Things I've learned

This week I’m reminded that change still aches a bit – even when it’s change made of our own plans and decisions.

I am leaving Koné Consulting at the end of this week to rejoin the wonderful team at the Greater Chicago Food Depository as their Senior Director of Public Policy. While I am sad to be leaving the small and mighty team at Koné and will miss working with our clients, my heart is pulling me back to non-profit advocacy work and getting to operationalize plans and all the nitty-gritty that goes with that.

As I think back on what I’ve learned about both myself and work during my nearly two years at Koné Consulting, there are few things that rise to the top.

I really like putting plans into action. For most of my consulting projects, I would assess, analyze, write briefs, and/or provide project management support. And I really enjoyed all of those things. But I realized that I really liked doing what’s next as well – taking that assessment or analysis and turning it into action. Seeing what works, what doesn’t, and course correcting as needed. And to do that, I really need to head back inside organizations doing the work.

Communication can happen in many ways and it’s important to create space for it. Everyone at Koné Consulting works remotely and we are often interacting with our clients remotely as well. This opened me up to some new communication tools and spaces that I’d never used before for work but that in retrospect could be useful to lots of organizations. For example, Slack is a great messaging tool for teams that are often on the go and can also serve as a virtual water cooler of sorts to help you feel connected to your colleagues. I’ve also come to appreciate the importance of using time spent together well – because there are some things that just work best when you’re together in-person. Be intentional, respectful, and most of all joyful with this time! And that’s true even if you see your co-workers every day.

Managing expectations. Surprise! This isn’t a lesson learned about managing a client’s expectations but rather about managing my own. I think I’m late to the party on this one, but I’ve come to realize that so much disappointment is created by our own expectations. Don’t get me wrong, I continue to have expectations but I also try to recognize that’s just what they are – MY expectations. When appropriate, I do my best to talk with my clients, colleagues, collaborators, or whomever about my expectations and also ask about theirs. And then when I feel disappointed or frustrated because a meeting has gone a bit off the rails or when I don’t like where a project is headed, I take a deep breath and step back and ask myself a few questions. What expectation(s) did I have that are not being met and what needs are behind those expectations? What might others’ expectations be? What other options are available to us? How can I/we be OK with what is and move forward? It isn’t failsafe but it sure helps.

So, there it is. A few last things to wrap up here, a week off, and then off to the races at the food bank!

Join us in Iowa, Washington, and Florida at upcoming conferences

Fall is upon us and along with it conference season arrives. We are looking forward to a few we will attend, including:

Iowa Lean Consortium

October 12-13, 2016
Cedar Rapids, IA
Conference site

The Iowa Lean Consortium is a dynamic, growing, member-driven non-profit dedicated to advancing Lean in all sectors of our economy. Driven by members’ needs, the ILC provides the philosophy, tools, and techniques to meet today's business challenges through members serving members, including but not limited to manufacturing, service/transaction businesses, education, healthcare and government.

Using examples and stories from our public sector clients, Koné Consulting consultants Alicia Huguelet and Brian Kerr will share how Lean principles can be adopted in government agencies - with lessons that apply to any sort of knowledge or service work.

A key tool in our approach is getting people at all levels of an organization to get comfortable with problem solving - so we’ll show you how we do that, and what you’ll need to get started (hint: it’s not much!).

When people aren’t in agreement about who their customers are, feel they don’t have “capacity” for improvement, or rush to find someone to “hold accountable” for problems, things can get messy. We’ll leave you with some key points about how to avoid common entanglements that come up when applying Lean thinking to service work.

Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference

October 18-19, 2016
Tacoma, WA
Conference site

This conference is a great opportunity for more than 2000 people from dozens of state agencies, tribal government, local government, the private sector and organizations to come together to learn about Lean, discuss lessons learned and share innovative ways of adapting Lean to the public sector. Breakout sessions are tailored for everyone from a Lean novice to folks who've been using it in their work for years. Anyone from line staff to mid-level managers to executive leaders will find lots to learn at the conference.

Koné Consulting consultants will share our unique approach to introducing new groups to Lean. Brian Kerr and Craig Fitzgerald will discuss the methods they have employed in human services agencies to make sure staff know what Lean is, and perhaps more importantly, what Lean is not. A case study from one county in California will be used to demonstrate their success in this area. The key to achieving true understanding and buy-in from staff is believing the idea that Lean in and of itself is not the solution - but it can be the pathway to the solution.

The American Association of SNAP Directors (AASD) and National Association of TANF Administrators (NASTA) Annual Education Conference

October 23-26, 2016
Orlando, FL
Conference site

Two conferences in one! Join your colleagues from around the nation for The American Association of SNAP Directors (AASD) and National Association of TANF Administrators (NASTA) Annual Education Conference. This year’s theme, Connect. Collaborate. Lead. will be explored through a series of informative sessions and will continue to build on APHSA’s commitment to transform the delivery of human services. The education conference will bring together two affiliates who are helping to modernize the health and human services sector.

I am especially excited about this conference as Babette Roberts (who manages Washington State’s TANF program within the Department of Social and Health Services) will participate in, and I will moderate, a panel discussion called From Pathway to Superhighway: How States Better Coordinate TANF and SNAP Benefits and Services to Help People Ascend the Wage Ladder. This panel discussion will offer attendees an opportunity to think about and discuss better ways for states to structure and align the complex array of programs and services that they offer to successfully help people ascend the wage ladder, and remain at the top of it over the long-term.

Babs and I have recently co-authored an article for Policy & Practice’s August issue entitled, TANF at 20 – Personal and Professional Reflections.


If you plan to attend one or more these conferences, please find us leading a session, participating on a panel, or hosting an exhibit table and share what has been challenging or joyful for you over the last year. We look forward to seeing you!

Adventures in Grit: A Washington State of Mind

Fourteen years ago this month I packed all of my belongings into a 9-passenger conversion van and moved across the country from Minneapolis-St Paul, MN to Seattle, WA. This is the furthest distance I’ve ever moved and one of my last one-vehicle moves. It was also a little more adventurous of a drive than the more-than-I-can-remember-to-count road trips I’ve taken across the country.

Along the way my sister and I decided to listen to a book on tape (yes, an actual tape) and Dean Koontz’s Intensity certainly provided interesting ambiance while we slowly drove past hundreds of deer along the lonely Montana highway at dusk. There was a memorable bathroom break that we nervously laughed our way through and it’s the only time I’ve ever been glad to see a gun rack on someone’s truck--knowing that they would make sure the deer they hit wouldn’t have to suffer for much longer. We couldn’t miss an opportunity to drive through Glacier National Park (Happy 100th birthday National Park Service!), so the full van made the trek up Going-to-the-Sun road to reach Logan Pass at an elevation of 6,646 feet.

The adventures after arriving in Seattle have been interesting too. I’ve had some amazing and challenging experiences working alongside disadvantaged and resilient humans:

  • AmeriCorps volunteer managing the crisis line at a Domestic Violence shelter
  • working with adolescent girls in a residential treatment facility
  • street outreach for homeless individuals experiencing severe mental illness
  • harm reduction / housing-first for homeless chronic alcoholics
  • managing a housing program at a Community Mental Health agency

I’ve had some exploits in education as well, on a bumpy 10-year plan for finishing my Bachelor’s degree and then going back for my Masters in Public Health at the University of Washington’s Executive Program while simultaneously working two jobs.

And I’ve spent a lot of time finding outdoor adventures across WA state. Hiking, camping, and boating my way around the mountains, forests, beaches, ocean, lakes, rivers and streams. It wasn’t until recently, on a trip for Koné Consulting, that I spent any time exploring the city of Spokane on the Eastern side of WA state. I’ve driven through Spokane quite a few times en route to get somewhere else. Once, with my sister (yes, her again) I told her I would drive from Seattle to Spokane and she could drive from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene, ID; so ignorant of that side of that state that I didn’t realize my drive would be four hours and hers would be 35 minutes.

There are some similarities between Spokane and Sioux Falls, SD - where I spent the first 18 years and 2 months of my life, and at the time I couldn’t move away from fast enough. When I tell people I’m from Sioux Falls, they say the same thing I said about Spokane – “Oh, I know where that is… I’ve driven through”. Both cities are located on Interstate 90 (the longest transportation artery in the country) and have rivers and falls cascading through their downtown corridors that the cities are respectively named after. They also share humid continental climates (aka insufferable) defined by large seasonal temperature differences - hot and humid summers and cold and snowy winters. After doing some further research, I learned they also have similar costs-of-living and demographics, with 87% of the population being White.

Having stated all of those logistical similarities, it is mostly the feel of these cities that piqued my interest. They feel gritty, both because of being dry and dusty this time of year, but also because there is a sense of courage and resolve. In addition to observing this through the giant slip-and-slide created out of construction materials in order to survive the 95-degree heat, I also sensed this… mostly through my taste buds. Through eating THE most memorable burger (with shitake marmalade, foie gras aioli and Oregon White Cheddar) from a Chef whose short figure packs a major punch on the plate like a tenacious pioneer woman leading the way to what’s good. And through drinking one of the tastiest cocktails (bourbon, aperol, ginger liqueur, apple bitters, soda with a gran marnier float) which transported me to where no cocktail has gone before. These two restaurants are clearly and boldly determined to offer something elevated and yet simultaneously comforting.

I can’t speak to the courage and resolve of Spokane without mentioning the professionals and providers I encountered through my work in assessing the Behavioral Health system in WA state. These are passionate and dedicated individuals, who much like my social worker sister, who still lives in Sioux Falls, are working hard every day to provide the best possible services to those most in need with the limited resources that are available. You all, and your grit, have my respect.

Dispatches from the Windy City: What could be better than #SummerTimeChi?

New York may have better public transportation. Los Angeles may have better year-round weather. Miami may have a better tan. But nothing beats Summertime in the city of Chicago.

It’s hard to believe I’ve called Chicago my home for over 15 years now. I’ve hosted lots of visitors during that time, and have provided many informal tours of the City of Big Shoulders—I have never had a dissatisfied customer during the Summer months.

Are the winters here treacherous? Yep! But it’s because of how trying those months are that Chicagoans are expert at taking full advantage of tolerable outside temperatures. If it’s above 65, spending time indoors becomes inappropriate.

Chicago has an extensive street festival calendar during the Summer. In addition to large, tent-pole events like Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza, most neighborhoods throughout the city host one (or more) local streetfests between June and September. By my count, there are 112 such events scheduled this year!

Most fests offer food and drinks, live music, and family-oriented activities for the kiddies to enjoy. Many also have specific themes. Already this year my family and I have visited the Taste of Little Village (where we ate lots of tacos), Do Division Fest (where our daughter rode a pony for the first time, just a few blocks from our home) and the Pilsen Food Truck Social (where we ate chorizo french fries, Jamaican meat patties, and some delicious elotes). Here are some other upcoming fests that sound intriguing to me:

  • Windy City Ribfest
  • Rocoe Village Burger Fest
  • Fiesta del Sol
  • Taste of Polonia

Not only do street fests help me achieve one of my most important life goals (eat a lot of food, always), but they ensure I stay connected to all the cultural riches the city has to offer.

At a recent retreat the Kone Consulting team made it part of our organizational purpose to experience joy during our work with clients. We are a fun-loving group that values time well-spent. We want our work to be meaningful, rewarding, and enjoyable. For all its warts (which are admittedly plenty), Summertime Chicago offers many opportunities for joy. Just as long as it’s not raining outside.

What do the Seattle Seahawks and Koné Consulting have in common?

It’s the most depressing time of year for me. The end of another NFL season is here and I’m forced to think about the long six months ahead without football.

At the beginning of the post season, I was watching Pete Carroll’s weekly press conference. For those of you who are not as in tune with the NFL as me, Carroll is the head coach of my beloved Seattle Seahawks. (Side note: I cut myself the other day and found that I do, in fact, bleed blue and green. Perhaps I should get that checked out…). At any rate, the Seahawks have many strong and diverse personalities on the team (think Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and others). During the press conference a reporter asked Coach Carroll: “You’ve let players show their personality. How does that help you as a coach or help the team… letting the players be themselves?”

Carroll’s response follows:

“We’re trying to help them be the best they can be. That guides everything we do. Whatever it takes to get that done is what we’re charged to find. And, in that, I think the person has a chance to be much closer to their potential if they get true to who they are, rather than something you might want them to be – and/or try to govern them to be. It’s simply that…if I want to find somebody’s best, I need to get them as close to what their true potential is and connect it to who they are and call on that to be consistent. It’s really hard to be something you’re not, but it’s asked of people a lot.”

You might be wondering, what does this have to do with Koné Consulting? When we go into a public services setting and are asked to provide suggestions for improvements, make the organization and/or its processes more Lean, etc., it is often the line staff, supervisors and/or managers we’re asked to guide, teach, train, etc. Finding ways to use their individual strengths to be the catalyst for improvements is what we’re charged to do – in addition to developing sustainable strategies that will keep the momentum moving ahead long after we’re gone. This is one of the fundamental principals of continuous improvement that we often sum up as, “Teaching clients to fish.”

In the spirit of practicing what we preach, this also applies to our own organization. Alicia Koné, owner and president of Koné Consulting, regularly shares that she looks at us not as a consulting firm, but as a talent agency. At Koné, we are encouraged to be true to ourselves and to be the best versions of ourselves we can be. Alicia, not much a football lover, might be surprised to know that she and Pete Carroll have such aligned philosophies about how to get the most and best from their personnel. (She will find out after this is posted!) During Carroll’s tenure, the Seahawks have reached the pinnacle of success in the professional football world (Super Bowl XLVIII Champs). We, the staff at Koné Consulting, are always trying to be our best selves and offer that to our customers – and to each other. It’s all about valuing what each individual can bring to the team to make the group stronger, more capable and more successful as a whole.

As the NFL season closes, I’ll spend time over the next six months considering ways in which I can improve and be the best person I can be. I will also look to others both inside and outside my organization, valuing their strengths and individuality, knowing I am learning and growing as I do. I encourage you to do the same. What else is there to do until football starts up again?!? :)

Find out more about Koné Consulting and what we have to offer at www.koneconsulting.com.

Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa…

My family and I recently moved a little further west into the heart of the heartland, you might say, and have happily settled in the Des Moines, Iowa area.  I am a native Iowan but haven’t lived here for a number of years and so find myself in the process of rediscovery – through eyes that are a few years older and notice different things than those of my youth. There is definitely change (notably more good restaurants and fun things to do!) but thankfully the essence of Iowa that I remember, with big-hearted people who are kind and eager to help, remains the same. Fortunately, it seems that Iowans and Koné Consulting share some core values!

As part of my rediscovery, I did a little googling to refresh my Iowa expertise (facts I learned in 6th grade Iowa history have mostly slipped away…) and in the process happened across some fun facts—a few of the more interesting ones that I found (but did not rigorously verify) are below.

  • Nursery for Hollywood stars 
    Many stars were born in the Hawkeye state: Johnny Carson, John Wayne, Elijah Wood, and Ashton Kutcher to name a few.
  • Reading Rainbow
    Iowa easily has the highest literacy rate in the nation, boasting that 99% of Iowans can read!
  • Champion for Women’s Rights
    • 1851: Married women received property rights.
    • 1856: University of Iowa is the first public institution to admit women on an equal basis—GO HAWKS!
    • The 1st female dentist, attorney, and engineer all began practicing in Iowa in the 19th century.
    • 1920: After leading the fight for ratification of the 19th Amendment, Carrie Lane Chapman Catt, an Iowan, was the first woman to cast a ballot.
  • City Slickers??
    This one surprised me—Iowa’s population is actually more urban than rural these days—61.1 percent vs. 38.9 percent.

Last but not least, it looks like Iowa pride is alive and well! To see for yourself, check out @IowaBrag.

But enough Iowa trivia for now. While I continue to work on various projects around the country, it’s always great to have local connections as well so if there are organizations that could benefit from our services in Iowa or nearby states, reach out and let us know. We would love to sit down and talk about how we can help you and your team. Interested? Learn about our areas of expertise and our team.

Join us at upcoming conferences and events!

2015 Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference October 20-21, 2015

André Helmstetter and Brian Kerr will present Stop! Don’t Send Everyone to Training. André and Brian will will give practical examples of how to develop continuous improvement habits by having staff dive in and learn while solving problems they experience in the workplace.

October 21, 2015
2:45pm
Ballroom

Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center

If you can’t attend the presentation, stop by our booth at the conference to say hello and learn more about our latest product offerings and project activities.

40th Annual SNAP Education Conference November 8-11, 2015

We’ll be attending this conference and look forward to seeing you there! In addition, we’ll be hosting a private event to celebrate and share news about our latest services and activities.

November 8, 2015
6-8:30pm
EMP Museum at Seattle Center

Space is limited!  Get your free tickets now – only while supplies last. Sign up here.  

Join us at the NSDTA Conference This Week!

If you’re attending The National Staff Development and Training Association’s annual conference in Denver, CO this week, don’t miss Alicia Koné’s presentation on October 6 titled, Developing Mid-Level Managers Into Future Leaders. The presentation will include case studies of training programs used in various health and human services agencies to develop mid-level operations managers as well as a sample training workshop. Hope to see you there!

Our values: accountability and trustworthiness

Koné Consulting had its annual company retreat in July against this beautiful backdrop in Seabeck, WA.

We had a wonderful time enjoying the bounty that is western Washington – kayaking, roasting marshmallows over a fire pit, exploring the beach and surrounding forest, but most importantly, we bonded even more deeply as a group.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how fortunate I am to get paid for doing something I love and feel passionately about, but what makes it even better is to have teammates who all sincerely and deeply care for each other.  That doesn’t mean we don’t disagree or have heated conversations, but those happen with mutual respect and genuine care for each other and just seems to bring us even closer.

Our values

We spent some time at the retreat considering what we believe Koné Consulting is and what we want for it to be – what our values are, if you will. We agreed on the following list and we’re excited to share what these values really mean to us as a company in future blog posts.

  • Accountable/Trustworthy
  • Truthful
  • Self-care = improved customer service
  • Efficient/Lean
  • Teach clients to fish
  • Cross-pollinate
  • Good/valued tools
  • Do no harm
  • Mission driven
  • Big hearts
  • Agile - ability to pivot
  • Fun!!!

Our fearless leader (aka owner and president), Alicia Koné, said that I embody our values of accountability and trustworthiness.  What a nice compliment…but who would want a business manager who is unaccountable and untrustworthy (perhaps some politicians, maybe), but I digress. 

Accountability

For me, organization helps me be accountable.  I use several tools to help me with this, including my Outlook calendar (with reminders galore) and, most importantly, my Kanban board.  Visualizing and prioritizing my work is something I’ve been doing my whole adult life, but I am thankful that I no longer have to use a giant paper desk calendar, Post-it notes, a heavy, 3-ring binder type paper planner, etc.  Now I have fancy electronic tools to help me manage my work, including one being developed by our company…more will be shared on this over the next few months. 

To me, accountability is committing to whatever I’m going to do, doing the very best I can and making it happen in the time frame I’ve agreed to.  For me it also means that if I fail, I am willing to stand up and take responsibility for what went wrong and commit to learning what happened so that I don’t repeat my mistakes in the future.

Trustworthiness

There is a lot tied up in this word for me.  It is not only about telling the truth…it is also about being willing to tell the truth, even when it’s not necessarily what others want to hear.  It may be bad news; it may be that you can’t deliver something you promised when you promised it; it may be that you really screwed something up (ever sent a private e-mail, but accidentally replied to all?).  But by stepping up and taking ownership of your mistakes, or being willing to share bad news, you do a few things.  You build the trust relationship with those you’re sharing the information and you reinforce that you are accountable, even in difficult situations.  It also creates an opportunity to have a conversation about how to improve the process so that it can be more successful in the future.

Another component of trustworthiness that I personally value, but it seems more and more elusive these days, is the ability to keep private information private.  It is easy to fall into the traps of wanting to have something exciting to talk about, or to show that you are “in the know, ” or even to feel like you can trust whomever you’re sharing the confidential information with.  The bottom line is, it’s not your information to share.  Would you want your confidential information being shared without your consent or knowledge? 

Kone Consulting is a small business and we are building our reputation based on what we show the world each day.  For our customers to say we are accountable and trustworthy are not lofty goals, but our expectation.  Can you say the same about the companies you hire?

Watch for future posts on our company values at www.koneconsulting.com/blog.

It's Just the Way We Do Business Around Here

Change in any large organization is a heavy lift. John Kotter, a leading expert in leadership and change, has shown that more than 70% of all major transformation efforts fail! In government agencies, public officials seeking change must overcome many additional hurdles, including frequent turnover, limited (or non-existent) funding, and mind-boggling legal and regulatory processes.

Some projects or initiatives aimed at change never even get off the ground. Still, many efforts do launch, some quick wins are had, and more significant changes are successfully implemented. Yet, how can you ensure that the changes will outlive the special project or initiative – when the grant funds run out or your leadership or key staff members leave? How can you keep an organization and its people from reverting to what they have always done? How do you institutionalize change? There is no silver bullet or magic solution but it’s something to think about at the beginning of your effort.

In my personal experience being a part of and leading change initiatives, the most important thing is to engage all levels of staff in the organization in a real and meaningful way, as early as possible. It’s especially important to engage existing, experienced staff members. I’ve made the mistake of only including the newly hired, project-focused staff and those who are already bought in – largely out of fear of resistance to the changes we were trying to implement. I learned the hard way that hiding from or avoiding the staff members that you fear will resist change will quickly backfire. Engaging staff members at all levels and demonstrating respect for their work, helps build an inclusive team, and increases the likelihood that whatever members of the team remain as time goes on, will carry on the important work that you started together.

We can also learn from the Work Support Strategies (WSS) project and the important transformations that state leaders have implemented as part of that endeavor. They have identified several keys to success for seizing opportunities to lead positive, strategic change.

One WSS lesson that especially resonates for me is “establishing mutual ownership of problems and solutions amongst stakeholders.” By creating structures, and eventually an organizational culture, that embraces continuous improvement and problem-solving that includes the “doers” of the organization, you help ensure that the organization can and will make needed changes in the future. Ultimately the best way to ensure that momentum continues is to truly embed the work and changes into the fabric of the organization – its people and processes – so that it becomes the way work gets done – special project or not.