Loss Aversion In Terms Of Absenteeism In The Contact Center Environment

The fear of loss is greater than the desire for gain.” ~ Zig Zigler

In modern psychology, the theory of Loss Aversion states simply that the average person is twice as likely to want to avoid losses as to gain something. What this means mathematically is that most people will only accept a gamble when their chances of winning are greater than twice their chance of losing (when the amount of winning and losing is the same). They are also willing to gamble if their odds are equal to winning and losing if the amount of gain is greater than double to the amount loss. This is called the Equilibrium Point.

Loss Aversion & The Cost Of Calling Off

In the world of contact centers, loss aversion applies to several well-established rules or functions. One of those we can help is the way we frame Conversational Marketing Experts (CMEs) taking time off or leaving early. Many times within the contact center, the framing of this question is in what they have (number of times they can call off) instead of framing what they lose by calling off each time (average amount of pay lost, average lost raise opportunities). Many times those who are in a management position feel they have little control over the process of whether a CME is going to call off or not.

By giving real average figures (having so many call-offs immediately equals a certain loss of an amount of their raise, which equals a certain amount over a year). Which would you rather do, potentially take 1 point out of 12 to have a day off, or potentially lose $.50/hour raise which equates to $1,000/year in pay? It becomes clear that simply changing the way we frame this problem can give us the support we need to change the mindset of some of the CMEs’ decisions.

Another way to frame this is in lost Paid Time Off (PTO) from work due to absenteeism and the true costs of this in dollar amounts. Having these in an average across the company will keep us within legal and ethical boundaries and allows us to show compassion for the CME, an important Incept value.

Using Loss Aversion To Gain Productivity

Is this going to help in 50-100% of the cases? Last year alone, Gallop determined that U.S. companies lost over $84 billion in productivity, with the #1 reason for that loss being absenteeism. So while we do not expect that simply changing how we frame the issue is going to make call-offs (other than in terms of illness) go away, even a 20% drop would be significant to any business. As the cliché of politics goes, “It isn’t what you said, but how you said it”.  Changing how we implement understanding on a topic costs the company nothing, has huge returns, can increase productivity, and, if done effectively, can be accomplished without losses.

How else do you think you could reduce call-offs?

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How To Build A Performance Management System That Creates Results

At Incept, we believe effective performance management is the key to creating a team that is constantly learning and improving. Annual reviews that primarily focus on salary adjustments have become the norm, while the pace of business continues to make that model ineffective in providing clarity for employees on what success looks like or providing opportunities for growth.

Incept’s model is different.

Clearly Defining Success Makes A Difference

Here, all of management participates in a performance management process that includes 6 annual success description periods of 2 months each. For each 60-day period, the individual and manager meet to agree on the various outcomes that need to be met during the 60-day period for the employee to be considered successful. It is important to note these are SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based) outcomes that remove ambiguity for the employee and clearly explain how they will be evaluated. 5-7 items are awarded a point value that totals 30 points, with the achievement of 25 of those points being agreed to have “Met Expectations” during that Success Description period.

Success Requires Support

Just as critical, the employee has the opportunity to identify the specific items they need from their manager to achieve the level of performance required of them. That may include budget approval for items, weekly meetings, feedback on items within x days, etc. This enforces collaboration and shared accountability.

Within two weeks of the end of each Success Description period, EVERY employee has a formal one-on-one meeting with his or her manager to complete his or her performance management review. That reviews consists of the following:

  • Reviewing the employee’s Success Description points earned during the period
  • Points earned by the manager during the period
  • Each employee rating themselves and their manager on a scale of 1-5 on how well they represent each of the company values
  • The manager rating themselves and the employee on a scale of 1-5 on how well they represent each of the company values
  • Any discrepancy in either direction is discussed

The employee then receives one of three overall grades:

  1. Below expectations for the period
  2. Meets expectations for the period
  3. Exceeds expectations for the period

The accumulation of the 6 scores is what dictates someone’s annual salary increase.

Incept Succeeds When Employees Succeed

With a formal process designed to frequently review and discuss an employees’ performance, we accomplish three significant goals:

  1. Make the performance review about discussing someone’s skills and ways to impact the organization instead of solely focusing on financial compensation (which often happens in an annual review format)
  2. Create a culture of accountability, where an employee clearly owns their own goals and results and uses their boss as an advocate to help reach them not as a scapegoat to place blame on if desired results aren’t achieved
  3. Create an organizational structure that can react quickly to support new initiatives, scale for clients, or adjust to market demands

What do you like most about Incept’s performance management system?

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Where To Start When Problems Arise

“Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself. You must be able to sustain yourself against staggering blows. There is no code of conduct to help beginners. That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go much further than people with vastly superior talent.” ~ Sophia Loren, Actress

So often in business, we find ourselves looking for the very best individual for a position, when rarely encompassing that goal ourselves. We forget what helped us gain our own success and rely on outdated and outmoded “rules of business”.

Evaluate Your Evaluation Process

By evaluating our process of evaluation, we look internally towards our coaching and training methods and ask ourselves two difficult questions:

  1. Is a lack on the part of an employee due to will or skill?
  2. Are our selection process requirements pushing employees of different shapes into only two types of jobs, when we have opportunities to fill different positions that have different skill sets than the opportunities presented at hiring?

Evaluating Investments in Individual Performance & Improvement

In the call center industry in particular, we continue to espouse beliefs that say that we want a team-oriented firm, but then we judge our employees on how they did as individuals with specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), as if what they did was done in a vacuum. In both accomplishments and failures, each of us must be judged in tandem with the following:

  1. How the individual results were affected by the amount of training, coaching, and mentoring each individual received
  2. How the individual used that investment to become an improved version of the person they were the day before

If the Conversational Marketing Expert (CME) failed but was vastly improved from prior tries by our coaching, training, and mentoring, is that a success in terms of investment? This formula of evaluation must also include how much prior investment and returns on that investment occurred, the expected diminishing returns, and how much we see the investment becoming invested in other employees (in terms of paying forward returns).  Then, finally, we must consider how much we have invested in a given Conversational Marketing Expert (CME) and if their successes are due to us or their own natural talents. The next logical question is this: If we had invested more, how much better could they have been? Was the lack of investment on our part an attempt to turn a weak position into a mediocre one?

Evaluating Failure

On the flipside, when failures occur, is this a personal failure, or was there a lack of training, coaching, or mentoring on our part that created it? Is our first assumption to blame the employee, or are we ready to accept the responsibility of leadership and conduct ourselves with the automatic assumption that a lack of training for this individual (or even a team) may have caused the failure? Many times, courses are corrected and great things are discovered from prior failures. Early failures are quite often a boon. They allow us to quickly realize we need to correct some process in place before it becomes ingrained and solidified.

We, as the trusted leaders, should not be afraid to accept personal responsibility for our team members; we should use them as opportunities to demonstrate our own talents.Instead of fearing being judged on a fault or failure of a CME, we should make it our greatest priority to find the right position for that CME and then support them in having the best conversations that an individual can have in that position. One of the driving forces behind Incept is our value of Never Being Satisfied. Let us constantly ask ourselves, are we satisfied that we have done our part for every single employee? If not, who is falling through the cracks, and why is that happening?

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What Makes Incept’s Performance Management So Different?

Incept employs a process that we have yet to see replicated in any other organization and believe it to be one of the most significant differentiators in why our business is successful. Below you will find a description of exactly why this performance management process works so much more effectively than others.

Alignment of Agent Objectives to Client Standards

We believe this is one of the most critical responsibilities of a contact center leadership team, and weigh our executives’ success description goals accordingly. Collectively, the most points at risk across the entire company’s success description are based on “Achieve client-defined goals on a monthly basis”. This can be extremely challenging because each client has different objectives, and most of them have several. Some require either volume or sales, AND a sales per hour goal to be considered successful. Other clients require volume and quality. Others require volume, quality, and response time to all requests within xx hours.

As a leadership team, in the early stages of any client engagement, we ask a client to detail (as specifically as possible) what it takes for us to WOW them in our relationship. We immediately translate that message back to our team and assign their success to reaching that threshold. This requires a degree of transparency and education at all levels of the organization that we have seen to be very rare for our industry. This also helps support why our CME bonuses are so directly tied to our compensation as a company. We believe direct alignment from our Conversational Marketing Experts (CMEs) through our clients’ goals is necessary to reduce loss of quality or poor communication in the project development and improvement phases.

Methods of Measurement

Our performance management structure has been intentionally designed to have a formal structure that provides the guidelines to have consistency across all managers/department yet maintain the flexibility necessary to adjust to accommodate each individual client/role.


We believe that the participant seeking coaching is a key contributor to any behavioral change. This drives our success description focus on having each employee accept accountability for his or her own performance. In addition to our standard performance management methodology, Incept also subscribes to and faithfully develops our CMEs with the “Positive Coach Approach” copyrighted by McKee Consulting. This is a process where each CME is able to take time off of the phones and away from their desk to monitor their own phone calls with their direct supervisor and then develop a collaborative plan for improvement. This method is proven to develop up to 20% higher results and has significant impact on CME morale and confidence. Each supervisor at Incept is responsible for completing a predetermined amount of Positive Coach Approach sessions each week, in addition to desk-side coaching, row coaching, and live call monitoring.

Goal Setting and Remedial Training

By creating clear goals for each project and conspicuously posting up-to-date results in the contact center, we create a standard bar for all CMEs to strive to attain. As in all organizations, CMEs will go through periods when they struggle to achieve the defined goal or when market conditions make it difficult for the team to be successful. We believe it is critical to allow individuals to set their own goals within the context of helping their team win to personalize their development based on their current position. This process largely occurs during the PCA sessions when a CME identifies behaviors they would like to change, and then set a SMART goal they would like to achieve within the next week by implementing that change. This teaches the critical skill of self-improvement, which leads to a more engaged and constantly improving workforce.

Balanced Score-carding

Incept uses a combination of methods to ensure balanced scorecards in our work. In some cases, calls are calibrated with the client on a weekly basis. In other cases, a third-party verification/quality control firm has been engaged to validate performance. Incept is flexible regarding the implementation of procedures based on our clients’ end goals.

Organizational Roles

Organizationally, we have adopted the premise that we need to consistently drive improvement through all departments at all times. Simply put, goals are no longer static. Clients expect improved results, and, in some cases, decreased cost over time. This premise is built into progressive success descriptions by department by consistently re-assessing our performance and expecting each department to get better at their core metrics. To summarize, at Incept, to stay the same is to fail.

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Incept Had A Busy (and Exciting) 2014!

2014 has been a wonderful year for Incept! Not only have we experienced more growth than ever before, but we’ve also been recognized for our success by many notable organizations. Take a look at all of the awards below:

  • Cascade CapitalBusiness Growth Award Honoree and Employee Growth for an Established Company Award. Incept was recognized as an honoree of the 2014 Class of the Cascade Capital Corporation Business Growth Awards and winner of the Employee Growth for an Established Company Award for adding more than 100 jobs in the last five years. This is a noteworthy achievement since the Business Growth Awards honor companies from a seven-county service area that have achieved superior growth in sales and/or employment over the past five years.
  • Cool Tech Awards Honoree. Incept was named as one of the 25 Coolest Tech Companies in Northeast, Ohio, in 2014. Presented by Inside Business Magazine, the Cool Tech Awards set out to showcase the success of technology of businesses in the region each year. Incept was chosen to be part of this list for its numerous technological initiatives in the past several years, including their employee rewards program, use of big-data analytics for predictive modeling, gamification of the contact center, and social media community management. These have proven to be exceptional successes, fueling company growth and enhancing a unique and innovative company culture.
  • Workplace Dynamics9th Top Workplace and Top CEO of a Mid-sized Company. Incept was ranked 9th-best mid-sized workplace in Northeast Ohio by the Plain Dealer’s Top Workplaces special section. Incept’s CEO, Sam Falletta, was also named a top CEO of a mid-sized company by Workplace Dynamics. The ranking is based on employee nominations and surveys by WorkplaceDynamics. Top Workplaces are not only better places to work but are more likely to be successful than peer organizations. This is the third time in the last four years Incept has been honored on the list.
  • Top 50 Contact Center Awards14th largest outbound and 19th largest inbound center. TMC, a global, integrated media company, named Incept on its CUSTOMER 29th Annual Top 50 Teleservices Agencies Ranking. The ranking recognizes the top inbound and outbound teleservices agencies, both domestic and international, as well as interactive inbound. Teleservices agencies are ranked for being the largest agencies in the industry, as measured by the amount of billable teleservices minutes completed in 2013.
  • PACEPACE/NobelBiz Community Impact Award. President & CEO Sam Falletta and Incept were recently recognized with the PACE/NobelBiz Community Impact Award. The Professional Association for Customer Engagement presented this award in accordance with National Customer Service Week to the organization that strives to give back to its clients, its employees, and the community. Incept was chosen as the winner of this award because of the impact they make through InceptGives and the LifeSaver Program. Through InceptGives, the company commits up to 10% of yearly earnings to charitable organizations that provide goods and services to people in need around the globe. The LifeSaver Program rewards Incept employees based on the number of lives they have saved through blood donor recruitment calls. Watch this video to learn more about these programs.
  • PACE – Ohio Valley/Florida PACE Chapter Employee Engagement Strategy Award. Incept was named the winner of the Professional Association of Customer Engagement Ohio Valley and Florida Chapter sponsored contest called Contest of Contests. Each participant was given just ten minutes to present their company’s employee incentive program to a panel of expert judges. Each program was judged based on originality, hype, effectiveness, reach, focus, and alignment. Incept ‘s VP of Employee Results, Dave Walter, competed on behalf of the company. Walter shared Incept’s unique incentive program, which has had an astounding effect on employee engagement. Incept’s “commitment chains” reduced call off by 32%, had a $5,300 ROI on a $230 investment, involved all CMEs in the Results Division, was mainly managed and promoted by the contact center representatives, was incredibly easy to understand and follow, and ultimately produced the necessary results.

Here’s to just as much success this year in 2015!

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What’s So Different About Incept?

At Incept, one of the biggest ways we differentiate ourselves is through a dedication to culture. We strive to create a culture where people are given the opportunity to succeed in a friendly, welcoming environment. Our goal during interviews is to showcase our team-based structure that ensures they have one person to take all of their questions, concerns, and feedback to while also knowing exactly who they can get support from. We take a positive coach approach to everything we do; if you are struggling, we would rather help fix the problem and get you back on track than get rid of you and find someone else.

We also focus on our growth and the opportunities for advancement. A lot of individuals are looking for jobs/careers that can last long-term, and we have a variety of ways individuals can plant their roots and advance throughout the company. We often point out that most of our management team started on the phones and have seen countless opportunities to take on more responsibility.

Finally, we choose to stress our dedication to values. We conduct business in a way that is assumptive without pressuring. We will not ask them to sell until the customer hangs up, but instead will coach them on ways to be more effective without pushing. We teach the Conversational Marketing Experts (CMEs) ways to sell without becoming uncomfortable with what their goal is.

This focus on culture has resulted in Incept being recognized as a Top Workplace in Northeast Ohio three of the last four years, including the highest rated workplace of any size in Canton and one of only five companies recognized as a Psychologically Healthy Workplace by the Ohio Psychological Association.

Incept’s President and CEO, Sam Falletta, was also recognized by Top Workplaces as the top CEO of a midsize workplace in Northeast Ohio for 2014. The ranking is based on employee nominations and surveys by WorkplaceDynamics. This further differentiates Incept as an excellent choice for individuals because of the exceptional and motivational leadership from our CEO.

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How To Start Each Contact Center Team Off Right: Tuckman’s Model

Fifty years ago, the science of group development made a huge leap forward with the Tuckman Model. Dr. Bruce Tuckman created what was to become the five-stage process of “developmental sequence in small groups.” The first four stages were known as Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Later, the final stage was named Mourning.

All organizations and groups go through each of these stages, even your Contact Center. What is not widely recognized in the customer service industry is that they go through these stages each time participants are removed, added, given new significant duties, promoted, or even shifted horizontally. Even appointing new tasks to an individual member can cause this to restart. What will be discussed in this post is the first stage in the process known as Forming and how we as leaders can use this stage to create stronger relationships with our team members.

While this phase may be shortened if team members have worked and spent time together in the past, each time a major change in the group happens, the steps happen all over again. At times, this can also cause groups who have had previous success to become stuck at some point in the process and not reach the Performing stage.

Forming is a critical stage where we create clarity around the project. Also in this stage, we define the roles each person is to have for success of the group. Teaming this with a better understanding of each member’s strengths and opportunities will help the group later on when reaching the Storming and Norming stages.

Forming, as defined in Tuckman’s Model, is the stage where we find some very unique events occurring in the group. These events hopefully will pass but tend to create opportunities later in the Storming stage that will cause friction and can even halt the group from its ability to complete the goal. Events to identify with this stage are as follows:

  1. Most members are polite, positive, and anxious. There is normally a lack of understanding of the task as a whole, especially regarding each person’s role and their place in the hierarchy of the team. Many members will be excited for a new opportunity to show off their skills.
  2. Often, a lack of clarity becomes entrenched within the group during this step. This happens for several reasons. It can happen because you, as the leader, are trying hard to be overly nice so no one jumps ship. Another reason is that many times members of the team are concerned with looking stupid or ignorant, when it’s really our responsibility as team leaders to clarify the goals and what each person’s role, responsibility, and authority entails. Finally, your own ambiguity on what defines the project’s success can contribute to the confusion. Make sure you understand the goal of the project before presenting it to your team.
  3. This stage actually can last quite a while, depending on the project and the interaction. This can be reduced by bringing in team members who have worked together in the past. This can especially be helpful if they have worked on a similar project or goal before. A way to reduce this time is instructing each member of their role, responsibility and authority, but in also making sure each member understands the other team member’s roles, responsibilities, and authority and doing so in front of the whole team. This helps reduce misunderstandings as to who is to report to who and who is supposed to be handling what tasks.
  4. In terms of communication among the team, your role cannot be overstated. Any perceived lacking or cloudiness in the group can often come back to us as leaders. While in this stage, it is helpful to go through who does what quite often. Being passive-aggressive at this stage will definitely sow seeds for discontent in the Storming stage.
  5. Finally, there is only so much you can do to reduce what is to come in the Storming stage. While making clarity a goal during the Forming stage will obviously help, be prepared that nothing can prevent Storming from happening. Just remember, 90% of your success happens before the group even forms. Having everything ready for the group prior to a major change so that they can feel comfortable and safe going through the process will make a huge difference in your success.


Photo Credit: http://executopia.com/methodology/modelstheories/tuckmans-team-development-3/

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Metrics Contact Centers Must Track to Ensure Quality

Incept‘s quality control process (Conversational Quality or CQ) is designed to gauge a Conversational Marketing Expert’s (CME’s) performance in all aspects of their phone call.

Quality is graded on several aspects of the call, including the following:

  • introduction
  • communication of the script and pertinent information
  • close
  • miscellaneous category for custom measurements
  • professionalism

Conversational Marketing Experts (CMEs) are scored on a scale of 0-100%, and points are deducted for infractions ranging from not following the script to not properly opening or closing the phone call. We listen for tone and inflection during the pitch and make sure that Conversational Marketing Experts (CMEs) are being professional and polite at all times.  It’s our goal that each conversation strengthens the relationship between the client organization and the customer we are speaking with.

Each Conversational Marketing Expert (CME) is CQed at least twice a month for at least 20 minutes. If we find that a particular Conversational Marketing Expert (CME) is struggling, however, we will CQ him or her more frequently. This is in addition to daily live call monitoring in the rows by the coaches and supervisory staff. Every call is recorded on our digital recording system, and we attempt to find 20 minutes with a variety of call dispositions to ensure that the Conversational Marketing Expert (CME) is handling each situation appropriately.

How do you ensure quality?

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What Types Of Incentives Boost Employee Engagement Most Significantly?

Based on a 2014 Gallup survey, less than one-third of U.S. workers (31.5%) were engaged in their jobs this past year. Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” While this may not sound like a significant problem, a separate Gallup survey found a well-established connection between employee engagement and many performance outcomes, including the following:

  • Customer ratings
  • Profitability
  • Productivity
  • Turnover
  • Absenteeism
  • Quality

At Incept, we provide performance bonuses based on specific key performance indicators each week, as determined by discussions with our clients. In addition, we provide instant incentives like the following:

  • Extra breaks
  • Vending machine coupons
  • Client t-shirts and other client products
  • Public recognition
  • Supervisors taking the Conversational Marketing Experts’ (CMEs) calls
  • Team incentives
    • Catered lunches
    • Games to be played in the rows
    • Public recognition

We also have an employee referral program for new hires and paid-time-off (PTO) tickets for schedule adherence on a monthly basis.

We’ve seen our focus on employee engagement, as well as these incentives, ultimately lead to reduced turnover and increased customer satisfaction. Employee happiness really does translate on the phone and is one of the biggest reasons Incept has been so successful at delivering satisfying results.

What incentives do you use to boost employee engagement?

Photo Credit: http://www.halogensoftware.com/blog/the-history-of-employee-engagement

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Identifying & Leveraging Your Workplace Strengths

One of my favorite things about working for Incept is the approach we take to strengths-based management. We believe very strongly in identifying the strengths of our employees and, when possible, placing them in a role where they get the greatest opportunity to use those strengths every day.

Using this method, we spend the greatest amount of time allowing them to do what they are good at and offering praises and development on their successes and far less time identifying their mistakes and trying to get them to improve on their weaknesses. Not only does this improve the working relationship between manager and direct report, but it also ensures that individuals get fulfillment out of their job.

The biggest key to strengths-based management is helping an individual identify their strengths and (inevitably) their weaknesses. How does one go about identifying their strengths? There are several approaches a person can take to analyzing their workplace strengths.

Strengths-based Assessments

Firstly, there are many strengths-based assessments that can be found all over the internet. These tests will tell you about your workplace abilities, whether you are customer service-geared or more sales-minded, whether you prefer working with others or working alone. They can even tell you how you work with others and what type of environment plays best to your personality. Find a few assessments and give them a shot – you might just learn a little about yourself!


The second option is to do some self reflection. Spend some time thinking about the activities and responsibilities at work that give you the greatest joy. What do you feel most comfortable doing? Do you like when you are working with a group creating a new program? Perhaps you preferred the data entry project where you had a clear start and end point with solitary work. As you begin to identify the roles that gave you the most joy you also want to identify whether or not you had success in those projects.

If you really enjoyed data entry, but you had a 90% error rate, it is likely not your strength. Take each of the roles you enjoyed and begin analyzing the success or failure you saw with each. Once you find the activities in which you found joy AND success, you have likely found your workplace strengths.

Talk to Your Coworkers

Lastly, talking to your coworkers may help uncover some of your strengths. Although some individuals may be less comfortable pointing out weaknesses, ask them about the positive experiences. Maybe you ran a productive meeting with great results, or they learned a lot from you when working on a project; their input can give you a perspective that you haven’t heard before. Obtaining input from your coworkers can help you determine where your strengths helped others or helped the workplace overall.

Leverage Your Strengths

Once you have identified the strengths you possess you must begin to leverage them in your current role. If you have found that you excel at organization, try to take on tasks that emphasize that skill. For individuals who excel at the analytical side of things, begin using your analytical mind to be more proactive – identifying problems that aren’t there yet can be a huge win for your team.

As you begin leveraging your strengths you will not only gain greater satisfaction from your work, but it will be difficult for your manager not to notice your improvements. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your weaknesses; you simply highlight the things you are already good at while spending time improving upon the areas you struggle with.

In a job market that is moving towards the specialist versus the generalist, it is important to keep both strengths and weaknesses in mind as you work towards the career that fits what brings you the most joy and success. By highlighting where you excel, you can select the career that allows you an opportunity to exercise those strengths and experience the success we are all working towards!

Photo Credit: http://www.pbfingers.com/2013/01/10/one-word-mantras/

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