Spring Journeys and a New Look

Spring is a time of awakening and regrowth - when the earth exhibits its own cycle of continuous improvement, revealing the result of its winter work. Likewise, we at Koné Consulting are excited to unveil our new logo and re-branding, and share insight from our journey.

As journeys go, one is often asked the following questions when crossing a border - 

Who are you?
Where have you been?
Where are you going?
Do you have anything to declare?

Our re-branding process offered a great opportunity to reflect on these profound questions and the clients with whom we have had the privilege to work.

Who we are

Koné Consulting is a woman-owned small business specializing in health and human services. Each of our team members has worked in government service and/or non-profit sectors and share a deep connection to our current work, thus, we recognize everyone has a unique story. Our collective experience guides our collaborative approach to decision making and planning. Please meet the team to learn more about us. 

Where we have been

Established in 2010, we are proud of our success and long-lasting relationships with clients. Whether working in our backyard (Washington State) or traveling around the country, our lifework is positive change. We inspire change and create lasting improvements for our clients in the government and non-profit sectors. 

Where we are going

We will soon add GSA Federal Schedule to our list of contract vehicles, opening up greater possibilities to help agencies affect change. Through our three lines of service we seek unique solutions and design refined systems which serve the people who utilize them, not the other way around. 

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Performing Assessments
Growing Knowledge, Designing Purpose

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Implementing Lean
Growing Solutions, Leading Improvement

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Strategic Planning
Growing Vision, Shaping Change

International Voluntourism–As we continue our commitment to service and excellence, we seek to find opportunities which bridge cultures and build community, both at home in the U.S. and in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa, where Alicia and her husband, Sekou have personal ties. If you are interested in learning more about helping support projects which benefit human services efforts in Cote d’Iviore, please contact usWe work every day to solve the social problem of inequity in income and opportunities. 

What we have to declare

There is no limit to what we can achieve when we work together on a common goal. We are committed to service and excellence, and take our pursuits seriously; however, being serious doesn’t exclude having fun! Our clients experience joy while we do the work. 

Let us help you define Who You Are, Where You Are Going, 
Where You’ve Been and What You Have to Declare.

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...and let's away, to part the glories of this happy day


Friday is my last day with Koné Consulting and while I’ve had over a month to prepare for the moment there’s a big part of me that still doesn’t believe it’s happening. A couple of months ago an old friend and colleague of mine whom I hadn’t spoken to in a long time invited me out to dinner to catch up on the work we’d both been doing over the interceding years. Slowly, but surely, the dinner turned into a job offer—one that I ultimately decided I couldn’t refuse. Next week I’ll begin work as the Chief Operating Officer of a Montessori academy in Chicago’s West Loop.

This may sound like a bit of a hard right turn, but I actually do have educational and professional experience in child development (from a previous life). That, coupled with the fact that my daughter will be able to attend school there, led to my decision.

I regret leaving so soon after starting—it’s been less than a year-and-a-half since I came onboard and I feel like there’s so much more I could accomplish, so much more I could learn. Nevertheless, I’m doing my best to remind myself that there’s plenty I’ve learned over the last 16 months.

  • All problems are people problems. There isn’t an issue an organization encounters that can’t be at least partially helped by getting a group of dedicated and thoughtful people into a room to try and solve it. Problem is, many organizations do not empower their frontline staff, who are the actual experts in how work gets done, to be true change agents. As I say to clients all the time, “no one shows up to work each morning saying to themselves ‘I can’t wait to waste my time today!’” No—people show up to work with a desire to provide value to the people they serve, and when we don’t invest in their development we are doing them a disservice.

  • All problems are systems problems. As stated above, people show up to work wanting to do a good job. But a bad process will trump an individual’s good intentions 99 times out of 100. We should not set up systems that require herculean efforts from individual workers just to get basic things done. Organizations that ensure that business processes take into account the people engaged in those processes everyday are going to be much more successful.

  • Understanding cannot be assumed. We practice 10x communication at Koné Consulting. That is, we take a guess at how often a message needs to be communicated for it to be internalized, and then we multiply that by 10. It ought to be obvious, but sending an all-staff e-mail at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday letting everyone know about a major change in process going into effect 9:00 a.m. Monday is not an effective communication strategy. And even if multiple messages have been sent to staff, or transmitted to supervisors, it cannot be assumed that everyone understands it. Frequent, personalized multi-media messages need to be offered to ensure everyone “gets” it.

The list goes on, but I don’t want to bore anyone. The bottom line is my time at Koné Consulting has helped me be a more conscientious and engaged organizational change agent—wisdom and expertise that I hope I may ably employ during the next chapter of my professional life. And so, I bid farewell to the incredible Koné Consulting team, with sincere hope that our paths cross once more. The elements be kind to thee and make thy spirits all of comfort! Fare thee well.

Respect for people

At Koné Consulting, our thinking, teaching, and practice of lean begins with respect for people. We believe this critical component of lean is too often left behind, or buried beneath charters, charts, and flipcharts. Respect for people is also a direct pointer to one of the basic changes in mindset that must occur for lean thinking to stick in a team or organization, and to outlast our participation as consultants in any given engagement. We can give clients training and lean lingo; we can give them access to tools, methods, and forms; and we can practice using them by tackling problems impeding the fulfillment of their organization purpose—and that’s not enough. These changes won’t last unless they are supported by a culture change which involves people at every level of an organization.

Respect for people plays out in different ways for executives, managers, staff, or temporary workers, but it’s important for people in each role to put lean principles into practice. It may be practiced by a manager in how they respond to errors by figuring out how to build quality in at the source rather than rushing to “hold staff accountable”. It may be practiced by a supervisor who is focused on helping her direct reports develop their skills and authority (and notice the skills and authority they already have). It may be practiced by an executive when she communicates and champions the organization’s purpose, key value streams, and performance indicators with her boss or executive board. It may be practiced by anyone in the organization assuming good faith about the intentions of their colleagues, collaborators, and customers.

We facilitate improvement events with our clients to demonstrate how lean can work in government—and how lean “can work here”. The process of continuous improvement is the most noticeable aspect of lean: the whiteboards full of strange diagrams and notes in assorted handwriting, the excited chatter from a conference room, the disruption (however slight) of a group of peers piloting a countermeasure they’ve designed. Although the work is real, and the results can make a lasting difference for an agency and the people it serves, we see this as a form of practice. We encourage participants in value stream improvement workshops, kaizen events, and other lean processes to think about how it feels to be “inside” an event, and look for ways to make lean less special, and more ordinary, in their work.

Most adults are kinesthetic learners, so we hold to the see one, do one, teach one model—we challenge our clients to (for example) walk through a sample A3 with us, work through an A3 in order to remove a gap that they notice in their work, and then share the A3 with others as an approach to breaking down, communicating about, and removing problems. This applies equally to staff doing detailed improvement work as it does to management and leadership who must learn to distribute responsibility for improvement and adopt a coaching, rather than command and control, mindset. Practicing lean processes is the portal into developing the capability of everyone in an organization to participate in doing the work, and in improving the work.

It’s our experience that supervisors bear a difficult burden in a lean transformation. Their day-to-day work changes the most, and they are responsible for communicating ideas and practices that people may be unfamiliar with (or actively hostile to). Of course, lean management systems provide a basket of time-tested methods and practices that can help. The challenge is to get things started, and to help all levels of management in an agency understand that the tools of lean management are available, adaptable, and can help transform how staff see their work as it relates to their agency and the public it serves. Adapting to change is hard work, and supervisors must get out in front of the change—and are often under supported by their management and working with a skeptical staff.

At the end of this road is the organization’s purpose. What is the purpose of the agency? How does this purpose get fulfilled? How does—or could—the fulfillment of this purpose get measured, and communicated to stakeholders outside the organization? It is so empowering for staff to understand the purpose of their enterprise, and to see exactly how the difficult work they do every day contributes directly to that purpose. And we find no greater way for an organization to show respect for all of its people than to create space and methods for anyone to notice a problem, point out how it gets in the way of their purpose, and get support in seeing it as an opportunity for continuous improvement. People feel pain when they encounter waste, inefficiency, and poor customer service in their daily work. Fortunately, there’s a joy that comes from figuring out how to simplify, remove, or error-proof something order to better serve customers—both internal and external—that is easy to see in someone’s eyes once they experience it. The challenge is to make it stick: to get that fleeting epiphany in a small group to contribute to, and eventually to sustain, a culture of continuous improvement across a learning organization where the mindset of lean pervades daily work and planning.


We sit with our clients and practice something that sounds simple, but ends up being complicated: we practice thinking about work not in terms of who does it or what they do but in terms of the value the work creates.

One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.
— Charles Fort, Lo!

Take a process by which you serve the people you are here to serve. Pick any process; it doesn't matter which one. Your choice might be driven by your awareness of processes that are performing poorly. Your choice might be driven by complaints from staff or the public. (Complaints are one of an organization's most important and typically underutilized resources.)

Take a process and ask:

  • Who is this process for?
  • What important or useful thing do these people get as a result of this work?

Your answers will identify the customer of this process and the value they get from the process. Once you have clarity and agreement around these things, you can dig into some analysis.

  • Who does the work inside this process?
  • Who else is affected by this work, or supports this work?

Our experience is that once folks start thinking like this, they identify groups of people who are oriented around a common concern—creating a particular kind of value for a particular kind of of customer—but who might have different employers, or be colleagues separated by org charts, chains of command, or other siloed organizational structures. We call these the internal customers of the process. Every time there is a handoff, inbox, conveyance, or form, there is an opportunity to provide better, easier, less error-prone service—and these opportunities to improve the experience for internal customers ultimately lead to improvements that help the external customer (the person the process is for), as well.

The next step might be to get the people who do the work into the same room for a few hours and lay out the process. When doing this, I always look forwards to "now that I see it" moments: moments when people discover that some specific annoyance in their work turns out to be critical for someone else that contributes to the process. There are also "now that I see it" moments where people realize that things are being done for no reason that contributes to customer value, but rather because that's the way we've always done it, or because we designed the new computer system by copying the old computer system which copied the paper-based system.

From there, you can take some of the opportunities for improvement and figure out how to test them out in a simple, direct way.

  • If we made this change, would it help us create more value for customers with the same effort?
  • If we made this change, would it help us create the same value for customers with less effort?

Customer value. It's something that sounds simple, is complicated, but, with practice, becomes simple again. However the idea strikes you, we think it's worth looking at your critical processes through this lens.

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.