One of the most interesting concepts I came across when I was just starting out in my corporate career was the PIE model – Performance, Image, Exposure. Typically this is represented by a pyramid diagram or a pie chart, depending on how pun-driven the explainer’s sense of humour is.
In terms of an individual’s career, the 3 segments represent the following:
- Performance: The actual work you do, the results you deliver.
- Image: The impression that others have of you (obviously this can differ from person to person).
- Exposure: The people who get to know about a) your results and b) your image.
At first, it was a concept that really didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t seem FAIR. Surely one’s career should really just depend on the results that you deliver? If you’re good at your job, you should do well, right?
If I’m honest, that feeling stayed for quite a long while. I resisted the concept that you needed to care about your image, about your exposure. I believed that I could just do my job and that the results I delivered would be what mattered. I wouldn’t need to care about image or about getting known by the decision-makers.
All that changed because I was asked to write some feedback for someone. The person in question was someone I actually hadn’t worked with as directly as others for whom I had written performance evaluations in the past. I realised that since I hadn’t been working directly with them, I didn’t really KNOW about their real work and their real results. Strangely, though, I still had definite opinions, both of what they were doing well and what they could improve on.
This is what made me realise that image and exposure are both important — and factors that you should ignore at your peril.
Whether you like it or not, only a limited number of people will get to work with you directly. Even those that do will get a fairly narrow view of the real results that you deliver. On the other hand, many many more people will form an image in their minds of what you’re like — perhaps that you’re a safe pair of hands, maybe that you’re very smart or very ambitious. Some may form a very negative image — that you’re a bullshitter or unreliable or untrustworthy. The combination of that image that people have of you (Image) and the groups of people that share that view of you (Exposure) can make or break your career.
The big light bulb moment for me was when I accepted that Image and Exposure were going to matter whether I cared about them or not. Of course Performance is also important and always will be — I firmly believe that folks who try to make it all about the image and the exposure are playing a dangerous game of smoke and mirrors and will eventually be caught out. But the difference between two colleagues with comparative performance, one of whom cultivates the type of image they want and makes an effort to get the right exposure and the other who ignores these facets completely … well, it can be very significant.