The Root of All Culture

By Leo Ramirez, Jr., CEO and Co-Founder, Encast, Inc.

“What’s my culture?”

That’s the question at the very top of many leaders’ minds.

There’s no doubt that culture is a competitive advantage. The problem is, defining one’s culture isn’t always easy. While your organization’s values won’t likely change over time, culture — which is how your team embodies and clients perceive those values — constantly changes. If that weren’t enough, what leadership believes is their organizational culture is not always representative of the organization’s actual culture.

People come and go. Some changes, such as executive shifts, mass hiring & layoffs, and M&A’s, can profoundly impact culture unless it’s been solidly rooted. Even if the people in an organization never changed, attitudes, experience, age, family, and other factors can either tweak or completely shake up culture.

Having a good pulse on organizational culture can ensure that those who are hired and let go coupled with how they’re held accountable to Organizational Values can mitigate culture shock.

The key to organizational culture starts with core values.

Identifying Your Values

Every culture — workplace, family, community, etc. — is rooted in its values. Strong Organizational Values are the guiding principles from which people at all levels shape their interpersonal relationships, customer experiences, partner interactions, behaviors, and decision-making.

NOTE: The following process for defining Organizational Values works best with small organizations. That said, the process can be easily tweaked for larger organizations by simply arriving at common ground, during the “Vision” steps, among those in leadership.

Step 1: Personal Vision

Before identifying your organization’s values, you must first start with your own.

Set aside an hour or two. Then, imagine yourself in 10, 20, and 50 years. Record all the things you want out of life such as family, friends, community impact, material possessions, travel destinations, religious aspirations, etc. Be as specific as possible but do not, under any circumstances, include work. You work to live, not live to work. When you’re done, you will have a Personal Vision.

Now, take a break. A day or two is usually enough. Then, summarize your Personal Vision into 100 words or less. This becomes your Personal Touchstone. Read it often. The core themes in your Personal Touchstone are your Personal Values. There is no limit to the number of Personal Values you stand for, so enumerate away!

Feeling lost? Center yourself with your Personal Values. Can’t make a decision? Read your Personal Touchstone. Accomplish major goals? Revisit your Personal Vision and revise it and your Personal Touchstone, if necessary.

Step 2: Organizational Vision

Next, put yourself back in your organization. Then, follow the same exercise you did for your Personal Vision, but now envision your organization’s future. There’s a catch: everything you want for your organization should align with your Personal Vision. If it doesn’t, toss it out.

As before, take a break when you’re done then summarize your notes into 100 words or less. This is your Organizational Touchstone.

Step 3: Organizational Values

From here, summarize your Organizational Touchstone into your Organizational Values. Unlike your Personal Values, don’t go overboard here. Organizational Values should be easy to remember. Three to five should give you a strong, memorable foundation.

Step 3.5: Strategic Plan

A nice side benefit of this exercise is that your Organizational Vision can be used to create a strategic plan. Ultimately, as people work to achieve your plan, they advance the organization’s vision which simultaneously feeds your Personal Vision.

Whether you’re a business owner, nonprofit executive, or seeking your first job, one secret to happiness comes when organizations you work for closely align with your values.

For organizations, strong, consistent culture comes from finding and retaining people who naturally embody what the organization stands for and whos’ values are closely aligned.

Leo Ramirez, Jr.

Leo co-founded Encast (, which boosts culture and brand by aligning businesses with their most important asset: people. Encast’s philanthropically-driven machine learning will bring people closer, bridging divisions between them — political, gender, socio-economic, religious — by finding common ground through philanthropic passions. Leo launched social ventures, Encast (accelerator for economically distressed regions) and MiniDonations (micro-giving platform and social network for good). His 24-year career has spanned executive management, business development, consulting, nonprofit management, technical support and engineering positions with Southwest Key Programs, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Coremetrics, Trilogy and Apple. Leo also co-founded Copán, LLC, which provided NextDooring services from Latin America, and created “Cliff’s Notes for Dads,” Austin’s first childbirth prep class for new fathers.

Leo has extensive non-profit board experience such as CASA of Travis County, iACT of Central Texas, Mexic-Arte Museum, MexNet Alliance, and Dance International. he is a certified TAB (The Alternative Board) Facilitator and Executive Coach. He also advises startup entrepreneurs, such as Ultimatum, Roostio, Puente Phone, and was an Entrepreneur Mentor for CleanTech Open.

Leo is a Stanford University Alum with a focus on Computer Systems Engineering.