Former Amazon HR staffer describes its unpleasant "personal improvement plan" system

Originally published at: Former Amazon HR staffer describes its unpleasant "personal improvement plan" system | Boing Boing


There are enough people who want to work for FAANG that they can replace (older, better paid) workers with new (younger, lower paid) recruits on the regular, so I’m not surprised that Amazon’s PIP system is designed for the employee to fail.


PIP’s in general are basically a CYA (Cover Your Ass) method of firing somebody for whatever reason you want. It’s generating documentation that the employee was not meeting performance requirements, was given instruction on how to do so, and failed to do so (whether any of that is true is kind of negligible; documentation trumps subjective experience).

In practice, if you get a PIP, you should start circulating your resume immediately because it’s basically a count-down to being let go. If you can jump ship to another spot before you get fired, that’s win-win as far as everybody is concerned.


There’s a secret goal to force 6% of their workforce out every year. They get more work out of people by keeping them scared.


Amazon corporate is notorious for its insane churn rate. The inability for vendors to establish a relationship with a rep there that lasts more than 9 months would cost a less monopolistic business a lot of money and opportunities, but they don’t care.

I should have guessed that their HR had a formal mechanism to enable it. This hypercharged version of Jack Welch’s rank-and-yank nastiness with a Maoist name definitely does the job.


I struggled to understand that article. What are these PIPs? I believe I can guess.

On the other hand that rank-and-yank link from @gracchus has made me rethink my plan to actually read the two Jack Welch books I have in inventory :slight_smile:


Yes, and they are not specific to Big Tech, pretty much any US corporation large enough to have a HR department uses them as window-dressing for an impending firing.


I was on the receiving end of one of these a few years back and naively thought they actually gave a damn about helping. Two months and one firing later, I learned that lesson the hard way.

Turns out, it’s hard to stay motivated when your company is going the way of psychological exploitation and NFTs… >_>


Many years ago I was the last hired on a team of 5 in a large financial services company. They had a similar system to rank-and-yank (@gracchus), I believe it was called the “Hayes” system. 1 at the top, 3 in the middle, and 1 in the bottom and no one ever moved up or down–a lazy manager’s dream. 1’s didn’t get fired, (there was a “0” that did) but got shitty raises and almost no opportunity to advance, but were also told to hang on and things will be better next year. Once I figured it out, and which one was me, I was outta there.

Trying to convince family and friends what was happening was near impossible. “That doesn’t make sense. Why would they hire someone just to hold them back?”

Yeah, why indeed.


People are more llikely to NOT complete the PIP because they disengage when they are assigned to one. It’s a way to get the EE to self-select out of the organization. I got on one once and I was able to get out of it but then they got rid of the whole department. Never been happier in my life.


Described this way, I just realised that this episode of Newsradio was all about mocking these systems. It was funny enough as a comic bit delivered by Root and Foley but now it’s even better!


It was formally called “rack and stack” when I was there under him, but it was brutal. Bottom 10% fired every year. After a few years, I was firing people I would have killed to have working for me at previous jobs.

High performers were lavishly rewarded though. I was listed as one of the top 100 employees for a few years. One of these we got a private celebration dinner. My wife and I were picked up at the house by a stretch limo and taken to downtown Chicago. We got a short tour, and then were taken by horse-drawn carriage to some crazy elaborate and expensive hotel downtown. I don’t recall the name but it had a massive entry hall, easily the biggest thing I’d seen. We were given a suite to stay in, but had to change for our private tour of the Art Institute (taken again by horse carriage), followed by dinner on the Stock Exchange Trading Room floor. We then were taken by limo back to the hotel and were treated to breakfast in bed the next morning. We could have stayed the weekend but we left that day as we missed our young children. And this was the norm for high performers, even as just a middle manager. I was gifted company box tickets to the Bulls games whenever I asked, including parking and catered food. Sox/Cubs/Bears were available but this was in the Jordan era so we were all in for Bulls. As long as I continued to stay on the top of the pile, basically could do whatever you wanted.

All that said, the system was cruel, forcing you to rank people in ways that don’t really work. I’ve had places since then using versions of the same system, which continues to suck hard. I greatly prefer a negotiated union rate, like both of my kids enjoy. Sure, they can get bonuses and stuff for above average/excellent work, but they know they’re getting a fair shake as a base.


I believe this is often called ‘quiet firing’ - making your corporate life sufficiently unbearable that leaving is preferable to staying. Win for HR as well, because if you quit, lots of the promised bennies vanish as well.


I’ve failed one PIP and been fired — first time ever, noped out of one (in hindsight, I should have done nothing and job-hunted for a free month, but having already been emotionally abused by the manager, I opted to immediately quit instead), and beaten one.

Still ended up so burnt out after the last that I was out for six weeks with flu that turned into pneumonia — and then they fired me anyway without warning after a week back.

“You’re not productive,” they said. Two weeks prior it was a question whether I’d wake up in the morning, dude, so no, not on my A game yet.

Ended up in a better job by far after that, but that was a rough time.

Were I ever put on a PIP again, I’d take my manager aside and say, “we both know this is a setup to fire me in a month, so I’m spending that time job hunting instead of doing pointless work meant to break me. If that doesn’t work for you, fire me now.”


so much this. and also so much effort devoted to a process where no actual product work gets done. it’s a carrot and stick approach, and people deserve a whole lot better for their time; deserve so much more respect than that.


It’s amazing to me the kind of toxic bullshit that regularly goes on in corporate HR. It’s all part of a constellation of utterly self-defeating practices that are common in corporate environments, because the people making the decisions don’t know any better, are following fads, and/or hold toxic worldviews in which these practices make sense. I regularly read about some policy fuckery at a particular company, thinking about what a uniquely poisonous shithole that company must be, and then finding out the practice wasn’t just not unique to that company, but actually common. It boggles the mind.

And apparently it’s not even secret.


In most American companies, there’s usually one department that’s spared indignities like “rank-and-yank” and Christmas season layoffs (coming soon!) and peer or self evaluations or mandatory “fun” team-building exercises. It’s not the executive suite (although, as one would expect, they suffer less than others) but HR. The commissars of American corporate culture are some of the few rank-and-file workers at large businesses who can still count on lifetime employment.


We’ll have sub $400k/yr jobs without the abuse. Thank you very much.

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Jack Welch invented so many of the things that make our world what it is today.


The other bad side effect of rack and stack at GE is that people almost never shared knowledge. That thing you know could make you rack above someone else. Selfishness became a desired trait.