Lines Of Communication

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At a firm as large as Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based Toll Brothers Inc., which has more than 3,000 employees in 21 states, keeping connected is no small feat.

June 01, 2002
Toll Brothers employees are never out of the loop thanks to the Interaction Board and Bricks & Sticks, the newsletter being read by Martha Tanner (left) and Kellie Zollers.

At a firm as large as Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based Toll Brothers Inc., which has more than 3,000 employees in 21 states, keeping connected is no small feat. With seven layers of management from the top office to the field, meetings are a necessity.

Top executives meet monthly, as do division vice presidents and their staffs. Department heads meet twice a month, and project managers and vice presidents convene every Monday night. Meetings minutes are posted on the company intranet, which workers also turn to for “real-time” forecasts, broadcasts and presentations from chairman/CEO Bob Toll and other key executives.

Bricks & Sticks, Toll Brothers’ quarterly, full-color newsletter, is distributed to all employees via mail or the intranet. The publication has information on community openings, financials and letters from Bob Toll and president/chief operating officer Zvi Barzilay, and worker testimonials and team-building exercises.

Bricks & Sticks is a great source of information,” says Martha Tanner, an executive assistant who has been at Toll Brothers for 14 years. “It pulls you in with all the graphics.”

To further connectivity and communication, in 2000 Tanner and other employees founded the Interaction Team, a rotating-membership group that facilitates face-to-face employee interaction. It sponsors group events and fund-raisers, and maintains a “Welcome to Toll Brothers” display of new employees with pictures and mini-bios.

Human resources manager Kellie Zollers says Bob Toll tracks her down to ask who a person is if he doesn’t recognize a face in the hallway. “Bob takes a lot of pride in knowing who his employees are,” she says. “His philosophy has trickled down through senior management and middle managers.”

Zollers issues weekly reports on all new hires, promotions, transfers and resignations for all locations. In addition, all new hires get a letter from Bob Toll espousing his open-door policy. The company reinforces this idea with its Efficiency Committee, a forum that encourages employees to come up with ideas on how to make Toll Brothers run better. They’re rewarded for ideas that are implemented.

At Simonini Builders Inc. in Charlotte, N.C., informality is the key to the effective communication among all 37 employees, says accounts payable manager Nancy Yemm.

“You know who to address your concern to,” she says. “You can bypass your immediate supervisors and not feel bad about it. It’s an interesting concept to understand, and it helps that we’re small enough where we can talk to each other. The message that’s been communicated to me by [owners] Alan [Simonini] and Ray [Killian] is, ‘If you ever have a concern or a question, please bring it directly to us.’”

Simonini Builders does have formal communication channels: Monday morning all-staff meetings, weekly departmental and management meetings, and an annual off-site retreat. The day-to-day informality arises from the face time employees have at those events with co-workers and managers.

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