Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Or Maybe The UMC is Like Toyota?

In good Wesleyan style you will find MANY questions here for consideration and discussion.

My weekend post, which asked questions about similarities between the UMC and the Big 3, has solicited some interesting comments which were posted, and a number of other e-mails and conversations. Again, I confess I have many questions as I note the comparison, and am curious if you have any answers. Maybe together we'll find some answers which will make all of us stronger as a Church! At the least some good dialogue is being generated which might encourage all of us.

An interesting follow up & comparison is to consider the business practices of an institution which models a different approach than the Big 3. Google the Toyota Plan and you will find years of information about their business principles. I'll pull just a few items (a danger as a system is best kept intact AND since systems take years to assemble/disassemble), yet this may stimulate our discussion, creativity, & organization.

The Toyota Way involves 14 principles that constitute the approach. The principles are organized in four broad categories: 1) long-term philosophy, 2) the right process will produce the right results, 3) add value to the organization by developing your people, and 4) continuously solving root problems drives organizational learning. http://www.si.umich.edu/ICOS/Liker04.pdf Contrast that with an emphasis on mass production, employee and executive salaries and benefits which are higher than the institution and market can bear, and ongoing discussions about institutional ills and decay which points to problems yet which doesn't seem to take corrective measures in a timely fashion. It's a challenge to compare a manufacturing/production scheme to the church, but there are some management principles which likely have church application. Find below a number of the principles which may help our discussion and action in the church.

Section I: Long-Term Philosophy
Principle 1. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.

Section II: The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results
Principle 2. Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.

Principle 4. Level out the workload

Section III: Add Value to the Organization by Developing Your People
Principle 9. Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.

Principle 10. Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.

Principle 11. Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.

Section IV: Continuously Solving Root Problems Drives Organizational Learning
Principle 12. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation.

Principle 13. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly.
■ Do not pick a single direction and go down that one path until you have thoroughly considered alternatives. When you have picked, move quickly and continuously down the path.
■ This is a process of discussing problems and potential solutions with all of those affected, to collect their ideas and get agreement on a path forward. This consensus process, though time-consuming, helps broaden the search for solutions, and once a decision is made, the stage is set for rapid implementation.

Principle 14. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.
■ Once you have established a stable process, use continuous improvement tools to determine the root cause of inefficiencies and apply effective countermeasures.
■ Design processes that require almost no inventory. This will make wasted time and resources visible for all to see. Once waste is exposed, have employees use a continuous improvement process to eliminate it.
■ Protect the organizational knowledge base by developing stable personnel, slow promotion, and very careful succession systems.
■ Use reflection at key milestones and after you finish a project to openly identify all the shortcomings of the project. Develop countermeasures to avoid the same mistakes again.
■ Learn by standardizing the best practices, rather than reinventing the wheel with each new project and each new manager.

I believe that some churches (of all sizes in various locations), but this is likely a small number, are on the Toyota track. I've been fortunate to have served 3 such churches in two different conferences. Yet, I'm afraid this may be the exception to the rule. I suspect that new churches may have more opportunity to instill a culture and practice similar to the Toyota approach, though give them a little time and I bet they can as easily become a Big 3 institution.

LOTS of insights and questions emerge from these principles as I compare this type performance standard with typical church, conference, and denominational work.
  • Toyota seeks to develop a system and a culture which emphasizes continuous improvement of the process and of the workers. In the Toyota Way the people bring the system to life; the system encourages, supports, and demands worker involvement. At every level the workers have a sense of urgency, purpose, and teamwork, and seek to improve themselves and help each other improve. The goal is on developing people! How might such emphasis on teamwork across a United Methodist conference (regardless if clergy or laity, of clergy order or status, years served, etc.) transform us? How might such an emphasis in a local congregation transform the ministry for laity and clergy?
  • Note the emphasis on bringing problems to the surface and everyone impacted by the issue in the system is part of the conversation dealing with the problem. How might this approach be used as a new management tool at church, district, & conference levels? How might we broaden this approach to ministry in the community?
  • Much of the culture is imparted, nurtured, developed, and encouraged person to person. What might this approach mean to a local congregation in evangelism and discipleship? How might such an approach transform clergy training? Is there potential for a mentoring or apprentice style of ministry which would produce effective laity and clergy?
  • I understand the local congregation as the "production facility." That means the seminary, conference, agency, denomination, etc. are partners in the enterprise in support of the work of the local congregation. I fear that too much of our approach in recent years may have had this backwards! These various entities should serve to enhance and encourage the production facility and should be judged accordingly. The primary agenda of these various partners should be established by the needs and the problems identified in the "production facility."
  • Hmmm, not even sure how to best phrase some of this without getting into real trouble! How can we best be a "deployed ministry" (NOTE: I've broadened this to define the truth of Wesleyan Christianity which engages all clergy orders, missionaries, AND laity!) with some of the focus, urgency, methodology, quest for learning and excellence, and sense of long term leadership reforming the institutions we serve. Or, perhaps another question, can Big 3 culture administrators supervise Toyota culture clergy?!
  • "Relentless reflection and continuous improvement" might best be facilitated by a missionally oriented District Superintendent and Bishop. But that would presuppose a radical reorientation from our old approaches to substantial engagement of our churches. How do "company" men and women learn a new playbook? I'm not sure how we exchange a Big 3 handbook for a Toyota handbook! While some would see this as collegial exchange others would take offense and see this as subversive. Any ideas on ways the old forms and formats might give way to new connectional systems which would match a Toyota worldview?

What do you think?

1 comment:

Scott Parrish said...

Of course, recent news related to the global economic depression and Toyota reveals they have also taken a beating financially this year. It will be interesting to see if they "rise to the occasion" and make the necessary institutional adjustments to remain competitive, or if some new upstart carries the momentum.