If you have worked in the manufacturing industry in the United States within the past three decades you have probably had training in Total Quality Management. The principles of TQM were first popularized in Japan after the second world war. Americans, most notably W. Edwards Deming, helped reorient the Japanese manufacturing industry from making planes and tanks to making cars. TQM, or kaizen in Japanese, refers to a process of continuous improvement, and it relies on teamwork and responsibility rather than a top-down command structure. Toyota was the first big success story.
Let’s say that a mistake keeps getting made at the same place on the assembly line. It might be that the worker at that place (let’s call him Mr. Brown, like in the missionary discussions) is incompetent or doesn’t care. But when the same problem keeps happening on different shifts and in different plants, we can know that the problem is not the worker, but the system itself. Kaizen requires us to try to fix the problem rather than try to fix blame. Instead of finding a scapegoat, we need to find a solution. We have identified the problem at Mr. Brown’s place on the line, but since it is a structural problem rather than a personnel problem, the solution requires teamwork. We might need to hire more workers, provide better training, or reconfigure the line. We might need to do all those things, and more, but the key point is this: Mr. Brown cannot implement any of those solutions by himself. Nothing will improve until the suits in the corner offices get involved.
Last week in conference, Elder Anderson said this:
“Sincerely asking for and listening to the thoughts and concerns voiced by women is vital in life, in marriage, and in building the kingdom of God.
Twenty years ago in general conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard related a conversation he had with the general president of the Relief Society. There was a question raised about strengthening the worthiness of youth preparing to serve missions. Sister Elaine Jack said with a smile, “You know, Elder Ballard, the [women] of the Church may have some good suggestions … if they [are] asked. After all, … we are their mothers!”.
Apparently, we in the church still are, intentionally or unintentionally, excluding women’s voices, and this has been a recurring, predictable problem for at least the last 25 years. My guess is that there is a copy of Elder Ballard’s “Counseling With Our Councils” gathering dust on the shelf of the meetinghouse library in every LDS building in the English-speaking world. The bishops in the church are almost overwhelmingly very good men who are trying their level best to do a hard job. It is not productive to lay the blame on them. Some of them are trying, and succeeding, to include sisters in decision-making. Still others might think they are inclusive, but that would come as big news to the women over whom they preside. If we apply the principles of kaizen to this problem, we se a textbook case of a problem that is systemic and structural. The problem might be happening in the bishop’s office, but the solution to the problem will have to come from somewhere above his pay grade.