Change and Change Agents

Be the Change Agent.

As a small business owner you hear about it over and over again. You know the litany of promises: change is easy if you buy this snake oil, you better change or you’ll become extinct, hire this company or that – they are change experts.

You’ve learned over and over again from snake-oil sellers, there’s no magic wand that can make things happen. You know, that things happen through effort, focus, flexibility, and more effort. You live it every day.

Regardless of what you’re told, change is hard. Technological change can be even harder.

Change – what is it?

“Change” in this post means information technology change and business process changes needed for your business. Some of your competitors may have already made significant changes as they adopt new technologies and processes.

One thing is for sure, your customers, especially the younger ones, are already used to change and changing. They anticipate features, services, and data to be available online. Regardless of your business – change is coming. Regardless of what your business — is information technology will bring change to your business.

These changes will often bring new tools. New applications. New solutions. New laws and regulations often require broad changes in your business process. All of these new tools/methods need to be brought into your organization, incorporated into your approach to business, and integrated into your business work-flows.

Change comes in many forms.

Change can take many forms such as: touchless cash payments via phone, cloud based applications, marketing and response inputs from many sources, compliance data protection and privacy requirements, increasing requests for data insights from suppliers and providers, shortened order/fulfillment cycles and expectations, increasing customer expectations for customization and personalization, etc.

Prepare for it. Just because you know change is coming – doesn’t mean you can just wave your hand and adapt to it.

You are the Change Agent

But how can you prepare to change? You need Change Agents. You need to be the main Change Agent.

A Change Agent is a catalyst that ignites change in organizations. As a leader of your organization you and your leadership team need to lead change. It takes energy, focus, persuasion, and patience to bring about change. Sometimes you need to overcome obstacles.

Resistance to Change is Real

Resistance to Change is the ability of your organization to accept and integrate change. It’s a fancy term for the “adaptability” of your organization. In some organizations resistance to change is low. These organizations are able to adapt quickly to new conditions, they are able to adopt new processes and technologies quickly. Other organizations have a high resistance to change they don’t adapt well to new conditions, they don’t adopt new technologies quickly, they tend to fear change. .

Often, resistance to change is born out of bad experiences with technology and technical changes. This is likely due to “snake oil” promises about one tool or solution. Or it is due to the wishful thinking of leaders that a tool or solution would be a “silver bullet” to solve all an organization’s needs.

You can’t wish it away. You can’t order it away. You have to face resistance to change and deal with it.

As a small business owner – you have an advantage over larger organizations.  Though your budgets are smaller, your business’s ability to adapt and change is greater. But only if you choose to use that advantage.   YOU – as the key Change Agent are the key.

Lead By Example

Don’t rely on diktat to force change from the top down – that won’t get you there. You need to rely on leadership by example.  Your job is to be sure you show them how to use the new tools or process, that you’re open to feedback about them, and that changing the change is possible.

Short List

As a Change Agent you need to remember:

  • No one change will solve all issues facing your organization.
  • No one tool will fix all problems or issues.
  • Change is not snake oil, don’t sell it like it is.
  • Change is ongoing and a way of life.
  • Like doing toe touches, the more you pursue change, the easier change becomes. Your organization can adapt and learn flexibility.
  • Change is easier if everyone involved in the change, agree on the need to change. Be sure everyone understands the value and payoff from changing. Focus on the upside of change.
  • Change is less scary if everyone knows that during the course of implementation change can be changed.
  • Change will only take hold if Change Agents act with and on the change, champion the change. Lead by example.
  • Plan on and measure the success of change, then celebrate successes, learn from mistakes.

 

Photo by Yousef Al Nasser on Unsplash

Sales Rep Turnover Impacts Customers

Sales rep turnover impacts customers in ways that vendor organizations may not always consider.  When organizations change reps frequently it really chews into the business relationship between the organizations – precisely because these relationships are based on relationships between people.

In this post, I’d like to focus on inside sales reps – since most places don’t have field sales reps unless they are independent agents.

We all understand that reps move on from company to company to seek new opportunities.  We also all understand that small businesses or low volume businesses don’t get as much sales support as large “enterprise customers.”

Sales Rep Turnover Impact Customer Perceptions

Vendor companies should not underestimate the positive impact a dedicated inside sales rep can have on the quality of a business relationship.

From a customer’s standpoint, especially a customer that is regularly ordering items from a vendor, changing the inside sales rep can be tumultuous and chip away at an otherwise solid provider-customer relationship.

Why?  Simply, the longer one works with an inside sales rep, the more orders quoted and processed, the stronger the provider-customer relationship gets. Considering the learning about one another’s organizations that happens through the sales relationship and considering the understanding of each businesses’ processes that grows, changing sales reps usually tears away that understanding of one another’s business context.

Going out on a limb here, but most customers would rather work with a stable inside sales rep who understands their constraints, their purchase process, and has an idea of their business cycle, than work with an inside sales rep who gets changed out every couple of months, or where there’s no single sales rep assigned.

Value of Long Term Inside Sales Reps

Here’s an example: we have a vendor who we have been working with for about 10 years. We frequently order IT related items from them. They even manage some of our service licenses.  We aren’t a reseller of theirs – their inside sales rep always just made it easy to work with them, and grew to learn our business. This vendor is our first stop for all quotes – even those for our clients. 

About 4 months ago, the one rep we had for 9 years deservedly got a significant promotion.  Part of the promotion was that we fell out of the tier he was now working on and, despite his efforts, we got passed on to a new sales rep.

Okay – that’s great. We haven’t had a change in so long – we were asking for a change. So we invested time in working with this new rep. Reviewing our order processes, getting to know his strengths, allowing him to see ours. We thought great – we probably have a year with this new guy. Wrong – the new guy got a promotion and needs to turn over our account to someone else.  We’ll probably go even lower down the sales food chain.

That’s what is frustrating with rep turnover – having to start over and teach the new person all about our business, how we operate etc.  When reps change frequently and if you have many vendors – you’ll quickly be having a string of irritating, repetitive, “get to know your business” phone calls.

Plea to Vendors

So – vendors – please come up with a solid strategy for changing reps that focuses on the customer.  It’s not just about “get to know you” phone calls.  You should be using your CRM, you should, especially if there’s a promotion not a separation, ensure that the promoted rep has sufficient time to brief and “on-board” the new rep with the clients assigned to them.

Reading account and contact history is important before the FIRST call is placed to the customer.  So – I know how terrible it sounds, especially for sales people – be sure to collect and keep current notes on your customers. The more you know about your customers – the more you can call them with appropriate incentives, new products, and deals.  The more you know about your customers the better you’ll be able to work out issues and problems that arise… Things like delivery issues, inventory issues, quoting and or billing errors, etc.

From our perspective, when reps turn over frequently, it discourages us from having anything more than a transactional relationship with the vendor.  

What can vendors do?

How can vendors lessen the pain of rep turnover to their customers and still encourage a deeper than transactional relationship?  Here are just a few ideas:

  • New Rep Meeting – provide a discount on next order, send useful freebies like Chromebooks, etc. All as a gesture to make up for the time spent in another “get acquainted” video conference or telephone call. Show that you understand the pain of starting over – but that it’s important to YOU that we have more than a transactional business relationship.
  • Required Reading – Before the first call or email is sent by the new rep, be 100% positive that they have visited the company website, read through the last year or so of CRM notes about purchasers at the customer’s company, get familiar with pay cycles, payments, types and quantities of things ordered, get a sense of when in the course of the year items are ordered, read up on the customer’s budgeting process – at least what you know.  Then when the call happens – ask the customer incisive questions that show even though the rep is NEW, they are already familiar with important aspects of the relationship.

While everyone is interested in growth and raising expertise and levels, changing inside sales reps can damage existing long term business relationships based on the familiarity between inside rep and customer. Stability has a significant value, changing it can damage that same relationship.  

Think and Plan Transitions

Thinking about, planning and implementing a smooth transition of reps is the best way to alleviate customer fear and mitigate risk to existing business relationships.

Honor and Culture Code

Everyone pointing in the same direction!

Last Wednesday – I ran into a progressive company in the least likely of businesses: metal stamping.

I attended a FaceBook live at the  the Roost, a local coworking center.  Two guests visited and shared information about their businesses and endeavors. (more below)

PTM Corporation’s Code of Honor

One of the guests was Donna Russell-Kuhr, CEO of PTM Corporation in Fair Haven, Michigan.  Donna shared how her organization hired a facilitator 4 years ago to help them develop and focus on a 5 year plan.  The truly intriguing part of this process was when Donna shared how the entire company came together to develop a “Mission Statement” and “Code of Honor”.

I know, I hear you yawning already. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you start getting a bit jaded about the “Mission / Vision” thing.  Not so fast! This is different. The process wasn’t top down, but bottom up.

Donna spoke with conviction, pride and clarity about the results of the process.  As she explained the inclusive, transparent and focused way they created these – one thing came through to me:  the process may have been more powerful than the results. Like an Alloyed Team, the process of self-evaluation and organizational introspection seems to have been a crucible experience of a kind.

I was struck by how proud of her entire team she seemed.  The PTM team actively contributed over many months to the process of defining what culture they want to build, develop, maintain and thrive within.

It was an “operating system” of core principles for their organization.  Not just another list of aspirations tacked to a wall somewhere. 

While you can watch it on the Facebook live recording, her in-person explanation carried real power. I felt the passion, pride and affection she has for her team and the hard-work they went through to come up with this.

Operating Guide and Decision Algorithm

Like a decision algorithm, I understood that the entire company uses this Code to make decisions and self-regulate how they operate each day.

This is the kind of spirit around culture that teams and organizations should work to create. If you take a look at their Code you’ll see how clear and easy it is to understand.

We should all strive to have a handful of clear, easy to understand, non-business jargon laden, core principles around which we can empower our teams.  Decisions suddenly stop becoming about ego and power, but about doing the right thing according to the vision and the operating principles. The decision algorithm.

Core principles defining “who we are” and that are created by all team members, can be a hugely powerful ethos around which to empower employees, focus activities, and encourage engagement.

Our Culture Code?

So where are Campbell Tech Solutions’ core principles?  Hm, we have them. Or at least I like to think that we do. But we haven’t documented them. We should.

We have our tagline that serves as an initial core principle – “services, not stuff”.  It conveys a focus on getting stuff done for clients, not selling systems, online services, etc.  But – we certainly should do more in this area. A tech company should develop a Culture Code so that new employees, clients, and all team members understand our guiding principles.  

A short, clear, and meaningful set of guiding principles or Culture Code becomes an algorithm. Each team member uses it to make decisions, keeps their daily operations within these principles, and  encourages one another to do so.

Sources

Donna Russell-Kuhr, CEO, PTM Corporation – http://www.crainsdetroit.com/awards/notable-women-manufacturing/3489567/Donna-Russell-Kuhr

PTMs Mission and Code of Honor – http://www.ptmcorporation.com/about-us/mission-statement/

4 Impediments to Nurturing A Feedback-Rich Culture –  Joanna Vahlsinghttps://www.techwell.com/techwell-insights/2018/05/4-impediments-nurturing-feedback-rich-culture

4 Inflection Points of Company Culture – Brian Halliganhttps://thinkgrowth.org/the-4-inflection-points-of-company-culture-bc801aa57cbb

The HubSpot Culture Code – https://www.slideshare.net/HubSpot/the-hubspot-culture-code-creating-a-company-we-love

Hubspot – 7 Operating Principles Slide – https://www.slideshare.net/HubSpot/the-hubspot-culture-code-creating-a-company-we-love/17-THE_CULTURE_CODE1_We_commit – The explanations are worth a read as well.

Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs on Unsplash

 

 

Why practicing good attendance matters?

  • Why does attendance matter?
  • Why should high school kids know that attendance is important?
  • Why should high school kids develop good attendance habits?

These were questions sent to members via the local Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the local school district.  I love the fact that the school reaches out for a business perspective. More than just lip service to the idea of business and education cooperation.

Why does attendance matter?  

When you first start out in a job, attendance matters. It matters because it shows you care. You care about the work. You care about the workload your teammates  have. In today’s lean staffing times, when you aren’t there – the team has to make up for your absence by working harder.

When you are at work on time your actions tell your  boss, your teammates, and your  organization:  I care and you can count on me, you can trust me to do what I commit to doing.

Being there, being on time, and being ready to work with the team or the group is a fundamental way of saying – I’m part of this, we’re in this together.

As you advance your career and you start getting more responsibilities the nature of attendance changes.  Availability becomes important.

Now, although you may not have to be physically there because you’re there via technology, you’re still part of the team. You have contributions to make, that you have folks depending on your work, and that you are depending on the work of others.  When you say you’ll be available or when you are scheduled to be available – you need to be available.

Why learn and practice good attendance in high school?

Yeah, I know, it sounds old fashioned, but promptness and attendance are fundamental aspects of professional behavior that evolve into availability, reliability, and ultimately trust.  You do what you say you’ll do, you’ll be where you say you’ll be when you agree you’ll be there. (And if not, you let everyone know well ahead of time.)

Story Time – Why does attendance matter?

One time, I hired a number of guys to help the organization I was working for.  We were moving from one place to another. Each day we met at 7AM in the hotel lobby for breakfast and coffee, then as a group we went over to the job site to pack, wire, unpack, and generally  work our behinds off doing a million things.

They were a bunch of young guys who were put up in a hotel in a city away from home. So many times after work, the guys would go off for dinner and a few beers. I let everyone know that I expected everyone to be at breakfast, ready to go at 7 AM – regardless of what they did on their own time.

How could I expect this? Once upon a time I did that kind of work and partied with the team after work. But, I rolled out of bed and got to work on time because my team, the mission, and my teammates were counting on me.

One time, someone didn’t show up at 0700. We sent one of the team to roust the guy – who said he’d get to the job site later. We had breakfast and went to the job site.  This guy didn’t show up until around 10 AM. In the meantime the entire team had to work harder to make up time, and we fell a little behind schedule.

I talked to him that day – said that this type of behavior was just not acceptable because the work doesn’t wait, and the team counts on him.  His contribution was needed. If it wasn’t he wouldn’t be on the team. A couple of days later we repeated this entire episode. It was as though he didn’t hear me at all. It seemed like he didn’t care enough about the mission or the team   I let go that same day. Why? Think about it.

So why does attendance matter?

Practicing and building good attendance and promptness when in High School and earlier, is fundamental to developing life skills that will help you later in your professional life.  

Respect your commitments and you respect yourself and those who count on you.

Promptness, attendance, and availability are fundamental to building trust with friends, business associates, work teams, and organizations you are a part of.  Whether you work at a place you love or hate, being prompt and taking your attendance seriously tells the people around you that they can trust what you say. 

Practice it when you’re young – it’s easier to establish good habits.  There will be payoffs later. 

 

Office Space: lessons and observations from coworking

All I've learned about space, I've learned from coworking.

What I’ve learned about office layout and space, I learned from Coworking.

I’ve been working remote part of the week for more than 10 years now. During that time I’ve worked in many different places – home, cafes, rented office space, and coworking centers. 

In light of all the discussion about office space and layout, I thought I’d toss in my 2 cents. In preparation for this post, I caught up with some more recent articles about office space layout.  Some of them are listed in the sources section below just in case you want to explore this topic further on your own. 

Thinking about what I’ve read and my first-hand experiences, I’d like to share some personal observations about what works and what doesn’t. 

Coworking centers that have regular clientele, quickly start to seem like a very informal, non-political, support oriented Alloyed Teams. I believe many times when companies reorganize space they are trying to achieve that same supportive, collaborative, dynamic environment. Office layout can help.

 

First the big questions:

  1. Why are you doing this?  Out of room? Want to get people to interact more naturally? Breaking down cube walls that define fiefdoms? Getting people out of offices? Want to set the stage to change culture?
  2. Who will this impact?  Who in the company will use the new office layout?
  3. Do you know what people do and how they do it?  What are their communication needs? What are their working needs?
  4. Be Honest:  what is your corporate culture – Is your culture ready or just about ready for a change like this? How will you encourage conversion to the new layout? Are you ready for an more modern office layout? Are you willing to change your behaviors and lead by example.  

Quick Disclaimer:

The coworking centers I’ve worked in have been startup focused. Often I am one or two of the only “corporate” remote workers in the place – all the others were building startups or were free-lancers.  The cultures  were high energy, positive, supportive, relaxed, and networking oriented.  The lessons I’ve learned in those situations might have limited value to “corporate” office design – but since many organizations seem to want to capture the startup culture there might be some value. 

Lessons Learned & Observations

Here are just a few things that I’ve learned:

  1. CASTERS – put everything on CASTERS so that your space and be quickly and easily moved around.
  2. Wiring – While wireless may work in many instances, I still prefer a wired location connected to a properly configured LAN. That way I get the best video/audio quality when using chat, video, etc.
  3. Avoid System Furniture – Avoid expensive system furniture. Look to furniture auctions, closing hotels, restaurants, businesses. One cool tactic I observed was getting a unique furniture or art piece and then building a room around it – e.g. a conference room built around a bargain find of a 70’s kitchen table.  Get eclectic. Conformity and sameness do little to stimulate creativity and thought.
  4. Personal Dedicated Space – we all like to have a little space to call our own. A space to personalize to some extent.  This helps us feel comfortable, connected, and somehow belonging . The primary location should be in an area that makes sense for the role/team. If you have people who are in the office more than one or two days a week think about allowing them to have a permanent camp somewhere in the office  — if that works for them. 
  5. Mixing Space(s) – Having a community space, a watering hole,  matters  — and is important.  Use a long table and diner booths so that when folks feel social they can work at a LONG table, if they want to work where there’s background noise or have a semi-private conversation they can use a diner booth. Ideally this would be somewhere by the main entrance to that people can SEE into the space and see who is arriving – all with the idea of engaging in conversation, greetings, and the “Hey, Fred, got a sec we need to ask you something….” moments.
  6. Private Communication Spaces – Setup a couple of places that are small like a phone booth where someone can go, setup a computer, or have a phone call in total privacy. This is an important feature –  a well designed space will also be like a studio and could be suitable for recording podcasts, having video conferences, or practicing presentations. One doesn’t need many of these,  but a couple makes sense.
  7. Conference Rooms / War Rooms – You need to have a few rooms that can support 4 or 5 people around a work table, with a white board, that folks can just POP into to have a conference, problem solve, or even make a quick phone call that won’t disturb others. No scheduling.  An over supply of these isn’t a bad thing since they’ll get used frequently, even if just for quiet work. 
  8. Formal Conference Rooms – You probably need one or more of these depending on the number of people and this type of activity you have. These get setup for the more formal meetings and client/prospect visits. These rooms should support 10+ and get equipped with all the fancy conference room stuff. Conference rooms can expensive – but spend a little more and THEME each room so that employees can evolve and develop their own names for the rooms.
  9. Quiet Zones –  setup zones or spaces that are designed and intended for quiet work and focus, talking, phone calls, video conferences  are prohibited in this area or on these workstations. You can use affordable cork-board, screens, some blinds, plants, or other little improvements to isolate the space(s). They should be setup so that someone who goes to the space to do focused work can rely on not being disturbed.
  10. Work Areas – This is where knowing what people do and what they really need matters.  The general or primary work area for people may be best organized by team or function. Try to avoid creation of fiefdoms marked by barriers. Keep it all function and mission oriented. 
  11. Paper Storage and Files – depending on the files these could be stored at someone’s main work area. How much file space people need can be high variable. Try to define it. AND don’t confuse SHARED team/function files with individual papers.
  12. TEAM / PROJECT Rooms – Rather than individual private offices, think about setting up rooms for Teams or Projects of a certain size or business volume. A project room would house the team’s files, offer a table for group work or meetings, and each team should be given latitude to decorate, configure and put a personality stamp on their project room. Generally these should have a white-board and space for at least 4.
  13. Culture – Build a very loose initial set of rules. The community should be encouraged to create and define it’s own culture. Minimize the formality, maximize evolution of culture through your leaders (formal and informal) who work within that space.

Changing your office space and layout can help encourage cultural change, but should only be considered after you learn more about what people are looking for. Think through and talk through the personal interactions needed to accomplish certain tasks, take a sober look at the political mix of your environment and how it functions, and decide early on – is space and how it is allocated a status of office or needs based?

Personally, I think once you start changing your approach to space by focusing on functional needs rather than one focused on status, you will be well on your way to a space/culture overhaul.  Once you’ve turned that corner – go find out and collect information about what people do and need – in their own words.   If your culture is still “old school” corporate where the corner office is allocated based on rank – perhaps look to changing that first before investing in space changes.


Sources

How to Make Sure People Won’t Hate Your New Open Office Plan – 2018 – https://hbr.org/2018/01/sgc-research-when-moving-to-an-open-office-plan-pay-attention-to-how-your-employees-feel

7 Factors of Great Office Design – 2018 – https://hbr.org/2016/05/7-factors-of-great-office-design

Balancing “We” and “Me”: The Best Collaborative Spaces Also Support Solitude – 2014 – https://hbr.org/2014/10/balancing-we-and-me-the-best-collaborative-spaces-also-support-solitude

How To Leverage Activity-Based Workspaces In Your Office Design – 2017 – https://www.teem.com/blog/how-to-leverage-activity-based-workspaces-in-your-office-design/

15 Creative Office Layout Ideas to Match Your Company’s Culture – 2018 –  https://www.snacknation.com/blog/office-layout-ideas/

 

Photo by Klemen Vrankar on Unsplash

 

 

Hands in the Mud Helping Out

This past weekend, part of the Campbell Tech Solutions team got a chance to work in the basement of a client’s facility.   We were asked to provide some help rewiring and re-terminating cables that were rerouted in the basement of a 100+ year old downtown building.

It was great fun to get out of the proverbial tech chair, put hands in mud, and help out.

The basement recently had whatever wooden floor it had before ripped up. It was dark and muddy.

One could imagine all kinds of cool uses for a large, low ceiling basement like this.  In a previous life this basement could have easily been a speakeasy dispensing rum runner drinks brought over from Canada just on the other side of the St. Clair River separating Port Huron from Sarnia.

The crew worked almost all day helping the builder move cables and restore network services at each user’s location. In the end, the cables were rerouted and each location worked, 5×5.

In some small way – we got a chance to be a part of the continuing revitalization of our downtown.

Escape Room Nabbed Us

Team Building Day – Escape Room Nabbed Us

Last Friday, the 9th, the Campbell Tech Solutions team gathered at the Loft912  in Port Huron. Our event was one of the last ones held there – the coworkers who used to be there have almost all moved over to the new coworking center at The Roost (a block or so away).

We participated in a Team Building event jointly put on by Carol at The Hallway Escape ( thehallwayescape.com )  and Kanchan from GreatWorkPlace ( greatworkplace.us ).

I know what you’re thinking – “Team Building” – just an excuse to get out of the office and mess about,  avoiding work. Right? Wrong!

The day was super structured.  We had a team breakfast at the Loft, did an escape room at The Hallway Escape, had lunch, then did some facilitated team exercises that Kanchan facilitated.

As you can tell from the photo – we never made it out of the escape room in time! So – having missed our target, we got to do time for a little bit.

The day was centered around DISC Profiles.  You can read more about them by on the net. Suffice to say each of us got a chance to gain some insight into one another’s “API” —  how we best get and transmit information.

The facilitated discussion and exercises reinforced the findings and gave each team member some structured conversation with every other member. Kanchan and Carol observed our efforts to get out of the Escape Room. They provided some valuable insights into our team dynamic.

Each member of the team seemed to enjoy themselves.  I’d say there were a few “oh really” type reactions as we learned a little bit more about one another.

At the end of the day, our sense of team was improved. Our individual sensitivities to the differences in communication styles and work approaches was heightened.  This helps us understand one another a bit more and thereby avoid trust erosion stemming from faulty conclusions drawn during difficult interactions.

Chef Shell’s ( chefshells.com ), a local eatery, did a nice job providing breakfast and a tasty hot lunch.   Carol was a great concierge – I just handed her the budget and the needs – she took care of all the arrangements for us.  Kanchan made the day worthwhile as she did significant prep work, administering the DISC tests ahead of time, and spending time with each team member reviewing their profile 1: 1 before we met. (All making for an efficient, focused day.)

In the aftermath, I posted a summary of my DISC profile report on my office door – just in case someone wants to get insight into interacting with me.  For new employees, having this information available offers a short-cut to start understanding personalities at work. It’s too bad everyone in organizations doesn’t do this!!!

We had a great day! Thank you to all our local partners in Port Huron who made this possible.

 

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