The Pope, and a Bishop by the name of Giuseppe Piemontese, had the right idea, but like many wrestling with lean principles, missed the main point. Right church – wrong pew in churchspeak. The religious folks like so many others just can’t seem to grasp the fundamental difference between lean thinking and lean culture and old school management thinking.

Let me give you the background. The big German steel company, ThyssenKrupp, is in trouble largely due to managing themselves like a big company. Their answer? Do the only think big companies know to do: Whack the headcount. The headcount in question is that at their plant in Terni Italy.

Enter the good bishop who says the headcount whacking plan failed to live up to the standards of “participation, sociality, fraternity, family, and teamwork in a market economy.” He got that right. Along comes the Pope to pile on, saying “With work, it’s not a game! And who – for the sake of money, or business, or to earn even more – takes away work, know he takes away the dignity of the person.” He adds, “At the center of every question, even those dealing with work, we should put the human person and his dignity.”

The boys from the Vatican are absolutely right. Where they miss the boat, however, is when the Pope argues, “Once again, I make a heartfelt appeal, that a logic of profit does not prevail, but one of solidarity and justice.” There he falls right back into the old capital versus labor trap. It is either profit or human dignity – a zero sum game – can’t have both so it would seem.

That same view of things is shared by way too many managers – that profits are somehow diametrically opposed to committing to and taking care of people. They seem to think that accomplishing the Pope’s urging to respect the dignity of people inherently reduces profit.

Anyone who thinks this way misses the beauty and the power of what Toyota has done entirely.


I suppose people see what they want to see and filter the obvious to make it fit preconceived notions, but this basic chart that is boilerplate for Toyota – the standard diagram they throw at anyone who wants to know what they are up to say what it means and means what it says … no ‘buts’, no ‘except fors’. It says “Customer first”, “Respect for humanity” and “Elimination of waste” are basic philosophies, with no pecking order among them – no assumed priority. The same – equal.

And it says Highest quality, Lowest cost, Shortest lead time, Work satisfaction, Job security, Consistent income (for employees), Market flexibility and Profit are all equally desired outcomes. There is no implied priority for profits – no underlying assumption that any of the other desired outcomes can be tossed under the bus if there is more profit to be gained by doing so.  You can scramble them around and it makes no difference what order you put them in.  All equally desired outcomes and all feeding from each other – not in conflict with each other.

The difference between old school capital versus labor, Pope-style thinking, Harvard Business School chase-cheap-labor-to whatever-hell-hole-you-can-find-it thinking and Toyota/Lean thinking is the utter rejection of this zero sum game notion. The Pope and the MBA CEO’s spend all their time worrying about how to slice the pie so as to get the biggest slices for themselves and the shareholders. Labor unions fall into the same trap, worrying about how to get bigger slices for the workers.

Toyota doesn’t believe in that game. You cannot accomplish those desired outcomes by playing that game. On the contrary, they believe the goal is bake bigger pies; and when they do there is more than enough pie to go around for everyone. No need to bicker over the size of the slices when there is a steady increase in the number of slices to be had.

This is why lean only works as a growth strategy; and not as a cost reduction strategy. It wasn’t designed to be a weapon for reducing pie slice sizes. It simply won’t work when applied toward that end.

The Pope is right – dignity for people should be at the heart of every business decision; but the Pope is dead wrong when he suggests that dignity for people is somehow opposed to profits. The lean philosophy – the Toyota philosophy is quite the opposite – that higher profits result from treating people with dignity, rather than, instead of treating them with dignity.