What’s your big plan for your business or team in 2018? We all want to stretch, improve and grow, but sometimes figuring out exactly how to scale your work is a challenge. I know I’m still figuring this out as an entrepreneur, and we have a lot of TalentCulture community members who are in the same boat.

Earlier this month I talked to Alison Eyring, founder and CEO of Organisation Solutions and author of “Pacing for Growth: Why Intelligent Restraint Drives Long-Term Success.” Alison has been helping organizations grow for the past 30 years. She has also learned lessons about growth through her experiences as an endurance athlete. She’s done marathons, ultra-marathons, triathlons and Ironman competitions.

What business lessons can you learn from competing as an athlete? Here’s what I learned from my chat with Alison.

Push for Growth, but Recognize Your Boundaries

“If you look at the body, it teaches us that there are certain things we can do to build capacity — to go faster and go further. As leaders we have to push, but also understand that there are some real limits, and work to build capacity,” she says.

She introduced me to the idea of “intelligent restraint” — stretching yourself and pushing for growth, but not so far that you go past your limits.

“If we’re not pushing, if there’s no edge, if we’re not pushing people outside of their comfort zone, they’re not changing. They’re not growing, and the business isn’t changing and growing. You push yourself and you push your business to go as fast and far as you can but then no further until you have the capacity to sustain it.”

Focus on Specific Goals

Just growing for the sake of growth isn’t all that meaningful. I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners who are working to create focus in 2018. Alison agreed that sometimes the best way to scale is to focus: “It’s about saying ‘let’s get really focused on what is profitable, what is meaningful, what is going to bring me to work every morning.’ ”

Start with People

So many organizations think about goals but make their people plan last. That’s backward, Alison says. “When I think about scaling for growth, it’s a lot about people.”

I often see that small businesses have a hard time scaling because leaders can’t delegate tasks to others on the team. But big, growing businesses face people challenges too. “We work with some high-tech companies that are growing so fast, and their managers have very little experience. They start a job, and within six months the job is bigger. You think about in a situation like that, those people have to grow really fast, and they’ve got to be able to grow their people even faster,” she says.

The key to developing a team all comes back to having a solid routine, she says. It’s about having good one-on-ones with people on a regular basis. “Whether it’s over the phone or face-to-face, it’s about carving out a space to understand how to help that person perform and how to help them transform for the future. Having that routine is critical.”

Pay Attention to Developing Remote Workers

So many organizations are staffed by workers who aren’t sitting in the same office every day. I’ve worked remotely for years, and a lot of the organizations I work with rely on remote teams. Alison says that developing those remote workers and moving everyone forward together is a challenge.

“Remoteness is both a blessing and a curse. The curse of it is that when we work independently, there’s not others necessarily who are observing us and connecting with us in a way that they can maybe give us feedback and help us and support us as much as we might get if we are co-located in a normal office environment. We’ve got to really think more proactively. If we can learn how to coach people without seeing them then we become even stronger as leaders.”

Alison says she has people working together from five continents, and she’s focused on helping them stay connected on a human level. “We have people who have never met each other. One of the things that I’ve been really trying to think about is how do we build spirit in our company. When people are physically dispersed, it’s easy for the interactions to become very transactional. It’s about the work we have to get done. Often it’s very hard to get a holistic picture of the challenges the person faces. What are the barriers? How are they feeling? Part of what we need to do as leaders is create psychological safety. We have to provide support. When we do that, we can accelerate development.

“I think that technology can help us. Sometimes it can make it very dehumanized, but other times it can really help us bring spirit through connecting us. People in our group love posting pictures and sharing and having baby pictures. I think that human connection is really important.”

I could talk about remote work and the challenges it brings all day! Thanks to Alison for sharing her expertise with us. Check out her book to learn more.

Stay tuned for more inspiration on the #WorkTrends podcast, every Wednesday: http://bit.ly/2DjCkja.

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