In my role as a career coach, I often hear from clients and prospective clients their career is on a slow track to nowhere.  They’re putting the effort in, but they’re not seeing the results in terms of promotions or career progression.  This happened the other day, and promoted me to think of the PIE model, originally developed by Harvey Coleman.  The model consists of three elements – the P stands for performance, the I stands for image and the E stands for exposure.

What is the PIE?

So now, let me define what each of these mean in the context of career progression.

Performance – The work you deliver.  The quality of it, the timeliness of it.

Image – Your dress, your body language, it’s the message you send before you even speak.  It’s how you speak.  Do you speak too fast or too slow, do you use loads of filler words, such as “like” that deemphasize the importance of the message you’re trying to get across?  The image we have of a particular person gets formed quite quickly and can be hard to change.

Exposure – Who you know, and most importantly, who knows about you and the work that you do.

I typically ask coaching clients which of these three is the most important, based on the research that Coleman did on career progression.  The answer may surprise you, it did me when I first looked at this model.  Coleman found that the relative importance of each of these was 60% for exposure, 30% for image and only 10% for performance.

Performance in career progression

Rather than minimize the importance of performance, here is how I look at the results – performance is the first hurdle to get over.  It needs to be there and is a key building block of success.  But most of us erroneously think that performance alone is enough.  Think about that for a second.  Maybe you’ve thought to yourself or even said out loud, “I’ll just show up and do a good job and people will notice.”  The problem is they won’t.  And then you’ll end up in my virtual office complaining that no one recognizes your greatness, your potential, your gifts.  I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so!

Image in career progression

Let’s talk a bit about image.  Have you gotten a bit too comfy in your virtual office?  The other day I joined a call and noticed that one participant was wearing her bathrobe.  No one said anything on the call, but after it concluded, I was catching up with another colleague who had also been on the call who mentioned how silly and unprofessional she looked.  How much thought have you given to your zoom background?  Is there anything there that shouldn’t be there?  Another colleague I used to periodically meet with took calls from his bedroom, and a couple of times he forgot to put his zoom background on, and I was treated to an image of his unmade bed.  TMI, you know what I’m saying?  And finally, what message do you send when you speak?  You might try recording yourself giving a presentation and then watch it.  Do you sound confident?  What does your facial expression look like?  Often folks forget to smile, and it makes a big difference in terms of how folks may perceive you.

Exposure in career progression

Now, exposure, the final ingredient in Coleman’s career progression model.  Make a list of influential people in the organization.  Then think about the strength of the relationship you have with them.  Who might it make sense to develop a better relationship with?  What might you need to do to grow it?  Perhaps this even calls for a dreaded trip back into the office to actually “network,” or shoot the breeze with colleagues you haven’t seen in a while.  A lot of my clients have voiced concerns that virtual working is limiting their exposure, and frankly, they’re right.  When your environment is 100% virtual you’ve got to be even more creative in thinking about how you interact intentionally to grow your network, as there are less and less opportunities to “bump” into people.

What professional networking organizations could you join inside or outside of work?  Affinity groups, e.g. Women in Business, are often great organizations to join, which can provide exposure if you get involved in hosting an event or get elected to the board.  Is there a presentation you could give or a project you can take on at work that you get you in front of some of these key people on your list who could make or break your career?  Make a list of these opportunities for exposure and discuss them with your line manager.  Be proactive.  The bottom line is that the only person who is ultimately really looking out for your career is YOU.

So which of the elements of PIE do you need to work on?  And what’s your plan for going about it?


Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!