Human relation school
The human relations school of management thought has grown in terms of influence since its emergence in the interwar America. Human relations theory influences the structure of relationships in most work places. There is an argument that the approach is much superior in its outcomes compared to the scientific management approach. The emergence of human relations led to a marked difference in the manner in which the management treated employees. Currently, human relations theory is the dominant theory underpinning workplace relationships.
This essay shall examine the emergence and growth of the human relations school. The essay shall also delve into the merits of the human relations as a management approach. There will be an examination of the influence of human relations on management thought since its emergence up to the present date. The weaknesses of the human relations school shall also be examined.
Rose in his examination of the origins of the human relations theory states that the theory originated from studies done in Chicago at the Western Electric Company (44). The studies were at the Hawthorne works of the electric company. The Hawthorne Studies were done by Mayo in the 1920s and 30s. The precise time and duration of the study is ambiguous, just like the details of what was written. The received account of what happened during those studies is varied and depends on the author. The studies done by Mayo at Hawthorne are near mythological currently. What is prominent in this mythology is a complete disjuncture between the work done and written by Mayo and the conventionally received version of human relations theory.
Although modern convention regards Mayo as the father of the human relations movement, there are more nuances to the truth about the origin of the movement. Human relations theory developed within the context of existing theories. Mayo borrowed some of his ideas from other scholars who had done some work on management. Rose suggests that the variations observed in human relations theory is because many people developed the theory over many years (44). He also contends that human relations theory and scientific management have a commonality (46). This is in spite of the fact that many people consider human relations theory and scientific management diametrically opposed. According to Rose, at their base, both scientific management and human relations theory seek to control employees (46).
Human relations approach employs human relationships to control employees. Management controls employees by emotionally engaging with the employees, and using those emotions to manipulate employees towards a desired outcome. Scientific management, on the other hand, seeks to control employees by avoiding and discouraging human relationships. Employees are dissuaded about emotional engagement in the workplace. Management-employee relationships are strictly professional and limited to the contact necessitated by the assigned work. Therefore, the greatest difference between the two styles is purely tactical (Rose 46). However, despite the similarity between the two styles, there is a perception that human relations theory is a radical and completely different approach to management. Human relations theory use and influence has grown tremendously in the work place. Scientific management is slowly disappearing from the workplace as more managers opt for the human relations theory. To comprehend the reasons behind the rise of human relations as the preferred management theory, historical perspective of the development is necessary.
The early 20th century and scientific management
Towards the end of the 19th century and at the start of the 20th century, there was a period of rapid industrial development in the Western nations. The nature and manner of work people engaged in began changing from individual smallholdings to working in large factories. Work was becoming impersonal, as frequently, a worker was merely a small cog in the production chain. Automation of production plants marked the beginning of the era of specialization. Workers were adept in only a small part of the assembly process and frequently did not have a clue about the whole process leading to the production of the final product.
This changing nature of the working environment necessitated a change in the management styles. Managing hundreds of workers was complex compared to the older system where work was family-based with little outside help. This meant that there was a need to come up with a management style that could efficiently harness the available work force to provide the best possible outcomes. Fredric Taylor proposed that the use of scientific management in the workplace could increase productivity. Taylor stated that the primary object of management was securing maximum prosperity for the employees as well as each employer (1). It was considered that employer and employee interests were antagonistic at that time. The employer wanted maximum returns at minimum costs while the employee wanted maximum wages for preferably minimum amount of work (Taylor 3).
However, Taylor argued that the prosperity of the employer and employee was intertwined (Taylor 2). There could be no assured long-term prosperity for the employer if the employer mistreated the employee. Moreover, there could be no long-term prosperity for the employee if the employee enjoyed extortionate wages, which could bankrupt the employer. Taylor proposed that the scientific management theory provided a framework that safeguarded the employer and employee interests. Sonia, Golden and Leslie state that Taylor developed his scientific management approach after observing soldiering (that is workers intentionally slacking at their duties). He was a proponent of ‘fair wage,’ where a person’s pay was dependent on his or her productivity.
Principles of scientific management
Taylor was a mechanical engineer. While working at a steel manufacture, Taylor experimented to determine the best performance levels at the workplace. He had an interest in increasing employee efficiency. Taylor’s scientific management theory had four principles. The first principle was the development of true science at the workplace. The development of complex production processes presented managers and factory floor supervisors (they were usually only male supervisors) with situations, which they were ill equipped to handle and manage. Therefore, management made decisions by gut instinct or by using the “rule of thumb.” People used habit and common sense to determine ways of performing workplace tasks. Taylor felt this was wrong and bred inefficiency. He proposed the use of the scientific method in the work place. The method involved using objective analytical skills, that is science, to make the best choice from given alternatives. Whatever choice made by the manager had to be the one that made it possible to perform an assigned task in the most efficient way possible.
The second principle was scientific selection of the worker. The prevailing practice at the time was to assign employees work randomly. There was no effort by management to match employee talents and abilities to tasks. Employees worked on anywhere along the production chain with no consideration given to their abilities. Taylor felt that this system wasted employee talents and often led to the assignment of employees to duties in which they did not have the necessary competence. The consequence of using the system was low productivity among employees. Taylor proposed for the scientific analysis of employees to determine their strengths and weaknesses. Employees then should be scientifically matched to the work they were most suited. After determining the ‘right’ work for an employee, that employee was to perform only that work at all times. Essentially, he divided the production process into small separate tasks. An employee needed only to perform one task. Taylor believed that by concentrating in only one task, an employee became more efficient than when he or she performed many unrelated tasks.
The third principle of scientific management was the scientific training of the worker. Most factory workers did not undergo training to increase their competence in work. Workers learned on the job by observing. However, since workers worked on multiple tasks, they did not develop a comprehensive grasp of the production process. Taylor based this principle on the premise that workers will perform only one task. Therefore, there was need to equip the worker with the necessary knowledge and skills for performing tasks efficiently. There was also need to monitor workers to ensure that they utilized the most efficient methods of working. Management needed to issue clear instructions to workers and direct their work need arising. Taylor proposed monitoring performance of workers to ensure that that they met set performance targets. This proposal in effect meant establishing a system of rewards and punishments for the workers. The awarding of the reward or administering of punishment depended on an employee’s productivity.
Lastly, Taylor proposed for intimate cooperation between the managers and workers. Workers viewed managers with suspicion as the 19th century began (Rose 46). Although, by the beginning of the 20th century, the managerial image had improved considerably, there was some antipathy between management and workers. At the beginning of the 20th century there was minimal contact between management and the workers. This created a disconnect between management aims and worker outputs due to lack of clear communication channels. Workers were free to do as they wished at the factory floor and made decisions, which affected the efficiency of the production process. Taylor proposed a clear division of duties between the management and workers. His scientific approach to management proposed that managers should spend time in planning for the activities in the work place. They should also help to train employees in their assigned tasks. These managerial activities will help workers to perform their tasks efficiently. Taylor’s basic assumption was that by dividing labor, productivity would increase.
Initially, Taylor’s ideas of scientific management did not gain a lot of traction initially. However, with time, managers began to appreciate the veracity of Taylor’s approach to management. The use of the scientific method of management became common in factories. By the late 1910’s and early 20’s, scientific management was the dominant management system employed by employers. Scientific management had a profound effect on the fortunes of companies. Managers employing the method observed that the productivity increased tremendously although the number of workers remained the same. There was an increase in the skill and efficiency of workers in performing tasks. This is because, by performing the same task repeatedly, workers obtained a mastery of the task that was previously impossible to achieve. This period also led to the invention of many machines to make work easier as workers discovered better ways of doing tasks.
Limitations of scientific management
Taylor’s scientific management theory brought a revolution in the way business was conducted. Managers applied the system vigorously as they sought to increase the productivity of their companies. Most firms employing the management model saw a tremendous increase in productivity. This led to increased profitability for the factory owners, enabling some of the great industrial expansion witnessed in this period. However, by the late 1910’s and early 20’s, there was a growing criticism of the scientific management method. The gap that existed between workers and management grew into a chasm under scientific management. According to Caldari managers and the workers had an impersonal relationship (65). This led to the breakdown of personal relationships, which hindered individual expression of capacity from the employees. Communication between management and employees happened through a series of written instructions.
One of the consequences of scientific management was a tendency for extreme specialization. The management system divides processes into very small parts. Employees will perform only one of the small parts of the process for the whole time they work for the company. This system treated employs as automatons, who could not think for themselves. This led to the wastage of talent (Caldari 68). Extreme specialization meant that each task is well defined. This implies that the scope for individual imitative is very limited because a worker’s duty was to perform the task as prescribed. Specialization separated brain from brawn, assuming that the floor workers were merely the brawn while the managers were the brains. This approach stifles innovation because some of the floor workers could generate ideas for improving the production process. Opportunities for self-expression by the workers were limited.
Emergence of the human relations school
The biggest shortcoming of scientific management was the perception that it dehumanized employees. Changes in the structure and system of beliefs happening in the 19th and early twentieth century made it easy for the emergence of the human relations school. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was increased awareness about the idea of personhood (Rose 49). The 19th century had seen changes in the perceptions towards leadership. People began to question the alleged divine right of rulers to rule, and the idea that they could elect their own leaders took root. People also began to understand that they had rights as individuals. Therefore, people were more willing to question processes and orders they did not like. There was a process of enlightenment happening, especially about individual freedoms and rights.
By the 1920’s, it was becoming apparent that problems were emerging with the scientific management approach. There were problems with high employee turnover due to the high performance demands placed on them by the management. Productivity was declining, and there were cases of sabotage in workplaces. The rewarding of employees meeting performance targets, and punishing of those who did not, without wanting to find out why they missed targets caused divisions and resentment in the workplace. It is into this receptive audience that human relations theory entered.
Human relations theory was compatible with the emerging knowledge about the nature of the human being. There was a changing perception about the nature of personhood. New psychological theories proposed that there was a ‘depth’ in the personality of a human being. The human relations theory, therefore, fitted into the new climate by appealing to the humanity of people. It appealed to workers because it suggested that a new kind of manager was needed in the work place. It was not just enough for a manager to manage employees and issue orders. A manager also needed to understand his or her employees and their motivations. Human relations theory proposed that there was more to employee motivation than money as proposed by the Taylor model. Human relations theory was a theory whose time had arrived. It received widespread support and employed in many workplaces in place of the scientific management theory.
Human relations theory
The term human relations theory, though used widely, has no precise definition. Rather it is an amalgam of related concepts about a style of management. This diversity and ambiguity in the meaning is a consequence of the fact that different scholars have worked in developing the idea at different times. However, Mayo’s work at Hawthorne influenced the emergence of the human relations field. It is instructive to note that Mayo himself did not call his work human relations theory. The term emerged after other scholars reviewed his work and analyzed the observations he made. The subsequent analysis of Mayo’s findings led to the development of the term human relations. Miles was the first to use the term ‘human relations’ in 1965 while reviewing Mayo’s work (148). At the time, he says, many management theorists had this reflexive reaction to Taylor’s scientific management theory (152). At that time, human relations theory was embryonic and had not fully crystallized into the components seen today.
The scientific management theory in use in the 1920’s treated workers as interchangable cogs in the machine of production. In his Hawthorne experiments, Mayo wanted to determine which factors led to increased productivity in the workplace. He decided to vary various physical conditions at the workplace and determine if a change in physical working conditions had any effect on the productivity of workers. He began by varying the amount of illuminations for the workers in the factory. The thesis for his experiments was increased illumination will lead to increased productivity. He conducted an experiment by using three different groups of workers – assembly, coil winders and inspectors. After finishing the experiments, an analysis of the data showed a paradox in the results.
He found that productivity and lighting had no relationship at all. In all the experiments, there was increased productivity irrespective of the intensity of illumination available to the workers. He was surprised to see that even when the amount of light reduced to a level where the workers could barely see, the productivity of the workers still increased. Since the level of lighting in a factory could not account for the increased productivity, Mayo concluded that the increased productivity was purely due to the presence of the researchers. Researchers named this observation the Hawthorne effect. Sonnenfeld in his analysis of Mayo’s experiment notes that Mayo did a revolutionary thing (125). Sonnenfeld says that Mayo treated workers as people and not as extensions of the machine (125). The workers were pleasantly surprised by the attention they received from the researchers. They responded positively to the attention by increasing their productivity.
The Hawthorne experiments brought into the limelight many ideas about what influenced motivation and job satisfaction. The experiments also brought new insights into worker participation in the work place, effective leadership, group norms and dynamics as well as resistance to change. These concepts although they appear innocuous and desirable currently, they were ground shattering in the 1930’s. This is because, at that time, workers were considered to be of slow wit and fit only for instruction and following of orders. The Hawthorne experiments led to the development of the human relations school. Human relations completely changed the manner in which the workplace operated. It shifted the focus from the task to the worker. Human relations theory is based on the premise that the worker is more important than the task.
In organizational management, human relations theory postulates that employees show more productivity when they are satisfied than when they are dissatisfied. Managers, therefore, should make an effort to engage with their subordinates. The human relations model of management implies that a manager may obtain greater efficiency and productivity by ‘wasting time’ discussing issues with subordinates. As Mayo’s experiments showed, people respond positively to personalized attention in the workplace. Once employees feel that management values them and their contributions, those employees are likely to improve their attitudes and efforts towards accomplishing the organizations objectives. The purpose of a human relations approach to management is to make employees feel that they are part of the organization, and that their work is necessary for the survival of the organization.
Principles of human relations theory
There are principles guiding the human relations approach to management, which provide a framework for structuring workplace relationships. The first principle of human relations theory is decentralization. The human relations approach to management is nearly opposite to that of scientific management approach. Whereas classical scientific management employed a strict hierarchy with rigid structures, human relations theory proposes that individual workers within an organization require the opportunity and autonomy to make decisions. The same principle applies to functional areas, for example, departments within the organization. These should be empowered to make their own decisions instead of waiting for orders from a central body. Human relations emphasize the development of lateral communication channels within organizations. Such communication channels will allow for easier coordination of resources and efforts. Communication occurs by using informal communication channels, rather than the formal means favored by classical scientific management. Instances of vertical communication within the human relations framework are rare. The system favors consultations over instruction
The second principle of the human relations approach to management is participatory decision-making. The concept of participation in this case involves the inclusion of line workers, who are not mangement, in making day-to-day decisions. However, their inclusion in the decision making process is very necessary; this is because most of the decisions made have a substantive effect on their work. Therefore, it is necessary to involve them in the decision-making process, as they are likely to be the implementers of the decisions made. The greater autonomy offered to workers in this system compared to classical scientific management requires that workers be knowledgeable as well as have the ability to make decisions. They should also possess the requisite communication skills to be able to coordinate and collaborate with their colleagues without the need for the presence of a supervisor. Involving workers in the decision-making process eases implementation since workers have a sense of ownership of the decision. Lastly, the human relations approach to management is concerned with the development of self-motivated employees. This system can only work effectively if members are self-motivated. Self-motivated persons set their own task-related goals. This is important because employees have a degree of autonomy in making decisions. Therefore, it is imperative that such employees be able to use the autonomy offered to make decisions that benefit the organization. Self-driven employees are also able to monitor their performance, as well as progress in achieving organizational goals. Self-regulation is important in the human relation context because overt supervision is minimal. Managers should design and implement policies within the organizational framework that reward self-motivation, as well as autonomy in employees. In fostering working relations with their subordinates, managers should be careful to ensure that they establish two-way communication channels. This will allow for efficient channeling of issues to the management by the employees. Effective communication builds and maintains workplace harmony.
For human relations theory to work there should be changes in the organizational structure. The supervisor-subordinate relationship also has to change to encourage bidirectional communication. The human relations approach to management provides a framework for building and analyzing workplace relationships. Employee workplace behavior depends on the organizational and social circumstances of the work. When employees feel appreciated at work and have responsibilities, they are likely to be more productive than when taken for granted. Job satisfaction influences the output and productivity of an employee. Job satisfaction is dependent on the leadership style at the workplace. Human relations theory, which offers participatory leadership, is likely to lead to better job satisfaction. When employees have a wide variety of tasks to perform, they are likely to maintain an interest in their work and hence have a higher productivity. Human relations theory offers employees the opportunity to set their own internal standards.
Human relations and the development of management theory
Mayo’s Hawthorne contributed to the development of the human relations movement. Classical scientific management assumed that money was the only motivator for employees. Therefore, incentive programs in the workplace encouraged people to work hard to receive monetary rewards on attaining the set performance target. However, the Hawthorne experiments proved that increased productivity was not dependent on monetary rewards; this raised the question of what exactly motivated people. Many motivation studies were done based on the work done by Mayo. Mayo’s work was important because it did not dispute the fact that money is a motivator but provided the possibility of other things apart from money motivating employees. It led to the realization that individuals were motivated to satisfy needs. Management scholars deduced that needs and motivation were linked. Research shows that unmet needs are a probable cause of motivation. Once a person is motivated, he or she engages in goal directed behavior to satisfy the need.
Abraham Maslow did a comprehensive study to determine which needs motivated behavior. He came up with a hierarchy of needs, which he felt influenced goal-directed behavior. Maslow’s divided needs into five broad categories -physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs and self-actualization. The first three are lower level needs, while the last two are higher-level needs. According to Maslow, self-actualization was the highest need achievable. A self-actualized person had become that which he had to become, and was completely satisfied and content with his or her life. Maslow’s theory of needs is applicable to the human relations approach to management. The basis of Maslow’s theory is that the need is a motivator only when it is unmet. Once met, it ceases being a motivator and an individual seeks to meet a higher need in the hierarchy. A manager using the human relations theory needs to know the needs of the employees. While the lower needs are met in most workplaces, there is a need to try to meet the higher-level needs of employees.
Herzberg also expanded on the work done by Mayo. He investigated what were the factors that caused satisfaction or dissatisfaction in employees. He concluded that the job characteristics were either maintenance factors or motivational factors. Maintenance factors ensured that employees had the desired level of satisfaction. These factors included working conditions, salary and job conditions. Motivational factors, on the other hand, included such factors as the job itself, opportunities for growth and advancement as well as recognition. It is instructive to note that money in this model is merely a maintenance factor. In sufficient amounts, money serves to keep an employee satisfied. However, money is not a motivator for employees. Since there is a link between employee motivation and factors related to the work itself, managers should work to ensure that, the work is interesting if they want to maintain employee motivation.
McGregor in examining managerial assumptions towards employees proposed the X and Y theory. The X theory assumed that employees were naturally lazy, disliked like and abhorred responsibility. Consequently, they needed control, coercion, direction and threats of punishment if they were to put enough effort into realizing the organizations objectives. This theory cast aspersions on employees’ ability to perform duties. Managers employing this theory often use financial incentives and satisfy only lower needs of employees. The Y theory, on the other hand, views employees as persons who like work. They are willing to accept and will seek responsibilities in order to satisfy their higher-level needs. An extension of these theories is the development of theory Z. theory Z proposes that to increase employee productivity, they require the job security offered by long-term employment. When organizations make and implement decisions, employees need a share of that responsibility.
One of the greatest criticisms of the Hawthorne studies is that they did not have any theoretical underpinning. The claims presented about motivation of employees had no foundation in theory. However, subsequent studies by scholars on motivation have shown the Mayo’s observations are factual. The research by Maslow and McGregor showed motivation of employees was a complex issue. The simplistic view of classical management theory that motivation of employees was primarily a monetary issue is erroneous. Although the money is important, it is useful only in ensuring satisfaction of employees, not motivation. However, to get motivated employees, management needs to use other techniques other than money. Just as Mayo found many years ago, paying employees’ attention and listening to them is likely to give better results than paying them money. It is, therefore, necessary that employers make the job as interesting as possible if they are to retain employee motivation. In addition, employers need to make an effort and involve employees in the decision-making process so that they can ‘own’ the decisions.
Human relations and modern leadership approaches
There are two main leadership styles employed by modern managers. These are the transformational leadership style and the transactional leadership style. Each of these styles of management has a distinctly different approach to employee management. Hamilton describes transactional leadership as eldership based on transactions between the managers and employees (4). In transactional leadership, the leader gives explicit instructions about the conditions and requirements of the task. The leader will offer the promised rewards for completing the task. A transaction is considered complete once employees fulfill the task requirements.
Transactional leadership has four distinct characteristics. First, it is contingent reward. Leaders exhibit contingent reward when they recognize accomplishments, promises rewards for good performance or exchange rewards for effort. This approach builds on the scientific management premise, which sees motivation as a function of material rewards. The second characteristic of transactional leadership is management by exception (active). The leader is overbearing in his or her relationship with subordinates. The leader actively searches for deviations from the requirements and takes intervention measures in breach. This approach is punishment oriented, as a means of deterring deviation.
The third characteristic of transactional leadership is management by exception (passive). Here, the leader will intervene only when the subordinates fail to meet the agreed performance expectations. Laissez-faire leadership the final transactional leadership characteristic. Here, a leader abdicates leadership and does not make decisions. Research shows that the transactional leadership is not very effective in motivating employees and improving productivity.
Human relations theory influenced the development of the transformational style of leadership. Unlike transactional leadership, which limits leader-subordinate relationship into a series of transactions, transformational leadership seeks to ‘transform’ and inspire employees to improve performance (Hamilton 4). Transformational leadership happens when leaders are able to broaden as well as elevate employee interests, raise awareness and broad acceptance of the organization’s mission, and convince employees to look beyond their selfish interests for the greater good. Transformational leadership has four distinct characteristics exhibited by the leader (Hamilton 5).
First, transformational leaders are charismatic. The charismatic leader considers the followers needs over his or her needs. This is an idealized form of leadership. The charismatic leader will instill on the followers a sense of pride and clear mission. The leader has a clear-cut vision, and is able to effectively communicate this vision to the followers. A charismatic leader’s behavior is consistent with the values, ethics and principles articulated by the organization. The charismatic leader inspires in workers an exceptional work ethic because they believe in the performance goals of the organization. The second characteristic of transformational leadership is that it is inspirational. The leader is able to pass across the message of the need for raising expectations, using symbols to focus efforts. The leader’s clearly visible enthusiasm and optimism about the future enhances the team spirit.
Thirdly, intellectual stimulation is characteristic of transformational leadership. The transformational leader will promote rational thinking. The leader is not afraid to seek from his followers suggestions for solving any organizational problems that may arise. The leader encourages the followers to use personal initiative to discover new ways to perform tasks. Finally, transformational leadership is characterized by individualized consideration. The transformational leader finds time to give each of his or her followers personalized attention. The leader advices and coaches the employees as need arise. Effective communication is invaluable in offering individualized attention to the followers. Leaders who communicate effectively are attentive listeners who pay attention to the growth needs and achievements of their followers.
Human relations theory and organizational development
Human relations theory proposed a profound change in the basic structure of the workplace. The theory moved the focus of management to the workers in the workplace, and away from the production process. The worker changed from being an appendage of the process, to the most valuable ‘thing’ in the workplace. The application of the theory led to the reorganization of the workplace. A new department of human resources was introduced to take care of worker welfare. Companies began to introduce programs geared towards improving the competence of the employees.
The human resource theory developed to address some of the weaknesses of the human relations theory. However, human resources theory borrows substantially from the human relations theory. Human resources theory assumes that the productivity of employees in the workplace depends on how they are organized. Researchers built the human resource theory by using ideas from the motivational theory. However, the interest of human resources theory is in the satisfaction of the higher-level needs of employees. The theory focuses on the human aspect of an organization and how to utilize it as a valuable resource. The theory proposes that organizations should invest money and time in developing employees for higher productivity in the workplace.
Using the theory, organizations develop a diffuse power structure. Departments are empowered to make decisions, and top management’s role is oversight rather than supervisory. The structure encourages lateral communication between employees and departments as means of directing the use of resources and consolidating efforts towards achieving organizational goals. The human relations approach to management also ensures that sufficient opportunities for staff development are available. This is in recognition of the fact that motivation of employees is not purely a function of material rewards, but is substantially affected by intangible goods related to the job itself.
Criticism of human relations school
Bruce and Nyland state that the human relations theory is an undemocratic way of running business (385). They contend that the theory allows managers to monopolize power in the workplace. The vaunted claim that the theory allows for full employee participation in decision-making is not correct. This is because when employees do not make decisions in the absence of management. This implies that employees may be under pressure to agree to decisions, which they do not agree with.
Managers may also be using the method as a means of creating the Hawthorne effect eventually leading employee cynicism. Management manipulates initiatives for employee involvement as a means of getting improved employee productivity at no extra cost to the organization. This method is; therefore, open to abuse by management that is seeking to achieve purely selfish ends.
The human relations school had a great impact in management theory and leadership development over the 20th century. It helped in the improvement of the workplace for the worker, considered as a human and not an automaton with the adoption of the theory. The theory is still influential to researchers and thinkers in organizational leadership. Despite its shortcomings, the theory has positively influenced the development of better working environment for employees and led to improved productivity.
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