RiskTalk – a start-up created at HEC Lausanne – is now operating outside the university, having successfully completed a one-year action research phase that validated its relevance and commercial potential. The start-up, which benefited from InnoTREK funding, is building up a select client base of companies and has secured seed funding from Venture Kick. It is a story of a project that successfully combines insights from social science and application in managerial practice.
RiskTalk is the latest example of an entrepreneurial project that has turned research carried out at HEC Lausanne into practical reality, and at the same time established a collaborative relationship between researchers and businesses based in Switzerland. It has been the brainchild of Prof. Anette Mikes and project manager Charles Newman.
RiskTalk: the genesis of an entrepreneurial project
From the outset, RiskTalk had a number of valuable assets: support from HEC’s Department of Accounting and Control, Prof. Mikes’ network in the world of risk management, and financial support from the InnoTREK fund (University of Lausanne).
Between 2014 and 2016, Prof. Mikes collaborated with Swissgrid (the national high-voltage electricity grid operator) on a research project that explored risk culture. Out of this project came the idea that bottom-up communication was essential to understand, monitor and shape the organization’s risk culture. The researcher and Kurt Meyer, chief risk officer of Swissgrid, set out to design a tool and a process to encourage employees to speak up about issues related to the core values and priorities of the firm.
The inquiry led to an innovation-action research project, led by Prof. Mikes, which enabled the HEC research team to create the reporting application called RiskTalk, enhanced with a monitoring and control system.
InnoTREK provided the project with a year’s financial support, allowing Professor Mikes to hire an experienced software programmer, Charles Newman, to create the prototype and the full software package.
RiskTalk: a better conversation in safety-critical organizations
RiskTalk is based on research carried out by Prof. Mikes into the causes of man-made disasters and risk incubation. It is a 21st century communication tool that is designed to fight risk incubation by allowing people to report about issues they care about related to the priorities of their day-to-day work. Traditional top-down communication tends to narrow, silence of even bias employee voices. The essence of RiskTalk, which turns risk communication into bottom - up communication, in contrast, is that it is on employees' terms, not on managements'; it is "genuine" as long as it is protected from interference "from above".
RiskTalk: how it works
RiskTalk is a tool that empowers employees to speak up about issues that affect core priorities, and allows managers to take action and monitor problem-solving in real-time. The intuitive mobile app can be used on a smartphone and allows users to report a problem they encounter in their workplace proactively in real time, as well as add relevant information such as photos and location. To ensure psychological safety, reports can be submitted by employees anonymously. In the back office, issues get assigned to people who are then responsible for resolving the matter. The platform also sends out a notification that informs everyone concerned, including the reporters, as soon as the problem is resolved, maintaining momentum and motivation.
RiskTalk in action
Swissgrid, the first organization to use the application, received more than 300 reports in 2017, the majority of which was successfully resolved in the same year. The tool received excellent feedback from managers and employees who have come to see RiskTalk “as a way to get things done.” The tool is now being rolled out across Swissgrid’s suppliers and partners.
RiskTalk was also put into action in January 2018 at the SIHH (International Fine Watch Fare) in Geneva in a security management capacity for the entire duration of the fare. It has generated 150 issues during the week, all of which have been resolved promptly.
Projects like this signify that many insights generated by management research are relevant to practice. Researchers have much to contribute to economic life, and in doing so, they get to understand it better.