Paul Damico’s keys to build culture through personal relationships

Paul Damico

Paul Damico

It’s hard to forget your first job out of college — learning office protocol, building a rapport with the team, impressing your boss and meeting the ever-intimidating CEO. You may have felt eager to be noticed or eager to just blend in — either way, there were likely moments of discomfort that you do not want to revisit anytime soon.

Similarly, you may recall the moment you first engaged with your mentor. The way that person took you under his or her wing, made you feel confident and inspired you to become the great leader you are today.

As leaders, we all want to be like our mentors but are cognizant of the intimidation factor that often comes with being a CEO.

It’s no secret that the best teams are made up of happy people who feel respected, appreciated and challenged in the workplace. In my experience, I have found that connecting with people makes them feel at ease in the workplace and more apt to thrive.

The best meetings are one on one

One way I connect with a team is by having one-on-one meetings with associates at all levels of the organization. As a rule, no one says no to a one-on-one. As the name implies, it is a face-to-face meeting with just me. It provides a dedicated time to discuss ideas, feedback, goals, personal development or anything the associate wishes to discuss.

When someone within the organization, whether it’s me, a member of the executive team or an associate, requests a one-on-one, all parties know that no one is ‘in trouble,’ as is often assumed when you’re called into the boss’s office.

Not only are these meetings helpful for the team but also for me to keep my finger on the pulse, offer recognition, provide coaching and/or hear great suggestions.

Live the open-door policy

On my office door I have a sign that reads ‘This wood panel may look closed, but it’s open — no, really, come in.’ I want to be sure everyone knows, quite literally, that I have an open-door policy. I want the team to feel free to pop their heads in and ask a question or pull me into an impromptu meeting at any time.

I have found that the team can run faster and leaner with this policy in place. We can make decisions and go through the proper approval channels in a speedy manner when we eliminate the need to have a meeting to discuss setting up a meeting for another meeting. We’ve all been there.

Get personal

Another way I connect with my team members is by making the effort to get to know every one of them personally. I make it a goal to ask them about their personal lives, interests, families and goals. In fact, when we do our annual goal-planning sessions, we ask that associates include personal goals on their list. We find that if you’re fulfilled outside of work, you’ll be happier on the job. A happy associate is, more often than not, a more productive one.

Mi casa es su casa

I think one of the most effective ways to instantly break down the barriers between myself and the members of my team is to open up my home. When we have company parties, I like to host them at my house with my family. When possible, we have the team invite their spouses, and we keep the vibe very laid back.

One of the guiding values at Moe’s Southwest Grill is to be yourself. We go out of our way to ensure everyone feels comfortable to do just that.

Next time you see the newest member of your team quietly lingering outside your office door, tell them to come in, just like your mentor may have done to you many years ago, and get to know them. And if all else fails, you can always just hang a sign on the door.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 400 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at [email protected]

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