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Andrew Hull, MBA

Lean Management: Applying Ignatian Spirituality to the Organization

According to a recent Gallup study, only 13% of worldwide employees are fully engaged in their jobs. This means that in the area of life where billions of people spend most of their waking hours, they are unable to feel whole and happy. For Christians, it can be quite difficult to connect their jobs with Jesus’s directive to let their “good works give glory to God.” The consequence of this lack of wholeness creates suffering which can lead to depression, addiction, or broken families. For organizations, the toll is poor service, poor quality, internal dysfunction, and ultimately lost profits. This problem of lack of engagement creates a hurdle for the sustainability of tomorrow’s businesses. The purpose of this paper is to introduce Lean management as a practical means for Jesuit business leaders to create organizations that provide more fulfillment—not only to staff, but for the leaders themselves—by demonstrating Lean’s similarities to Ignatian Spirituality in terms of objective, method, and mindset. Lean is a management philosophy focused on transforming the way organizations operate. For several decades practitioners have formulated the methodology by studying the success of Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers. The similarities between Lean and Ignatian Spirituality include: Objective: Like St. Ignatius’s journey to obtain a more perfect union with God in this life, Lean organizations embrace the objective of continual and permanent improvement. Each day, teams in Lean organizations work together to move closer to an unattainable ideal state. Method: Just as St. Ignatius developed the Spiritual Exercises and daily Examen as codified rituals to focus effort and discern the path forward, Lean organizations use tools like A3 problem solving and Hansei reflection to make advancements. Mindset: The Lean practice of “going to the gemba” requires a manager to spend time at the place where work is performed—such as a factory floor—to more deeply understand the environment before any changes can be introduced. This practice aligns very closely with Pope Francis’s call for priests to be shepherds that “smell like their sheep.” By introducing Lean management and drawing its parallels to Ignatian Spirituality it is my hope that more Jesuit taught professionals will embrace the processes of organizational and spiritual transformation. With these efforts more in union and complementary to each other, it will ultimately lead to positive results for the individual, the employees around them, and their businesses.