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The PIE Theory of Success: Performance, Image, and Exposure in Career Progression

Updated: May 7

Guiding Question: We all want to be recognized, rewarded, and promoted for our performance, but how do we make this happen?

In his book Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed, author Harvey Coleman says the key to success and recognition is found in three key elements: Performance, Image, and Exposure. He calls this The P.I.E. Theory of Success.

While we have to perform and do our job at a high level, Coleman says performance is only 10% of the consideration for Promotion. Coleman says your Image is 30% of the equation, and Exposure is 60%.

How can we leverage this information to earn the success and recognition we want?


While Coleman says performance is a small part of the equation, it is the foundation. You can’t have the image or exposure you want if you don’t do your job at a high level and with consistency. Performance is the ticket required to get in the door. Know what success looks like in your role and deliver over and over again.

Ask yourself: Am I doing what I am supposed to do at the level I am supposed to do it at, and am I doing it within the time frame that is expected of me?


The next piece of the PIE is managing your image and how other people perceive you. Success is not just about what you know or what you can do; it’s about how others perceive your potential. Coleman says, “You get paid on performance, you get promoted on what other people think of your potential.”

Your image is your personal brand and what other people think about you. How others perceive you and how you make them feel is even more important than what you do.

Ask yourself: What is my personal brand? What do people think about me? Am I being seen as someone who does everything with excellence and someone with enough potential to be recognized, rewarded, and promoted? If so, what do I need to continue to do? If not, what do I need to start doing more of?


The final piece of the PIE is getting the right level of exposure. Doing a great job in silence or in silos is not enough - you need to find ways to showcase your ability to the right people in a humble but confident way.

Ask yourself: How can I be seen performing in action and creating opportunities for other people to witness my performance and success? Do I have a strong network, am I participating in high-visibility team projects, and am I finding ways to get visibility on my team?


1 - Focus on Performance Excellence: Continually strive for excellence in your work. Do everything to the best of your ability. When someone gives you something to do, knock it out of the park and blow it through the ceiling. When they give you more, do it again.

2 - Build a Positive Image: Create the type of image you want to create and one that aligns with the culture of the team while still being true to who you are.

3 - Seek Visibility: Look for opportunities to showcase your talents and skills by volunteering for or taking on new challenges, collaborating with influential colleagues, and actively participating in industry events or conferences.

4 - Grow and Nurture a Strong Network: Develop and maintain meaningful connections with colleagues, mentors, and industry professionals and network strategically so you can increase your exposure and find and take advantage of new opportunities.

5 - Find a Good Mentor: A good mentor can help you do all these things. A good mentor can help you improve your performance, craft your image, get the visibility you need, and help you grow your network.


1 - Which piece of the PIE is your strongest area? How can you continue to grow in this area and use it to increase your visibility and exposure?

2 - Which piece of the PIE is your biggest opportunity for growth? How can you grow in this area?

3 - Is there a project, team, or group you can join to help you grow in one of the pieces of the PIE?

4 - What do you want your personal image or brand to be? What do you want the people you work with or lead to think and say about you?

5 - Is there a colleague or mentor you can lean on to help you grow in one of the pieces of the PIE? How can you connect or engage with that colleague or mentor?

Here is a short video that outlines the PIE Theory of Success and asks some good reflection questions: PIE (Performance, Image, Exposure)

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