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Aug 20, 2017

How to Become a Leader’s Leader

Here’s a leadership self-assessment worth taking to discover where you sit as a leader

The 20 questions that comprise this diagnostic are organized across 4 unique dimensions – Personality, Proficiencies, People and Presence. I call it the “4Ps Leadership Snapshot.” The assessment is quite easy to administer. While this survey can be leveraged in a variety of ways, including within a “360-evaluation” format, by reporting-line manager to subordinates, or simply used as an interview script by a hiring manager / hiring committee, it’s worth taking on your own to identify your leadership strengths as well as to recognize some areas for improvement.

The scale that you use is up to you. High, Medium and Low works just fine. But, you can spruce it up to any way you like using a numbered and / or a weighted scale as you see fit. Regardless, take it and it will give you a snapshot of where you are as a leader and will provide a perspective on where you can work to do better.

The 4Ps Leadership Assessment Snapshot:

Personality – How you’re wired.

1. Inquisitiveness: Is curious and interested in new ways of “thinking” and “doing”

2. Resolve: Has a willingness to push against status quo and maintains convictions to drive needed change

3. Emotional Intellect: Makes time to know and truly care about other people and their concerns and aspirations

4. Vitality: Is energetic and passionate about business and its evolution

5. Initiative: Is sincerely interested in producing new content that shapes new ways of thinking and doing

Proficiencies – What you do well.

6. C-Suite Impact: Possesses advanced consulting & advisory skills that have influenced action at the senior client executive level

7. Market Expertise: Is knowledgeable and is current on industry trends, disruptions, needs and can translate that understanding into big ideas that create value

8. Value Proposition Positioning: Has the ability to demonstrate how to solve client challenges within a senior leadership setting.

9. Communication: Is an outstanding communicator, skilled at messaging in both verbal and written form.

10. Teaching: Can demystify complex concepts for improving client executive understanding of them

People – How you get the best out of others.

11. Relationship-Building: Is exceptional at developing new relationships based on trust and confidence

12. Team-Building: Actively develops the capabilities of their team by leveraging the strengths and aptitudes of its individual members

13. Community-Building: Fosters an environment for sharing and developing ideas among their teams that can be used to extend market reach and industry influence

14. Coaching and Feedback: Is committed to providing advice and feedback to team members that enables improvement in individual performance

15. Diplomacy: Able to achieve desired outcomes through negotiation and tact

Presence – Your ability to generate respect and project confidence.

16. Executive Authority: Has exhibited Board and C Suite executive presence and is comfortable leading at that level of an organization

17. Results Influencing: Demonstrated ability of translating big ideas into differentiated product and service offerings

18. Market Presence: Highly credible and influential within the industry

19. Business Building: Track record of driving new net business into their organizations

20. Talent Development: Has the ability to attract, develop, retain and leverage superstar talent.

To close, my firm’s use of this diagnostic indicates that there is a high correlation between the archetype leadership attributes brought forward in the 4P Leadership Snapshot and success as a leader. While self-assessments can be skewed (some people tend to grade themselves uncompromisingly, while others are more apt to be soft graders when it comes to evaluating one’s own performance), this tool should still be able to help you to see what you do well and where you need some work. As always, if you’d like to some assistance in bringing this type of diagnostic to your organization, please reach out. And I’ll work with you on How to Become a Leader’s Leader

NOTE: This piece was originally published by Inc. on June 19, 2017.

Jul 7, 2017

Strategy is about setting direction and managing change

Strategy is about setting direction and managing change.

Listen-in on a wonderful conversation that I had with Kevin Eikenberry about my latest book, It’s Good To Be King and what it means to be a remarkable leader.

The Remarkable Leadership Podcast is a weekly podcast with Kevin Eikenberry, speaking to leadership experts and leaders in a wide range of industries around the world. Kevin hand-picks guests to help the audience see the world differently, lead more confidently and make a bigger difference for those they lead. Topics include leadership, teamwork, organizational culture, facilitating change, organizational learning, and human potential.

Jun 2, 2017

How Leadership Fables Make You a Better Leader

Read a leadership fable if you don’t want to be overburdened with heavy business jargon and over-complicated management ideas

Can a leadership fable make you a better leader? The short answer is Yes! If you don’t want to be overburdened with heavy business jargon and advanced management concepts, a fable can make you a better leader. Consider these management fables:

  • The Servant

by James C. Hunter

Crafts a tale about a Monk and a businessman to help the reader learn how leadership is about serving those you lead.

  • Who Moved My Cheese

by Spencer Johnson with Kenneth Blanchard

Presents a story of mice in a maze to drive home the point that attitude matters most in times of great transition.

  • Our Iceberg Is Melting

by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

Employs penguins on an iceberg as a device to suggest an approach to manage change.

  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

by Patrick Lencioni

Uses a fictitious CEO to help the reader learn how to overcome obstacles to success.

Each of these books offers great advice through vivid storytelling and easy-to-read and easy-to-relate-to narrative.

Indeed, fables can simplify what textbooks make complex. This style of storytelling can be particularly valuable for young professionals who are early in their leadership careers as well as everyday people who just want to be better leaders in their personal life.

That’s why I wrote, It’s Good To Be King.

I wanted to simplify the message so that leaders of all kinds — whether in business or in the community — can learn and become exceptional leaders. In fact, the book contains over 60 leadership tips which summarized for easy consumption and quick reference at the end of each chapter.

Here is a small sample of the kinds of tips that you’ll find in It’s Good To Be King:

1. New Leaders need to create and share a vivid and compelling vision in order to engage and inspire their people.

2. An “outside-in perspective” can inform what the “new normal” can and should be. Seeing the world from the viewpoint of those that an organization (or the group) serves will enable breakthrough thinking and lead to the delivery of exceptional results.

3. Communication is the key to engagement. Your people need to know where you are, what you want and how you expect them to get there. Be sure to put the right kinds of communication mechanisms in place to keep your group properly informed.

4. It’s almost never too late to right the ship. Even when the situation looks dire and the challenges insurmountable, there may be a path to success that can be discovered through creative thought and perseverance.

5. Taskmasters will devastate self-starters and those with the aspiration to contribute within a collaborative work setting.

6. Being “in it together” is the only way to drive widespread change. People want to be part of something bigger than them. Make a “cause” out of your transformation effort by helping people understand what’s in it for them and they will pull together to make it happen.

To close, regardless of the context in which you lead – at work, in the community, where you volunteer–a fable can make you a better leader. Pick one up, read it and you’ll surely agree!

 Note: This piece was originally published by Inc. on May 8, 2017.
May 15, 2017

So, You Want to Be a Disruptor?

Here are some key questions to answer that can enable the breakthrough thinking needed to re-imagine your products, services and industry

Mesmerized by industry innovators like Google, Apple and Uber, business leaders of all sorts want to become “disruptors” within their respective industries. Easier said than done!

Interestingly, the key to unlocking the kind of breakthrough thinking needed to support an aggressive agenda of innovation lies with the leadership and culture of the organization. These are the only elements that can be leveraged to differentiate a firm from its competitors and enable the possibilities required to disrupt an industry.

Why does it come down to leadership and culture? The answer is simple, leadership drives behavior, behavior establishes culture. It’s that simple! So, here are some basic questions to begin to ask yourself about your organization. The answers to these questions will establish the platform from which to disrupt.

On Leadership

1. What are the leader attributes required to drive transformation to achieve your Vision?

2. Which of the attributes do you believe are strengths among your mid-tier management?

3. Which of the attributes do you believe are weaknesses among your Leaders? How would you begin to transform the weaknesses into strengths?

On Culture

1. How is the current culture (beliefs, behaviors, assumptions) facilitating or hindering movement of your teams towards achieving transformation objectives?

2. How are definitions of responsibility, decision-making, and structure facilitating or hindering movement of your teams towards your Vision?

3. How do you navigate competing internal priorities and drive innovation?

On Transformation and Change

1. Do you feel your organization is agile enough to be competitive? Can you move at the speed required to drive change with velocity? If not what needs to be done to increase agility?

2. What is your approach to drive transformation for enhancing the customer experience?

3. What is your strategy to move your team to optimize its interactions with its internal customers?

On Talent and Development

1. Do you think that attracting, inspiring, retaining and deploying top talent is a priority for the firm? What are you doing to facilitate that?

2. How do you develop your team, engage and develop junior levels, show you care?

3. How do you mentor staff to build high performing and diverse teams?

On Client Relationship, Opportunities and Innovation

1. How do you innovate at the firm?

2. How does the firm influence its industry? What more should be done?

3. How do you inspire entrepreneurial thinking and behavior?

On Breaking the Current Paradigm

1. What 3 things should the firm stop doing to enable to achieve your vision?

2. What 3 things should firm do to enable its leaders to accomplish transformation objectives?

3. What keeps you up at night when thinking about the state of your organization? What are you doing about addressing those concerns?

To close, it is important to recognize that these questions are only the beginning for your journey towards creating a culture that can innovate and disrupt. The “fun” begins when an organization commences the hard work to transform. As always, please reach out to me directly if you would like a sounding board to assist you in your efforts.

NOTE: This piece was published by Inc. on March 27, 2017.

Apr 4, 2017

10 Tips for Everyday Leaders

Here are 10 leadership tips derived from my latest book

My latest book, It’s Good To Be King, just came out last week.

If you read it, it will help you to become a better leader.

If you’re a regular reader of my column, you already know that I aim to demystify what many management gurus make complex. This book is no exception. But, it is a departure from my standard fare.

It’s Good To Be King, is a leadership fable. In fact, you may want to consider it a bedtime story for modern day leaders. It is intended to be read and enjoyed by all kinds of leaders, including those who lead others in business, their communities, places of worship and volunteer organizations.

At the end of each chapter, I include some highlights (or takeaways) that you can derive from the allegorical story. There are over 60 tips intended to help everyday leaders. Here are 10 Tips for Everyday Leaders that you’ll find in the book:

1. Leadership makes or breaks every group and organization. Even prosperous enterprises cannot afford to rely on past success to assure enduring achievement.

2. Sometimes the need to lead is thrust upon you. When this happens, you have a choice: rise to the occasion or let someone else take charge and live with the consequences of that decision. Either way, a leadership void will always be filled.

3. Dedicate yourself to being open to learn new things. Sometimes leaders forget how to listen and learn. Don’t fall into that trap. You don’t have to have all of the answers all of the time.

4. Welcome those who can coach and teach. Even world-class athletes have coaches. Surround yourself with people who can make you better. Stated another way, accept your Yoda!

5. A foolish student laughs at knowledge. Begin to look backwards to inform your outlook for the future.

6. Gain a full understanding of where your organization or group is today and how it got there, so that you can define a path forward that is right for the current situation.

7. Leadership styles don’t discriminate. Poor leaders come in many shapes and sizes. Regardless of appearance, a poor leader will wreak havoc on any group or organization of which they are allowed to lead.

8. Deceitful leaders will destroy all trust within an enterprise or group. Once trust deteriorates, the culture becomes cut-throat as each team member begins to only focus on their own selfish interests.

9. Narcissistic leaders will ruin any esprit de corps that exists within a group. When the sense that we’re all “in this together” disappears, the best, most capable staff members begin to disappear, too.

10. The most talented among us want to be part of a team that shares the wealth. Be sure to the kind of leader that shares credit and promotes their team.

To close, this is just a small taste of the kinds of stuff that you’ll get out of the fable that underpins the book. If you lead others, in any capacity, you will get something out of the book. It’s an easy and enjoyable read – one that I hope delights and enlightens. If you do grab a copy, please let me know what you think of it. Your feedback is sure to inform what I write about here.

Mar 2, 2017

How to Manage Business Transformation and Keep Your Sanity

Transformation work should be managed as a portfolio of projects and programs

Transforming a business is a lot like changing the tires on a truck while it is slamming down the highway at 90 miles an hour. The business world doesn’t stop just because you need to optimize your operations. No, your business still needs to be able to quickly respond to customer demands with high quality service delivery even when it’s in the midst of great transformation.

In fact, your business must be positioned to implement new capabilities and modify operations on a dime, regardless of what is going on behind the scenes. But, during times of significant change, it is not unusual for work (particularly that which crosses organizational boundaries) to get “hung-up” by resource constraints and political red tape. After all, no one wants to be the one that winds up with the short end of the stick!

How to Manage Business Transformation and Keep Your Sanity?

Clearly, organizing work into a portfolio of projects and programs reduces the obstacles to quick response by offering a different perspective on the way transformation results are achieved. Resource issues and ownership challenges are resolved during the project planning stage, when the executive leadership is present and involved in priority-setting and project sourcing. Done right, transformation project teams will be cross-functional in structure and share common “team-based” goals.

Of course, there are implications for driving change in this way, including:

1. An awareness program will be necessary to expose all of the firm’s personnel to this new way of organizing and performing transformation work within the business. Indeed, the approach will need to be demystified in order to eliminate any possibility of misinterpretations or perception of threat.

2. Portfolio-Based Project Management “Next Practices” must be selected and put into place in order to ensure the smooth implementation of this concept. You will want to be sure that the best approaches to transformation are being adopted to ensure the best possible results.

3. Staff must be properly trained in project management (and their role in project team participation). Like any new skill, your team will need to be taught the basics before you can expect them to perform.

4. The business should be deliberate in establishing a common project management language. In this way, your people won’t miss a beat as the concepts are being institutionalized.

5. Once in place, project management skills must be further developed and nurtured in order to fully realize the potential of this transformation management approach. Indeed, it just the beginning of this new philosophy. So, be prepared to continue to educate and coach.

To close, this new transformation model represents a dramatic departure for most businesses in the way in which the work environment is optimized (i.e., most businesses are organized by function and it is those functional boundaries that dictate the way that work is partitioned, assigned and adjusted over time). But, managing your transformation as a portfolio of projects may be the best way to drive change, while maintaining your sanity.

As always, please feel free to continue to drive the discussion by offering your ideas and comments below or reach-out to me directly. It’s an important topic that deserves more attention.

Feb 2, 2017

Forge A Business Ecosystem

The days of the self-sufficient and self-sustaining business are long gone. Business owners must recognize the need to join forces with other businesses in order to flourish.

Here is simple assumption for you to get your head around: Businesses will always seek to establish new types of partner relationships that clearly define mutual gain for the parties involved. Fairly straight-forward, right?

Of course it is! And, it’s because of this hypothesis that businesses of all sorts and sizes are forging new commercial arrangements with one another. As a result, immense networks of interdependent parties have emerged. In turn, each one of these forms unique ecosystems from which all of the member businesses benefit.

With the continual advancement of technology making inter-business bonding easier, you can be sure that the evolution of these New Economy Ecosystems will continue. That said, as a business owner you’ll need to see how and where you can fit. Here’s why:

Rationale for Ecosystem-Building

The game has changed. The days of the self-sufficient and self-sustaining businesses are long gone. The global marketplace requires businesses to establish highly integrated and cooperative relationships with one another. It rewards speed and flexibility.

Consequently, new inter-company relationships continue to be established in order to help firms respond to changes in their respective markets.

Businesses cannot afford to be an exception. Ecosystems seek to forge new types of relationships with their members that provide economies of scale and greater reach than can be achieved by any single entity on its own. Indeed, joining and contributing to larger ecosystems is essential to survival – especially for smaller businesses.

However, there are several implications that must be considered, including:

1. New strategies will need to be created that can leverage the opportunities that ecosystem participation offers.

2. Similarly, innovation will be a key driver for flourishing within one’s ecosystem. Thus, new ways of thinking and doing will need to be considered and implemented as opportunities to introduce new products and services emerge faster than ever before.

3. As a result, speed counts! Therefore, steps will need to be continually taken within every business to become more agile in order to keep up with the demands of ecosystem partners and their customers.

4. Businesses will have to work with a larger industry community, including competitors, in order to establish new kinds of business arrangements that work within the ecosystem. Exposure of one’s competitive strategies and protection of associated trade secrets will continue to be huge considerations when seeking advantages from ecosystem membership.

5. Existing contracts and agreements may need to be embellished and new rules created, in order to better support the re-definition of attendant business relationships.

6. Lower-level business managers must be on the “look-out” and be prepared to explore new ways of defining their firm’s relationships with the providers that they work with – continuing to be keenly aware of new opportunities to leverage existing partner relationships in novel ways to drive advantage.

7. Front-line staff will need to be trained in contract administration in order to better manage the business relationships that they are responsible for maintaining on behalf of their companies

There is no doubt that, as the new economy continues to evolve, it is imperative for business leaders, regardless of size, to actively seek-out opportunities to participate in broadening their reach and capabilities through participation in business ecosystems. They must recognize the need to join forces in a larger community of players to remain vital and prosperous in the years ahead.

To close, this article only touches the tip of the iceberg regarding business ecosystems. So, please feel free to continue to drive the discussion by offering your ideas and comments below or reach-out directly to me. It’s an important topic that deserves more attention.

Jan 10, 2017

Human Operating System?

These 6 business sub-systems must be fully aligned and integrated to enable flawless execution.

I bet if I asked you what your company is all about you’d give me that same ol’ rehearsed elevator pitch. You’d be able to tell me what it does and why it’s important. But, if I asked you how. You just might stall. The answers on “how” a business does what it does lies in its unique combination of systems that governs how it executes its mission.

I like to call this collection of systems the organization’s “Human Operating System.”

Your firm’s Human Operating System is, of course, informed by your vision, enabled by your strategic plans and is translated into company culture. Here are the key parts of every Human Operating System:

1. Work Design Systems - These systems define how your business is organized. It determines your reporting lines, you workflow and the nature of your production and service delivery processes. These systems must be optimized and aligned to achieve your vision.

2. Communication Systems – These systems include, both, the formal and informal ways in which your business communicates within and without. Time must be spent to design these systems in a deliberate fashion. You want to achieve transparency and to field the necessary tools that make open, honest and ease of communication as simple and straight-forward, as possible.

3. Decision-making Systems - Decision-making support systems take many forms and provide many functions. They can be underpinned by “Big Data” and sophisticated analytics engines which crunch data and present it in meaningful ways. These systems also include the style in which decision-making is done by a firm, including such “soft” subjects as collaboration tendencies, empowerment levels and problem escalation principles. Care must be taken in the design and implementation of these systems because you want to ensure synchronicity with other desired company culture objectives.

4. Change Management Systems – These systems include all of the processes and procedures used to set direction and manage change. How well your people handle the natural evolution of your business environment is dictated by the change management systems that you put into place. These systems should be carefully developed to enable the “preparedness” of your organization.

5. Talent Management Systems - These systems entail the acquisition, retention and development of your human capital. Also included in these systems are training, career path design, job classifications and skills prerequisites. These systems must be fully integrated into your strategic thinking to ensure that the organization is hiring and developing for the future and not just filling its current open positions.

6. Measurement and Reward Systems - These systems must be tied to the work design systems so that measurements are done as work is performed and not counted and tallied after the fact. Additionally, rewards systems must be based on the achievement of desired outcomes, at both, company and individual levels, and not on effort or tenure.

To close, what does your organization’s Human Operating System look like? Is it fully aligned with your vision story and does it enable the execution of your strategies? If so, count yourself lucky – few businesses can claim full alignment and integration of the critical systems that comprise its Human Operating System. If not, keep the faith, there’s plenty of help available to assist you in re-imagining how to make them work in unison and achieve your greatest business goals and objectives. Don’t be afraid to reach out for what you need.

This article was published by Inc. on 5 December 2016.

Dec 15, 2016

C-Suite Tip Number 1 – Focus on Middle Management Leadership

Engage your middle management to secure your strategic success.

We all know about the pyramid structure. It’s a generic way to think about an enterprise and how most are organizationally design. Divided into three layers, the top layer of the pyramid is comprised of the senior-most leaders. These are the people responsible for setting strategic direction and guiding the enterprise towards its future. While certainly concerned with quarterly performance, the leaders at the top of the pyramid must also have a forward-thinking, “Where will we be in 5 years?” kind of mindset.

The middle layer of the pyramid is comprised of the middle management of the organization. These people must be able to interpret the strategic direction set forth by the senior leaders and translate it into actions that the units that report into them can understand and act upon. While these managers certainly care about strategy, their primary focus is this year. Can we do what we need to day this year to reach our goals and objectives?

The lower layer of the pyramid is comprised of supervisors and rank and file. This layer is responsible for execution. Their time frame is much different from the managers and senior leaders. Their point of reference is today. Can we do the work that must be done today, on-time and on-budget? And, they inherently understand, that they will suffer the consequences of poor performance, if they don’t.

So, when it comes time to roll-out your next key strategy, where do you begin? In the middle, of course!

The middle management team makes or breaks strategic execution! As mentioned, they’re the ones that must interpret the strategies and translate them into something that is actionable by the rank and file. If they fail to do this well, the organization falters, resources are squandered and, unfortunately, many times heads roll.

Here are 3 essential tips to get them on-board (and, by doing so, improve your chances for success in the launching your firm’s next strategic initiative):

  • Tell and Teach: Think about it, you’re asking your mid-tier managers to act as teachers. And, to teach well, they must first understand. So, commit to establishing the understanding that they’ll need to help the rest of your organization grasp and commit to your vision and strategic plan. Do all that you can to help them comprehend all of the content and nuances of those strategic elements so that they can do a bang up job of translating them for your people.
  • Jump-Start The Messaging: Don’t leave it up to your middle management to determine how they will go about the work of interpretation and translation for their teams. Instead, take the time to think about all of the implications and likely actions that you would want them and their people to tackle in helping the organization execute its strategies. Craft a template for them to use to deliver the message.
  • Orchestrate The Cascading: Once you equip your managers with the requisite know knowledge and messaging content they can begin to cascade the message throughout the rest of the organization. However, they may not do this in an disciplined and rigorous way. So, be sure to orchestrate cascading of the information by establishing a roll-out schedule that details when the managers will will do the work of strategic messaging.

After all, you want to make certain that all of your organization understands the company vision, strategies and, most importantly, their roles in the subsequent execution and achievement of your goals and objectives. If you can do this, you will have done your job.

To close, senior leaders need to focus on the middle of their organizations in order to achieve their strategic intentions. If you can engage the middle management, they will do the rest. If you don’t, your strategic execution will fall flat. It’s really as simple as that!

Note: If you like this article, which was published by Inc.com on October 31, 2016, please subscribe to my Inc. column.

Nov 1, 2016

What We’ve Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate: How to Create a Solid Communications Strategy

With all of the communication tools and technologies available today, why do so many businesses still have a communications problem? Here’s a simple 7 step process for building a solid communications program.

Many firms suffer from poor communications. It’s my theory is that too few firms have the necessary communications program in place to do it well. Take the following steps to develop an effective communications program plan:

1. Delineate your objectives – Determine what you expect to gain from your communications program. Objectives could range from enhancing service delivery and improving staff loyalty to gaining a bigger marketplace influence or upgrading relations with the media and regulatory entities.

2. Baseline your current communication practices – Once you know your objectives, perform a communications audit and evaluate how your business communicates. This characterization should involve: brainstorming with staff, interviewing senior leaders and surveying customers, suppliers and distributors with the sole purpose of discovering how, when, why and where your people communicate and message for, and about, your business.

3. Determine your key audiences – List all the audiences that the firm might want to contact, attempt to influence, or serve. At a minimum, these will likely include customers, staff, industry groups, business partners, and the media.

4. Translate these audience sectors into specific projects and programs aimed at delivering information is the best ways possible to each group – You’ll need to consider your baseline results (as determined earlier) and map that against available human and financial resources, of course. But, by crafting initiatives for each group, you’ll be much better positioned to achieve your Communication Program’s objectives.

5. Establish a timeline for execution – With the initiatives (which comprise your Communications Program) identified, it’s time to craft a calendar grid that outlines when each effort will begin and be accomplished. Group the projects and programs into 18 month intervals (what I like to call “Implementation Plateaus”). This enables your organization to better understand what will be done when to improve its communications infrastructure.

6. Estimate costs at an implementation plateau-level - By “chunking” the work effort into 18 month intervals and giving an estimate of that total investment, you can shift dollars as needed among the initiatives that make up a given implementation plateau. This provides some wiggle room for your organization as it evolves its communications strategies over time.

7. Begin to execute and evaluate – Shape a method for measuring results into each project / program plan that you launch. Be sure to track project / program progress on a monthly basis and report it back to your senior management sponsors as you evolve each effort.

To close, a solid Communications Program plan requires about is 60-90 days to complete. Once in place, though, with the proper level of executive commitment and maintenance you will a communications asset that can be kept in sync with your organizational advancement for years to come. To learn more, just reach out to me and we can discuss it directly.

Note: This piece was originally published by Inc on October 31, 2016. If you like this article, please subscribe to my column and you’ll never miss another thought piece!

 

Copyright 2016 James M. Kerr       info@executive‑checklist.com       800‑944‑4662