Amazon has developed a retraining program called Pivot designed to offer underperforming employees a chance to improve their performance, leave the e-commerce giant voluntarily with severance or appeal a manager’s decision to place them in the program, according to Business Insider, which obtained an internal Amazon email on the matter.
Pivot provides opportunities that Amazon's existing “performance improvement plan” (essentially a warning of impending firing rather than an actual improvement plan) lacks: The program assigns struggling Amazon staffers to so-called "Career Ambassadors," described by Business Insider as "subject matter experts" who offer guidance and support.
Amazon has declined to comment, although a job listing posted a week ago on its Amazon Jobs page calls for a “Career Ambassador” to “[help] Amazon transform the employee experience.” The ad seeks “an innovator with expertise in coaching, facilitation, employee relations and HR to help us launch a game-changing project for helping employees reach their full potential.”
Amazon's reputation as a ruthless employer came to light after the publication of a 2015 New York Times article detailed "bruising" working conditions that fly in the face of today's HR trends. The article's depiction of Amazon's employee review policy spawned a spate of bad press in other media outlets and forced founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to launch his own investigation into the charges against Amazon in the piece. “I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either,” Bezos wrote in his email to employees about that report.
The NYT article aligned with other accounts of a difficult and competitive work environment at Amazon. Brad Stone, author of the 2013 book "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" (which famously earned a one-star review on Amazon from Bezos' wife, MacKenzie Bezos), unearthed many of the same issues. A group called FACE, for the “Former and Current Employees of Amazon,” later posted an open letter to Bezos and invited current and former employees to add their experiences with the working conditions at Amazon.
Although Amazon has pushed back against reports that working there is brutal for both white collar and warehouse workers alike, the introduction of Pivot indicates Amazon is taking calls for improvement to heart. Responsibilities of the Career Ambassador position detailed in Amazon's job listing include: positively connecting with employees at all levels utilizing a variety of communication methods; quickly building trusting relationships with employees, managers and HRBPs; actively listening to employees and provide them program information and expertise regarding possible next steps in their career, facilitating career and performance conversations; providing specialist advice regarding HR, performance and employment issues that will continuously improve the program and ultimately the employee experience, among others.
Amazon reportedly has also scaled back its so-called "rank-and-yank" process of employee reviews, which involves slotting employees into three categories based on their productivity, rewarding employees who promote themselves and tear down their peers, and penalizing employees who are less adept at self-promotion or less willing to complain about others. The policy was made famous by executive Jack Welch when he was CEO of GE in the late 20th century, and was later adopted by companies like Microsoft. But the management approach, also known as the "vitality curve," has more recently fallen out of favor because it was found to stifle innovation.
Microsoft ended the practice recently after an in-depth look at its corporate culture by Vanity Fair showed that 10 years of the practice had led to a focus on competition rather than cooperation among employees. Even GE itself halted the policy 10 years ago, and last year said that it would revamp its review system even further to foster better teamwork and respond to the cooperative way that many millennials like to work.