A challenge a lot of business leaders and entrepreneurs I work with face, is the ability to attract the calibre of people required for both peak performance and the successful growth of their business. In order to attract top talent, leaders must develop a culture which utilises what I define as: ELITE Magnetism. Read More:
A new statue was unveiled by HRH Prince William at the Special Air Services’ headquarters to commemorate the regiments’ 75th Anniversary. The statue depicts contemporary SAS operators with a military working dog ‘in action’. The statue was named ‘The Pursuit of Excellence’ and refers to David Stirling’s encouragement for SAS soldiers to
“Engage in the never-ending pursuit of excellence” Read More
Most of the challenges in the world are sustained by people clinging to the past. It’s as if they are addicted to bad ideas and habits. That’s probably why in the Narcotics Anonymous Handbook, they remind recovering addicts that:
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In the past I’ve noticed that I like working with some clients on projects and then there were others, that didn’t leave me with such a good feeling. For various reasons the relationship with the client or project wasn’t one I’d like to repeat.
Similarly, I’ve noticed when coaching in organisations, there are certain things that need to be in place before the people I’m working with, judge themselves to be in a great job. Having these variables nailed means that people feel inspired to excel and are not purely motivated by the money (although it’s still an important component). With 70% of work forces being disengaged –according to Gallup- it seems like it would be a good idea to understand what’s going on here.
After a period of research and reflection, I came up with a few key factors that lead to higher project engagement and job satisfaction both for me personally and in the teams I’m working with. When these factors are understood and the conditions created to make these factors accessible, I believe leaders will see a rise in overall performance. There are four motivational ones which are at the ego level and one that is at a level of contribution. Altogether they instil a sense of PRIDE in the workplace:
Paid: As the career analyst Dan Pink recognised, expecting people to be intrinsically motivated to work on your project when they don’t know when the next meal is coming from is “comical”. Some people might even tell you money isn’t everything, but try not paying them. Actually don’t, take my word for it!
Some personalities value material things highly, so they love to be paid handsomely. Others will say money isn’t as important to them, but that’s only because they’ve disowned that side of their personality. As a leader you want to raise people up from the level of survival to a place where they can become more conscious instead of activity driven in work.
Starbuck’s recent media announcement regarding a pay rise was probably hoping to tap into some valuable PR. But as time went on, seasoned baristas noted that the pay rise was aimed at attracting new employees. As a result a lot of the baristas signed a petition on Coworker.org in frustration at not being paid enough to live on. You’ve got to pay people a reasonable wage, if you can’t afford to pay them, then you’ve not got a viable business model. Starbucks and Wal-Mart cannot be classed as great businesses if the state has to support their workforces. It’s exploitation because if those employees could secure another position and earn more elsewhere, they would leave those companies. Paying more money past a certain point doesn’t’ get better performance, especially if they have to think creatively, but you’ve got to pay people enough so they don’t spend time worrying about money and just as importantly you don’t want them complaining aloud to the world.
Recognised: It might seem intuitive to appreciate people for their efforts, but actually it doesn’t happen an awful lot in the workplace. People are too busy and don’t realise the importance recognition and appreciation play in motivation. People begin yearning for validation at childhood because it makes us feel good. Leon Seltzer PhD. concluded that recognition is important because:
“such recognition assists you in perceiving yourself as desirable, valuable, and esteemable. In a word, special.”
A useful exercise is to write each team member’s name on a sheet of paper and pass it around. Everybody else has to write something positive about each person. Even if they don’t like other attributes about that person, just focus on the positive ones and record them. Everybody gets a list of their positive qualities and behaviours. What gets recognised gets repeated and as Mark Twain noted:
“I can live for two months on a compliment”
Inspired: Being inspired at work allows people to transcend their ordinary experiences and limitations. This works because when team members are contributing to something out there, their own self disappears. It plays a significant role in enabling states of flow to arise; when time flies in a state of pleasurable effort when more potential and creativity is accessed.
Psychologist Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot uncovered three core aspects to inspiration which are transcendence, evocation and approach motivation. These elements give us the ability to rise above animalistic self-concerns so we can actualise a vision of something meaningful and reach what the researchers concluded were the heights of human motivation which:
“…spring from the beauty and goodness that precede us and awaken us to better possibilities.”
Developmental: People are learning animals. In the workplace, people will be learning regardless of whether it’s conscious or not. I explain to clients that the team will either be spending time learning who won X-Factor or the football or something more productive. That’s the leader’s choice. As such it’s a great idea to make that learning rewarding and profitable for both organisation and the individuals.
According to the Campaign for Learning:
92% of people finding learning enjoyable
71% of learners believe learning increases quality of life
72% of people believe more time should be spent on personal development
I prefer my work experiences to be learning and growth experiences. I want to benefit in some way by developing as I work.
Great companies nurture the urge in team members to become more. A mind expanded by new ideas cannot shrink back. The ability to learn is something which supports organisational transformation. Not developing people leads to sclerosis of attitudes which is a killer when an organisation enters new territory. Agile learners, according to researchers from Columbia University, stand out in particular for their resilience, calm, and ability to remain at ease and are:
“continually able to jettison skills, perspectives and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are,”
Ecology: Ecology is about relationships. Relationships are the most important survival factor to human existence both on a personal level and with the world at large. Close, supportive relationships are a source of great joy and they’re very beneficial when life is not so great. Gallup considers close and supportive relationships at work key to significantly boosting engagement. Tom Rath, Gallup’s Global Practice Leader says:
“Our favourite moments, jobs, groups, and teams revolve around friendships with other people.”
As effectiveness author, Dr Stephen Covey believed:
“Interdependence is ten times more challenging than independence, but it the only viable long-term solution for effectiveness in our relationships at work and at home”
Strategist Max McKeown supports this view believing that corporate strategy is only useful when people support the company in its efforts. So without great relationships, a leader’s effectiveness in influencing the team and the organisation’s performance and productivity is greatly stifled.
I prefer to work with a client in a collaborative fashion. I find if potential clients don’t, then the work will not be as fulfilling and they won’t get the best of me.
Organisations are being born, growing, consolidating, sometimes evolving, sometimes collapsing and then recovering. Or they can die with the components being assimilated into other things. There are infinite possibilities but all are following a similar pattern, the universal life cycle.
It’s been said that an organisation’s greatest asset is its people. This may be true, but it takes an enlightened leader to guide those people. A leader needs to be able to recognise what reality is occurring in the moment and where the team are heading. Along the way there will be paradigm shifts. When the behaviours that led to success up to a particular point, will not get the team to the next level. Knowing what these paradigm shifts look like, helps leaders generate the appropriate message to inspire new behaviours.
Metaphors, stories and analogies are powerful tools in a leader’s repertoire. A relevant story told by an inspirational leader can cause an immediate shift in perspective and direction. Research by McKinsey suggests that telling meaningful stories which include various themes leads to higher engagement. It makes sense when presenting the case for change, to attend to the various personalities of the audience.
Four points to consider when preparing for a paradigm shift:
Rewards and recognition: Explain how individuals will benefit from successfully completing the new mission; should they choose to accept it.
Creativity and connectivity: Note the opportunity for the team to bond together and tap into the collective intelligence of the group to provide innovative solutions to tackle the challenges ahead.
Support and familiarity: With the possible stormy weather ahead, encourage everybody to support each other as a family unit.
Quality and focus: Encourage a quest for excellence pointing to the team’s ability to design the best products and services, redefining the beliefs about what is possible.
To make the story inspirational leaders should also include how the work will contribute to the larger world, what Simon Sinek refers to as the big ‘Why’. Revealing to the team which paradigm they’re shifting too and why the change of course is necessary, will give clarity of direction.
Here are some universal paradigms to consider:
Setting sail on a new adventure
This is the entrepreneurial stage when a leader may have to galvanise a small team to overcome the trepidation of setting sail on a new adventure. It could be the start of a new business or project, but like any new idea, it takes a lot of energy to create something worthwhile. It demands extraordinary courage, determination and resilience. It is the beginning of a heroic journey of which the spoils will go to the brave. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:
“To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.”
Growing from good to great
If the entrepreneur survives the first stage of business creation, confidence increases as the product or service attracts an increasing client base. From here, the group needs to become cohesive, focussing on higher standards of aligned performance so that they can achieve greater levels of success. The leader has to help the expanding team programme themselves for success. Systems and training should be introduced to strengthen the performance and culture. A story of going from good to great inspires greater levels of determination as well as boosting pride and esprit de corp. As Jim Collins espoused:
“… it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquillity that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.”
Too much of a good thing
Of course as organisations grow, they can become too hierarchical and bureaucratic. Work can become frustrating for the team and leader. It’s usually as a result of thinking that because systems worked at first, adding more will help. The reality is that satisfying the system, not the purpose of the organisation, becomes the overall aim. Now is the time to relax the systems and introduce some autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit back into the company. A leader aware of the universal life cycle will know it’s time for change as the resistance in a formerly successful companies grows. Think about the decline and fall of the Rome Empire. As Marcus Cicero pronounced:
“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.”
The butterfly effect
A strange thing happens when a caterpillar transforms. Cells within the caterpillar, known as imaginal cells, begin to resonate at a different frequency and act completely differently. Even though they are attacked by the immune system, the imaginal cells continue to proliferate. They then begin to cluster together into small friendly groups, sharing information. Eventually the clusters begin to join together inside what is now a chrysalis. It is believed that when the imaginal cells reach 10% of the whole, a tipping point occurs and the organism realises it is transforming. It gives birth to the Butterfly.
This analogy is a great one for leaders who want to guide an organisation to the next level of success. This is not a quick fix and relies on lots of little changes of beliefs and behaviours which build up over time. It is a time for deeper connection with customers to understand what they really want. Helping people collaborate and contribute more of themselves to the whole to enable something completely new to evolve. This paradigm shift occurs after the present business has reached a threshold point of growth and has to look for new ways to pivot the business. People may not realise the best is yet to come but as Buckminster Fuller wrote:
“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”
Leaning into the slope
Invariably shifts happen. System thresholds are reached, disruptive innovations appear on the horizon and increased competition arises. If an organisation is unprepared and the leader is unable to accept reality, the first line of defence is usually denial. The financial crisis was just such a story in the beginning.
At this point an enlightened leader knows that now is not the time to be shrinking back into a comfort zone. It’s time to face reality and rise up to the challenge. Those that did at the beginning of the latest recession, we’re more likely to weather the storm.
When a skier navigates down a tricky mountain pass, they realise that they must lean down the slope otherwise their skies will slide from beneath them. So too the fell runner traversing the rocky scree slopes and the boxer who’s opponent is advancing. You can’t lean away if you want to stay on your feet, you must advance if you want to survive. As Seth Godin informs us:
“Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone.”
Discovering diamonds in the dirt and gold in the grit.
When an organisation is heading toward a systemic challenge, mental flexibility from the leader is essential. When the doo-doo has hit the fan, problem solving leaders know they must attend to various aspects all at once. But an enlightened leader will also encourage some of the team to look for the opportunities. There is always balance in the universe. For the Chinese, crisis and opportunity are represented by the same symbol.
Some great companies were formed during economic recessions. If Kodak had ‘leaned into the slope’, they might have realised the potential of digital photography which one of their own people had discovered. Even in the worst of times and in the darkest of places, you can find hidden gems. Of course you’ll miss them if you don’t programme the mind to look. As John F Kennedy encouraged:
“In a crisis, be aware of the danger but recognise the opportunity”
Endings are the new beginnings
Some philosophers believe there is a whole other realm of potential from which we and everything that exists, all arise and return to. Endings are inevitable. Sometimes it is necessary for a leader to kill off a project, product, department, idea or even a business so that new ventures can grow. If Richard Branson hadn’t let his music business go, he probably wouldn’t have got the airline off the ground and with the later paradigm shifts in the music business, more than likely would have lost everything.
If a business closes, all the ideas, experiences and learning that was created, will move on to become part of something new elsewhere. Nothing in the universe is ever wasted. In the cycle of life, death plays an integral part. As Cheryl Strayed described:
“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realise there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
The great turnaround
Once the reality of a collapse has been accepted by a leader it becomes time for the great turnaround talk. A time to galvanise everybody behind the recovery. It feels similar to the setting sail, entrepreneurial period. High risk inspires engagement, a clear vision and mission inspires boldness in the face of imminent disaster. There are many examples of businesses that have been able to claw their way back from the brink of death to become successful and profitable enterprises once again.
Apple, was at one stage on the brink of bankruptcy and borrowed funds from its nemesis Microsoft, to survive. It later became the most valuable company in the world. Fed-Ex’s boss Frederick Smith had to gamble his last $5000 in Las Vegas to pay off a fuel bill. Lots of companies go through desperate times and have had to take desperate measures to become great companies later on. Steve Maraboli explains that:
“Happiness is not the absence of problems it’s the ability to deal with them.”
Lessons are repeated until they’re learnt
It’s important for a leader to recognise what type of challenge they face and be able to design appropriate solutions. Of course in most instances, there is a temptation to plaster over the cracks. When a system has failed, patching up the system will still not allow you to overcome the systems previous limitations. Most people believe that humans are scared of change. That’s not quite correct, people make small adjustments continually so they can stay in the same place. But sometimes a fundamental transformation is required.
Of course a good way to recognise the lesson is for a leader to enquire if this type of thing has happened previously. Problems do and will return. Moreover; the same problems will become more frequent, will stay longer, be more painful and eventually lead to collapse. As Aldous Huxley wrote:
“That men do not learn from the lessons of history is the most important lesson of history”
Brave new world
As we’re on the Aldous Huxley theme, entering the brave new world is a necessary component of an evolving business. A lot of traditional businesses have had to evolve in order to survive the passage of time. Sometimes, one must experiment as if standing at the beginning of a corridor. So many doorways present themselves, but you have to step into the unknown to uncover the reality behind every door. That requires courage. All systems have an optimum state, they all reach a limit to growth and so bold leaders have to look for new ways of doing business and create new beginnings. As Peter Drucker realised:
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision”
A lot of nature has a fractal element in its design. Fractals are patterns which contain within them self-similar patterns in varying degrees of time or size. If you think of a tree, you see the trunk and then at appropriate points you get a branch forming. Then another branch emerges which also looks like the branch it originated from. If you’ve ever stepped away from an oak tree, you might notice that the pattern of the whole tree resembles the pattern within each leaf.
We humans, being a part of the natural world, also tend towards pathways of behaviour which have self-similar patterns. Whilst working with clients and researching patterns of behaviour within business systems, a Universal Life Cycle (ULC) emerged. As I realised this I began to see the ULC in human relationships, careers in my coaching clients, the economy, and businesses. In fact I’m still looking for somewhere it doesn’t apply. The benefit for leaders and entrepreneurs in understanding the ULC pattern, is that they can predict what optimal behaviours are needed at each step of the life cycle to boost the performance of their business.
It’s said that when you’re about to climb a mountain, you can see the whole mountain in front of you. As you begin to climb the mountain, you lose some perspective. Even at the top of the mountain, you can’t really grasp the whole mountain as an observer.
Employing a guide who owns a map and a compass helps you maintain perspective enabling you to climb the mountain with more predictable success. So here are the directions to the top of the mountain of commercial success. Obviously every business is unique and their time lines differ, but they’ll all follow this general pattern.
In the initial stages a budding entrepreneur notices a challenge and designs a solution. Either a product or service which can help people feel better or which will remove a frustration for potential clients. This stage is very important because it’s easy to become overexcited about an idea and waste resources on the set-up without doing enough research. Everybody who attends the Dragon’s Den believes in their idea. But not many of the ideas are chosen on the show and even if they’re picked; a lot fail the due diligence process behind the scenes.
It’s useful to remember great ideas might not necessarily make great products to sell and conversely great products might not appear as good ideas in the beginning. The entrepreneur has got to assess if there is a strong need by enough people to part with their money in exchange for their product or service. If so what’s the best way to do that? Who is the target audience? Where are they? How do you get in front of them? How would you describe the niche? Time spent in preparation is time well spent although that might not be the entrepreneur’s strongest skill.
Once you’ve done the research you can then crystallise your ideas into a proposition. That is what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and why you feel compelled to do this.
If you do this process early on, it gives you a lot more credibility when you talk to potential investors and clients. Remember the Socratic influencing pattern is made up of three components; ethos, logos and pathos. You’ve got to appear credible. You must present a reasonable case and arguably the most important part, you’ve got to appeal to people’s emotions. This is done by having an inspiring reason for doing what you’re doing. Focus on the value you will add to people’s lives and when you’re really clear about that, use it in your promotion later on.
Next you’ve got to package your product or service so that it is easy for people in your target audience to find and more importantly get their hands on it. Most people feel nervous up front mentioning costs, but if it is suitable you might want to be up front about the investment needed by your potential clients. By packaging some of your offerings clearly into several categories means you save time speaking to tyre kickers.
People suffer from an overwhelming amount of information and if you come across as clear and succinct, it feels like a welcome release from the hard work of researching for a suitable product. Packages are easier to not only remember but easier for people to pass onto their friends who might be in the market for your products and services.
Now we move into marketing. The usual path is to get business cards printed, design expensive brochures then possibly, moving into more creative ways such as video presentations. There is a continual evolution going on in marketing. If there is somebody out there selling the ‘how to’ of a particular system, it usually means that that system has been out for a while. Be innovative and come up with your own ideas because it will make you more noticeable. Think Richard Branson and his antics. Whatever you think of him nobody can deny he’s in the public eye a lot and he probably hasn’t got a business card.
Your aim in promoting should be to engage, entertain and educate. Entertaining clients makes you more memorable and educating them will make them also experience value by associating with you. You can also refer back to your proposition plan and use that in your marketing material and elevator pitch. Stick to the K.I.S.S. principle in elevator pitches. ‘Keep it sublimely simple’. There is nothing stupid about simplicity in a complex world. As Einstein proposed “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough”.
If a start-up has made it past the initial stages and is confidently attracting clients, then it’s one of the few businesses who do make it, meaning it’s a good idea. Now is the time to make it great. As the business grows the entrepreneur has to programme the business for success. This means making great service, delivery, communicating, promoting and everything else a habit.
It will mean that the business is transforming and when a business transforms from one level to the next, it will see a drop in performance temporarily. No business follows a straight line so nothing to worry about here. The entrepreneur now has to learn to lead and in doing so has to let go of some of the responsibilities of fire-fighting and routine operations.
Note that some of the original team might become disillusioned at this point and leave. From becoming a close knit group where the entrepreneur was sat next to them, members of the team are now not able to demand the leader’s attention as they once did. This can be a knock to their self-esteem which influences them to move on and is perfectly normal at this stage in the evolution of an organisation. This can be negated at the preparation phase if the entrepreneur understands the ULC and clearly communicates his vision of the future. Forewarned is forearmed.
Businesses usually employ systems at this point and introduce levels of hierarchies to manage the increasing workload. This has the effect of unlocking more potential, boosting profits and its happy days. It is a good time to think about selling the business because it will look like an attractive proposition on paper.
However; there are other effects of introducing complexity into the organisation. These features are often used to hold the team accountable and, as opposed to helping the team, they eventually begin to inhibit the team’s performance by introducing increasing levels of guilt and fear. The aim of the team morphs into satisfying the system and hierarchy as opposed to satisfying the clients. This takes some of the passion out of the work and as the team expands, the culture begins to become diluted.
Real time feedback is a feature of peak performance that helps people get into ‘the zone’. However feedback, delivered once a quarter is a bit pointless, especially if it’s negative. The systems should be designed to be helpful in the moment not as a tool for managers to beat people over the head with later. Helping team members to self-monitor their own performance leads to increased ownership and responsibility. It’s a subtle difference in the use of systems which makes a considerable improvement to the culture and business results.
Likewise, extra lines of management usually serve the same roles as parents, teachers and managers during the rise of industrialisation. It might come as a surprise that terms such as incentivising and depreciation originated from the slave trade. Keeping meticulous records of slave productivity were the forerunners of modern management techniques. So it’s no wonder that as the organisation becomes more complex with ever more levels of accountability people learn to distrust their intuition and dismiss their insights in favour of ticking a box or passing a performance review. This leads to disengagement. The manager’s response tends to be to implement more systems because it worked originally. Eventually systemising to stagnation, the business hits a wall especially if a new innovation or challenge raises its head.
Some investment is needed to help the team overcome the growing pains of the business. Think about how one would magnetize a piece of metal. One rubs a magnet along the piece of metal until all the molecules begin to point in the same direction. It’s the same with the team. Instead of following the path of systemising to stagnation, programme the team for success too. This means creating a clear vision and strategy that people can use to help them in their decision making. It means improving people’s self-awareness so that the culture shifts from egocentric to ecocentric. If this isn’t done then the entrepreneurial spirit will leave the organisation and that’s a problem for the next stage.
So the leader now has a great lifestyle business but it’s becoming a bit frustrating and possibly a bit boring too. Instead of sitting back to enjoy the fruits of his labour, the leader finds himself being drawn back into dealing with the administration and problem solving. Things that they dislike and shouldn’t be doing.
This frustration is because all systems have an optimum state. After a period of fast growth the business will hit a ceiling of performance. More systems will not help, what’s needed is for the organisation to transform from being great to exceptional.
The main challenge at this stage is fear. The ego is only scared of two things, not getting what it wants. When it has what it wants, it then becomes afraid it will lose the ‘it’ that has been acquired. An exceptional business will overcome the fear of being entrepreneurial again and look to platform itself. It will look for new markets, new products, new partnerships, new channels and generally experiment with innovative ideas and productise emergent assets that can create more wealth.
Here the entrepreneurial leader has to have a great team in place so that the leader can go back to being able to see the whole mountain and know what needs to happen at each place of the lifecycle within the various new departments, products and businesses. Exceptional companies are aren’t afraid to share the glory and rewards by developing the entrepreneurial spirit within their own organisation. Creating a platform for success and sharing resources within the group means that great innovations will not walk out the door.
Archimedes said: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” This should be the role of the inspirational leader of an exceptional organisation. With a light touch he should be able to inspire great things to happen.
Developing a company’s DNA profile helps with many different aspects of running and scaling a successful business.
An entrepreneur might start a business because they spotted an opportunity in the marketplace and exploited it. That’s innovation.
The fact that the entrepreneur has been successful means that the universe has decided their venture was useful so kept the fledgling business alive. That’s evolution.
Everything has inherent meaning in the universe even if the entrepreneur didn’t know or care at that point. That changes.
To scale the business it becomes important to describe the business in a way that piques people’s interest and attracts a loyal following. The best way to do that is to educate, entertain and engage people, whilst they communicate to the world what they do, how they achieve their results and why it’s a good idea to be clients, collaborate with and serve this organisation.
In the post-recession world, people are also interested in knowing what the company’s philosophy is, what’s important to them in the way they do business and what the vision for the company in the future is.
The mission is the next big step the leader wants to achieve and doesn’t necessarily need to be communicated to the outside world because it will change over time. The mission is chunked down into the strategy, what will be produced, with performance goals (habitual behaviours) and achievement goals (milestones) along the way. One might never completely achieve the purpose, and that’s okay. It’s a legacy.
The challenge is that there is a lot of confusion about what each aspect actually is. If leaders or entrepreneurs don’t fully understand their organisation’s DNA, they will be running an operation that hasn’t fully tapped into the passion and potential of its people. This negatively affects its customers and the bottom line. It can also lead to a lot confusion in decision making. You can find your top talent spending time on less than optimum behaviours.
The benefits of spending time on creating your organisation’s DNA profile include:
• It creates a buzz
• Attracts the top talent
• Enhances your pitching process
• Boosts engagement
• Develops an effective culture
• Empowers people to make decisions
• Builds equity in the business
• Unleashes passion and unlocks potential
• Increases creativity and innovation
• Creates brand loyalty… and much more…