Amazon

Amazon's Program for Underperforming Employees Includes a Courtroom-Style Videoconference With a Jury of Peers

While experts agree it's innovative, they're split on whether it works.
Amazon's Program for Underperforming Employees Includes a Courtroom-Style Videoconference With a Jury of Peers
Image credit: Getty/Chip Somodevilla via BI
4 min read
This story originally appeared on Business Insider

Last year, Amazon launched a program called "Pivot," designed to help underperforming employees improve their work.

It's been 18 months since Pivot was introduced and, as Bloomberg's Spencer Soper and Business Insider's Prachi Bhardwaj reported, some employees are protesting that the hearing process isn't fair.

Under the Pivot program, employees who are put on a performance-improvement plan have three options, Bhardwaj reported:

1. Quit and receive severance pay.

2. Spend the next couple of months proving their worth by meeting certain performance goals set by the manager.

3. Face a panel of peers in a courtroom-style videoconference, in which the employee and his or her boss present arguments about whether the employee should stay in the Pivot program.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the panel is made up of global co-workers who have similar jobs at Amazon.

Seventy percent of employees lose the trials, meaning they must choose between the first and second options above. If the employee wins the trial, they are removed from Pivot and have the choice to return to their current team or be placed on another team.

Business Insider spoke to three workplace experts about the value and potential implications of the Pivot program. All three agreed that the program was "innovative" in the world of people management.

Yet the experts were also concerned that these panelists, possibly unversed in the world of HR decisions, would get to shape the future of someone's career.

Under the Pivot program, employees choose either one manager or three non-managers as their jury, Bloomberg reported. They're also allowed to dismiss some panelists if they think the panelists will be unsympathetic to their case, according to Bloomberg. But overall, the employee doesn't get to select the jurors.

"Someone's career is such a deeply personal thing," said Jaime Klein, founder and CEO of Inspire Human Resources. "It is such a massive responsibility to determine the fate of someone's career."

Klein added, "You have to be really trained to be able to assess the current performance and the trajectory of whether someone can work through that performance issue."

Jodi Glickman, CEO of GreatontheJob.com, said it was "bizarre" to have three jurors who may have no previous experience interacting with you. The case might easily become a "popularity contest," Glickman said, with jurors who owe the employee's boss a favor deciding against the employee.

It would make more sense, she added, to select the jurors from among the employee's (and boss's) team members, so that they know what the employee's work really looks like and whether the boss's complaints are valid.

The peer-jury process gives employees more opportunity to improve than if they were summarily dismissed.

Still, Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, said she thought the Pivot program could be beneficial for employees.

Taylor cited the 30 percent of employees who win their cases, which is more than the 0 percent of employees who would get to stay if no one had the opportunity to defend themselves.

Taylor said it's also important to keep in mind that the manager of the employee being evaluated is also under review. If the jury decides the manager's complaints were unsubstantiated, that doesn't make the manager look very good, she said.

One confusing part of the Pivot program, according to Klein, is the option for employees to quit and receive severance pay. Severance pay is typically offered, Klein said, when it's "not your fault."

"It's odd to offer severance as an option if the individual does not want to pursue a performance program."

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