Table of contents
- What is Amazon's PIP
- Historical rates
- What we are seeing in 2023
- Keys to avoid Focus and PIP
- What to do if you get put on Focus or PIP
What is Amazon’s Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)
One confusing aspect of Amazon's PIP is the constantly changing terminology for different steps in the process. The first formal signal of underperformance is now called “Focus”, which was previously the “Dev List”. Managers don’t always tell employees explicitly when they are put on Focus, though if you are properly managing your manager relationship you will know. Focus has some immediate repercussions - for example, it makes it much harder to switch teams (requires VP approval). After Focus, the next step is usually just referred to as PIP, though Amazon technically now calls it “Pivot”.
A PIP is a component of many companies performance review processes, not just Amazon. It’s typically put into motion when standard performance feedback has been given yet not adequately acted upon, marking it as a significant escalation step.
As alluded to above, a PIP is often the final step in a series of attempted interventions. Here's an example of a common scenario leading up to a PIP:
- A manager frequently reviews low quality work or receives complaints from team members about a co-worker's performance
- The manager provides feedback to the employee, hoping they will address and rectify their actions.
- (Focus starts) If the employee continues with their subpar performance, the manager gives more feedback, sometimes aided by official coaching. This coaching is often heavily documented, laying a paper trail of the employee's performance issues.
- If there is still no improvement, the manager consults with HR, intensifies coaching efforts, and documents further instances of underperformance.
- If all these interventions fail to bring about the desired improvement, the manager, in conjunction with HR, initiates a PIP.
A PIP at Amazon outlines specific performance deficiencies, suggests corrective actions, and sets measurable objectives that the employee needs to meet within a specified time frame, usually 30 or 60 days. A PIP/Pivot often usually comes with an opportunity to voluntarily quit and receive a higher severance package. If you choose to stay and are still let go, your final severance package will be lower.
While Amazon conducts formal performance reviews and ratings periodically, it's important to note that an employee can be moved into coaching or a PIP at any time during the year if their performance is consistently below the company's expectations.
How many people at Amazon are on PIPs (historical rates)
If you read the posts on Blind, you’ll often hear that Amazon managers are forced to put 12% of their team on Focus and 6% on PIP each year regardless of how well everyone is performing. This is not entirely correct. There are “quotas” or “benchmarks” for the % of people who should be put on a performance improvement plan, but those are not applied at the level of individual teams. They are applied at the director or VP level across orgs with hundreds of people where the law of large numbers actually works. Also, the 12% and 6% are only roughly correct and those numbers change each year, as we will discuss more below.
How is Amazon’s PIP changing in 2023
First important thing to note is that Layoffs ≠ PIP. Layoffs are based on economic conditions, and over the past year most tech layoffs have not been performance based. That’s a topic for another post, but the tldr on why they aren’t performance based is legal reasons around firing people without giving them time to improve (i.e. what a PIP is). Amazon has already done layoffs and it’s possible that they will do more, but that is separate from this PIP discussion.
However, another unfortunate reality is that in tougher economic times we often see Focus and PIP benchmarks/percentages increase. This makes intuitive sense because companies don’t like being forced to do mass layoffs. Not only does it look bad to the public, but it also causes them to lose high performers. It is clear from the conversations we’ve been having that there is increasing focus and pressure on employees on Amazon and that is combined with most employees working harder/taking things more seriously than they have the past few years. This does make for a more competitive environment and its important to set yourself up for success.
How to avoid Focus and PIP
Since your manager is the one who ultimately puts you on Focus or PIP, they are the most important factor in avoiding it. However, getting your manager on your side is easier said than done and you also have more tools at your disposal than you originally realize. For example, right when you join Amazon/start a new team is a critical period. It’s critical to show you can ramp up quickly and to establish a good reputation which is much easier to build at the beginning. But it’s also critical to work on and assess your manager relationship early on. If you are doing everything right and still have a poor relationship with your manager, you need to switch teams before you are put on Focus and that opportunity is blocked. At Rora, we’ve developed a whole program for this first 6 month ramp up period that ensures you are optimally positioned to perform well and avoid PIP.
Another very important point is coworker and cross-functional relationships. This is because one of the most common initial triggers for Focus/PIP is negative co-worker feedback. Of course it’s unreasonable to expect you will have fantastic relationships with every single person you work with, but you should strategically prioritize relationships with coworkers you frequently work and who have outsized influence on your team / in your organization.
What to do if you get put on a PIP
Before considering PIP, you need to decide what to do if you are put on Focus. Focus periods typically last 60-90 days and it is much easier to recover from Focus than from PIP. So if you intend to stay at Amazon, you need to put in significant effort at this stage. One of the things we’ve seen help people most at this stage is an outside mentor. This is someone not on your team who’s most important role is assessing if the quality of your projects is up-to-standard or if you need to put in additional work before bringing it to your manager or peers.
If you believe you’re put on Focus primarily due to a poor relationship with your manager (something you should avoid by following to our earlier advice), we have occasionally seen cases where VP approval can be secured for a team switch. If that doesn’t work, your chances aren’t great and you may need to follow the advice below.
If you are finally put on an official PIP (i.e. Pivot), the hard truth is that it’s quite unlikely you will remain at Amazon. We have seen exceptions, but that’s typically when there were extraneous circumstances during the Focus period. The reason it’s so tough is that if you were putting in the work during the Focus period without seeing results, it’s unlikely to change now.
At this stage, you should seriously consider starting the recruiting process with other companies. We have lots of advice for this process, but the most basic is that you should never mention you are on PIP. There will also be a series of decisions about when you should take severance (the earlier, the higher the severance value), but this depends heavily on your individual situation.
If you have more situation specific questions or want the comprehensive breakdown (this article just covered a handful of higher level points), you can book a free call with our team here.