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Symantec Reorganization Offers a Lesson on Knowing When to Leave

Rob Enderle | Jan. 28, 2013
Symantec's recently announced reorganization and strategic shift point to a tenuous few years, as employees will be asked to do more with less in the name of keeping shareholders--including the CEO--happy. This is usually a good sign that it's time to polish up your resume.

Over the years, I've worked through a number of turnarounds, mergers, acquisitions and startups. I consistently rode them out under the assumption that each provides unique opportunities for advancement and personal growth that you likely can't get anyplace else.

Looking back, though, there were a number of times when leaving would have both been less stressful and better for my career. Frankly, I think I was just afraid of going on a job hunt again and used the "advancement and personal growth" excuse to overshadow being afraid to make the wrong new job choice or end up unemployed.

This thought came to me when I read Symantec's plan for reorganization, and I thought I'd use it as an example of an event sequence that should prompt current employees to look elsewhere. It's tough to go outside-heck, I was afraid to do it myself-but sometimes conditions dictate that we do scary things.

Symantec Focuses on Products, Trims Middle Management

What triggered this was a note from a friend who couldn't figure out the Symantec reorganization and asked me to explain it. New Symantec CEO Steve Bennett has a strong pedigree, having been at both Intuit and General Electric, and this means he'll likely apply Jack Welch-like metrics.

However, GE and Symantec are very different companies, and while Bennett may have learned a bit at Intuit, he is by no means a software specialist. Software typically requires a reduced span of control. Developers need closer oversight and coordination, while managers, often called on to code, are not only the more senior programmers, but also integral to quality control

Against adequate financial results, Bennett announced several things.

First, to increase its span of control, Symantec will sharply cut middle management, effectively given the remaining managers more to do. Second, the company will form the "Office of the CEO," which shifts responsibility from the CEO to the next line of management, and implement a group process that doesn't make Bennett redundant (at least on paper). Third, Bennett announced a dividend that will reduce the operating capital available to the company but increase the value of the stock to those that needed regular income from it. Finally, in a move reminiscent of GE, Symantec will shift to a product-focused model rather than a customer-focused one.

What Does the Symantec Reorganization Mean?

Eliminating middle management removes a large number of highly paid employees. This will tactically improve Symantec's bottom line but reduce skills needed to ensure high-quality products in the long term.

This should provide a short-term stock boost, but it will reduce Symantec's long-term ability to compete. In addition, this will reduce opportunities for line employees to get promotions while increasing their overall workload.


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