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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The Markkula Center’s Experience with Culture Assessment

Culture Self-Assessment Practice

The Markkula Center’s Experience with Culture Self-Assessment

Ann Skeet

For thirty years, the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics has worked with numerous organizations in the Silicon Valley and worldwide exploring ethics in business and government settings, and more recently, in the social sector working with nonprofits and philanthropists. Over the years, we have provided confidential counsel, training, tools, and facilitation and moderation to people in companies and organizations seeking to strengthen the good life in their work and the well-being of the people doing it. 

The Ethical Culture Self-Assessment, shared here as part of our recommendations for a Culture Self-Assessment Practice, offers corporate boards and senior management teams a unique opportunity to peer into the health of their company’s culture. It provides companies with information to assess the alignment between the current ethical culture and their espoused values. As a tool of leadership and governance, it provides a meaningful way for boards and executive management teams to understand culture, and set and clarify expectations.

In 2014, we developed a customized assessment of culture for Seagate, a multinational corporation, founded in the Silicon Valley and currently incorporated in Ireland. The company has $10.8 billion in sales and 41,000 employees in 35 locations spread across 14 countries.

Because of relationships we had with the company’s CEO and it’s lead independent board director our work began with an established level of trust and openness. This allowed us to partner easily with Seagate to develop a unique tool, differentiated from traditional survey-based employee assessment tools. The materials shared in this Culture Self-Assessment Practice derive from that experience and subsequent conversations with principals in other companies in the Silicon Valley and other US and international locations. 

After these tools were developed, a separate set of research conducted in partnership between two Jesuit universities in different countries—Santa Clara University and Deusto in Bilboa, Spain, further explored the nature of culture development and management. The findings from that research, which will be shared in the near future, confirmed the critical role culture assessment plays in organization’s ability to promote ethics in a way that permeates the company.

The pilot Culture Self-Assessment in our practice at the Markkula Center was conducted in 2014, culminating in a presentation to Seagate’s board of directors in July 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. Originally set on the board’s agenda for a 45-minute presentation by Kirk Hanson and Jim O’Toole to the board, the result was a much longer, engaging exchange. The richness of the findings from the unique process developed by the Markkula Center proved to offer the board and the senior management team multiple entry points for exploring ethics in Seagate, understanding the company’s ethical culture, and preparing together a set of next steps to build on the assessment’s findings.

The initial tools were developed for the Markkula Center by a team of ethics professionals, led by Kirk O. Hanson, the former, long-time executive director of the Center. He was joined by Jim O’Toole, a Senior Fellow in business ethics at the Center at the time, Jim Balassone (deceased), former Executive-in-Residence in business ethics, Senior Director of Leadership Ethics, Ann Skeet, and program coordinator, Patrick Coutermarsh.

We share these tools in an open source way in the hopes that companies find them adaptable to their own circumstances and choose to apply some of them in their own organizations working with assessors they trust.

Mar 20, 2019

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