Learning from Lean, Part 6

By Andrew Parris and Don Pope, reprinted from Christian Business ReviewCitations have been omitted.

Part six of a series.

What Christian Leaders Can Learn from Lean

Christian leaders, workers and organizations can have confidence that they can learn from and apply Lean wisdom to help them succeed in their work and even to strengthen their Christian identity and mission.

Our experiences in Christian ministry have shown us that Christian organizations often struggle with the very things that Lean focuses on. The concepts of “value,” “customer” and “waste” are hard to understand and apply in Christian church and ministry contexts because these are arguably the most gut-wrenching ideas to apply anywhere. Allowing customers (external stakeholders and God himself as revealed through Scripture) to define value for us will inevitably conflict with long-held internally-driven beliefs about what we think is important. If we take Lean principles seriously, we will need to question established traditions, outdated programs, burdensome administrative procedures, excessive centralized control, unfruitful committees, superfluous activities, elaborate facilities, some staff positions and our inadequate understanding of and outreach to non-Christians.

Most importantly, Lean reminds Christian leaders to prioritize the parallel Christian principles that they already know, yet may have forgotten or neglected. Secondly, Lean provides principles and tools that Christian leaders can apply as they lead others, whether in business, ministry or church. Toyota and many others have thought and written about what Lean means for leaders. In line with these insights, we propose these priorities for Christian leaders derived from the seven Lean principles:

1. Focus on Pleasing God and Providing Value to Your Customers

It is easy for an organization to lose its direction, to focus on policies and bureaucratic procedures, rather than on pleasing God and serving people. Christian leaders should take time to find out or to rediscover their personal purpose and the purpose of their organization and every department, committee or other entity in it. What pleases God can be found through prayer, reading the Bible, learning from and discussion with others, and reflection. Have your teams meet with and ask their customers what they value and what they want from the goods and services your organization offers or can offer.

2. Identify and Eliminate Waste and Sin

Knowing your purpose, facilitate a review of how your organization (or your part of it) provides value to your customers. As you do this, identify all the obstacles that hinder you personally and your organization from pleasing God and delivering value. Identify unevenness, overburden, the eight types of waste and administrative burdens; then find ways to eliminate or at least reduce them. Stop what does not bear fruit, and prune what is bearing fruit for greater fruitfulness.

Leaders should also look in their own life to identify the cares of this world, the anxieties and the sins that hinder them and trip them up. Sin not only causes great hurt and loss to others, but it also harms the sinner (Proverbs 5:22) and separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). With humility and wisdom, leaders should also partner with others to identify and eliminate organizational sin, such as various forms of discrimination and unfair treatment of employees.

3. Work on the Root

When we are busy and we encounter a problem, we often feel we don’t have the time to stop, identify the root cause of the problem, and prevent it from happening again. We make a quick fix and endure the same problems again and again. However, leaders should encourage their teams to prevent their recurrence through root cause analysis and mistake-proofing, or applying the Plan-Do-Check-Act problem solving cycle. Once the best-known way to do something has been found, it should be documented and shared to become “standard work,” which serves both as a great way to train new people and as a springboard for continuous improvement.

The same principle applies to a leader’s character and behavior. Rather than continuing to sin and asking for forgiveness, leaders must work – with God’s strength and the encouragement and wisdom of others – to purify their hearts and overcome sin, and in so doing become more like Christ.

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