"Divorce is hard, whether corporate or civil," Leila Siman, director of employee engagement communications at ITT Corp., told an audience at the
International Association of Business Communicators conference in Chicago in June.
The specific divorce she was talking about was the October 2011 split of ITT into three distinct companies. ITT's water and defense divisions spun off into
separate entities; the remaining company continued making its line of oil pumps, shock absorbers, seat actuators, brake pads, and more.
It was a big change, effectively making ITT an almost century-old startup, Siman said, which meant communicators had to come up with a transition plan that
helped employees understand the new landscape.
"We really needed everyone to be facing in the same direction," Siman said. "We started with the top of the company."
In the nine months since the split, the plan seems to have worked. Most leaders at ITT say they know where the company is headed.
A new way
ITT employs 8,500 people in 130 locations, most of whom are highly technical and skilled laborers. For communicators, "that presents unique challenges,"
Even so, Siman saw a real opportunity as the company was dividing into its separate parts, creating a business case to shift funds from external
communications to employee engagement.
"We decided to work from the inside out," she said.
By December 2011, Siman started planning a summit with company leaders to come up with a clear, compelling vision for ITT. Two months later, the summit was
on and the group was developing a story it chose to call "The ITT Way."
The strategy team needed about 75 pages to describe the strategy, but employees couldn't be burdened with that much stuff. The team had to devise a
creative way to get it all across.
"If our employees didn't understand our story, we might as well pack it in and go home," Siman said.
The group ended up with a graphic that was designed after the periodic table, but whose pieces folded into a cube. It lays out the component parts of the
company's story: the DNA, or reinforcing values that remained at ITT after the split; the operating model, which put the company's people in the middle and
listed aspirations; and the impact of everyone in the company fulfilling his or her role.
"We really tried to make it real and easy to understand," Siman said. "A story isn't really a story unless a lot of people can tell it."
'The real social media'
In March, Siman gathered 150 "leadership delegates" from around the world and trained them how to get their employees in the headspace of The ITT Way.
About 60 percent of the delegates were new to their leadership roles since the split, and many were "terrified of communicating," Siman said. She aimed to
let the company's leaders "be the real social media."
Communicators aimed to make it easier by assigning the delegates the task of creating and editing a commercial for ITT.
"They did it, and they loved it," she said. "People still talk about it."
During the training, communicators posted daily digests of what was happening, shared photos, conducted interviews, and found personal stories. It drummed
up a lot of interest among employees.
By the end of the training, 100 percent of the leaders said they understood The ITT Way and their roles in it. Since the training, the company's CEO has
hosted a quarterly call with all the delegates to check in with them as they communicate the story.
Siman said ITT's trying to incorporate The ITT Way into its external communications, too.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer at Ragan.com.
Three key lessons
1. The mission is never accomplished.
"This means constant reinforcement," Siman said. "We've opened the door,
but we have to keep escorting people through it." For example, recent
materials weren't in the ITT Way format, so communicators had to revise
2. Pay now, or pay later.
"We really made the choice to spend the energy and our efforts on our internal message first," she said.
3. Let go, and let leaders lead.
Think of yourselves as connectors and enablers, said Sherry Scott, a
consultant at Gagen MacDonald, an employee engagement firm that worked
with ITT on the
strategy. Provide people with tools, and then give them the freedom to