Consider the successful rising star who performs well and has the right image, but who has spent all of his time behind-the-scenes getting the work done that he has failed to devote the energy needed for personal exposure and visibility. When he is finally teed up for the big job, no one knows who he is, and he gets passed over for the position. We know performance is key to success. Books have been written about execution and delivering results. Just as important is image, and we can find image consultants all over these days. However, there exists a third piece of the PIE, which is equally, if not more important, than performance and image. That third piece is exposure.

Why Others Should Know You

Most successful career executives know you have to have all pieces of the PIE. But, the reality is that most executives spend their time and energy on Performance and Image. Arguably, the value of Exposure for senior-level career advancement is the most important piece of the PIE and serves as a tremendous differentiator. Yet, time and time again, we see exposure being relegated as a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have, in the competitive world of personal development.

All too frequently when we conduct executive assessments at Fortune 50 companies around the world, we hear things like, “He always makes his numbers, and he seems to have great presence; but I just don’t know that much about him.” One example stands out. He was being considered for a significant promotion to an officer-level role in a large global conglomerate. During his executive assessment (an intense 4-step process designed to give substantial feedback to high-potential employees at promotional points in their career) we heard, “For having worked for this company for 13 years, Jon is probably not as well-known as he could or should be. He needs to work on gaining positive exposure with the senior-leadership team and share the successes that he has led in store operations.” We also heard, “He hasn’t gotten the level of exposure that he needs with the senior-leadership team … he’s good on his feet and has good presence, but isn’t known enough.” The end result? The promotion went to another more well-known person. Does well-known mean well-deserving? Not always.

The Work Doesn’t Always Speak for You

Oftentimes people respond to suggestions that they work on their personal visibility program by saying, “I’m not going to suck up to the boss. My contributions should speak for themselves.” Yes, perhaps. But the reality is there are ways to let people know what you do, and ways to become visible within the organization, without feeling as if you are a walking billboard advertising your accomplishments.

How to Become Visible When Virtual

Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Don’t count on it. More likely: Out of sight, out of mind. The importance of exposure is magnified for employees who don’t reside within the corporate offices. Naturally, they have to make even more of an effort to be known. With the increase in field-based and high-travel jobs, many executives find making the time to become visible in a corporate office to be very difficult.

We spoke with a field-based regional manager for a large IT services company. As sales tapered off, he was impacted by a layoff. When he asked his manager for some constructive feedback as to why he was let go, his manager told him that while he was one of the best performing managers, he had been unable to convince senior management to retain him because nobody knew who he was. It’s dangerous to count on one person to drive your visibility program. Ensure that more than one person knows who you are. There is a lot to be said for casting a wide net within the organization.

There are things a person can do to stay connected while being physically away from the offices. Consider regular phone calls or emails so that your name stays fresh in their minds. Periodic updates, presented succinctly and proactively, will remind people who you are and what you are doing. If you close a big deal in the field, send a giant cookie cake to the home offices with a note saying, “We did it.” You can bet people in the break room will ask not only who sent the cookie, but also why it was sent. Schedule regular visits to the office — not so frequently that people wonder why you never seem to be out working, but certainly frequently enough that you pass from acquaintance to associate and people learn who you are. For field-based employees, visibility does not apply simply at the corporate offices. Be prepared when people come to see you in the field. You must have your game face on when people from the corporate office visit on your home turf. What they see is a snapshot of you and how you run your operations. Will they remember just another boring field visit, or will they walk away having had the opportunity to observe you as a host? How well did you treat your visitors? Did you invest noticeable time in preparing for their visit? Do you treat those around you with respect? These important factors can all serve to increase your visibility.

Self-Promote Modestly

Exposure is more than networking. It’s about ensuring that people, specifically the decision-makers in the organization, know who you are and know what you have accomplished. It’s about being more than just a name, but rather about being a face and a personality known for certain accomplishments within the workplace. Successful career executives recognize the importance of finishing off the PIE. There exists a fine balance between positively promoting yourself and becoming visible in the organization and appearing insincere and arrogant in your quest to become known and noticed. Earning exposure the right way comes from talking only when you have something relevant to share. It comes from ensuring that you have more than one sponsor or supporter in the organization who knows your skills, your performance, your work ethic. And, it comes from taking the time to honestly get to know people, not because you think they may be able to help you in the future, but because you never know when you might be able to help them.