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Amazon reportedly doesn’t want employees to know when they’re on performance plans

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The ‘Focus’ program is the Fight Club of management tactics

Photo by Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Managers at Amazon are instructed not to warn employees that they are being monitored under the company’s “Focus” performance management tool, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times.

Focus is supposed to be a program where managers document how they are coaching employees and bringing their performance up to snuff. But in documents obtained by the Times, managers were instructed to not discuss Focus with employees, and instead they are supposed to more generally explain that the worker isn’t meeting expectations and how to improve. Managers would only be able to tell an employee they’re on the plan if they’re asked directly.

This means an employee could be on track to losing their job without ever knowing that their performance is under intense corporate scrutiny, and some who found out they were in the program said they have never gotten feedback on their deficiencies at all.

If Amazon employees don’t improve while unknowingly in the Focus program, they are then placed into the “Pivot” program, according to previous reporting from Business Insider. Employees told Business Insider that if they were placed in Pivot, they were either offered a severance package or given a chance to be put on a performance improvement plan.

Performance improvement plans, colloquially known as PIPs in the tech industry, are supposedly meant to bring underperforming employees back into the fold. But previous reporting by The Seattle Times also uncovered that Amazon expects a third of those placed on PIPs to leave the company, furthering its goal to filter out the lowest performing 6 percent of the company each year.

Amazon’s Focus tactic puts both employees and managers in a tough spot. It’s difficult for an employee to know the severity of their situation if they don’t know that they’re formally in the Focus program. And managers told the Times that they felt that keeping the program secret was counterproductive to employees getting on the right track.

“It’s a hidden way of weeding out people who are not part of the clique,” one Amazon employee told the Times.