On Paul Damico’s first day as president at Moe’s Southwest Grill, there were no meetings. There was no slowly easing into the business. There was hardly even time to talk. It was all hands on deck, and he had to roll up his sleeves and be prepared to help anyone and everyone in any way, even though he didn’t know what was going on.
It was Cinco de Moe’s May 5 and the burrito restaurant franchise company’s single largest business day of the entire year.
“I don’t know why that happened,” Damico says. “I didn’t know there was a Cinco de Moe’s, but I started on Cinco de Moe’s, and it was a little crazy in the office that day.
“It was a little overwhelming the first day, and it also brought to me the importance that this day has on the system and on the team.”
It was his first lesson in understanding the chain, which was struggling at the time. It had been acquired by FOCUS Brands from Raving Brands less than a year prior to him starting and was being run by the now chairman of FOCUS. The company had gone through rapid growth since its inception in 2000, but franchise sales at that time weren’t that strong, and franchisees and employees were uncertain about the future as they struggled to be a part of the new FOCUS Brands family.
“I brought some stability in the group and started to build a team that would take this brand, which had grown at an unbelievable rate through the first seven years; we were going to start to stabilize it because they had grown so fast they were playing catch-up,” he says. … “We needed to settle down and put some processes in place.”
Despite uncertainty on the part of employees and franchisees, Damico was confident. He had been part of the FOCUS Brands family previously as a Cinnabon and Carvel franchisee, so he knew FOCUS was a good company that would work well for Moe’s. He just needed to get the right people in place so he could go on to add better processes to stabilize the organization and poise it for more growth
“I like to say, ‘Put the right people in the right seats on the bus,’” he says. “Kind of cliché, but it was something that really needed to happen here, and it took every bit of a year to make that happen. We had to bring in some new talent. We had to shift some talent.”Get to know your people
To follow the guidance of Jim Collins by getting the right people in the right seats on the bus, Damico had to first know the people with whom he was working.
“The first step was really getting to know who the team is,” he says. “I spent a lot of time meeting with the team I had inherited.”
One of the keys to knowing people is to socialize with them.
“Don’t be afraid to have a social occasion with every member of the team, whether that is the clerk or the senior vice president of marketing,” he says. “Bring them together because we all have a common goal.”
Damico doesn’t just grab a burrito at the restaurant with his employees. Instead, he invites them into his home.
“That really takes down everybody’s guard,” he says. “It strips away everybody’s title, and it brings the team together in a comfortable setting. There’s nothing more comfortable than inviting people into your living room. If we can convey that to the team and the team can react to each other that way, maybe that’s what transcends into our restaurants at the end of the day.”
While social get-togethers were part of the puzzle, the biggest piece was having one-on-one meetings with everyone.
“I would ask everything from, professionally, what they were focused on, what they should be focused on, and what they thought they should be focusing on but weren’t focusing on,” he says. “Then the conversation delved into their personal lives do they enjoy what they’re doing? We talked about wives and husbands and kids and families. For me, it’s important to get to know people on a personal level.”
It’s also critical to find out if your employees are happy.
“Find out what people want to do,” Damico says. “If you were to poll any organization, you’d find that 50 percent of the work force are doing things they’re OK doing, but it’s not getting them excited.”
Instead, he wants his people to be fired up about their jobs.
“Don’t sit in a role where you are not going to be absolutely stoked to come to work every single day,” he says. “Don’t do it for the paycheck.”
You also need to recognize if people are more suited for another position, even if they’re content in the role they currently have.
“You get that through fairly direct interaction and direct questions. You find out fairly quickly what people are excited about and what their history is, what their professional history is, and I’ve had conversations where I was speaking to a person who clearly had the passion, the education, the experience in the human resources arena, but that person was running company operations, and that’s a bit of a disconnect,” he says. “That’s a big disconnect for me.”
And you also have to recognize when people are bad for your team.
“It’s less about the role and more about your management attributes, if you will,” Damico says. “We look at things like energy. We look at things like can you play in the sandbox with the team. You may be the best operator, and you could have 15 years of being the VP of operations, but if you can’t play in the sandbox with the rest of the Moe’s team, then you’re really detrimental to the team.”
By taking the time to speak to people individually, Damico was able to see the moves he would have to make to ensure he had the right people.
“Those one-on-ones revealed to me some of the challenges the individuals were going through with the acquisition,” Damico says. “It revealed to me some super talent we had on the team, and it also revealed to me some lack of talent we had on the team that we needed to shore up.”Fill in the gaps
Once he got to know the people, he recognized what internal moves were needed and which positions he needed to fill from the outside.
When he’s interviewing, he says one of the keys is to first make people feel comfortable talking with you. So for the first 15 minutes of any interview, before he asks any questions, he talks about Moe’s. Because he has a high level of passion for the brand, he allows that passion to come through in the way he speaks about it, which gets the interviewees excited. He also talks about his personal life to make them more inclined to speak about theirs.
“It gives them some time to get comfortable and relax and want to open up because I do it in my opening remarks,” he says. “I talk about my wife and my children and not only my management style but also my parenting style, and I may draw some correlations between the two.”
Once he starts asking questions, Damico has a specific approach to hiring that he takes because he knows what he’s looking for I″E4L″. The I’s stand for integrity and intelligence, while the E’s represent energy, energize, edge and execute. Then the L’s reference loyalty and leadership attributes. To learn if potential candidates embody these characteristics, he uses specific questions to get to the heart of their personality.
“A lot of things you can see in the body language when you’re talking to them energy and asking questions,” he says. “How do you energize? When you walk into a room, does the room light up or do people not even recognize you’re there? That’s an energizing factor, which brings a whole different level of excitement to a conversation.”
When interviewees respond, watch their body language to see if it matches their words.
“If somebody sits there, and I’m having a conversation, and I say, ‘How would you energize your team to accomplish a goal?’ and their hands are folded and in their lap, I’m not sensing they can energize the situation,” Damico says. “What can you do to take the flag and run up the hill, and when you get to the top, you’re not there by yourself that’s a lonely place. When I turn around, I want to see the Moe’s team standing there with me. That’s energizing a group of people.”
He says to also ask questions that get to the heart of these attributes.
“Always ask question that are tied to real-life experiences, and those real-life experiences I like to tie to [are] personal or family experiences,” he says. “Everybody that goes through an interview can recite the local buzzword, what the nomenclature is of the year, the things that let the interviewer know that you’ve got the business sense.
“But when you try to ground people and talk to them and ask them specific examples about how you raise your children in an environment where they felt comfortable to tell you what it is they’re doing in their life, you have to dig pretty deep,” he says. “So tailor the questions toward personal and life experiences rather than just the corporate buzzword and what you did in your last job.”
Overall, it took him about three weeks to conduct one-on-ones and a year to make all of the moves and hires to have the best team in place, but the time was well worth it. With the right people, he was able to then go on to make process changes and strengthen elements of the business that had been neglected or underutilized. As a result of his efforts, Moe’s had $323 million in net revenue last year, sold more deals in the first quarter this year than all of last year combined and is poised to add 100 restaurants next year to it’s already more than 400 locations.
“Today, as we sit here two years from when I started, we have all the right people, and they’re clearly all in the right seats, and if you look at what’s happening with what we’re doing from a marketing perspective, a culinary perspective, you look at our sales … there aren’t many companies that are doing that right now,” Damico says. “… There’s so many positive indicators of what’s happening with the brand.”
How to reach: Moe’s Southwest Grill, (404) 255-3250 or www.moes.com