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Affluent Christian Investor | December 8, 2023

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Shoot for Perfection Over Profit to Get More Profit: Why Managing for Means Beats Managing for Money

It’s a journey.  H. Thomas Johnson’s seminal book on the lean enterprise, Profit Beyond Measure,[1] remains not only one of my favorites and most recommended, but also perhaps the most insightful book written on this subject to this day.  Dr. Johnson compares and contrasts management by results (MBR) verse management by means (MBM).  Where a lean enterprise will focus on its processes (means), not on its profit (results), verses a traditional enterprise will do the opposite.  Yet a lean enterprise will financially outperform the traditional enterprise significantly.  This isn’t to say the lean firm is not concerned with financial outcome; they most certainly are.  But the focus of their efforts is in building and improving their processes to deliver value to their customer as effectively as possible and always searching for better processes to achieve this end.  With the underlying principle that if they focus their attention on these efforts, excellent financial outcomes will result.

In Profit Beyond Measure, MBM represents Truth, or the reality of what is actually happening and how it affects the surroundings and the complete system, and, of course people.  “A living system” as Johnson explains MBM.  MBM also focuses on what you do and how you do it; that is, it focuses on behavior.  This is much more important in the long run to become a superior operational, functional and growing[2] company.  This type of enterprise system applies directly to the individual; a focus on behavior teaches a person for the long run how to practice their work life; just as Jesus taught in the Scriptures how we are to behave and practice our lives.

When you have an MBM environment, as manifests in Toyota’s business model (Toyota Production System or the Toyota Way), it is focused on teaching others within the system how to behavior.  It teaches specific methods, techniques, philosophies on what to do and when.  It focuses both the learner and mentor on how to solve and resolve problems and issues with a specific objective in mind.  It teaches the direction of resolving problems, that is teaching how to get closer to True North or one-piece flow – or in Womack and Jones’s (Lean Thinking)[3] terms, perfection, which is the same path God wants us to take to move closer to him: perfection, through the teachings of Jesus, the perfect human.  In the lean enterprise, as it is with us as individuals, perfection is an ongoing objective that we will never reach in our lives, but nonetheless continue moving toward.

The purpose is in the journey, or process, not necessarily in the destination, especially since we will not reach it; and that by no means should lessen our persistence toward working to achieve it, just like Christianity teaches how to move you closer to God through the teachings of Jesus.  Two Steps forward, one step back.  This is true whether it is our Christian journey or our lean journey; and we must (and are instructed to) surround ourselves with fellow Christians, in our journey toward God, and fellow lean practitioners in our journey toward lean.  Together we fail, support, and learn to help each other move closer and closer to perfection.  It is a daily practice!

Romans 5:3-5 succinctly summarizes this journey and will be the basic reference to keep in mind throughout one’s daily practice.  It is completely applicable to both our life journey and our lean journey; embedded in our success, development, and evolution of each venture.

Let us also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us.[4]

When we understand, comprehend, and live this message we truly move our selves dramatically toward perfection – in lean and in life.


[1] H. Thomas Johnson, 2000, Profit Beyond Measure: Extraordinary Results Through Attention to Work and People, (New York, NY: The Free Press).

[2] Growth in the terms of development and adaptation, not growth in size and market.

[3] James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, 1996, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster), see Chapter 5, “Perfection.”

[4] Guideposts, The Guideposts Parallel Bible (Carmel, NY: Guideposts), New International, Romans 5:3-5, p. 2860.


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