Professor honored for research focusing on how unethical behavior can develop in a corporate culture
Adam Waytz, an associate professor of management and organizations at Kellogg School of Management, was awarded the 2015 Early Career Award from the International Social Cognition Network (ISCON) for his research on topics related to values-based leadership.
Waytz’s research has delved into what kind of conduct can foster ethical and unethical behavior in a corporate culture.
The ISCON award honors contributions of junior scientists who are no more than six years post PhD in the field of social cognition.
The honor is the third prestigious award for Kellogg faculty in the last few months. Others include:
- David Besanko, the IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practices at Kellogg, received the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program’s 2015 Faculty Pioneer Award for developing coursework that studies the relationships between capital markets, firms and the public good.
- Jan Eberly, the James R. and Helen D. Russell Professor of Finance and former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Treasury, was named co-editor of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, a leading economic journal.
“The award is a great recognition of both Adam’s research and his development as a scholar,” said Robert McDonald, the Erwin P. Nemmers Professor of Finance and senior associate dean, faculty and research.
The tale of Sherry Hunt
Much of Waytz’s research connected him with the story of whistleblower Sherry Hunt
. After having her voice go unheard within CitiMortgage regarding the certification of unqualified mortgages for Federal Housing Administration insurance during the financial crisis, Hunt reported the company for defrauding the FHA.
Waytz’s research looked at how Citi could have prevented the chain of events that led to the company paying a $158.3 million settlement after Hunt filed a false claims lawsuit.
Disorganization, misaligned incentives, physical distance between corporate leadership and employees, and an unwillingness to engage in dissent all contributed to the company’s unethical culture, according to Waytz. People want an organization they can trust, he said, and this means backing up employees who speak out against fraud and other unethical behaviors.
Understanding ‘the process of humanization’
Waytz’s initial goal in his research was to understand how and why people perceive thoughts, feelings, intentions and beliefs in other people. This led Waytz to study how the assessments people make about mental states can “predict a whole host of phenomena related to mortality.”
“For example, if we consider someone to experience feelings and emotions, then we feel obligated to treat them morally,” Waytz said. “If we don’t consider them to experience these mental states, then we might behave more unethically toward them.”
Waytz said the research became more interesting once they started thinking about perceiving minds as “the process of humanization.” His research found that when failing to consider someone else’s mental states, they are then seen as less human.
Waytz believes people are generally ethical, but that does not change the fact that they may be asked or persuaded to do things that conflict with their values.
For Kellogg students it is important to know what these features of the corporate culture are and how to avoid their “pernicious effects,” Waytz said. “As business leaders of the future, it’s important to design a culture that encourages ethical behavior rather than one that has the potential to cause harm.”