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COO’s solemn pledge gains staff buy-in

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Tom Voss knew he had to do something. He ran a company with a poor safety ­rec­­ord and the status quo was ­­un­­acceptable.

At the time, Voss was chief operating officer of Ameren, a utility company in the Midwest. He sought to overhaul the firm’s lax safety culture by hosting a meeting with 200 of his senior man­agers.

To galvanize his audience, the normally soft-spoken Voss turned into an inspiring dynamo. He began by visualizing a future where Ameren had an injury-free workplace. Then he made a direct appeal to his managers.

“Ameren can achieve a perfect safety record if we all believe it is possible and we all put our minds to it,” he told them. “If we are committed to safety, our people will be committed to safety.”

To top it off, he did something totally out of character: He made a solemn pledge to make safety a priority.

He stood tall as he vowed, “I will not commit an unsafe act. I will insist that my fellow employees not commit an unsafe act. I commit to safety.”

Realizing that he needed to involve his audience, he re­­quested that everyone in the room stand and recite the same pledge. They did—and voicing their commitment to safety in unison made a lasting impression.

Ten years later, Ameren is in the top 10% in its industry for injury prevention and safety performance. Competitors try to copy Ameren’s safety culture.

Voss, 66, spent his entire 45-year career at the company earning promotions until he rose to president, CEO and chairman in 2006. He retired in June 2014.

— Adapted from Lead Positive, Kathryn Cramer, Jossey-Bass.

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