As a young scientist, I thought my job performance would account for 80% of my success at work, with the remaining 20% being attributed to factors such as my rapport with the boss or a stroke of luck. This perspective was rooted in my educational experiences, where effort and performance were seemingly correlated. My parents, too, instilled in me the notion that hard work would guarantee success in life and at work.
I diligently devoted myself to my work. However, over time, I noticed a pattern: Colleagues getting better assignments or being promoted ahead of me. What was their secret? Did they work harder, longer, possess better training, intelligence, or enjoy a closer relationship with superiors?
The answer was none of the above. They possessed knowledge that I didn’t—an understanding of the significance of PIE.
What is PIE?
PIE, which stands for Performance, Image, and Exposure, serves as a crucial framework for gauging and predicting career success. Understanding the distinctions between these factors and, even more significantly, the interplay and proportions among them is key to achieving a sense of fulfillment derived from a fruitful career. The concept of PIE was initially introduced by Harvey Coleman in his book, “Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed.”
Performance: Performance is all about the tasks you do every day and how well you do them. For most innovators like me, this is the part they find easy because they enjoy their work. They dive into it eagerly, aiming to do an excellent job.
Performance is the fundamental requirement; if your performance falls short, it becomes a significant obstacle to your career advancement. In such cases, you may need to contemplate a shift to a different profession where your innate talents can truly shine.
Image: Image is essentially your brand, reputation, or how others perceive you. Some of this perception is shaped by your performance, which is the “what” of your job—for instance, being recognized as a top consumer scientist, product leader, engineer, or program manager. Your brand also hinges on the “how,” such as being known for always delivering on time and in full.However, your image can also have negative aspects. If you’re viewed as slow-paced or challenging to collaborate with, it can diminish your brand and hinder your progress.
Exposure: Exposure refers to the extent to which you are visible and known within your organization and industry. It encompasses factors such as networking, building relationships, and making sure that decision-makers and influential individuals are aware of your contributions and capabilities. In other words, does your boss know what you do? Does his boss know? Do people inside and outside your organization know anything about you and your work? If the answer to these questions is “no,” “barely” or worse, “no interest,” your career will not have the trajectory you desire.
In the PIE framework, what struck me the most is that when it comes to getting the best projects and promotional opportunities, Performance, Image, and Exposure are not equally weighted—not even close.
According to Coleman, a mere 10% of your success is attributed to Performance! Only 10%! Image carries a substantial 30% weight, and Exposure commands an astonishing 60%.
It’s essential to note that this ratio doesn’t imply that you should prioritize networking over your actual work. In practice, it means that doing good work is the basic requirement with Image and Exposure working together as amplifiers of your value. Conversely, if your work quality is subpar and it becomes associated with your brand, increased Exposure to your subpar work will further diminish your value.
From Humble PIE to Top-tier Talent
In my opinion, innovators often encounter two common situations that can limit their career growth:
P>I and E: In this scenario, performance may be outstanding, but image and exposure are low. I personally experienced this situation early on, where I kept my head down, hoping that someone would eventually notice my work. If you find yourself in a similar position, the first step is to understand your reputation or personal brand. I’ve found that 360-degree reviews can be incredibly valuable in this regard. These reviews allow you to discover what others think about your “what” (your skills and contributions) and “how” (your approach and behavior). Are these perceptions aligned with your expectations? How would you like to be perceived and known by others?
Once you’ve answered these questions, create a plan to bridge the gap between your current situation and your desired image. Regularly conducting 360-degree reviews can help you track your progress and ensure you’re moving in the right direction.
E<P+I: In this situation, your performance and brand are generally good, but not enough decision-makers know about you. This is career limiting because when it’s time for managers to discuss who is ready for a big project or promotion, you will have no support in the room. There are a lot of ways to address this challenge, you can ask for the opportunity to present your work to a wider audience, ask to work on a cross-functional team, ask for a “flex assignment” that would give you exposure to other teams or leaders, present at a conference, etc. Even volunteering to work on the company blood drive or holiday party can expose you to other leaders in the organization. The point is, don’t limit yourself to one strategy, get creative to put yourself in situations where you will get exposed to a variety of decisionmakers both within and outside your organization.
You may be thinking, isn’t my boss supposed to help me build my image or get exposure? Sure, managers can help, but the ultimate responsibility falls on you. This is one of the key takeaways of my blog post “Layoff-Proof Your Career: The Consultant Mindset.”
Get Your Slice of PIE
In the ever-evolving corporate landscape, sheer performance is not enough to guarantee success. PIE offers a framework of how Performance, Image, and Exposure collectively shape our career trajectories. While hard work and dedication remain integral, they must be accompanied by conscious efforts to build a strong reputation and gain visibility within and outside the organization. Remember, navigating the corporate world is akin to baking the perfect pie—it requires the right ingredients in the right proportions. As you reflect on your career journey, ask yourself: Are you giving enough attention to your Image and Exposure alongside your Performance? By understanding and strategically acting upon these elements, you’ll be better positioned to enjoy a delicious slice of success.