Do you feel you deserve a promotion or better pay at work? Your success at work depends on more than your performance. Harvey Coleman in his book, Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed, explains why one’s progress at work depends essentially on three things: performance, image, and exposure, or PIE. Understanding this concept and applying it could make a huge difference in your career, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and into the future.

Here is a simple graphic to help put things in perspective:

Success at work depends on your PIE

The PIE for Success at Work

First, the performance factor comes across as a given to most people. But the surprising insight Coleman puts forward is that your performance only amounts to 10% of what you need to succeed at work. Only 10%!

Your image, that is, how you are perceived at work or what people think about you, ranks higher at 30%.

The last piece of the PIE, exposure, refers to the visibility of your achievements to people that matter at work. This takes up a whopping 60% of the total. Effectively, your exposure is the biggest piece of the PIE and the most crucial factor. Let’s take a closer look at each piece.


1. Performance

What do you do at work? Do you do your job well? This is essentially what this factor points at, and it is where most of us have our focus, at least, those people who pride themselves on their diligence at work.

We work hard. But working hard does not guarantee progress or promotion at work. In fact, meeting and exceeding your set goals, key performance indicators or objectives is no guarantee either. According to Coleman, your performance only takes 10% of the equation.

While your performance may get you into an organization and keep you employed, making progress within it requires your attending to the other elements of Image and Exposure. Work hard, it is the foundation for the other pieces of the PIE. But do remember to pay attention to these other factors because they carry considerable weight.


2. Image

The second piece of the PIE is your image or personal brand. It encompasses the totality of your outlook, how you are perceived within the organization. Your actual performance is one thing, but do colleagues, senior colleagues, perceive you as reticent, negative, or uncooperative?

Are you great at your job, but don’t pay enough attention to how you appear at work? Your image is an important piece of the equation, and by Coleman’s calculation, this is a whopping 30% of the deal. What is your score here? What are you going to do about it?

Dr. Tayo Oyedeji, the CEO of Overwood, once told a story about a situation where the board of a company he led sought to promote a suitable candidate to a senior management position. Two names showed up on the list, but interestingly the majority of the board decided to shun the individual with the better qualifications and achievements on the job.

Their reason? He didn’t look the part. The candidate dressed oddly, coming to work in, for instance, flowery or bright-colored shirts. He didn’t fit the image of the person they wanted to have in that role and that became an obstacle to his success at work. Fortunately, the story does not end there. We will see where it leads as we consider the final piece of the PIE.


3. Exposure

This is the most important piece of the PIE. How well are your contributions and achievements visible or traceable to you? Even where you work on a team, you will have to make that extra effort to ensure that your unique contributions are seen and acknowledged by colleagues at all levels.

While this may be seen as self-promotion or arrogance in certain environments, your work here is to study the nature of your particular organization and find ways to have your achievements documented, visible, and traceable.

One way you can achieve this is to be open to new or lateral responsibilities. Is there a call for volunteers for a new project? How about signing up? Is there a difficult customer call or visit your organization or team needs to make? Consider joining the team or making the call.

And when you do take these steps, ensure you give a report in writing, beyond any verbal communication. You can even get creative with the process: arrange to have lunch or coffee with the relevant person where you can share progress about your work, but remember to connect it with an interest or goal he or she will find beneficial to their own progress at work. 

The rest of the story

Back to the earlier story, the candidate was saved when the managing director intervened on his behalf. He convinced the board to offer him a three-month probationary promotion while he worked with him to sort out his image. Why did the director do this? He was aware of the candidate’s capabilities and history of performance.

So you see, while the individual scored poorly as regards his image, he scored very high marks with his performance and exposure and hence could have the leader speak up on his behalf. What if his contributions at work, for some reason, could not be traced to him?


Through the Glass Ceiling

Are we talking about becoming better at office politics? No. The pieces of the PIE are in harmony: if you do your work well, you stand a chance of projecting an image of a dependable, professional person while paying attention to other factors (such as your dressing and interpersonal skills), and ultimately if you keep at building your brand, you consistently attain new levels of exposure as you take on more responsibility in contributing to the organization’s success.

Where there are no guarantees in business or in life for that matter, you stand a far better chance of succeeding progressively in your career when you pay attention to your performance, image, and exposure at work. This, perhaps, is your elevator through the glass ceiling–if it cannot be broken–at your workplace.

What do you think? Which part of the PIE do you think you should pay attention to at work?

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So, you were a high-flyer as an undergraduate, never settling for less, and eventually landed a great job after graduation. Promotion after promotion followed in quick successions and you find that you have peaked in your career.

You are now at a point in your career where you have ‘settled’. You are in your comfort zone. Now, some might say that that’s not exactly a bad thing. After all, when a person gets to a stage in their lives, they must take a breather, be content with their achievements and simply take life one step at a time. True as that may be, ‘settling’ does have negative implications.

You see, dear friend, there is so much that life still has to offer you as a professional and there’s no rule that states that you cannot keep gunning for more while still “taking life one step at a time.” It is all about finding the perfect balance.

If, however, you choose not to find that balance and only lean in the direction of settling in your career then you will have to deal with the following:


Resentment always starts small. You may find yourself slightly discomfited by the side-appreciation you are getting at the company meeting in contrast to the major recognition your junior colleague is getting at the same function. Then, you will start to truly get bitter about it because, suddenly, everyone seems to only care about the things that the new guy is doing. Nobody remembers the six-figure sale you closed a couple of years ago. In fact, they hardly remember you anymore.

These thoughts and emotions will continue to pile up, making you a bitter and consistently angry person. What is worse is that these emotions will eventually prevent you from even being able to achieve anything. You become stuck in a vicious cycle of wanting more but not being able to get it.


It is hard to talk about everything wrong with settling in your career without talking about the big “R.”

Granted, you might not begin to resent other people who are constantly breaking new grounds in their career. Just maybe you will not care that they are getting more recognition than you.

However, even if you do not find yourself pained by the success of others, you may likely find yourself unsettled by your lack of success. Imagine going to work every single day, feeling down in the dumps because you know that you could be more, but you simply are not. Imagine knowing that that promotion could have been yours if only you had tried harder.

You see, regret is a horrible feeling that has the potential to cause significant damage to your mental health. Thankfully, it is avoidable. However, if you choose to settle in your current position, then it is something you will have to deal with sooner or later.

Untapped Potentials

Les Brown writes that the graveyard is probably the richest place on earth because it is filled with everything that humanity did not achieve. This is because people were afraid to go for their dreams or stick to what they had the potentials to excel at doing. Sad!

Thankfully, you still have an opportunity not to enrich the graveyard. But, if you decide to ‘settle’ you still stand the risk of not harnessing your untapped potentials.

You know as well as we do that there is much more to you than paying obeisance all day, every day until you retire. We both know that you have more to offer your company and the world at large if you could simply get up and try to do more.

Sadly, the instant you decide to simply settle, you are throwing away all that potential. It is tragic and heartbreaking in more ways than one.


The way out of all this is quite simple – get up! Get up and get right back to work. Refuse to be comfortable with the ordinary and boring. Instead, work towards being and becoming more. Even if you are a senior manager in your company, you could be more in different ways. Career Agility is not always vertical, it can be horizontal too.

Even if you do not know how to go about this, don’t fret! Every day, there are new resources organized for your benefit. They will groom you to take the professional bull by the horns and become all that you were made to be. An example is what we offer at Pervium Consulting.

So, ask yourself, “Why settle when there is so much more out there for me to conquer?”