Optimax is the nation’s largest precision optics manufacturer. As a key supplier to NASA, Optimax makes imaging lenses for many NASA projects, including all three of the Mars Rovers and the New Horizons space probe that sent back vivid images of Pluto. Optimax also makes good jobs.
“We feel a responsibility to create opportunities where people can come to work, earn a good living, and pursue their career goals” says Rick Plympton, CEO of Optimax. “By doing that, we’re not only strengthening our business, but also strengthening families and our community.”
Rick Plympton joined Optimax in 1995, when the company employed just 10 workers. Today, the Ontario, New York, based business employs more than 400 people contributing to economic growth in a region that has experienced a decline in jobs with major manufacturers, including Kodak and Xerox. As CEO, Plympton leads Optimax’s efforts to strengthen job quality in ways that contribute to business success; the company has an annual retention rate of over 90% and averages 20% annual revenue growth.
Optimax’s mission of ensuring customer success and employee prosperity drives its job quality approach. Its employee benefits include health, disability and life insurance, and employees begin to accrue paid time off as soon as they are hired. Optimax also employs a profit-sharing strategy that drives employee engagement and helps workers build personal wealth. Every month, the company shares 25% of profits with employees based on their wages and tenure. From this share, 20% is deposited directly into each employee’s 401(k) account. “At Optimax, we want every employee to have the opportunity to retire a millionaire,” says Plympton.
Optimax intentionally builds a culture of learning and continuous improvement. The company offers each employee a reimbursement of up to $5,000 a year to develop new skills and knowledge, and the team invests over $1 million each year in training. Interested employees also have opportunities to expand their skills through cross-training and leadership development.
Fostering Employee Growth
Optimax employs a review process to strengthen performance across all employees. As part of this process, the company uses a matrix to measure each employee’s team performance (attitude) and technical performance (aptitude). Employees complete a self-assessment and are reviewed by their peers. Manager/coaches then meet with each employee to determine a personal development plan based on their results. Depending on where employees fall on the matrix, they may take part in additional training or transition to a position better aligned with their skillset. Those who score high on both attitude and aptitude metrics are identified for more challenging projects and leadership responsibilities.
Optimax recently adopted a “teal organization” structure, based on ideas outlined in Reinventing Organizations, with the goal of empowering all employees to make decisions while engaging in self-management, bringing their whole selves to work, and understanding how the company’s purpose evolves over time. The company has expanded its leadership team, creating more touch points to develop relationships with employees to work together more productively and creatively.
“We are sharing responsibility and authority as far down within the organization as we can,” says Plympton. “We know that the best ideas for innovation come from the production floor. So, making sure that every step of the way, every day, we’re engaging our workforce and creating innovative solutions is key to our success.”
Tweet As a leader in optics, Optimax makes lenses for organizations like NASA. But you don’t need a strong lens to see their best product: good jobs. Learn how #JobQuality Fellow Rick Plympton makes good jobs the focal point of his business.
Tweet Optimax’s mission of ensuring customer success and employee prosperity drives its job quality approach, including good benefits, profit sharing, and continuous learning.
Tweet “We feel a responsibility to create opportunities where people can come to work, earn a good living, and pursue their career goals.”
Tweet “By [investing in job quality], we’re not only strengthening our business, but also strengthening families and our community.”
Tweet Our economy needs more quality jobs. Learn how leaders like Rick Plympton of Optimax are innovating to boost opportunity in communities across the country.
Rick Plympton is a member of the Job Quality Fellowship, Class of 2018-19. The Job Quality Fellowship is a project of the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program.
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