Putting people, not process, at the heart of Health & Safety

Malcolm Staves Photo V1

Malcolm Staves, Global Vice President Health & Safety at L’Oréal, is a refreshingly creative voice and thinker in the H&S space.

He’s tasked with the globalisation of H&S, with a focus on risk management, visible felt leadership and putting people at the centre. These are some of the topics he’ll be talking about at MAD World on 12th October, along with sustainable success and unlocking human capital.

As well as being the Occupational Health and Safety expert partner to the Capitals Coalition, he’s also Co-founder of WISH, which promotes diversity and inclusion within the H&S profession.

We spoke to him, from his quirky French office complete with Star Trek spaceships, Lego and Thunderbirds paraphernalia, about his maverick approach…

How did you get into Health and Safety?

I fell into it. And when I fell into it, I discovered I liked working with people. 

The other thing I really like about the role is it’s about leadership at all levels.

How many roles do you know where you’re talking to everyone, from the Board to the CEO, to line managers, to the office cleaner? A job that’s also very strategic? And which requires you really understand culture?

I’d previously been a plant manager on a site in the UK. I come from an engineering background and I don’t have a Health and Safety qualification. That hasn’t stopped me getting the job done!

At MAD World, you’re speaking on a panel about ‘investing in minds’ and ‘unleashing the power of human capital for sustainable success’. Why do you think this is an important topic?

You can’t build a sustainable business, if you don’t put your people at the heart and centre. 

Most companies have realised this, and are on that journey and talking about mental health, though in the past they might have called it something different, like stress management. 

More advanced companies realise that good mental health management is not about dealing with people by the time they’re suffering, when it’s too late. They understand, as L’Oréal really does, that employers must provide the right work environment and inclusive leadership and management so people thrive and develop mental resilience. 

Tell me more about creating sustainability of your human capital…

We have a culture transformational strategy for Health and Safety, which is a 15 year journey for the whole of L’Oréal. 

We have a roadmap, a clear vision and we know exactly where each site is on this journey. And, depending on where they are, the tools they need are different. The problem is that if you apply ‘advanced’ tools when your people are not ready, or when the culture is not ready, this will be a waste of everyone’s time and they’ll be unsustainable and, ultimately, fail.

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Culture has got to be ready for something for it to stick and be sustainable. 

And there’s no point getting a consultant in that tells you what you ‘should’ be doing and how fast you should be doing it!

You’ve said L’Oreal is a very collaborative ‘Matrix’ style organisation. Can you tell me what you’ve learnt about collaboration, the theme of MAD World?

You can’t really get anything done effectively without it.

When we develop new standards and protocols, we have a global team with representatives from all the zones across the world. It takes longer, but you get better buy-in and you get better discussions and outputs.

You also have a ‘Behavioural Science Unit’, which is predominantly consumer-facing but which you tap into too, is that right?

Yes. We use it to understand ‘nudges’ that we can use to influence employee behaviour, for example. 

That department would never in a matrix organisation say ‘oh, we’re consumer researchers, don’t don’t help Health and Safety’. We’re a truly collaborative organisation and people are constantly contacting me from all over the place asking for our expertise.

Your panel is also going to cover ‘visible felt leadership’. What is that?

That’s about involving people in what we do. For instance, we involve managers in risk assessments and identifying safety improvement opportunities. Leading in this way changes the way they think about, and see, risk.

We’ve even built further on this with our programme promoting, not just safety at work, but safety at home. This exports our safety culture outside of L’Oréal, into our families and communities, to save lives outside work, for example in reducing accidents. When colleagues see that you are now caring about their families, they become more safety conscious at work.

You’re seen as a maverick by some in the Health and Safety industry. What advice would you have to anyone who wants to make a difference and do things differently?

I was told once that I would never be a senior manager or leader in any organisation. Why? Because apparently I was too people orientated and cared too much about involving teams in the decision making process. The world has changed. And now I think the best way to lead is by being a people person, with empathy, and by trying to create win-win situations. This way you take everyone on the journey with you and it’s what I call the ‘hummingbird approach’ where every single act counts, no matter how small.

Now I will happily look for the win-win conditions and compromise where needed if I think we are moving in the right general direction. It’s also important to know your true north, and that we can get there without going the direct route, especially if it means you take everyone with you.


Malcolm Staves will be joining us at the MAD World Summit on 12th October, along with an an impressive roster of speakers from Age UK, BAM UK&I, BBC, Belron, BITC, Britvic, Costain, Deloitte, Dentsu, EY, Goldman Sachs, Heath Foundation, Heathrow, HSBC, IBM, Ipsos, Mars, Metro Bank, Microsoft, Mind, National Grid, Novartis, Unipart, Royal Bank of Scotland, Starbucks, Village Hotels and many more

If you haven’t booked your tickets yet, don’t miss out. You can find full details and book here.

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