Recently I was asked the question: “How many employees do you manage?”  After some careful consideration, I admitted that I am formally responsible for 125 employees, but my job is to manage about 130 personalities.  Any person with management experience will understand the discrepancy in my numbers. 


As the Chief Executive Officer of a small organization you get to wear many hats, but I regularly find myself focusing on getting things done through managing personalities.


When I first entered healthcare management 25 years ago, I thought I knew what it would take to manage employees.  After all, I had a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology with a Minor in Personnel Management.  I had learned all about motivation theory and personality differences.  All I had to do was figure out what personality type existed.  25 years later I must admit that I am still trying to figure this whole people-management thing out.  However, I have learned a few things that I'd like to share with the hopes that it may help others manage their team as much as it has helped me manage mine.


First, when it comes to employees, there are certain things about personalities that you just cannot change. 

I have seen outstanding patient care nurses who are terrible about their charting.  Families love them and they are wonderful teammates, but don’t count on them to have the documentation completed by the time it is supposed to be. Sure, you can take them through the disciplinary process and it will get better for a little while, but they cannot change; you just end up losing a good nurse. Now you face the question:

Should I make an exception for this person?

No, unfortunately you can't without most likely violating a company policy or state regulation; however, you can put measures in place to keep track of their documentation and prompt them.  Sure, it would be nice to have the same expectation and outcomes for all employees, but it is simply not realistic. In the past I believed that I could change their behavior and characteristics, but after 25 years of experience, I have instead learned that I need to support and expose their strengths while simultaneously trying to protect and offset their weaknesses. 


In managing personalities, considerable time is spent trying to get staff members to work together. 

I have been fortunate to have many of our managers in place for a long time.  Over time they have learned to recognize the differences in personalities and find a way to work together productively. When conflict arises, I always encourage staff to handle differences between themselves, but on occasion, I end up needing to facilitate the meeting if it is not being resolved on its own.  It is rarely “fixed” after one meeting, but eventually staff will learn that while we do not have to like each other, we darn sure better respect one another and exhibit it.


I think the most important thing I have learned through these years I attribute to a quote from Viktor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

Thinking back, I can recall many times where I bit my tongue to make sure I did not respond without careful consideration.  It takes a great deal of patience, but I think a careful, considered response is always better than an immediate, knee-jerk reaction.


Sometimes it feels like personality management is the most difficult aspect of my job, but it is also one of the most rewarding and my personal favorite part of the job.  In hospice, our approach is inherently team based, so it is imperative that we all work together.  The only asset we truly have are our employees, and everyday hospice employees provide what I believe is the most valuable and compassionate health care available. 


- Jim Petrus

CEO of Peachtree Hospice