043: How to Guide Teams Through Times of Change with Fred Rapp

Regardless of the industry you come from, leading teams through a restructuring or a merger acquisition while keeping them focused can be daunting.

Problems such as a lack of communication among the team or a shared frustration over a slow transitional process can quickly arise. The difference between success and failure will depend significantly on your team management and leadership skills.

In this week’s episode of the Leadership Jam Session Podcast, we welcome Fred Rapp, a highly successful executive with over 20 years of healthcare experience – and no stranger to leading teams through several of these types of scenarios. 

We’ll discuss the specific challenges he had to overcome, his leadership principles, and how he believes his success as a manager during these challenging events comes from adopting a leadership style based on honesty, respect, and transparency.

Why change management can be challenging

How you should approach managing a team through times of change depends significantly on the type of company making the acquisition. In Fred’s experience, there are situations where the company is left to deal with the transition by its own devices, which often results in a slow and painful process.

On the other hand, there are companies that ‘rip the band-aid off’ and go through these processes much faster. This is especially true in the case of large companies acquiring smaller ones.

And finally, there’s the ‘hybrid approach,’ where some functions go quickly and some operations take a little longer. This one may be slightly easier to deal with than the first case, but it can also spawn uncertainty and be equally painful. 

No matter which of these three scenarios you may find yourself in as a manager, if you can make sure that your teams stay focused amidst the noise and confusion, you’ll be able to manage them much more effectively.

Fred believes that the best way to achieve this is by taking care of your people and letting them know that you’re there to provide support and whatever tools they need to succeed.

As a leader, dealing with the emotional roller coaster that comes with these changes can be pretty tricky. But the key lies in creating a supportive and warm environment while keeping your employees engaged. Simply put, if you’re not on board and being supportive, your team’s never going to get through this. 

The top 3 challenges Fred had to overcome

1.- Not having answers. 

When you’re jamming processes together and trying to match different platforms during an integration, not having clear answers regarding how these systems you’re just getting to know work can be very frustrating.

For example, most of Fred’s employees over the years have been field-based, meaning they work remotely. They are mostly scientists who provide many important educational resources and support to healthcare providers and academic institutions.

And Fred recalls that in every single integration, IT was an issue. Whether they were being acquired or acquiring people and spending, his team always spent much time solving individual contributors’ IT problems. This hindered the team’s performance and didn’t help boost morale during these rough changes.

2.- Lack of an onboarding program

Another significant struggle Fred faced from an integration standpoint was adopting and implementing new processes and new systems from scratch.

If the acquiring company doesn’t walk you and your team through these aspects of the business from day one, the integration process will only be much more difficult; the more managers and teams understand how things work, the faster the integration will be. 

Yes, investing resources in an onboarding program can be pàinful and time-consuming in the beginning. And yes, it might think that you’re skating in sand. But ultimately, it’ll get you where you need to be faster.

3.-The dangers of over-communicating

Integration and reorg processes are inherently chaotic. And without proper communication, people will tend to fill in the blanks, which can be problematic. 

It’s not uncommon to find cases of organizations who make their decisions in vacuums, only to find themselves several months later wondering why things didn’t take off the way they were supposed to.

But on the flip-side, excessive communication has its downsides too.

The last thing you want is to have multiple people sending the same message over and over again. There’s no use in going to meetings to discuss information that has already been addressed many times; at some point, you’re just hampering your team’s work. 

So, good communication and transparency are vital. But as a leader, sometimes you have to let your team think through it themselves, so it’s your responsibility to balance the flow of communication to boost productivity and teamwork.

They key ingredient of change management

When facing these change processes, whether it’s an integration or a reorg, it’s easy to walk away from the basics and get lost in the swirl. But in reality, we need to remind ourselves that all the management basics still apply in these situations. 

It’s useful to think of this as a football game. You don’t come to training camp and start installing the most complicated offense and defense on the planet. You have to turn around and realize it starts with the basics: blocking and tackling. Because if you can’t block and tackle, you’re never going to be successful.


Key Takeaways 

– Episode intro (00:00)

– Fred’s journey and leadership principles (01:54)

– How to deal with an emotional rollercoaster (03:01)

– Why communication is critical when making decisions (08:36)

– Fred’s biggest struggle during restructurings (11:25)

– How change impacts the culture (16:25)

– The importance of transparency (20:30)

– The key ingredient of change management (24:43)


Leadership Resources

How are the leaders at all levels of management tackling the toughest challenges each day? Learn more at: https://sartoleadershipgroup.com

About the author, Rob

Rob Fonte is the founder and President of Sarto Leadership Group, whose reputation has been built on being a transformational leader and inspirational coach with a passion for developing others. His twenty-year career spans across multiple disciplines including leading award-winning sales teams. Rob is an academically trained Executive Coach certified by The University of Texas and the International Coach Federation.