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ATD Blog

The Outer Game of Agile Career Development

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Agility and career success are increasingly becoming synonymous in today’s fickle and fast-moving business environment. Those who pivot first and most strategically are likely to be rewarded with development opportunities, assignments, moves, and more. But positioning yourself for the kind of action required to ensure a brilliant, resilient career depends heavily upon an understanding of and commitment to the “outer game” of career development.

Paint Yourself Into the Big Picture

Maintaining an up-to-the-minute appreciation of our gifts, talents, and what we most want to do and experience in the workplace establishes a solid foundation. But career success today—and into the future—requires looking outward as well as inward. The most successful career navigators understand the world within which they operate as well as they know themselves.

Careers develop within a context. And the sooner you truly understand that context, the sooner you’ll be ready to lean into, leverage, and make the most of today’s changeable environment.

Start with your own organization and ask yourself:

  • How is our mission or focus shifting?
  • How are customers and their needs different today, and how might they be even more different tomorrow?
  • Which divisions are thriving and which are stagnating?
  • What new products and services have we brought to market? What’s in development?
  • What’s being funded—and what’s not?

Understanding the dynamics at play in your own organization provides the information you need to prepare and position yourself for evolving opportunities that might align with your skills, interests, and goals.

But don’t stop there. It’s also critical to consider the larger business landscape within which you operate—because it’s these factors that define the space within which career development is most viable. You’ll want to make sure you track and understand what’s happening economically, socially, politically, demographically, technologically, and environmentally. When you understand the big picture, you’ll be in the enviable position of becoming the artist of your own career as you paint yourself into that picture.


VUCA Career Development for a VUCA World

And yet, mastery of the inner and outer games of career development is no guarantee of success—because too many smart professionals make one common and career-threatening mistake: They put all of this data together and craft a singular, focused plan to pursue their one goal.

Whereas in the past, this kind of single-mindedness was a recipe for success, today it’s a recipe for disaster. In the current environment, we can no longer afford to pursue just one particular path or way forward. And, we really can’t even become too committed to one particular goal. The business landscape is fraught with roadblocks, dead ends, and new lanes (opportunities). Agile career development means concurrently pursuing multiple paths and destinations, and being willing to pivot, shift, turn, and adjust as the road conditions change.

Development today must be as dynamic as the workplace within which we operate. Effective career navigators stay attuned to changing business conditions, the competition, customer needs, and so on. They create internal GPS systems to map their own personal Waze toward their goals—using the real-time information they gather.


Today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) workplace demands VUCA (versatile, uplifting, choice-filled, adaptable) development to be effective and produce results. This means exploring the full range of development opportunities available, from formal (workshops, webinars, and e-learning) to informal (development experiences, mentoring, visibility, and networking). It means playing out multiple paths concurrently. And it means being willing to adjust the plan based on inevitable changing conditions.

Hard work. Contribution. Collaboration. Networking. They’re all important. But, they are not enough to get ahead. Today, it’s agility that’s the key to a career that remains brilliant and resilient.

“Success is no longer about changing strategies more often but having the agility to execute multiple strategies concurrently.”
—Pierre Nanterme

“Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.”
—Bill Gates

About the Author

Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion for workplace growth and development and helps leaders optimize talent and potential within their organizations with consulting, keynote speeches, and training.

Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want. She is a regular columnist for Training Industry magazine and SmartBrief and contributes articles on leadership, career development, and workplace trends to publications including The Economist.

Named by Inc. magazine as a Top 100 Leadership Speaker, Julie’s in-person and virtual keynotes and presentations offer fresh, inspiring, yet actionable strategies for leaders who are interested in their own growth as well as supporting the growth of others.

Her firm, DesignArounds, creates and offers training to organizations worldwide and has earned praise and awards from Human Resource Executive magazine’s Top Ten Training Products, New York Film Festival, Brandon Hall, and Global HR Excellence Council.

1 Comment
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Wonderful article - I am reading your book now to prepare for an employee development event at the Maryland Dept of Health.
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