The only "positive" here is that it can affect the individual's moral to know you are not meeting expectations - but that has to be communicated regardless. If it's understood it has to be communicated and there is a list specifically including the individual, it's up to the company to manage that communication in a supportive manner.
And the consequences of this secretive list are a culture of fear and uncertainty and doubt. Especially with the harsh consequences such as - if you leave while on this secretive list (which you cannot even know you are on) - you are ineligible for rehire.
The solution is not to maintain a secretive list of employees who have performance issues - it is to be fully transparent about those performance issues and destigmatize being included in this nebulous secretive list in the first place - through a culture of support and shared success.
Honestly it boggles my mind how Amazon managers accept this status quo at the scale that Amazon operates. It is so on it's face a recipe for having a toxic culture which breeds stress, doubt, and only serves to reinforce poor performance outcomes.
Out of all the things I've heard about Amazon culture for its software organization - this single thing (secretive lists of employees with performance issues with "never rehire" consequences that employees can't even understand they are on) symbolizes for me all the reasons I would avoid them as an employer. There is no way to have this process without creating a toxic culture.
People at amazon love to discuss the flywheel effect. The flywheel here is the culture of fear that keeps employees on their toes. Bezos believes that employees are inherently lazy, and it seems like fear is tool the S-team have chosen to solve the problem of lazy employees.
This has a lot of unintended consequences, but the executives with the power to change this don't care as long as they keep getting rewarded with a higher stock price, and fresh college grads who are willing to sacrifice themselves at the altar.
I guess if workers are considered expendable than that's a positive. Corporations need to be more accountable to their workers welfare and not solely stockholder's welfare.
there's no incentive for doing so. As far as the owner of the company is concerned, ensuring there
s a pay-cheque is the end of the company's responsibility.
AWS has a reputation of being a difficult place to work, even more so than Amazon's other divisions.
So no, I don't think anything will change.
Pointing out that someone has it shittier is typically an excuse for shittyness.
That said, Amazon’s culture is closer to the norm than most startups so in the short term things are unlikely to change much. At least until some new management fad becomes popular or they run into a significant issue.
How much political scrip such an organization generates given esoteric economic measures should not outweigh real world impact
FOCUS is a "button" managers can push to fire employees. Once you push the button, the employee is on track for termination and all of the CYA for-cause documentation happens automatically.
From my reading of the article it sounds like the part where the manager is to "... tell the employee that their performance is not meeting expectations, the specific areas where they need to improve, and offer feedback and support to help them improve." is completely optional and in fact requires that the manager take the initiative to actually do this. I could be wrong about this, but why would these instructions be in a FAQ if they were baked in to actual procedures?
To me it seems like FOCUS is a dark pattern meant to encourage managers to implement stack ranking. It also seems like a tool that could be abused to make arbitrary firings seem like they are for legitimate cause.
At a high level, Amazon orgs have Unregretted Attrition (URA) targets/quotas for orgs. Not every manager needs to hit the exact target but under a certain level of middle management they do. Because of this built-in churn they need to have a pipeline of low performers - because once the current set of URA targets get managed out or leave you will need to still hit that quota next quarter/half/year/whatever. So maybe your quota is 5% but you have another 5-10% extra in earlier stages of your pipeline so you can sacrifice them later.
In the later stages when you’re actively getting managed out they put you on a formal PIP. In theory it’s possible to “get out” of it but because of the quotas it’s pretty much a lost cause. So on Blind the most common suggestion for people on PIP is to do the absolute bare minimum and start interviewing elsewhere, expecting to fail the PIP.
I imagine the reason Amazon doesn’t want people to know about Focus/Dev plans is that once you know you’re in the earlier stages of the pipeline, you may come to a similar conclusion. Basically if a target is painted on your back and you know there’s a high probability you’re going to get managed in the next 6 months, it’s better to do the bare minimum at work and focus as much as possible on getting a new job. But from Amazon’s perspective that’s a lot of lost work/time/money, and they’re not even sure yet that they want to get rid of those people. And further, if employees don’t know about the performance plan there is less chance they will deliberately sandbag and may actually improve their ranking enough to move off the early stage pipeline.
In my opinion the root of all this disfunction is the quota system. If managers were not forced to manage out so many people and being on a “low performance plan” at any stage were seen as an actual opportunity to identify issues and improve performance, there would be much less incentive to sandbag by doing the bare minimum, and also much less need for secrecy about the process.
But this is Amazon, I am sure they have thought deeply about this. My guess is that they have done the math on many alternatives and this is the least-worst. For example by managing out so many people they can be less selective in hiring which may be better overall (eg an overall acceptance rate of 20% with 10% of those being false positives fills more roles than an overall acceptance rate of 10% with a 0% false positive rate). Of course managing people out also has a cost in creating an unpleasant/toxic work environment that itself increases churn, which they may or may not account for. Keep in mind due to their vesting models, a good performer burning out and quitting after 2 years is actually good for their bottom line. As long as they continue to fill roles I doubt they will be incentivized to change this model.
There were posts on the blind app regarding how amazon has been having trouble hiring experienced folks. I am also seeing increased linkedin posts from Amazon SDMs in my network, all advertising positions they have open on their team.
> maybe their plan is to hire more people fresh out of college and bring them up internally
In addition to new grads, amazon also depends on L1 visa imports from India and other countries. And maybe H1 hires here. Its not easy to switch jobs on visa besides you need to stay at a company for 2-3 years to get green card, so it works out in Amazon's favor. My guess is they are feeling the pinch now because Covid is bad in India, and India to US travel is stopped, So visa pipeline has dried out significantly.
But taken as a whole I cannot help but conclude that the program is meant to instil a culture of fear (and by extension toxicity). Considering the following:
* A manager may or may not have made vague statements to indicate you are on this list. Since the manager is explicitly instructed not to talk about the list itself, it is up to the employee to triangulate from a manager's statements their standing relative to performance. This means that employees can never really be sure about their status with respect to this list and so must constantly be on their toes (especially regarding statements from their managers).
* If a person is borderline under-performing, what is the logic in preventing them from switching teams internally? Perhaps a culture change or a product change would tip the scales for them to increase performance. Maybe there is a culture clash with the org or with the direct manager. I don't see any downside in maintaining the FOCUS status but allowing the employee to explore options to improve their productivity internally.
* If a person is borderline under-performing, what is the rationale behind blacklisting them from ever becoming rehired at the company? This the most egregious offence to me regarding the entire program - that Amazon is hanging a sword of damocles over all their employees heads, implicitly threatening them with blacklisting them as one of the largest tech employers in the industry. This list, again, being entirely secretive and Amazon explicitly instructing managers not to talk about with employees.
From my understanding, you can work at Amazon several years, be on a FOCUS/devlist for a huge amount of that time - and never even know. When you leave, you are automatically marked as URA and ineligible to rejoin the company.
This all adds up to me as a program specifically designed to be vaguely threatening and fear inducing.
If we assume an ideal world where managers are all great communicators and can handle performance management with skill and would never misuse the program for any reason - I can maybe squint and suspend my disbelief enough to see how this program can effectively work.
But you would have to be breathlessly naive to assume that's how the program would practically work in the real world with actual managers (and the state of middle/upper management in tech companies at large).
Any management/leadership team who is OK with rolling such a program out at scale given the above is not a team I would want to work with in any capacity, and IMO it just speaks to the dehumanizing nature of the culture they are aiming to create. It is inconceivable that upper management at Amazon doesn't realize these effects of the program.
Like you say, they have probably thought about it deeply, and just don't care. The metrics are working for them, so it continues. I personally am not going to lose sleep over it, I will simply refuse to work there. I hope employees who do work there know that there are other technology companies who actually consider these negative effects on their own employees and actually have empathy towards creating a place where people genuinely want to work - because for other companies, the equation regarding optimizing business metrics lands a bit differently when it comes to their own employees. If you can pass the bar at Amazon you can pass the bar at other places. Don't sell yourself short thinking this is normal or OK.
Also my experience tells me that all these mega corps have very similar culture.
An employee can perform terrible for many reasons one cannot control. For example, intro team communication.
In order to avoid future lawsuit, Amazon has to set up an independent project without any external dependency for the person under PIP and document all the progress. So that the person being PIP cannot sue his employer inthe future.
As in many or most aspects of social activities like work, objective reality effectively does not exist. Only the consensus reality matters.
If management thinks you're doing a bad job, it's not needed to make it known to the entire team - but you should know.
Otherwise it’s just marking them for future termination without telling them, which seems like a waste of everyone’s time.
I did not say they should never tell the employee. I think sometimes it's unnecessary.
Giving the employee a chance to rebut any performance problem assumptions would be an important part of this, and would also require they know.
In my 15+ years doing so, I’ve never heard or seen a situation in a reasonable organization where someone gets on a list like this (intentionally, as compared to their manager screwing up by not having a conversation with them before it is clearly a huge problem to everyone else) without knowing they are going to get on a list like this if they don’t improve.
I have heard it at many places that are flogging employees or using scare tactics to get every cent worth of value they can put or people before they burn out and get thrown on the rubbish bin.
The headline is editorialized. IMO whether you’re told you’re in Focus or not is irrelevant. If your manager is telling you you’re not meeting expectations, that’s plenty of signal of what’s going on.
The discussion in this thread is written more as if Amazon is pushing out capable talent.
There’s a more fundamental question - are we saying once you get hired, your job should be permanent, regardless of your performance?
> “My response was, ‘Are you sure you don’t have your wires crossed?'” he said.
Headline seems pretty accurate to me. Nobody should be on a performance improvement plan without being told.
To further on this -- it's really the absolute basics of transparency. Imagine if students didn't get any scores on tests back until they were about to fail the class. It's super important to know accurately and early exactly what people think of your work so you can adjust.
Aside from every other reason, let's remember that nobody is perfect, including managers. At least 20% of the time in my experience, when a manager thinks somebody is doing poorly it's because they manager is missing key information or relying on outdated information. Just one anecdote I know a manager who was only assessing somebody based on Jira tickets, but that engineer was doing tons of important work outside the jira tickets. The manager needs to initiate that communication clearly and immediately to resolve the discrepancy.
How did that lack of performance oversight work out for Nedry anyway? Oh...
The headline is correct unless Amazon policy is not telling employees about performance problems before Focus. Otherwise the discussion about Focus sounds just like the discussion they should have before Focus.
> There’s a more fundamental question - are we saying once you get hired, your job should be permanent, regardless of your performance?
I haven't seen even 1 comment even imply anything even close. I've seen many comments say employees should know where they stand.
You said you work at Amazon in another comment. It would have been appropriate to say here.
Performance management is a necessity in any company, but whether you’re in “Focus” or not is besides the point.
There’s no company policy that managers cannot or should not discuss performance or providing coaching until an employee enters focus. This is absolutely false, and if someone’s doing this, they’re a bad manager failing at their job.
Performance feedback and discussing career growth is exactly what manager 1:1s are for. You’ll know way in advance if there are performance problems. If you don’t know or somehow it was never communicated with you, that sounds like a manager who is failing their team. And among the size of Amazons workforce, the probability of no manager ever dropping the ball or failing at their job is 0. Managers can be ineffective, just as the people who report to them.
But to repeat, company policy is NOT to hide performance feedback from employees. The article is editorialized. One example the article provides is a person who was put on Focus who is a person of color. Actually, I’m a person of color too. You could try to argue my perspective reeks of survivorship bias. On the other hand, a significant chunk of the workforce in engineering and tech related roles are people of color. Amazon is significantly more diverse than other industries I previously worked in. Again, I 100% don’t believe your skin color, race, religion, gender, or any other type of discrimination is a factor in performance. That’s simply not the company I know.
And my question stands - yes, there are employees who under perform. And when they’re let go, they’re going to be upset with the company. Most people, no matter how brilliant they are or are not, are not great at receiving feedback, particularly negative feedback. But the issue I see here is it’s implied that these are all solid performers who were put into performance management for no reason at all or they were blind sided. I don’t believe that’s a systemic issue.
In my opinion, the hiring interviews do their best to establish a high bar for candidates, but we do make hires who are great on paper, can white board problems, but they fail to deliver at their work. These people are given plenty of feedback PRIOR to Focus or any performance management plan kicks in.
This article makes it sound like Amazon hires and fires at will. From my personal experience, this is not true where I work in the engineering organizations. Given the interview bar, it’s difficult and costly to find and hire candidates. Once someone joins your team, your team puts in an investment in ramping that person up. If that person isn’t so effective at the tasks they’ve been assigned, the first step is to identify their strengths and place them in projects or tasks where they can flex those muscles and grow in whatever areas there are gaps.
Now did some team somewhere have a manager who dropped the ball or senior engineers who didn’t come together to help the new hire? Yeah - probably. But that’s not a cultural or systemic problem. That’s a problem with that specific team. And if that’s how that team is run, it’s going to be obvious when they fail to deliver. But yeah, this unfortunate case is what drives outrage and readership (for this paper), and so that’s what you’ll see in the news media.
It is the most basic level of transparency and just seems like a decent thing to do. For some reason your comments keep avoiding that point. I wonder if this is the effect working at Amazon has on everyone.
Muddying the waters with corporate speak “your performance is not meeting expectations” is beating around the bush and not saying what is actually happening.
If your manager gives you that feedback, they’ll then tell you specifics and come up with a plan. I don’t think this is “corporate speak” as you put it.
We can formally give this process any name, but it doesn’t change anything.
Isn't this the part that's not being made transparent to the employee?
Asking the employee to constantly read the manager's mood to guess if you're on the "list" or not is incredibly stressful. What if your manager is just having a bad day?
I found out about 'focus' or my 'performance issues' when I resigned from Amazon.
Through some backchanneling with a manager I had been friends with before he joined Amazon, I found out I had been placed on the devlist the same week my friends left the team. No performance issues were ever discussed with me, and at that point in my career I'm very confident I didn't have any. I am pretty sure management of my team guessed (correctly) that I would try to leave once my friends were gone, and worried the entire team would implode with additional departures, and all institutional knowledge of a shitty old perl/mason/codigo codebase that needed to be maintained would implode with it. So I am pretty sure they placed me on the devlist purely as a mechanism to make it difficult for me to leave (I would have needed to get the director / L8 level manager of the team I was attempting to join to override the devlist block. this pretty much never happens unless you have a relationship with that person, and I didn't).
I was never able to get a manager in my org to have an open conversation with me about that, despite lots of effort. Lots of hemming and hawing and a few canceled meetings. I was eventually told I was taken off the devlist, but when I again tried to transfer a year later, found out I was still on it. I'm not sure if it was a case of "forgot to take you off" or "lied" and will never know, but that happened to me circa ~2018.
Edit: Unrelated to your question, but I also suspect having been on one of those lists once and escaped makes you a target to get put on again. No manager backchanneling confirmed that for me, it's just an educated guess. My performance suffered for a couple months at the start of the pandemic for obvious reasons, and I was placed on the devlist again (now called "Focus") around late April / early May 2020. I was never told this, nobody ever said the word "Focus", nor was I given any performance coaching. I was only able to infer it because my manager told me "I don't think you should try to change teams right now", and at that point in my Amazon career I knew what that really meant. I started job hunting immediately, kicked my feet up for a while, and took the severance the moment I was finally pip'd. Worked out extremely well for me actually, but a less experienced employee who might not connect the dots between "don't try to change teams ;)" and "your performance is considered below the bar" would have been blindsided.
To be honest, it's quite possible this kind of focus-listing exists elsewhere that's not FAANG level exposure.
I had optimistically reached out internally and started a process with a team prior to all of this happening. I think my manager focused me then.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't they have a stated goal of cutting the bottom 10% every year? I gotta think that can't go on forever without hitting the "capable talent" unless managers are hiring sacrificial lambs on purpose. Hmm, I feel like I've heard about that somewhere...
I fundamentally don’t believe that Amazon is letting go of talented engineers. Can some individual manager be terrible at their job and screw up? Yeah absolutely. But as a company, it’s extremely hard to find talented individuals. And then once you bring them in you have to invest in them and ramp them up.
Having said that I worked on really hard problems at Amazon. Not everyone can or wants to solve those kinds of problems. I was successful because I enjoyed it. That’s where my priorities were. And there were other times where I struggled. Sometimes trying to solve a particular kind of problem or sometimes not having enough clarity, or realizing that we haven’t broken down a problem.
But then there are individuals who just don’t have the ownership. If you have a not my problem kind of attitude, I don’t think you’ll last at Amazon very long. Eventually you’ll be let go and then you will be bitter about it.
As an aside, you won’t ever hear about all the engineers at Amazon who enjoy doing their work, who enjoy the teams that they’re on, who have a really good relationship with their leadership teams. But you’ll hear the most loudest and vocal feedback from the people who are the wrong hires or they had a bad manager who messed them up. In the latter case I don’t think it’s a systemic issue. And to be honest, the positive stories don’t get the Readership or drive the outrage
You're assuming that the tool will only be used objectively and transiently, a big if in a tool with mandated secrecy. The real question is should the tool remain secretive so that people in power can use it completely unchallenged as a weapon against employee?
> “If the employee directly asks, ‘Am I in Focus?’ you should answer honestly,” the response continues. “However, remind the employee that the use of a specific product should not be their take-away from the conversation, as there are important performance gaps they must address.”
That doesn't sound like mandated secrecy. That sounds like they think the employee shouldn't care what the specific product is called.
Thus, any indication that you have got onto such a list is a red warning: find another job somewhere else, and quickly. Do not wait to see if they will change their minds. They might decide not to fire you right away, but they will think of you, forever after, as a "problem employee". If you ever get off the list, you will go back on it the moment the length of your manager's list goes below quota. You may be sure that there is such a quota.
This is very much like the notion of "politically unreliable" in the Soviet countries, and in China. Corporate governance resembles nothing so much as Soviet governance. This is not an accident: Lenin was a huge admirer of the Ford Motor Company.
Being still-employed is a huge factor in how attractive you are to your immediate future employer. So, it is important to act fast. Part of why they try to keep the list secret is that they want to be who controls when you leave, not you. Managers typically only get points for firing you, not you quitting. (But Amazon's documented notion of "unregretted attrition" suggests it might be defined as somebody leaving who was on the list.)
Excellent point, though I think the only reason for the hereditary difference is that most corporations don't recruit from a multi-generational population in a fixed location. But I bet there are commercial fishing and logging firms where if the dad was a problem employee, expectations about the son will be correspondingly lowered.
Anyway, in both contexts information asymmetries inevitably exacerbate power differentials; while this is to some extent a fundamental aspect of competition, the denial or posture that such asymmetries exist aims to maximize those power differentials, perhaps allowing them to grow in accordance with power laws rather than linearly (pun semi-intentional).
Just look at the stock vesting schedule, its 5, 15, 40, 40. First two years you barely get any stock, and I believe the average time someone stays at amazon is around 1.5 years (I don't have latest data so maybe this is wrong)
On top of that, you have the pathetic 401k match (50% upto 2% of paycheck). Amazon's contribution to 401k vests after 3 years in the job, so you leave within the first 2 and you don't get anything. Not to mention the base salary cap of $160k.
Add to that the horrible WLB, I knew teams who'd get 40 high severity tickets in a week (And there are teams with much worse WLB). You are constantly waking up at 2-3AM in the night, and fixing fires for no extra pay.
Many times, Upper Management would dictate a timeline for your project, doesn't matter if it takes 4 months, we need it in 2 so get it done. This obviously leads to bad code. But there is no incentive within the company to fix/improve codebase, every thing is taped together, and On Call is there to tape things up some more so that they stay fixed. Even if you take the time and fix some of the tech debt, the company is not going to care and its not going to reward you.
Speaking of rewards, if the company stock grows (which it has for the past several years), and because of this growth you stand to make more than your Amazon decided Target Compensation, then you won't get any base salary increase even if you were the best employee Amazon has ever seen. You might get additional stocks, but those will vest 2 year later. So basically, you did great work for the company in 2021, as a result the company stock grows enough that you are not out of range for your role's compensation, so they don't increase your salary, and they give you stocks that vest in 2024, 3 years after the you did the work.
More often than not, I felt that most amazon employees (current and past) hate amazon. I have never seen a company being hated by its own workers with such fervor.
In my experience, this is justification used by many big tech companies. I have worked at a couple now that couched 1% raises with the script about stock gains and, my, look at your RSUs! Don't tell anyone, but you actually have more RSUs than most people at your level. Wink. Just because you didn't get a big raise doesn't mean we don't value you, and it doesn't mean the company is doing poorly either! Everything is great. And look at that, yeah, it's about time for my next one on one. KEep up the good work!
On 401k, I'm not in the US so cannot comment.
Your other points around timelines and pages don't match my experience, but I assume that in such a large company they do exist. I have certainly heard of a team where the high sev counts were similar to the numbers you give. Perhaps I am lucky to have missed them, or others are unlucky to have experienced them.
Signing bonus is not unique to Amazon. You can get a signing bonus anywhere in the industry, along with a sane vesting schedule of 25% each year or a front loaded schedule to prevent 4 year cliffs.
> Vesting is inherently lumpy, and makes managing cash flow a bit more tricky.
It doesn't have to be lumpy. Google stocks vest monthly here in US. Also, how is it tricky to manage?
A union? At Amazon?
I agree the lack of transparency on the focus is stupid (especially since it can prevent you from moving), but you don't wake up one day and end up fired. You will be put on a PIP first and be well aware of it (since you have to agree to the plan or take a payout to leave instead).
So Focus is PIP-lite for Amazon.
No one *wants* to work for you anymore. You don't need to recruit. If someone is desperate enough they'll let you know.
You're in quite the bubble. Lots of folks I know would work at Amazon. Friends have joined the computing groups (Lambda, ECS, EKS) to work on observability, scale, security. It's important work with broad impact.
It is quite sad how many in our industry are either sufficiently clueless or sufficiently indifferent that they would eagerly go work at the CIA's sysadmins, especially under the guise of "important" or "impact" (quite literally in the case I mentioned).
Not all Americans loath their country and the institutions that help maintain it - imperfect though they may be.
They're the department with an image of white-collar intelligence collection and a huge sideline in dirty fighting to maintain American hegemony. That's who they are, have been and who they will be.
“I’ve done a lot more for a lot less” - The Office.
In that sense, is Netflix basically untouchable in terms of compensation, if F/A/A/G (and other companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Microsoft, etc.) can only be competitive via unexpected or non-guaranteed stock appreciation?
Plus if you reach a "cliff", you end up with just your base salary - which seems like it's not too much better than a non-tech Fortune500 company?
Is my understanding wrong?
As for Netflix, they do give you option of choosing to split your salary every year i.e all cash, all options, some cash and some options as you see fit.
This depends on the company. My understanding is that Amazon does keep stock price in mind when doing vesting of stock. If your personal projected comp is above the "intended" level (due to a large share price increase), your stock award in a given year will be smaller.
So your stock vest in year 3 might be smaller because growth was high (or your initial offer was above-market). Google and Facebook don't do this. Each year is modeled independently. Microsoft also models years independently afaik, but their stock vests slightly differently.
I asked for X comp, say 100K total for 4 years, including stock. The recruiter calls me back, says she got the total I wanted, I write down the numbers and it totals to 90K. I ask her why the math does not check out and the answer was that the 'missing' 10K is the projected stock growth.
Haven't seen anything like that in other negotiations.
Or is it still competitive without taking such appreciation into account?
Please correct me if I am wrong here.
If the stock significantly depreciates there will be layoffs anyway.
I _thought_ Netflix comps with a cash salary and if that’s the case it’s worth less than equity. The salary depreciated over the course of 2020 while an equity grant would have appreciated from the start.
Would cash+equity comp still be preferable to an all cash Netflix comp in that case?
I guess the gist of my question is:
Non-Netflix FAANG level company salary + stock without appreciation >= Netflix all-cash salary?
This 22% tax rate is the default rate applied by your RSU brokerage which often leaves you owing taxes to the IRS. IRS treats RSU at vesting as regular income. For the tax purposes it is same as if you received their equivalent in cash and then used it to purchase the same number company shares .
If anything you only benefit from being in Washington and not paying half of that 500k in income tax:
Obviously there are many factors in play so that might not always be the case.
Also per my other comment on this thread, sounds like Netflix really blows away all others because there is no shenanigans around RSUs, cliffs, unexpected appreciation, etc.? Correct me if I'm wrong since I am definitely no expert at this game.
Disclaimer - I’m very average and work at Amazon
Versus Facebook, Amazon, and Google having a more one-size-fits-all approach to hiring.
As long you are effectively communicating performance on a regular basis, I don't really see the point in telling an employee that "we're formally thinking about firing you" other than dropping a morale bomb in the workplace. If you're telling an employee that their performance needs improvement in general, it stands to follow that termination is a possible result.
Either people improve when they're told their performance is bad, or they don't. Workplaces without formal PIPs don't tell employees to their face that they're thinking about firing them either. Not sure why the formal paperwork makes any difference.
Although maybe I'm missing something, I've never worked at a mega-corp.
Of course the ‘focus’ list was a secret list :)
I would be very surprised if this isn’t a common occurrence throughout many organizations.
While I have still had to fire plenty of people for performance even with this rule. I can also say that I have had multiple people actually improve their performance and get off the PiP which as I understand from talking to other managers is not a common occurrence.
That would place Amazon to legally disclose if such an employee is on any list or anything else they have on them, be it paper or digital.
So many employees find out by either attempting an internal transfer, or getting PIP papers served.
The second the people around you don't believe you can cut it, it's already too late and best to find a gig elsewhere.
I saved my job by working during my ~two day vacation (and weekend) and building a bunch of things that I had talked with the non-eng cofounder about that weren't on the official roadmap but that had high value.
Turned out the way engineering was organized wasn't very compatible with me (didn't take advantage of my product sense and generally was focusing too much on reviewing things in code that really didn't matter.)
One of the people above me on the org chart (VP Engineering) lost his job instead. The lead at the time is now CTO and around that time adjusted the org to better match how I like to work.
Still, impressive turnaround.
I know multiple cases of bad managers who never clearly communicated job expectations/prioritization and then put employees on a PIP because they weren't meeting their hidden/secret expectations.
The beautiful thing about a PIP is that it forces a manger to spell out in excruciating detail what expectations are, and how meeting them will be measured.
Once an employee knows what they are concretely, it can make it really easy to meet them, and then no more PIP.
In all the cases I know, the employees went on to get "exceeds expectations" and then either left the manager or left the company, because the problem was always the manager.
Also, because many times you "game the PIP" -- to meet the explicit expectations you slack off on the stuff that you know matters more to doing a good job, but that isn't being explicitly measured. Write shitty code but deliver the features on-time, and let someone else deal with the bugs.
Of course I've heard of PIP's being intentionally vague so a manager can arbitrarily continue to say expectations weren't met no matter what -- but I've never seen that anywhere I've worked.
Of course, if there are bad actors involved, it's a whole other story.
In comparison, I can only imagine what a hell Amazon must be, a soul-destroying place to work for most people who aren't in the top 25% or something like that. As an employer, Amazon sounds like an evil machine.
Wait, what's the point of putting someone on a PIP/PMP if you don't even tell them their performance needs to improve (or they need to jump ship)?
They aren't likely to change if you don't tell them to change.
It's extremely demoralizing to work with people who are bad at their job. It makes me feel as though my hard work is unappreciated, because someone who is not working hard gets the same treatment.
Sometimes the employee is slacking off, sometimes they are bad at their job. Either way, if their failure to contribute is bringing the rest of the team down, they have to go. Otherwise, the good people leave to get away from the bad people.
You're assuming various PIPs are being used in good faith by the employer. In a lot of big companies there's a nebulous and hand-wave-y criteria for putting someone on a PIP and then there's no clear path for the employee off the PIP. Too often PIPs are like "mean girl" shit lists. You can get on one without knowing it and have little to no agency in getting off one.
For companies that do stack ranking, you can end up on a PIP just for happening to be at the bottom of the stack for no real fault of your own. The employer is then happy to dick you with compensation for as long as they can justify keeping you on a PIP.
It's more demoralizing to end up black balled and screwed over on compensation than just being told outright you're on a PIP and there's some particular goals to hit to get off. Not everyone can just jump ship after they get stiffed on compensation after a review. The goal is to demoralize people so they quit so they don't have to fire them and potentially end up with some wrongful termination lawsuit.
You could have a bunch of OOPs-fanatics who will hate the functional programmer who does things differently. Toxic culture (lack of self-awareness means that 99% of people don't know they are participating/creating/perpetuating the toxicity) means this functional programmer is demoralizing the team.
That's how objective IT is. Its culture wars of this sort - misplaced fanatic sincerity and close-mindedness, or worse mean-ness. And its demoralizing to the majority. Hence the PIP. Its like a dystopian landscape.
Reminds me of someone that worked at a vendor of Semiconductor ATE equipment. The codebase was a total hopeless trash fire. Watching him flail and fail gave me the impression that working for a place like that, actually caring about anything is a liability.
You should only care about three things. Your mental health. The money you are making. What your boss wants. You should treat anything you are working on as a booger to get rid of as quickly as possible.
'As you are closing the ticket you may feel a sting. That's pride fucking with you'
You want demoralizing? How about being an excellent employee, but being told that you can only get a COLA raise because your manager has been told only 2 out of a team of 15 can "exceed standards?" And these standards are as vague as HR can possibly make them.
So unless you're sociopathic, you try to "improve" which generally means kissing up to your boss. Doing a better job revolves around keeping your boss happy, regardless of whether that means your real work is being done at an "exceeds" level. Find out what metrics he considers important, and focus almost exclusively on them.
If you're sociopathic, you do this, while sabotaging your coworkers. It's pretty easy to do; keep important information away from them, point out any flaws/mistakes they make, etc.
Any large organization will end up like this if they follow traditional HR guidelines for performance evals. It's part of a competitive environment.
The only place I've seen it work better/differently was when the entire team was evaluated. That helped prevent the Machiavellian sabotage, but did allow lower performers to benefit from the work of the higher performers. But that would happen anyway; you can't fire everyone. And the motivation of the coworkers shifts from competitive to cooperative. Helping others learn new things, overcome issues, etc. When management gets behind this, it's amazing, but most managers and executives are discouraged from trying new things.
It's the same idea behind stack ranking: get good recruits, while getting rid of the under-performers who either slip-through, or whose performance deteriorated while on the job.
Amazon would like to think they are keeping the good people onboard and throwing out the deadwood.
There are many others such as,
- "Hire to fire" https://archive.is/3Bdv7
- Overworking of employees, especially the ones who are on H1B / L1 visa since they are dependent on Amazon for their visa status.
- Code is written and architected with promotions in mind.
- Code is reviewed with bring others down since comments on code reviews are considered a negative metric.
- No one trusts their manger.
So? It's the kind policy that appeals to the prejudices of an aloof executive with a low opinion of his peons. That trumps facts.
Suppose “ability” is normally distributed in the population and in your initial team too. Replace people when the new candidate improves the team’s median ability (supposedly what Amazon’s “Bar Raiser” checks).
I kicked together a simulation of this process. The first replacement is pretty easy (50/50), but the hundredth hire on a team of ten often takes tens of thousands of interviews, and sometimes over a million. No one is literally doing this.
It's also very vulnerable to "founder effects" if the teams are small: a few geniuses early on make it nearly impossible to hire someone new.
Mostly interested on how you even create a simulation like this.
First, you need to a way to generate candidates of varying abilities. There are all sorts of tough questions related to measuring intelligence, but let's side-step those and make something like IQ. By construction, IQ is normally distributed with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15.
return 100 .+ (15 .* randn(n, 1))
team = generate_candidates(;n=10)
bar = median(team)
candidates_seen = 1
while (new_candidate = generate_candidates(n=1)) < bar
candidates_seen += 1
team[rand(1:length(team))] = c
bar = median(team)
I had a hunch this process would be exponential, and it certainly looks that way if you plot the results. This was meant as a quick-and-dirty way to check that: there are some tricks that might speed up the simulation and it might even be possible to do the whole thing analytically (but it's Friday afternoon).
FWIW, I highly highly recommend this sort of noodling around for building intuitions. At work, we recently spent a year and $$$ collecting some brain data, and a dumb model like this was the key to figuring out what was going on.
* Amazon's stock price and profits made it a more desirable place to work over time
* The increasing supply of computer science graduates improved the hiring pool
Another thing that could happen is the most skilled x% of each team leaves over time for better positions, so that the median slips back. Then raising the bar each time only keeps it in the same place.
Or candidates could be rated on multiple dimensions, so while you can't find someone uniformly better than your median employee, you can hire one person to raise the bar on build systems, one on microservices, and so on.
return 100 .+ (15 .* randn(n, 1))
It's then stretched to have an SD of 15 via multiplication, and shifted to have a mean of 100.
This is Julia, but it's the same in Matlab and Numpy (np.random.randn); it'd be rnorm in R (which also lets you specify the mean and sd directly).
This works for a while - until word gets around, then you find your hiring funnel drying up.
Employment stability is much more important than what I call "alleged compensation".
They hire you promising $160,000 base and all this stock, and 6 months into stringing broken libraries together you are suddenly getting the feeling you won't be welcome at the company anymore.
I've had my fair share of good and bad gigs-- I am willing to trade a considerable amount of Amazon's upside in exchange for employment I can predict.
If Amazon gives me a contract on day one that says they will give me 5 shares on day one, 15 shares on day 366, 40 shares on day 732, and 40 shares on day 1098...
... you are saying that even if i get fired on day 90, i will still have all 100 shares paid out to me on those days?
because that is not how it worked at other places ive been at
160k base salary
350k sign-on (195k first year, 145k second year, split up monthly)
120 shares (@ 3720/share): 6 shares Y1, 18 shares Y2, 48 shares Y3 & Y4 (24 shares vesting every 6 months at that point)
So in the first year you're taking home 160k base salary + 16.25k bonus each month, none of which needs to be paid back if you leave.
Anecdotal but… I suppose they could be protecting themselves from these situations where once they have made up their mind, it’s probably in their best interest to see their everyday work ethic. I think most of us would like the chance to know whether they are doing a good job to improve, but this sounds like once they are on this list, their days are numbered
Of course the other, darker possibility is that this is an attempt to take the evil parts of the PIP and get rid of the actual improvement. Keep the "build a case against the employee so we can fire them without a lawsuit", ditch the "actually trying to improve their performance". I prefer to think this isn't the case.
I'm less optimistic. I see two main uses for PIPS.
1) 3rd parties usually get involved in communicating the performance issues and expectations.
2) It explicitly documents failures if an employee doesn't improve.
I'm assuming employees usually only pass the PIP if communication is the major issue. But a manager should communicate performance concerns before starting an official PIP process. I'm not confident that a well intentioned PIP process will lead to a large minority of employees passing it.
Documenting failures only helps in firing someone. It isn't a benefit to the individual engineer.
I don't understand how H/R and legal can sustain this. (I do understand that they have: I'm not that stupid. So there must be some underlying reason this is legal, but I suspect it's not well "tested" in all jurisdictions Amazon employs in)
I want to be clear I mean I disagree with this policy which is self evidently true, not that I dispute what I replied to. Colloquial English can be misread so easily.
"If issues do arise, employers should make the employee aware of the shortfall in their performance as soon as possible. The employee should then be given a reasonable timescale to improve.
Employers should provide their employee with any relevant support and training in order to reach the required performance standard. They should then monitor and review the employee’s progress throughout the period assigned for improvement."
Attrition is good for exploration and against other "stagnation" phenomena (textbook March/Levinthal early 90's). And if you are willing to throw aboard any ethics, then a "usable period" (pre burn-out) for some percentage of workers is a pretty good boost to performance.
A secret focus list is probably some "well" thought out mechanism (as in mechanism design) tuned precisely to kick out x% of people while setting incentives to self-identify (slackers vs. normal workers vs. workaholics) by generating uncertainty or ambiguity, thus generating some ideal workforce distribution: people who are doubtful are incentivized to just leave right away, people who are extremely competent are moderately pressured, people who are willing to grind themselves into dust for amazon do "okay" for as long as they are useful, and "normals" are retained probabilistically to the degree that their contributions are needed that quarter.
Much has been written about how these models don't reflect human behavior.
Sadly, as a normative forcing function, they work out just fine.
edit: in the short run, until such articles as op appear
A lot of Amazon's practices get really severe backlash online, and yet if working for Amazon is as bad as they say, how is Amazon one of the biggest employers of software engineers?
I personally buy into the hivemind and would not work for Amazon, but it seems to me like there is an incongruity between how bad their practices are and how many talented software engineers are willing to work for them.
I promise if you look around at a team of 20 people, there's a high chance one of them is not very good. If you DON'T have a URA target in place, managers may let these low performers stay, especially since firing people is actually quite difficult. This leads to what Bezos would call "Day 2" culture. It's hard to overstate how much damage a single person can cause to a team's output or morale.
If you look at Amazon's implementation, it's really not that bad. If you have a superstar team of 10 people under one manager, great, the 5% is resolved at the 50-100 person level, so make a case and keep your team. Or even better, hire some junior engineers so your superstars can lead and teach others. Some of those junior engineers will be bad; others will be great. This isn't hire to fire, rather, hiring is noisy. What if the whole 50 person org is amazing? Umm, this is just statistically unlikely. Everybody I've personally noticed leave after PIP has been, in my estimation, a poor performer.
Amazon has one single HR policy that is amazing: you can change teams any time for any reason (unless you're on a performance plan). If your team sucks, get out! I've been able to land on teams with good WLB, smart coworkers, and fun, interesting, meaningful projects -- except for my first team, which I left after 2 months.
Lastly, of course there are tons of anecdotal stories from people with miserable experiences at Amazon. Can we at least accept Amazon is a massive employer, and these are bound to happen?
There's always a reason some people don't perform well and its very very rare that the reason for this is something inherent in them.
It's not really all that dystopian.
Since Amazon interviews are similar to other FAANGs, people who pass an Amazon interview have a higher correlation of passing other interviews. Those FAANGs and associated companies tend to have a higher value proposition so people tend to choose them.
Napkin math, if your salary is $100k/year - you are necessarily delivering at least $200k in revenue/value, so if you have a rough 6-month stretch, as an asset you are under water. At that point you are a liability and unless someone else can deliver on the other part of that expected $200k value, the opportunity cost is harming the company.
The point of a PIP is to create a paper trail to protect the company from incurring further costs and liability risk, so as a purely post-decision defensive strategy, it makes sense to not disclose it. The laws make it such that everyone has to sustain the fiction that a PIP is in earnest, which creates that creepy gaslighting feeling. The supreme irony is keeping it secret could mean a more personally honest and less psychologically harmful relationship for all involved.
Reality is, performance in most organizations is secondary to relationships in them (and perhaps credentials) because the reason a (profitable/long-lived) company makes money as a business is because it can operate at scale with interchangeable parts that get along, which means the marginal value of a high or low performer is not as significant to its bottom line as downside risks from a lack of cohesion, so the main thing you need to care about in an organization is your key relationships.
If your relationship with co-workers or managers is getting dicey, all you can do is "read the room," keep your CV updated, and your recruiter contacts warm, because unless you deliver some large multiple on performance (product breakthrough they need you to execute, or land a large client, etc), opinion-wise you're done there and it's time to move on.
Are you from the USA?
Sounds like therapy. Doesn't really work most of the time. You can't invoke your higher level brain functions without knowing the game being played.
Or is it slower promotion less bonuses that are somehow not obvious?
So it's from the top.
Rules for corporations:
Actions > Words
Rules for politicians:
Policies > Rhetoric
Zero respect to the craft. Plus the company is avoiding taxes, so everyone gets paid less thanks to that.
But that said, I think Amazon had a very long interview process. Too long. (But I hear it's gotten better.) And so to grow fast, they need an easy way to exit people... that's not a bad thing.
Interviews are never a great way to hire people. Working with them tells you a lot more about personality and work ethic and commitment.
From what I've seen, I don't disagree with any of the employees that had been on Focus. Like generally speaking, we showed the people the door who needed to be shown the door.
For the good of the team, some people just don't fit, or they distract... a lot of it was personality, but a lot of it was really they were lacking the Ownership quality we needed.
If you have someone waiting for 12-levels of approval, they just slow down the others. I don't know quite how to say it, but it was a common thing you'd get someone from a big company... and they had various processes in mind when doing anything. We need that "Bias for Action" instead of anyone just looking to do things the way they did them at past jobs.
Or we had a guy who thought, "We're Amazon, we print money... let's just solve all our problems by throwing money at them." Oof. Amazon is, silly as it sounds, a startup at scale. And their Leadership Principles really speak to this.
Some people just don't get it.
Anyway, my 2 cents, as a former Amazon employee... It's good for any company -- especially one that wants to grow fast -- to exit about 5-10% of their workforce every year. Find the ones that aren't doing what's needed... and encourage them to go work somewhere else where they can add value. I never saw anyone bullied, I never saw anyone put on "Focus" who shouldn't have been there.
Playing devil's advocate... given so few people get off "Focus" plans, what's the point of letting people know they are on it? Kind of just seems like a waste of everyone's time. Some conversations just burn hours, no?
Other people clearly are having different experiences.
Edit: it is max cap in hiring requirements. The requirements are directly from AMZN recruiter (AMZN email address, etc). The max is bullet pointed together with the min. The max is also additionally clearly stressed in the description to make sure that there is no misunderstanding (i'd definitely would have hard time believing my eyes if seeing it only once in the bullet points)
When people talk about glass ceiling - well, now i know what glass bottom feels like :) If any requirements you don't directly match you can try to make a case in say cover letter to substitute - education vs. experience, etc., there is no way though how one can "decrease" the number of the years.
it would seem to be:
https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/insight-cap... is a more recent article summarizing a court ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in which, at least for the states covered by that court, it was determined that job applicants (as opposed to transfer or promotion applicants) can't bring disparate impact ADEA claims against theoretically age-neutral rules such as maximum years of experience. State or local age discrimination laws can go beyond the ADEA, of course, and some do.
Edit: Clarified that I meant within Amazon.
The military has it, and (news to me) it appears common in accountancy and management consulting.
So up or out means “if you’re passed over for promotion twice, you must suck and we don’t want you anymore.”
But I have seen old officers in the lower ranks because they were enlisted men, then warrant officers, then finally officers. They were far older than their peers, but still needed to tick the boxes and get promoted.
Ref: Military Officer
Do you mind expanding on this a little bit on what position you were applying for?
I think it's perfectly reasonable if someone has 15 years of experience and being rejecting for an SDE I position. It's an absolutely fair question to ask why you aren't at an SDE II level already, or applying for that role with that amount of experience.
Similarly it makes sense to reject people who have years of experience but are applying for internships.
Although I doubt that's your specific case...
I'd be very surprised and extremely skeptical we have year caps on senior roles like SDE3/Principal
>I think it's perfectly reasonable if someone has 15 years of experience and being rejecting for an SDE I position. It's an absolutely fair question to ask why you aren't at an SDE II level already, or applying for that role with that amount of experience.
it is absolutely reasonable to ask and reject if unsatisfied with the answer. I think it is discriminatory to bar from applying (or reject automatically) based on such years based cap.
>Similarly it makes sense to reject people who have years of experience but are applying for internships.
again, i think such automatic rejection is discriminatory.