Helping, not firing, executives who may have rough edges

Why fire an executive just because he talks down to subordinates or can't adjust to new management styles? Dr. Jerome Beam, chairman of BeamPines Inc. in New York, says it's much easier and less costly for a company to correct the condition than fire the executive, especially when termination costs can approach $100,000.

For the past two years, Dr. Beam has been helping managers identify and correct behavior problems that are affecting their work. Of the roughly 50 people his firm has worked with, all of them have kept their jobs and some have been promoted. Only one person didn't stay with his company, but left to start his own business.

Dr. Beam says he was at Drake-Beam & Associates, an outplacement firm, when he ''became aware of how many people could have been turned around if their problems had been identified to them, and had been offered some resource (before they were fired).''

Beam says that companies face a dilemma when they realize they employ an executive who is competent and contributes to the bottom line, but who has relationship problems that can't be overlooked. Firms come to BeamPines for help with individuals ''who typically are of technical value to the company. These firms don't want to lose that competence,'' Dr. Beam explains.

Some situations a company may face involve mature executives who can't adapt to new management; managers who let family or other outside problems encroach on their work; and managers who simply can't communicate well with others - either they're too aggressive or too meek, too defensive or easily frustrated. This last category, Dr. Beam says, is the area he encounters most often.

These problems aren't unique to any one kind of business or any individual. ''I've worked with companies ranging from multiple parking lot operators to cosmetics,'' Dr. Beam says. He adds that things such as the recession, and the pressures that go along with it, don't create behavior problems, but bring them to the surface.

BeamPines charges $5,000 for each individual who goes through its program, which lasts three to four months. Typically, the individual's boss will contact the firm and talk about the problems the employee may be creating. The employee then has a session with Dr. Beam and talks about the situation. At that first meeting, the employee also answers a number of questionnaires.

From then on, he meets with Dr. Beam once or twice a week for the first month , then once a week for the next two or three months. Results usually start appearing in the first month. The aim is to have the employee conscious of the problems and then try to correct them when they crop up in everyday situations. Every once in a while, the employee, boss, and counselor will all meet. At these meetings, Beam says, he sometimes discovers that ''the boss may exhibit the same behaviors'' he's complaining his subordinate has.

Beam says most employees want to take up the sessions. And they become even more committed ''once they've discovered that this is an approach designed to help them. There are no hidden agendas involved, the purpose is just to make them more effective people.'' Even after the formal program is over, individuals can still come back for more help ''when they sense they are backtracking.''

John Foster, president of Malcolm Pirnie Inc., an environmental engineering firm in White Plains, N.Y., says the first time he used Dr. Beam's services was ''when I was trying to decide whether to demote someone or terminate them.'' After the employee went through the counseling, Mr. Foster says, it became clear not to fire the worker but to demote him. ''For the worker, it was almost a relief,'' he says. ''He was over his head and didn't know what to do. Now he is turned on to his work and is quite productive.''

Three years ago, Mark Laracy was fired. ''It was really a trauma,'' he says. ''I had just gotten a $65,000 bonus and $20,000 raise a month earlier.'' One of the problems, Mr. Laracy thinks, was that he was too aggressive.

But because of his drive, he had also been thinking about going into business for himself. A few sessions with Dr. Beam - which Laracy's company paid for - convinced him that starting his own business was the right thing to do. Mr. Laracy now heads and owns a perfume company that made $4 million in revenues last year.

The counseling ''was a significant career aid at a bad time in my life,'' Laracy says, adding that he is fulfilled and happy in his new business.

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