes remaining optimisitc and not wasting time focusing on problems. Your strenghts, current and future, are your opportunities. Spend time focusing on making strenghts productive because strenghts are your opportunities and they are your results.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems.”

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 “There are always more important contributions to be made than there is time available to make them.”

That being said, the ability to focus – i.e. concentration – is your secret weapon. You need to be able to hone in and identify “what” the first thing is, and focus solely on that. Don’t be afraid to let go of old tasks that may have once been a priority and are no longer truly adding value, or anticipated to provide results.

 “In order manage many things successfully, you have to focus intensely on one thing at a time.”

So how do you analyze and determine, from a list of seemingly mission critical to-do’s, which is the “first thing”? Drucker outlines a few key rules for prioritization:

  • Pick the future over the past;
  • Focus on opportunities rather than on problems;
  • Choose your own direction – rather than follow the lead or jump on what everyone else is doing;
  • Aim high – for something that will make a difference if it’s achieved rather than something “safe” and easy to do.

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Part of the outward responsibility an executive or knowledge worker has with respect to contribution, is to look for opportunities. Drucker emphasizes remaining optimisitc and not wasting time focusing on problems. Your strenghts, current and future, are your opportunities. Spend time focusing on making strenghts productive because strenghts are your opportunities and they are your results.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems.”

[/et_pb_blurb][et_pb_blurb title=”9) The Elements of Effective Decision Making” content_max_width=”900px” _builder_version=”3.0.97″ header_font=”Roboto Slab|700|on|||on|||” header_font_size=”18px” header_text_color=”#000000″ body_font=”Roboto||||||||” body_font_size=”16px” inline_fonts=”Permanent Marker”]

As knowledge workers, whether you’re an intern, young professional, seasoned executive, entrepreneur, college student or anyone making decisions – you know that decision making actually comprises the smallest percentage of your time. Most of the other tasks – gathering information, data interpretation, analysis, communication with clients, vendors or colleagues, etc. – are the majority of the tasks of a knowledge worker executes in order to support the most executive task of them all: making the actual decision. So what do you need to know about the elements of the decision process and effective decision making?

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems.”

FEATURES OF THE DECISION PROCESS

  1. The clear realization that the problem was generic and could only be solved through a decision based on a rule/principle;
  2. Establishing Boundary Conditions i.e. defining the specifications which the answer to the problem had to satisfy;
  3. Fully thinking through what is “right” before entertaining compromises and adaptations needed to make the decision acceptable. In other words, identifying what is absolutely the right decision that is best for you or the organization considering no other dependencies, risks, etc.
  4. Building the necessary action items and plan into the decision itself, so that it can be carried out;
  5. The “feedback” which tests the validity and effectiveness of the decision against what actually takes place.

ELEMENTS OF THE EFFECTIVE DECISION PROCESS

The following series of questions are the most important elements of making effective decisions:

  1. Understanding whether the situation or problem being analyzed is truly unique or somethign occurs regularly. “Is this a generic situation or an exception?”
  2.  Making clear specifications as to what the decision has to accomplish. Understanding the objectives the decision has to account for and the minimum goals it has to attain. “What are the conditions (“boundary conditions”) the decision has to satisfy?”
  3. Start with what is right, rather than what can be tolerated or acceptable, or even who is right if your in an organizational setting. This is because decisions usually have inevitable compromises after identifying what is right. “For there are two different kinds of compromise. One kind is expressed in the old proverb: ‘Half a loaf is better than no bread.’ The other kind is expressed in the story of the Judgment of Solomon, which was clearly based on the realization that ‘half a baby is worse than no baby at all.”
  4. Converting the decision into action is the fourth major element in the decision-process. In fact, no decision has been made unless carrying it out in specific steps has become someone’s work assignment and responsibility. Until then, there are only good intentions
  5. Feedback has to be built into the decision to provide a continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decisions.

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