Dr. Melissa Baucus
Some researchers focus on one topic area and resist or ignore any projects outside of that area. My approach has been quite different. I can often see relationships between seemingly different topics and I sometimes choose a project based on the other researchers who are involved. If there’s a way I can make a meaningful contribution and be able to work with some smart, talented and fun colleagues, I will often say yes. This means I end up with what appears to outsiders to be an eclectic mix of studies.
The interesting aspect is that these detours through the forest often open my eyes to exciting new perspectives, theories, methods and other learning that I could not have discovered otherwise. The core of my research—the area that always draws me back in—involves organizational misconduct. I’m fascinated by how organizations go wrong: how do managers engage in and even train employees to engage in misconduct or illegal activities (e.g., product liability violations with punitive damages for knowing of a problem but taking no action; class action discrimination lawsuits; price fixing, etc.); how do entrepreneurs start or fall into Ponzi schemes; what occurs in an organization so an employee ends up wrongfully fired in violation of public policy; what sort of conflicts arise between franchisors and their franchisees; can NASCAR stop cheating and do they really want to stop it since it increases viewership; does it matter when we impose penalties on corporations for breaking the law; when NCAA governed football teams break the rules, how does this affect these teams’ performance? This interest in organizational misconduct meshes with my interest in organizational creativity as creativity is often promoted as the need for rule breaking, creativity has been shown to link to moral attentiveness and moral imagination (both things that affect ethical decision making) and we rarely discuss ethics in conjunction with creativity.
When I started my career, the primary theory used to explain corporate crime was economic theory or an argument that corporations engaged in illegal behavior because managers engaged in a rational decision making process in which the benefits of crime outweighed the costs and the probability of getting caught. I didn’t buy that explanation then and I still don’t. One of the benefits of delving into other areas of research is that it opens my eyes to other theories that can account for organizational misconduct. I’m not yet sure how I could do it, but I’d like to gather data from victims of entrepreneurs’ Ponzi schemes to learn what social influences strategies (a lá Robert Cialdini’s work) the entrepreneurs used to convince the victims to invest their money. This is the flip side of another project that I hope to find time to do one of these days and that’s using the cases on entrepreneurs who start Ponzi schemes to develop and support a theoretical model for how illegal entrepreneurs build trust. Hopefully this is enough on my research to help all of you know what I do and if there’s anything here that interests you as a joint project.