Toll Brothers’ Kendal Jolly on People-Focused Culture

May 9, 2019

1) There is some magic occurring at Toll Brothers as the company is the nation’s  #1 homebuilder and 89% of your employees say Toll Brothers is a Great Place to Work.  What are some of the actions management is taking to keep this type of focus on people?

There is never a shortage of work being done at Toll Brothers to focus on people. I’m in a new role as the Managing Director of Culture and Brand Awareness and while there was a focus on people and culture prior to this role being established, there’s now an increased focus on making sure that we are focused on people in the right ways.


Part of the culture focus is through the establishment of our corporate values – we’re on a three-year plan to embed those values around the organization. We always had values, but they had never been articulated before. A new initiative involves asking employees to send in stories of how they live a particular value. We rotate these stories on our company intranet with a photograph of that employee. This approach results in recognition of the employee, reinforcement of the behavior that they are exhibiting, and the value is showcased.

For example: there was a family that moved into a new home and in their old home they had on a door frame where they marked the heights of their children as they grew up. The construction manager actually removed that piece of the doorframe and installed it in their new home. This is an example of living the value of Delighting the Customer.


We’ve also created an Executive Culture Steering Committee comprised of the level below the C-Suite because we wanted to have people who were closer to the front lines. We wanted those people who are touching our customers each and every day to help guide us in what we should be focused on as an organization. Toll Brothers has given me a lot of time and latitude to establish the themes of where we should spend our time and our efforts. I’m now turning to that Culture Steering Committee to say, “here’s what I’m hearing – how should we address this? What should we be focused on?” We also have created a new position in our Divisions and Departments around the company called Culture Ambassadors. They are an extension of the Culture Team that serve as boots on the ground in every location around the country to help us share messages quickly, help us gather stories so that we can communicate great things that are happening, and to be that local voice of things that the company is trying to focus on.


We also have a focus on leadership development. We had a very successful program last year where we took a group of high potential employees, gave them a project to work on, and they gave their recommendations to Senior Executives. We now have eight of those programs going on around the country, and it’s helping Toll Brothers identify who some of those next senior leaders will be in our company.


There is a new focused attention around our surveys as well; we do the Great Places to Work survey each year, and while we have always looked at the results there’s never been a lot of focus on the results. The renewed focus is not about getting the accolades that come with that survey, it’s really about wanting to be the sort of company that employees are proud to work for. So, we’re going back to employees and saying “here’s what you’re saying to us, and here’s what we’re learning.” We had pockets of leaders who would take their results in years past and do some things with them, but this year there’s a renewed focus on follow through. It’s really about us going back to the employees and saying “we’re listening to you. You have a voice in the direction of this organization and in the direction of your career,” which ultimately, is how you define culture.


Then finally, one of the focuses for Toll Brothers is on storytelling and getting our leaders to understand why it’s important to tell stories, how to tell stories, and that the way that you focus on culture, and the way that you support a culture, is through storytelling. It’s about getting those leaders to not just share numbers and results but to share the stories that helped us achieve those results. I knew that coming from Disney into this company, it was a reminded to me at The Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship, and Toll Brothers CEO, Doug Yearly, has said it repeatedly. Storytelling is one of the ways that that we’re able to make an impact.

2) Every organization’s culture is different, but do you see similarities between Toll Brothers and your leadership experience at Disney?

In every organization we’re trying to find people that align with the culture that we’re trying to create. I saw that at Disney and I see that at Toll Brothers as well – it’s really about finding the right people who are going to align with your culture. It’s about bringing them into the organization and giving them the right onboarding experience, the right tools, and the support that they need to be successful. Then once you get them integrated in, how do you take care of them? How do you show them that they matter, that their work matters, that their contribution matters? Disney taught me all that but I see it here at Toll Brothers as well.

3) With Toll Brothers being located in 20 states and 50 markets, how does culture remain consistent?  What are some of your trade secrets in that area?

Like any organization that is geographically dispersed, this is something that we constantly have to work on. The number one thing that drives consistency is the integration of the values and staying true to who we are. One of the things that we have done is created a Values Do’s and Don’ts Behaviors Toolkit. It’s very simple: it takes the six values and defines them so that everybody works off of the same definition. We then put every single employee in working groups based on similar roles and we ask them, “what do you think this value means for you? What are some behavioral expectations that you all could hold one another accountable to in order to live this value? What are some dos in order to live this value?

One of our values is around delighting the customer. What are some things that you could do if you’re a salesperson, or if you work as a construction manager, or if you work in warranty, that would help you live the value of delighting the customer? And what are some things that you should not do?” When we come back 4-6 weeks later and share together, we often find ideas that are impactful for others that we hadn’t thought of yet. That’s just one way that we’re trying to teach how to live in this new way and drive consistency throughout our company.

If there is a trade secret I would say that it’s that every leader is empowered to recognize an employee for living the values in any way that they see fit, at any time. That can be something as simple as giving them a spot recognition card, a verbal commendation, awarding them a gift card or taking them to lunch. Many of our employees have said meaningful recognition could be allowing them to go home early. It’s empowering those leaders to recognize people in the way that is meaningful to them in the moment for doing the things that we need them to do.

4) You were a Fellow at the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship in 2018; what’s something you heard or observed there that shifted a perspective for you?

Disney had a certain perspective of how to drive culture and that is the mindset that I have developed and that I know most. Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship gave me a new way of looking at culture and thinking about things in some important new ways. I’m looking at page 15 of the UCF notebook in particular, the Sub-Categories of Culture (Leadership Alignment, People First Priorities, Measuring Organizational Health, Clear Mission & Purpose, Systems of Continual Reinforcement). Looking back now, one of the things that’s probably resonated with me the most is that culture is not one size fits all – what works for one organization may not work for another. There is no harm in trying something and if it doesn’t work, trying something else. I think a lot of times as leaders we think we have to hit it out of the park at the first pitch, and we don’t. It’s OK to try something and it not succeed. We learn from that and we move on to the next thing and try something else. I love this quote from the Fellowship: “Culture is not a faucet that you can just turn on and off.” It’s constant – it goes back to that question, are you going to be a culture that you define, or is this a culture that has happened by default that needs to shift? The Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship is giving people the tools to help them move from default to defined.

5) Being named one of the 100 Best Places for Millennials is enviable recognition.  What are some of your initiatives that focus on this key component of the workforce?

Toll Brothers, who for years did not use interns, has focused on how to grow our internship program in recent years. The construction industry is not a sexy industry. It does not have the cache that many other industries have. In fact, if you look at our labor pool – plumbers, people who lay tile, roofers, electricians – that workforce in America is aging. Statistically speaking, our country is going to be in dire circumstances in the next couple of decades as a result of not growing that labor pool. It’s come to the attention of our senior leaders that we need to bring people in and show them the opportunities that exist in this field through our internship program. We had approximately 100 people in our program last summer. We’re continuing to grow that program to get people interested in construction, home building, and in the opportunities that exist in this field.

Another way we focus on millennials is by hiring people out of college and putting them directly into our Management Associate Program. Through that program, they experience different rotations such as project management, construction management, mortgage and title to allow them to learn the various aspects and opportunities that exist in the field. That’s the best entrance into this industry. Many of the people who end up leading people at corporate began in that Management Associate Program.

We have a Senior Executive who’s been with the company for 26 years. He recently shared this story at our Culture Ambassador Summit. When we wrote out the values he gave me a really hard time. He called me up and he said, “I don’t agree with these, I don’t think these are right for our industry.” He was really negative about them. He said to the culture ambassadors, “it’s taken me a few months, but I have a lot of millennials on my team. And they’ve come into my office and they’ve told me how important these values are to them. I’ve asked them why and I’ve learned that they want to work for a company where they know what’s important. And they want to make sure that what’s important to the company is important to them and that they align with one another. I’ve shifted my belief. I know the values are important to people and now they are important to me.”.

I thought, wow, it is possible to teach someone something new! So, when you think about  this 100 Best Places to Work For Millennials recognition, it’s because of leaders like him who are willing to listen to millennials and say, “Oh, this is what’s important to you? Then that also needs to be important to me.”

About Kendal

Kendal Jolly spent more than 25 years with the Walt Disney Company working in a variety of positions from front-line performer with the world re-known, Voices of Liberty, at Epcot, to serving as Walt Disney World Ambassador during the 25th Anniversary Celebration – one of two selected to represent the 50,000 Cast Members at that time. He held numerous positions of leadership at three of the four theme parks in Orlando, Human Resources, Disney University, Walt Disney Creative Entertainment and Disney Institute. The last seven years of his Disney career were spent traveling the world helping organizations improve their leadership effectiveness, culture, engagement, and customer service. 

In early 2018, Kendal traded in his mouse ears for a hard hat joining Toll Brothers, America’s Luxury Homebuilder, as Managing Director, Culture and Brand Awareness. Kendal brings a unique perspective, thoughtful reflection, and inspiring storytelling, to help others focus on what is most important to creating the desired culture in work teams, departments, divisions, and across the organization.

Kendal is originally from Mississippi but now splits his time between home in Jacksonville, Florida, and his primary office in Horsham, Pennsylvania. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and a Master of Business Administration in Management and Entrepreneurship from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

About Toll Brothers

  • Last year, Toll Brothers built more than 8500 homes.
  • They operate in 50 markets in 20 different states, and always looking to expand into new markets.
  • Their average home price is $683,000. However, the average price of their delivered homes is $893,000.
  • They are America’s Luxury Home Builder and the only national home builder that allows the level of personalization in the homes that they build.

Together, we truly can build Unstoppable Cultures!


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