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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

What Are These Materials?

Culture Self-Assessment Practice

What Are These Materials?

Ann Skeet

Over the past five years, the Markkula Center has had experiences in partnership with corporations allowing us to develop a Culture Self-Assessment Practice, a set of recommended approaches to evaluating culture for ethics within organizations. This project shares free materials to encourage and support culture assessment within companies and other types of organizations. These materials are primarily for members of an organization’s leadership team, including human resources and legal, but designed to engage a cross-section of leaders from various disciplines.

This compendium of materials is designed to facilitate assessments of ethical culture using focus groups and shareware technology, encouraging rapid iteration and understanding of an organization’s culture in real time, in a way that can be digested and acted upon by the organization’s senior leadership. Amid growing interest in ethical decision-making in certain sectors, like the technology industry, and in response to certain societal interests, such as those triggered by the #MeToo movement, culture has become more top-of-mind in business settings. These materials are offered to help companies shift their practices from thinking about culture management as a soft skill to recognizing that it can be approached as a hard skill—one that is technical, can be measured, and managed.

The materials in phase one offer a design process for culture assessment; a case study example the Markkula Center conducted for a large, multinational corporation; a set of sample questions for general ethical culture evaluation and also for targeted areas in the environment and data security; frameworks for ethical decision-making; and a slide deck for sharing the process and materials with colleagues. 

Materials in a later phase will share research findings from a study conducted in Silicon Valley in California and the Basque Country of Spain, in conjunction with Deusto, the Jesuit university located there and its ethics center.  The phase two research will identify conditions that promote ethics in companies, key opportunities for companies to integrate ethics into their work practices, skills that can be developed to add in the spread of ethics, and elements of culture that can be identified and cultivated by company leaders wishing to encourage ethics. The final phase of materials will share findings from a study aiming to identify the beliefs held by leaders and the skills developed to promote ethics in the workplace.

All of these materials are made available under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) for noncommercial use with attribution and no derivatives. If your organization adds to or changes these materials in anyway, please distinguish clearly between these materials and those developed internally.

As the culture management research project affirms, an effective culture change management process is an iterative one. In order for organizations to substantially manage culture for ethics, assessments at regular intervals are recommended. As our experience with Seagate in our case study solidified, active engagement and sponsorship by the management team and/or board of directors, including the engagement of various C-suite executives and key stakeholders is necessary for this approach to culture assessment to be meaningful.

We are grateful to the Park Family Fund, held at the Catholic Community Foundation of Santa Clara County, for supporting this project through a grant to the Markkula Center, and to Seagate Technology PLC  for piloting the materials shared in this initial phase of the Culture Assessment Practice. We hope to have additional opportunities to follow-up on this work in ways that leverage our initial sets of findings. For information in collaborating with us, or for any feedback on these materials, please email

Jun 19, 2019

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