3 Keys to Career Success: The Pieces of PIE

by Frank Battiston

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Performance, Image and Exposure (PIE) How well you do your job has very little to do with how successful you are in your professional career.   Or, more precisely, how well you do your prescribed work will account for about 10% of your overall success.  That’s according to Harvey Coleman in his book Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed.    Briefly stated, Coleman asserts that career success is based on the 3 key elements of Performance, Image and Exposure (a.k.a. PIE):

  1. Performance:  this is about the day-to-day work you’re tasked with and the quality of the results you deliver.
  2. Image: this is what other people think of you.  Your personal brand.  Do you maintain a positive attitude? Do you lead with solutions to issues, or are you the person that solely offers roadblocks when others suggest changes or alternatives?
  3. Exposure:  Who knows about you and what you do?  Does your boss know what you do?  Does their boss know you and what you do?  Do others inside and outside your organization know anything about you? 

Doing your job well gets you 10% of the way there?

The more contentious and possibly unsettling aspects of Coleman’s conclusions revolve around the weightings placed on these elements:  performance counts for 10% of your success, image 30% and exposure an eye-popping 60%.   Perhaps this is self-evident to some people, but when I first read this it caught me off guard.  It implies that working hard to deliver great results on what you’re tasked with is far from good enough. 


Although the book was published way back in 1996, its implications still resonate true today.   If all you do is perform your job well  then you’ll get some form of pay raise or bonus, which for some people is perfectly okay.  To get a promotion you’ll need to perform well, cultivate a positive image and proactively gain exposure to a broad array of the right stakeholders.

Observations on Promotion Discussions

Reflecting on my experiences as both a non-manager and, more tellingly,  a manager of by-and-large exceptional groups of sales and technical people, I’ll have to admit there’s a large degree of truth in Coleman’s PIE model.  When I think about management discussions I’ve been part of regarding promotions and succession planning, these typically start with someone in the room putting forth a candidate’s name for consideration.  My first thoughts aren’t usually about whether the candidate is any good at performing their job (I assume they are, otherwise why bother putting forth the name?).  Instead, I immediately jump to wondering what I know about them (i.e. their exposure):

  • Do I know what they’ve done or accomplished? 
  • Have I interacted with them directly? 
  • Have I seen them do  presentations?
  • Have I read things they’ve written?
  • Have I heard others talk about them?  
  • In a nutshell, are they visible? 

If I don’t know anything about the person I’ll be inclined to push back, as it  seems irresponsible to build the next generation of leaders and role models on complete unknowns.  Having said that, just putting forth the name gives the candidate exposure for the next cycle of promotions, and I’ll be more inclined to notice their activities and proactively engage them.  The final litmus test generally involves discussions surrounding the candidate’s image .  If the person is viewed as being a capable, consistent and positive change agent then it’s typically a done deal.  

Good managers can help you get some exposure, but they can’t do it all for you.  Nor can they solidify your image.  It’s really something for which each person needs to take personal accountability.

What do you think?  Have things these days changed radically or does PIE still apply?  

  • arunmur

    A really good post. I believe this still largely applies and probably will continue to apply in any company with more than a handful of people.

  • Wally

    Yup, I got a promotion because my boss’s bosses all know about me and think I do great work. My work is on average with everyone else here; I guess my name just rolls around inside that room more than my coworker’s.

  • Andre

    The image of mediocrity surfaces when we believe in this kind of malarky. It appears that performance influences exposure and thus cannot account for such a large percentage of what we expect from someone we view as effective.

  • I don’t think that’s what Coleman’s model implies. Performance and exposure should be viewed separately. You can still be recognized as performing well and get appropriately compensated. The notion is about “getting ahead” or “getting promoted” (if that’s what you care about), in which case exposure matters. Value equals substance times visibility: if you do great work and no one sees it then there’s no value associated with it.

  • Mortimer Snurd

    Gaining exposure is tricky when you have an insecure boss who is threatened by your exposure, especially when “at will” employment enables them to fire you for any reason without warning or severence. (And winning a false termination lawsuit is almost impossible these days.) Corporate life is becoming so shitty that I think a resurgence of entrepreneurship is inevitable, as working for yourself becomes less difficult than working for an insecure, poorly trained, emotionally immature manager. That is to say, the majority of folks with a “manager” title.

  • I suppose it depends on the company or circumstance. In some cases an employee getting positive exposure can have a halo effect on the manager. Or in the situation you describe, as the saying goes about why good people move on: people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

  • Gubatron

    gotta love the startup + open source, you can’t get any exposure out of bullshit, you have to code your way through it and it’s gotta be good

  • bobby vance

    If a manager is threatened by you being successful, then grow a pair leave him/her. Managers should push you to be more successful then themselves

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  • Professor Morris

    Good piece: ageless. The PiE hasn’t changed much however the EXPOSURE part may have taken a different turn in the direction of “exposure” in the social media as well…

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  • Lola anibaba

    4 years ago I had the pleasure of listening to Harvey Coleman speak at a corporation I had previously worked for. This PIE analogy has stayed with ever since.

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