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The issue of inappropriate board behaviour leading to the spectacular downfall of businesses large and small has been a regular feature of the business landscape since time immemorial. Those that make the headlines become the catalysts for the next merry go round of public indignation, press repudiation and political machination. There have been several deep and serious public enquiries within our lifetimes: Cadbury Report in 1992, Turnbull Report in 1999, Higgs Review in 2003 to name a few.
This is a summary of our GDPR journey and the most significant learning points we had with data protection. For those of you who just like to skip to the end, here’s a quick list. It is predicated on the assumption that like us, you already believe you are doing a good job in terms of both the letter and spirit of data protection.
Performance in the workplace is tough to assess. Too often, bosses hold onto vague judgements about how “hard working” or “enthusiastic” an employee is, or how good they are at “leadership”.In this warped world of subjective judgement, anecdotes make the evidence. Start scraping away at strongly held beliefs that bosses have about staff and often their reasons for thinking about people in a certain way is tenuous: “the person is busily beavering away when I pass their desk in the office” is somehow evidence of their conscientiousness. “They were very quiet during the last couple of team meetings” is incontrovertible proof that they lack energy. Perhaps we do this out of habit. After all, when we meet new people in a social environment our instincts and early interactions with them help us make a decision about the kind of person they are.
Performance assessments in the workplace should be strictly evidence-based. This throws up several challenges. What aspects of performance are measurable? How can they be measured? What are the difficulties in measuring these things? And how can these pitfalls be avoided? Here are four fundamental difficulties when it comes to measuring performance.
Difficulty 1: Finding things to measure
Performance assessments should include factors that can be assessed quantitatively. This could include productivity increases, revenue or units produced or sold. However, the emphasis on easy-to-measure factors shouldn’t be taken too far. It’s easy to measure attendance but if a team’s absentee rate is generally OK then one could question how useful it is to spend valuable time measuring this.
Difficulty 2: Trying to measure things that are difficult to measure
Quality is very difficult to assess because it is easy to slip into subjectivity. However, it is possible to get around this pitfall by framing quality in quantitative terms. For example, you could calculate what percentage of work done has to be redone, or what percentage of work has a successful outcome. In sales, what percentage of leads does a salesman successfully convert into closed deals?
It is true that some factors, like creativity, are very hard to measure. The most common response is to try and measure creativity in terms of output. However, some scholars have tried to also assess the process of creativity, for example, by employing Williams’ Taxonomy of creative thinking skills.
Difficulty 3: Using the ratings scale
Ratings scales, which for example assess a performance factor on a scale of 1 to 5, have a number of advantages. They are standardised, structured and easy to use. However, they have many shortcomings. Firstly, if the assessor is not subjective, neither is the assessment. Appraisers that are non-confrontational or busy can end up awarding too many middle of the road ratings. Harsh appraisers can award too many ratings at the lower end of the scale, and overly generous appraisers can end up doing the opposite. The ratings scale then becomes little more than a manifestation of the assessor’s prejudices in numbers. Secondly, being forced to use something as rigid as a ratings scale can reinforce the “halo” and “horns” effect, with assessors marking employees they see as “good” highly and being unfairly harsh with employees they think of as “slackers”.
Difficulty 4: Making Performance assessment too one-way
It’s natural to think of performance assessment as a top-down thing. However, self-assessment should be an important part of the endeavour. After all, how a person thinks about their performance is intrinsically linked to how they perform. There is no point completing a 100% accurate performance appraisal and then shoving it under the subject’s nose, expecting them to take it in. Bring them into the conversation, incorporate their own insights into the final product, and the employee is much more likely to pay heed to what it actually says.
Peer assessment can be valuable too – often peers have more interaction with the subject than the assessor and can offer useful insights into behaviour patterns.
Mens sana in corpore sano: “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. We’ve learned to think about the workplace in similar terms: a happy, efficient worker is the key to an organisation that is similarly sound. Little wonder then that so many companies now prioritise employee engagement as a fundamental factor influencing how the firm performs.
Employee engagement is all about making sure that the people that work for a company are aligned with the organisation’s ethos and aims. And that they are continuously motivated to pursue these goals. All the time, employees should feel that they are improving their own skills, performance and sense of self. Most employees are not actually “engaged”. A Gallup State of the Global Workplace report found that just 13% of employees across the world are engaged at work.
The flaw in measuring employee engagement once a year and then forgetting about it for another 12 months should be immediately clear. An annual survey only delivers a snapshot of the employee’s performance and satisfaction levels in the workplace. It also doesn’t push you to follow up on the person and make sure that improvements and targets suggested in the yearly meeting are actually being carried out. There is nothing more tedious than an engagement meeting that is just a repeat of the conversation you had with the person the year before. Or an engagement survey which ultimately has the subject ticking the same boxes and writing the same comments that they did 12 months previously.
When VoloMetrix CEO Ryan Fuller used analytics to look into the attrition levels of one firm, he found that the engagement of employees steadily dropped over a 52 week period up until the time they finally decided to quit. This example powerfully makes the case for continuous engagement measurement; otherwise, by the time you realise that an employee is unengaged, it could be too late.
So, what are some of the best ways to measure engagement continuously? Carrying out shorter variations of the annual engagement survey several times throughout the year is a popular option. Some companies ask their employees to complete short weekly or even daily rapid pulse surveys.
The methods for tracking the general engagement “mood” of a company in real-time continue to develop. For example, Toyota has famously pioneered the Japanese NikoNiko calendar. Each day all the team members insert a happy face, neutral face or sad face under their name on the calendar, to signify their mood.
Quizzes, surveys or calendars that rely on the input of the subjects themselves have limitations, however. Although they provide a good insight into how engaged employees think they are, the extent to which they are useful at revealing how engaged employees actually are is questionable.
Fortunately, analytics has the potential to resolve this problem. In the era of big data, we can collect and process an unprecedented range of new data. Crucially, these not only grant new insight into engagement levels, but can also be measured continuously over time. They include the willingness of an employee to carry out discretionary extra work outside of office hours to get larger tasks done; their attendance at informal, optional meetings; and their connections with colleagues outside of their immediate team.
In an article for Forbes, HR expert Josh Bersin touches on the future direction of this field. He describes how he recently visited a firm “who build their own internal ’employee sensing’ system that shows how well employees like each other, their level of trust, and who they collaborate with in a real-time basis.” What should we take away from this cutting edge example? The future of measuring engagement will be a combination of frequent surveys and big data. It will also become ever more sophisticated as time goes on.
Performance management is a task dreaded by many and performed well by few. The good news is that there are a selection of very common pitfalls. If you identify these and conscientiously avoid them, then you are already ahead of the game. Here are three common errors and how to avoid them:
Mistake 1: Seeing performance management as an annual event rather than an ongoing process.
Do you know where the tradition of annual appraisement comes from? They are a hangover from the era of big, top down corporations and ruthless yearly meetings that could end your career. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2013/05/06/time-to-scrap-performance-appraisals/) Bosses would tell employees whether they had met their targets, hand out bonuses to top performers, and fire the weakest links. It’s worth pointing this out if only to demonstrate the sheer ridiculousness of the idea that one meeting a year is a good way to do staff appraisals. Nonetheless, many of us continue to make this fundamental error.
HR Daily Advisor 2014 Performance Management Survey found that over 40% of respondents were not following up with employees after their assessment. Performance management is a continuous process, and should be a constant priority. Ask yourself this: can your company afford to have staff making the same mistake over and over for a whole year- until their annual appraisal meeting comes around?
Solutions: make performance management a continuous process, and hold several informal assessment meetings with employees throughout the year. These should still be structured conversations and touch on the same areas as an annual assessment, although in less depth. You can also try and keep things fresh and relevant by focusing on recent performance and progress in the context of current projects. Some HR experts recommend that bosses keep a performance diary on their staff and staff keep their own performance diary about themselves. This way, there are no time gaps in the performance process, and it’s more difficult for achievements or failures to slip the net.
Mistake 2: The assessment process is too one-way
It’s not very pleasant for an employee to be ushered into a room and have their boss go through a laundry list of their ostensible faults. If getting better out of them is the aim then this approach is likely to backfire. People find it difficult to hear criticism. A study by PsychTests found that two thirds of people dwell on their failures, 41% have argued with someone because they felt unfairly criticised, and 34% feel less motivated to work after they have been criticised. Treat criticism like a minefield and tread with care.
Solutions: according to the American Management Association, a 360 degree system that includes peer reviews and self reviews is best. Inviting employees to read out their self review first can be a good way to start the meeting, so that they won’t be on the defensive as soon as the meeting begins.
Mistake 3: The feedback is too vague and not evidence based
Firstly, performance assessment should be based on actual outcomes – tangible achievements and failures – rather than character traits. Too often, bosses obsess over whether an individual is enthusiastic or hardworking enough, or has strong enough leadership or teamwork skills. The problem is these concepts are subjective, and impossible to assess fairly unless you are literally observing the subjects all of the time. When managers tend to rate performance objectives on one part of the scale, and don’t base their ratings on proper data, this can be an indication that they are being too harsh, too soft or too indecisive when assessing individuals. This can ultimately completely distort the performance assessment too.
Solutions: firstly, focus on whether the employee achieved concrete goals. Did they increase productivity by X%? Meet their target of bringing in £X worth of extra sales? Of course, this is much harder to do if you haven’t already been having an ongoing discussion about targets. This ties perfectly into mistake 1 – you have to see performance management as a continuous process.
Secondly, never stop questioning whether your approach to scoring is fair and balanced. Know the signs that something has probably gone wrong. The Western Washington University’s performance manual suggests that if a manager consistently rates individuals in the middle of the rating scale, the assessment is probably not accurate. Similarly, if more than 20% of your ratings are at the higher part of the scale, it is possible that you are being too generous with your scoring. If more than 20% are at the bottom end you may be being too harsh.
In conclusion, performance management is tricky. Approach this field with care and apply the three C’s: show Continuity, Collaborate with your employees and don’t stop Criticising your objectivity.
Big data. It’s the most important buzz phrase in tech right now. The term does exactly what it says on the tin; big data just means lots and lots of complex data. So much of it in fact that conventional data processing or analysis applications are rendered totally inadequate.
Zeal for big data and the advanced analytics required to process it is yet to make a particularly dramatic impact on the HR industry. In fact, many HR practitioners are downright sceptical: a recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey found that 55% of respondents were unconvinced that big data analytics could make a significant difference to the world of HR. However, a big data revolution in HR could soon be on the way.
Firstly, HR practitioners will feel increasingly compelled to use big data analytics in order to do their job better. The HR industry in particular suffers from reliance on poor quality, inconsistent structured data. The sector is starting to recognise that big data processing methods could give HR practitioners unprecedented access to more accurate data, as well as new forms of semi-structured and unstructured social data.
Secondly, as big data becomes central to the business operations of more corporations, those working in the HR industry will find themselves under greater pressure to hire analytical whizzes who can operate institutions’ big data strategies. If hiring “people people” has been a HR trend in the last decade, then hiring “numbers people” with advanced software training and formidable statistical and analytical acumen could be the next big thing. Harvard Business Review touched on this idea when it recently described the data scientist as “the sexiest job of the 21st century”.
The revolution is unlikely to happen overnight, however. According to recent Bersin by Deloitte research, companies need five to eight years to become truly data-driven. It takes years to invest in the right equipment, bring in the right people, iron out big data strategies, and find a formula that works.
Firms such as KPMG are strongly in favour of leveraging big data and advanced analytics in the HR industry. In a recent report, the firm went as far as to argue that CEOs need to lead on this and make their HR departments more accountable in terms of how they are implementing big data solutions, otherwise they could get left behind.
Advocates highlight that big data and predictive modeling can grant the HR industry insights into future workforce skills and qualifications requirements. It can help boost employee productivity and retention rates. It can provide a space for collaboration and pooling of intelligence. Big data can also grant insights into how the expectations of the market are shifting- and, thus, how the sort of people that firms hire must change too
However, some challenge the idea that big data and advanced analytics will transform the HR industry. Adam Jelic, a Partner and Talent & Change Public Sector Leader at IBM, wrote in a blogpost on the IBM website in May that analytics merely “create opportunities”. It is up to the leaders and employees at companies to “implement effective and lasting change,” he adds.
In particular, Jelic argues that skepticism about big data is not the biggest challenge that HR faces currently. In fact, he seems to believe that chief human resource officers are not valued or influential enough. Jelic cites the IBM study, New Expectations for a New Era: Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) Insights from the Global C-Suite Study, which outlines that companies tend not to see human relations as an “equitable stakeholder in a company’s planning and development.” Jelic contends that in order to make sure that analytics makes a positive difference in the HR industry, CHROs need “a bigger seat at the table.”
In conclusion, the jury is still out on whether big data will be the most important HR trend in coming years. However, there is little doubt that big data in theory grants HR practitioners access to unprecedented levels of new information. Even if the HR departments in many companies forego taking advantage of big data and analytics, the mere fact that they are in existence means that discussion of their potential is unlikely to go away. Nonetheless, we should not lose sight of the spirit of Jelic’s argument, which is that people, not data, creates change. 360 feedback is all about measuring and collecting data about people’s behaviour. Its enduring relevance proves that there will always be a need to leverage “small data” too.
In a candid recent interview with Bloomberg Television, the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, hit out at sexism in the workplace. Sandberg complained that the more successful women become in the workplace, the less popular and liked they are among their colleagues. The Facebook boss’ views on this are stark: a woman’s success and her likability are “negatively correlated”. “The treatment of women in the workforce is an issue,” said Sandberg in the interview. “The assumptions that men can have both families and work and women can’t. Those are bad and those are hard and we need to change them, “ she added.
Richard Branson, who also took part in the televised discussion hosted by presenter Emily Chang, was similarly pessimistic: “I don’t think we’re going to get to a situation where boardrooms are very equal for women for another 100 years,” he sighed.
Many gender equality advocates have pinned their hopes on government policy-led change. It is perhaps disappointing, therefore, that gender equality was discussed so little during the 2015 UK election. In fact, you would have been hard pressed to find a detailed statement from David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg on gender equality in the workplace outside of their interviews with women’s magazines. If you think about it, this is quite a patronising fact. And it suggests that British politicians are in danger of discussing gender parity in an echo chamber; they seem to be only raising these issues with the audience who already feels passionate about them while at the same time they do little to challenge those who undermine equality in the workplace or prioritise the cause.
Furthermore, the only time women were discussed as a discrete entity during the election was in the context of Labour’s pink bus flop; when Labour MP Harriet Harman led a campaign through British marginals in a magenta coloured bus to try and convince women to vote Labour, it prompted a backlash against the “patronising” “Barbie” bus. The media salivated over the scandal, and ostensibly felt little compulsion to move the conversation beyond a shallow debate about whether the colour pink is offensive to women.
And yet the problem of gender equality in the workplace remains an extremely serious problem.
The gender pay gap in the EU remains stubbornly high at 17.5%. A recent report from the EU Commission for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality found that if the rate of improvement remains at current levels then it will take almost three decades to get 75% of European women into the workplace and more than seven decades for women to achieve equal pay with men. It will also be nearly 40 years before men and women do an equal amount of housework. The situation in the UK specifically is worse. The earning gap in Britain is 46% compared with 37% in the EU. Many women continue to occupy low skilled, low wage positions.
A £1 million Equality and Human Rights Commission study, due to be published later this year, will bring little good news . It is expected to provide evidence that there has been a huge surge in women suffering from discrimination at work for becoming pregnant or taking advantage of maternity leave. Campaigners hope that Pregnant Then Screwed will help expose how bad the situation has become and build pressure for serious measures to tackle the problem.
Meanwhile, a study published by law firm Fisher Jones Greenwood earlier in the spring found that women face 25% more gender discrimination than men (37% versus 12%). Worryingly, the report also found that roughly a third of discrimination cases remain ‘hidden’, as many victims do not see that filing a complaint will make a positive difference to their situation. Furthermore, just 11% of victims sought legal advice or took their case to a tribunal.
Gender inequality in the workplace is clearly a huge, multilayered problem. There is no silver bullet that will make our workplaces completely egalitarian. Governments will have to play their role in pushing for change. However, gender equality could also be inadvertently promoted by the private sector, with the natural shift towards flexible working. The latter could prove to be hugely important in transforming women’s fortunes.
A survey of 1,000 women carried out by a new organisation called She’s Back, which is aimed at connecting women returning to work with potential employers, found that three quarters of ‘women returners’ found the workplace to be too inflexible. Many also said that inflexibility had compelled them to actually quit their job before having children in the first place. If companies can strive to make the workplace more flexible, by exploring possibilities in terms of working remotely or partially from home, or giving employees greater freedom to decide their hours, then perhaps we will have broken down one more barrier to complete equality in the workplace.
Flexible working and agile working are often discussed as if they are one and the same thing. However, there is a difference. In a nutshell, agile working incorporates flexible working but it goes further.
Like flexible working, agile working means being unconstrained by traditional working hours and being able to work in an environment that strays from traditional office conventions. However, flexible working is basically about working in a different way to achieve the same performance outcome. Advocates that champion flexible working argue that it allows people to carry out their duties to the same standard as they would being in the office working regular hours. Only this way employees benefit from a better work-life balance and save money on things like transport and childcare.
Agile working takes this conversation to the next level. It explores the idea that a more fluid way of working can actually enhance job performance. As Heather Wilson, Director of People & Organisation Development at Rockpool Digital, argues in an article published on HR Grapevine.
Agile working “shifts the focus to outcomes and performance rather than time spent.” It is about “using processes, technology, people, as well as time and place, to create the optimum environment to perform,” Wilson goes on.
Paul Allsopp from The Agile Organisation also argues that agile working is “about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines [of the task] but without boundaries [of how you achieve it].”
Agile working is very much tied to how technology is creating new ways for workers to carry out their work and communicate with their colleagues. For example, improvements in mobile and broadband technology and the rise of cloud computing means it is easier for individuals to carry out office duties remotely.
However, it is important to further highlight that agile working can be achieved without necessarily spending part of the part of the week working from home. Although agile working often does partly involve working from home, agile working practices can be implemented without ever leaving the office.
In fact, agile working also represents a shake up of the office working environment, as this post on Facilities Management Journal summarises. Embracing the new philosophy may involve rearranging work spaces so that they are allocated based on their function rather than their hierarchy, or making it easier for employees to change teams or departments. It may involve creating a “team zone” where a group of employees working on a project together can interact, and providing nearby shared spaces for teams to use when they need.
Like flexible working, for agile working to be successful, employees need to have certain working attributes. Communication and self-motivation skills, and the ability to organise your own schedule are crucial. So is an ability to work remotely, which demands an extremely proactive approach to communication. 360 feedback can help to measure how suited a person is to agile working.
To conclude, perhaps there has never been a better time for businesses to explore agile working as a concept. It could be that the latest generation of people to enter the workplace- the millennials- are much better suited to agile working than previous generations. Research consistently finds them to be self-motivators and creative animals who thrive within a more fluid work structure.
Flexible working promises to be back in the spotlight in the UK for much of 2015. Why? Because, from 30 June, an unprecedented number of British workers will be eligible to apply for flexible working as new regulations come into force. Employees that work for 26 weeks or more per year will be in a position to request flexible working. Employers are, in turn, obligated to consider and respond to the request in a “reasonable manner”.
This represents quite a change. Up until now, only those with children under 17 or people who cared for a dependent adult were eligible.
Flexible working essentially means having variation in your working pattern. It may take the form of working from home, working in shifts, job sharing or working part time.
Britain may well see a rush of applications for flexible working after the new legislation comes into force. A recent survey by Jobsite found that 66% of employees would ask for flexible working if they were given the chance. However, the response will depend on the publicity that the new legislation gets. In the same survey more than three in four people did not even know about the new rules.
Although the exact number of people that will apply for flexi-working as a result of the new legislation is not yet clear, the potential advantages of an employee having more control over their work patterns is firmer territory.
According to research, flexible working has some major benefits for employees. Workers can save a sizeable proportion of their wage; commuting costs, expensive lunches and, in some cases, childcare costs can be reduced if a person can work from home or choose their hours in the office.
Flexible working can also make working a more pleasant experience. People who work from home get to avoid the stresses of the daily commute. They can also choose what to wear during the working day, their working environment and how they work. In terms of the latter, being able to choose one’s exact hours of work and coffee breaks can make working a much happier experience.
Some commentators also point out that working from home is good for the environment; someone who works from home has a smaller carbon footprint.
Flexible working can also make people more productive. This is because old-fashioned working schedules are not in sync with our body’s natural rhythms. This can result in social jet lag. With flexible working, “morning” people can start and end work early and “night owls” can do the opposite. An experiment that researchers at Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Germany recently carried out seemed to corroborate this idea. Although the experiment focused on shift workers, it is easy to see how the principle is also applicable to non-shift workers. In any case, the scholars reorganised a group of shift workers’ working schedules according to their body rhythms. They were able to increase the workers’ sense of well being and reduce their social jet lag.
However, it is also clear that flexible working is not suited to everybody. Research consistently shows that people need above average levels of self organisation and self motivation. They also need to go the extra mile in terms of demonstrating their communications skills; it can be more challenging to build and maintain good business relationships and foster a sense of teamwork with colleagues if you are away from the office much of the time. 360 feedback is a good way to assess whether an individual is well suited for flexible working.
In March, the chief financial officer of Google, Patrick Pichette, announced his resignation. The reason he gave caused a stir. He said he was leaving to spend more time with his wife. “I could not find a good argument to tell [my wife] we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road,” Pichette wrote in his resignation letter. The Google high flyer plans to travel the world with his spouse before possibly exploring new leadership opportunities.
A flippant joke in Pichette’s statement is a revealing one: “When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that “it’s really too early to tell” if our marriage will in fact succeed.” The CFO’s jest and decision to leave his prestigious position at one of the most powerful companies in the world raises interesting questions about career satisfaction and how, for many of us, a work-life balance remains an elusive dream.
Research clearly indicates that many UK employees feel that they are not achieving a good work-life balance. One recent study by the private banking firm Investec found that a quarter of British workers were dissatisfied with this aspect of their job. Moreover, 29% of respondents said that their work-life balance had outright degenerated since 2010. That said, a third felt optimistic that things would improve over the next five years.
London workers seem to be the least satisfied with their work-life balance. Over one fifth of workers felt that their profession ate up too much of their time. Almost 40% said their families considered them to be “workaholics”.
The head of banking at Investec, Wayne Preston, has suggested that today’s labour force could be struggling with work-life balance partly because technology and the realities of working in a global marketplace make it more difficult to cut oneself off from the office out of hours.
Flexible working is emerging as one of the most important potential solutions to the work life balance conundrum. An interview with a senior Deloitte partner with twin five-year-olds published on efinancial careers recently demonstrates the advantages of flexible working. In the article, Emma Codd describes how she benefits from working from home on Fridays, when she gets to also take her children to school and pick them up.
“I never book in any face-to-face meetings – although I do do calls – and it’s an opportunity for me to clear some time and really work on the strategic elements of my roles,” she says. In the interview, Codd also talks about taking a five-week sabbatical this year, which she says will give her some time to be a full-time mum.
Interestingly, in the interview, Codd claims that agile working is “an imperative”, especially for parents. There may well be truth in this position, given the growing child care crisis in the UK. The Family and Childcare Trust’s Childcare Costs Survey 2015 found that families are increasingly likely to be better off if one parent gives up work to look after the children. The cost of a part-time nursery place had risen by a third over the last five years to around £6,000 per year, which is £1533 more than in 2010. Flexible working can potentially alleviate some of the burden: If one parents has a flexible working schedule then childcare fees can be reduced. If both can work flexibly then the cost can even possibly be avoided altogether.
Flexible working is also good for the environment. The biggest reason why is it reduces the need to travel. As travel is responsible for 22% of UK carbon emissions, the environmental benefits of working from home are significant.
However, some commentators have voiced concern that flexible working could be a cynical way for businesses to cut costs. After all, research has found that flexible working can cut office costs by as much as 13%. A 2013 Vodafone survey found that flexible working could save UK businesses £34 billion just by freeing up costly desk space; it is estimated that the average cost of a desk space in the UK is £5,746.
The latter may not necessarily be a bad thing however. It is difficult to implement cultural changes in the workplace unless businesses can see something in it for them. And if flexible working can save businesses money and make the workforce happier then surely that is a win-win situation.