How a 90-year-old company started fresh—with staffers’ buy-in

When ITT Corp. split up into three parts last year, communicators found a new way to engage employees: with a story.

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“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,” Siman said.

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