Company culture experts urge leaders to establish clearly defined values to serve as a guide for decisions and behaviors throughout an organization.

To ensure they have the best representation of the values shared among those in leadership, companies often spend gobs of cash and time on experts who ultimately produce a document aligning the most common ideals.

Mounted on the wall, and often on the website, these key words or phrases are meant to ensure everyone is on the same page about what’s expected and acceptable.

While these values are typically inspiring and alluring, they often fail to produce the intended result—a strong team environment. In many cases, these key phrases wind up serving to weaken trust, accountability, collaboration and productivity.

Stopping into Best Buy to exchange a gift I received for store credit, I headed to the customer service line. Fortunately, the line was quick and I was walking toward the exit in less than 10 minutes.

As I made my way toward the exit, I noticed a security guard patting down the jacket of a guy leaving the store and found myself concerned—“Did that guy steal something? Are they worried he stole something? Are they going to pat down my jacket before I can leave the store?”

As I approached the exit discomfort took over and I wound up doing what I typically do in situations like this—say something ridiculous.

“Can I be next? Do I get this same level of attention?”

“No, no…” both of them responded, with a sincere discomfort that was palpable.

Moments later, the young man who was patted down caught up to me and I asked him, “What is that all about?”

“All employees have to be patted down before they can exit the store,” he said, and continued with, “Which is stupid because if I wanted to steal something I certainly wouldn’t put it in my jacket.”

“Why do they do that then?” I asked, seriously needing to understand why any company would come to the conclusion that such a practice was a good idea.

“I have no idea,” he said as he threw his jacket on and headed off, “but it’s stupid.”

Later, I looked up Best Buy’s core values

  • Unleash the Power of Our People
  • Learn from Challenge and Change
  • Show Respect, Humility, and Integrity
  • Have Fun While Being the Best

—and found myself wondering:

  • How does such a lack of trust allow the power of their people to be unleashed?
  • Have they thought about identifying theft as a cultural challenge and enlisting employees to uncover the necessary change?
  • Does this practice show respect, or encourage humility and integrity?
  • Does the executive team think such a practice is fun for anyone involved, including customers? How is anyone supposed to be their best with such a significant lack of trust?

While getting on the same page regarding values is important, what’s more important is consistently asking, “How do we know we’re living our values?” And, especially for those in leadership, “Are my behaviors in alignment with our values? How do I know they are?”

The key indicator to discovering the truth behind each question is looking at employee behaviors, along with customer feedback. If they aren’t living the values, perhaps it’s because the leadership is confused about where the real values are born and die.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister