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

Wednesday, 02 March 2011 13:55

Getting to great

Let’s be honest: We all want to be “great.” Whether it’s being a great worker, a great boss, a great parent or a great community leader, this mentality is ingrained in us from the beginning.

That’s why it is no surprise that company leaders put a great deal of resources behind building a strong support system around them. There is nothing more powerful than a strong team, and there is little that cannot be accomplished when the right people are all moving together toward a common goal. Whether it is a sports team, a surgical team or a business team, they all rely on each other for the win. Because, truth be told, no one likes to lose.

Creating a winning team is all about developing the culture and the vision.

Create it.

The vision can be clear, concise and actionable, but if your team isn’t fully engaged, the vision will be lost. Let the key players on your team take part in shaping the company’s mission, vision and values so that it uniquely reflects the culture you will build together. I took my team on a two-day retreat to lead a healthy discussion that resulted in a solid foundation for the company’s future. Today, I don’t think anyone in the company could recite our mission, vision and values word for word, but I do believe anyone could explain the essence of what we stand for, and at the end of the day, that is what’s most important.

Live it.

It’s one thing to understand a company’s values, but it’s another thing to actually live it. Are your team’s behaviors reflective of your ultimate vision?

Reminders and positive reinforcement will help your employees keep their eye on the ball. For example, we have posters of our guiding values that hang on the walls of our office and on stainless steel water bottles that I gave to each associate. We highlight living examples of our values in each edition of our quarterly newsletter, and each department creates goals with the company mission in mind.

Expand it.

At Moe’s Southwest Grill, we work hard to ensure that we maintain a great talent level throughout all disciplines of our company. From our initial hiring practices to our ongoing associate development, we believe that all of our employees deserve to be the best they can be, both personally and professionally, and we have put programs in place to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be great.

When we recruit new talent, we look for intelligence, integrity, energy and edge, to name a few, and our interview process is a reflection of that. Candidates meet with four or five members of the team and are asked questions that get at the distinct personal attributes we look for. Because we’re all on the same page, it becomes crystal clear who the best candidate is for the job each and every time.

Most important, once you have identified and put this strong team in place, you must allow the team members to spread their individual wings, yet come together to fulfill your vision of greatness.

Continue to develop your team, discuss the future and think in terms of the next five years.

Using your vision, mission and values as a filter for all you do is the secret to creating and sustaining a winning team.

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

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