top of page

“Do You Think That You Are Invincible?”

Published in NPSOA Magazine

“Do You Think That You Are Invincible?”

Several years ago, Beta Research conducted a survey of 2,000 Americans in middle management and above, aged 25 and older, for Business Week. The margin of sampling error for this study is plus or minus 2.2%.

One of the most eye-opening statistics revealed from this study was that 90% of managers think they’re among the top 10% of performers in their workplace.

There was not much variation in the answers when the managers were segmented large versus small companies; male managers versus female managers; or by age. In every instance, managers ranked themselves as truly being great.

The real gem that surfaced in this survey came from the executives that responded. When asked “Are you one of the top 10% of the performers in your company?” a whopping 97% of the executives answered “Yes.”

Let’s do a reality check here for just a moment. Are all top executives and business owners really that good? Or is that what they believe, and is the truth another number? What is true is that this is how the top Executives ranked themselves.

One of the deadly sins of a print/sign shop owner or partner is invincibility. These owners or partners believe that they are bullet proof, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound and can travel faster than a speeding bullet. The dictionary defines invincibility as incapable of being overcome; unconquerable.

Back in the late 1980’s a major manufacturing firm in the Midwest hired a research firm to conduct a survey of the cultural climate of the organization. When the study was finished, the executives were flabbergasted by the results. The survey suggested that more than 80% of the management staff felt they were doing a fantastic job yet less than 20% of their direct reports agreed.

The company fired the research firm and hired another one, who performed the same study. The results came back to a similar conclusion. After considerable soul-searching, the company reached the conclusion that while they might not agree with the results, two studies of the same subject could not be wrong. After a delay of years, the organization began the process of changing a culture of management invincibility that had existed for decades.

At the core of the issue is that position is substituted for performance. Position is granted or earned, depending on specific circumstances. Position is not the same as performance. Performance is measured and evaluated. The assumption is made that because someone has a position of authority, they must be doing an outstanding job. That is not always the case.

Jack Welch was criticized for his forced ranking of all employees when he was the CEO at GE, but it kept the deadly sin of invincibility to a minimum. Welch understood that everyone needed to have their performance appraised to a set of expectations. He also knew that “Managers would rather have a tooth pulled than have a performance conversation with a subordinate…” and this included managers who supervised managers.

At GE, every employee was rated according to one of three groups. The first group, the top ten percent, exceeded expectations and were given the highest amount of compensation and put in line for advancement. The next eighty percent were given moderate increases and told that any advancement would come only after they moved into the top performer category. The third group, the bottom ten percent, was given little or no compensation increase, coached for improvement and was subject to termination if there was not a change made for the better.

A very easy method to apply a rating system in your print/sign shop is to create a list of each of your employees or direct reports. Then based on what you know today about those employees or direct reports, place a “YES” next to each name for those who you would rehire; place a “?” for those who you are not sure if you would rehire; and place a “NO” for those who you would not rehire. The “YES”’s are your keepers and top performers. The “NO’s” should be let go immediately. For all of the “?” mark employees, put a timeline next to their name for which you need after that time to decide whether they are a “YES” or a “NO. The timeline set should not exceed one year.

Invincibility, however, goes much farther than just job performance. Ask any print/sign shop owner how much they think about the subject of death and many would respond that they have no exit strategy from their business, have not put a succession plan in place, do not have a buy sell agreement, do not have enough life insurance, are not in the best physical shape possible for their age, work more than they should, need to spend less time thinking about their business and take more time off.

It comes as no surprise that only those print/sign shop owners who have had some sort of physical or health issue understand the true meaning of the statement “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” These individuals understand that they are not invincible.

Everyone nods their head in agreement when hearing that “only two things in life are certain -- death and taxes.” Unfortunately, an inordinate amount of time is spent trying to minimize the latter and ignoring the ultimate consequences of the former.

Unfortunately, few print/sign owners have a clear vision of how they will exit their business. It’s amazing how many print owners hope or worse yet expect that someone will knock on their door at some point in the future and offer them lots of money to buy them out. Hope is not a plan. You need to start your transition plan at least 5 years before you want to exit. Even in the best-case scenarios, it takes months to find a qualified buyer that will pay what your business is worth.

Mitch Evans is a management consultant and trusted advisor who works with graphic company owners, CEOs, and entrepreneurs. Mitch is a managing director at Graphic Arts Advisors LLC which specializes in Mergers & Acquisitions (valuations, buying and selling, mergers and non-bankruptcy orderly wind-downs). Mitch is also a partner with Mike Kind in The Next Level Group which facilitates formal top executive peer groups for leadership, business growth, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies, and greater profitability. Please contact him at or call 561-351-6950.


Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter Basic Square
Featured Posts
Recent Posts
bottom of page