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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.

Meanwhile, the Office of the CEO will nearly eliminate the CEO's day-to-day responsibilities, passing them to others but letting Bennett come in regularly and comment on or change decisions that will increasingly already be made (or delayed pending his input). This will reduce Symantec's agility and further increase the workload on Symantec's senior staff as it is increasingly asked to do its job and the CEO's job as well.

Over the short term, more work for fewer people should improve Symantec's bottom line, boosting stock prices and dividend income to stockholders. On the other hand, most everyone will get more work for the same pay, while the CEO significantly reduces his workload. Since Bennett's stock benefits are the strongest in the company, he will benefit the most from the short-term share price increases and the dividends.

Over the long term, though, the company will drift further away from customer interests, given its sharp product focus. Promotion opportunities will be reduced for rank-and-file employees, while work levels will sharply increase for senior employees. This will make retention and recruitment difficult; any problems that result will be blamed on the executive staff-who, through the Office of the CEO, will, in effect, be running the company.

Expect Symantec to hit a nasty wall and enter crisis mode in the next two to four years. It could happen sooner, too, depending on how many senior employees, who haven't already been laid off, see the writing on the wall. The well-compensated CEO will leave as well. Finding a job with a failing company will be much more difficult; odds are, those remaining at Symantec would have been better off leaving.

Know When to Walk Away...Know When to Run

Turnarounds are risky, given that most fail; that's why so few companies from 100 or even 50 years ago are around today. If you, the employee, believes in corporate leadership, and leadership believes in the company, then leaders will demonstrate competency in the industry, cut their own income for the short term to assure loyalty and visibly work their butts off to turn the firm around. Even then, you might be better going to a firm that's clearly growing and has a more certain future.

When you get a situation like Symantec, on the other hand, where it looks like the CEO is implementing a process from a very different industry, cutting his responsibilities, making changes that will increase his compensation and executing layoffs, then you can bet he's playing the short game. That won't be good for your career. To my mind, the only thing that would make Symantec a worse place to work would be if the company implemented Jack Welch's forced ranking employee compensation process. This would pit remaining employees at each other's throats.


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