What do a car manufacturer and the LDS Church have in common? Apparently a lot, according to a speaker at the annual Sunstone Symposium on Thursday.

"If Toyota ran the Church: What a car company can teach organized religion" was the premise of a speech by Tania Rands Lyon at the Sheraton Hotel.

It wasn't about what the church does wrong, but highlighted similarities she sees between the two organizations and how they could learn from each other.

Lyon is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and director of organizational performance improvement for a Pittsburgh hospital who has also studied Toyota for six years.

"If Mormons want to look to corporate business models for methods and tools … we would do well to align ourselves with more gospel-compatible models such as Toyota," she said.

Both strive for nothing less than the best, promote reflection on how to do better and Toyota's model includes elements of the repentance process the church uses.

Toyota makes connections with people and is "not your normal corporation business model," she said, explaining one of the things the company does best is "they have learned how to learn."

"GM makes cars. Toyota makes people who make cars," Lyon said, noting that the company's investment in people works to the company's advantage.

Lyon said you have to be careful not to confuse the Toyota production system (machines) with Toyota's production system (people).

You have to understand that it's about people, both with the church and Toyota. While companies often look to machinery for improvements, Toyota looks to people first.

She said Toyota has a philosophy that "no problem is (a) problem." They foster humility and that it's OK to fail as long as you reflect and learn. Toyota plants average 10,000 employee suggestions a year and 98 percent of them are tested.

Toyota also has a philosophy of the customer is first, of continuous improvement and respecting people.

The "everything a little bit up" Toyota philosophy lines up well with the church's "lengthen your stride" mantra.

Lyon also said Toyota strives to transcend differences, rather than compromise.

She believes there's room for the church to look at Toyota, even though one of the about 50 people who attended the session said they already think the church is run too much like a corporation.

"I'm not saying this is easy," Lyon said. "But we can look to this business model." That's especially relevant she said for the church if it wants to expand its system of idea gathering and open communication and also of customizing programs to local areas.

Symposium schedule

The Sunstone Symposium continues through Saturday. Go to www.sunstonemagazine.com/symposium.html for more schedule information.