Ben Horowitz, co-founder of the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, thinks that the best way to convey the importance of new employee orientation to executives is through a story about a brutal prison murder.
At the WIRED25 Festival in San Francisco Friday, Horowitz explained that when it comes to explaining these concepts to CEOs, the straightforward approach doesnâ€™t work. If he simply told them that new employee orientation programs were valuable and worth emphasizing, they would blow him off, he said.
â€œShaka Senghor, first day in prison,â€� Horowitz continued, referring to the now best-selling author who spent 19 years in prison for murder in 1991. â€œHe comes out of quarantine, goes into the rec area. A prisoner walks up to another prisoner, stabs them in the neck. Guy bleeds out, dies. Guy throws the shank in the trash, goes to the chow hall and has a sandwich.â€�
Horowitz recalled Senghor telling him that watching this gory scene unfold made Senghor wonder whether he would be able to kill one of his fellow inmates in the same way. â€œBut I knew that I had to ask myself: Could I do that to survive? Because thatâ€™s what it took to survive here,â€� Horowitz recalled Senghor saying.
â€œSo you see how his culture gets changed on new employee orientation,â€� said Horowitz. â€œPeople walk into your company and they go [how do] you succeed in here? This happens every single day.â€�
If a new employee sees â€œa guy [whoâ€™s] got a big jobâ€� take credit for another employeeâ€™s work and get rewarded for it, that will influence their understanding of what success looks like at their new workplace, he explained. Horowitz told WIRED editor at large Steven Levy that he uses â€œthe violenceâ€� to make points like these clear.
Shaka Senghor, who Horowtiz describes as a formidable prison gang boss, is but one of four people that he considers to be exemplary models of leadership and culture building. Horowitz said the other figures that were â€œvery influentialâ€� on his thinking are: Genghis Khan, the Mongol conquerer infamous for slaughtering tens of millions of people; Toussaint Lâ€™Ouverture, leader of Haitiâ€™s successful slave revolt; and â€œthe Samuraiâ€� of Japan generally, who he says he admires for their culture and how they treat death.
Horowitz said that what he found so instructive about Senghorâ€™s story was that, â€œin Silicon Valley, you can take culture for granted because people come with a lot of cultural elements, starting with they know how to show up on time for an interview,â€� he explained. â€œIn prison, like, you donâ€™t have a big basis, so you really have to start from the first principles when youâ€™re talking about building an organization that can be effective and keep each other safe.â€�
When asked by Levy how the Haitian slave revolt and Genghis Khan has helped him in his business endeavors, Horowitz cited Uber as an example.
â€œ[Uber] ran into some issues with the culture, but people wrote it up as â€˜Uber has got this out of control toxic [culture] but it was a very in control, highly designed culture that they trained on really effectively,â€� he said. â€œIt was really well designed, really well executed, but it was missing this one little piece, which is, with ethics, if you donâ€™t make them explicit and have a strong reason behind them and make them really specific, then the business incentive will just run over the kind of ethical rail.â€�