“Standing Up For Us Plebs.” Amazon Leaders Reject Policy To Push Employees Out.
Leaked memo shows Amazon Music’s senior leadership didn’t want to go along with Amazon’s plan to manage out the bottom 6% of their workforce.
Big Technology is a weekly newsletter dedicated to covering the tech world with honest, nuanced reporting. Join the 10,000+ subscribers who tune into Big Technology for tech news without the spin. Here’s an easy way to subscribe:
The leaders at Amazon Music had enough. Amazon wanted them to push their low performers out of the company, forcing them to manage out 6% of employees each year. Their division started 2021 on track. But as the pandemic persisted, they simply didn’t have enough people to nudge out. Or, as they put it, there was “insufficient pipeline to meet goal.” So instead of going along, they protested to Amazon Music vice president Steve Boom.
“Unregretted attrition” — or URA as it’s known inside Amazon — is cold-hearted, corporate-speak for losing employees you’re happy to see go. Amazon, growing fast, accepts it won’t hit on every hire. So it forces managers in some divisions, like Music, to make sure the bad fits leave. And in true Amazon fashion, it quantifies that goal, so everyone goes along. As the pandemic’s worn on, though, some divisions have struggled to hire, and managers are feeling squeezed, asked to push out their solid performers. The situation is now reaching a breaking point inside Amazon, where Music leadership’s protests indicate a reckoning underway.
“The crisis right now is good people are leaving, and hiring is struggling,” said a former Amazon director. “And they are being asked to manage people out at a more aggressive rate because they are behind.”
In their meeting with Boom, which took place this summer, Amazon Music leadership explained they would not support a push to get to the 6% unregretted attrition goal. To reach it, they’d have to put 111 employees on notice in a performance plan called Focus. The ensuing misery could make many leave on their own. But Music leadership just couldn’t come up with enough people that justified being in the program. “Leaders fundamentally disagreed with Amazon’s return to 6% URA,” said an internal Amazon document recounting the meeting, “and asked that HR rethink performance management mechanisms for the organization.”
Music’s rare rebuke of Amazon’s human resources practices has exploded internally thanks to a communications blunder. Someone with access to the meeting documentation accidentally emailed it to a broader group of employees, who’ve since shared it widely. Employees throughout Amazon are now reviewing the document, and many are celebrating it. “For all my years in Amazon, this is the first time I’ve heard an org-wide movement for multiple managers to push back S-team’s goal of 6% of URA,” said one person in the Amazon group on Blind, a forum app that requires a corporate email to join. S-Team refers to Amazon’s senior leadership team. “Thank you for standing up for us Plebs.”
“Thank you for standing up for us Plebs.”
The former Amazon director cited above reviewed the memo and said it’s a good thing it’s out. “I loved working at Amazon, and still admire the company, despite its rough patches,” the director said. “But as a shareholder, and friend of many current employees, I hope they evolve. As a hiring manager though, I am benefiting from their outflow of talent. This is their game to lose.”
Amazon’s culture has long been its competitive advantage. Under Jeff Bezos, the company built a system that empowers bottom-up invention and has kept it relevant despite its age and size. Amazon encourages employees to put the company’s future ahead of its present, to think big, and make invention core their job (you can read more about this in Always Day One). But the company is also demanding, sometimes brutally so, and it can lose sight of its employees’ humanity — which is neither good nor in its strategic interest. Amazon’s insistence on hitting “unregretted attrition” milestones, to the point that it would push out solid performers, is one example of the culture’s downsides.
Change may be on the way though. In the internal documentation from Amazon Music, a plan to move beyond the unregretted attrition strategy inside Amazon Music starts to emerge. “Amazon Music is at a unique inflection point,” it said, “making this an appropriate time to experiment with performance management mental models and mechanisms.” The rest of the document is short on details, but it makes clear that the company’s current model is untenable, and a new approach must begin with the assumption that Amazon employees want to excel, and falling behind or being average is “innately dissonant” with the way they see themselves. Asked if Amazon had plans to rethink its unregretted attrition goals, the company declined to comment.
Curious About What Edelman Uses To Communicate With Over 6,000 Employees? (sponsored)
In case you’re unfamiliar with Edelman, as of 2018 it is the largest public relations firm by revenue and with 6,000 employees across 60 global offices.
You wouldn’t be surprised to know that group text or an all team Slack channel is highly ineffective when it comes to communicating major company-wide messages.
Edelman has been using Axios HQ - software that creates smart updates that distill information in half the time - for their communications to increase transparency, boost engagement, and build trust.
To find out more about Axios HQ and how it might work for your company, learn more here.
There’s a burgeoning cottage industry on YouTube where crypto enthusiasts build audiences by pumping coins and hyping fads. These YouTubers are making tons of money — some earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a month — by bringing some order to crpyto chaos. “The more volatility, the more eyeballs,” said one. There’s just one small issue: Scammers channeled the energy on YouTube to flog spam and frauds. It’s the essential crypto story, in a way.
Apple reaches quiet truce over iPhone privacy changes (Financial Times)
Remember when Apple told us we could opt-out of apps tracking us across the web? Turns out reality is a bit more complicated. Apps like Facebook and Snap are still collecting anonymized, aggregated data, according to this FT report. This fact led one app developer to declare that Apple’s reassuring “Ask App Not to Track” designation was “functionally useless in stopping third-party tracking.”
Too Much Data, Too Few Uses? This Guide Can Help. (sponsored)
Everyone works with data. But there’s so much in so many places that it can be a pain to do anything productive with it. If you’re trying to use data in your job or company, you could probably use a guide to help you turn your raw data ingredients into something fruitful.
Introducing, the Joy Of Data cookbook. This comprehensive guide provides the recipes to bring your data together and put it into action. This accessible guide can be yours for free. You can find it here.
What Else I’m Reading
Andressen and Horowitz bought property in Nevada. Benedict Evans has some thoughts on newsletters (he’s coming on the podcast next week btw). Ben Smith unpacks the TikTok algorithm. Big Technology reporting referenced in Senate testimony. Bob Dole wrote an op-ed calling for unity before he died on Sunday. The San Francisco Chronicle tells us the story of a mother trying to rescue her daughter from drug addiction. The United States executed a man for a murder where he was present but never touched a weapon.
Advertise with Big Technology?
Advertising on Big Technology makes everything you do easier. You’ll get in front of the tech world’s key decision-makers, helping you build brand awareness as you look to grow and tell your story. Planning Q1 marketing? The newsletter has placements available next year. Please email me at email@example.com if you’d like to learn more.
Getting AI To Think And Learn Like Humans — With Daniel Kahneman and Yann LeCun
Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize-winning psychologist and economist and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, a landmark book that decodes human decision-making. Yann LeCun is the chief AI scientist at Meta (Facebook) and a pioneer in the field of deep learning, which the cutting edge of AI is based on today. The two come together on Big Technology Podcast this week to discuss how machines and humans learn, whether there are parallels, and what each field can learn from each other.
Thanks again for reading. Sharing Big Technology with friends and colleagues is the primary way the newsletter grows, so please shout it out if you can.
See you next Thursday!