For the EVOLution of Business

Radical Empowerment For "Astronomical" Growth with Rick Plympton of Optimax

Episode Summary

By EVOLving toward a flat organizational structure and creating self-empowered teams over the past 15 years, Optimax has grown from $3 million to $40 million in revenue and now employs more than 400 people. EVOLving that culture also takes a personal EVOLution as a leader, with a willingness to let go of the reigns, distribute decision-making and forgo rigid plans to instead sense and respond to opportunities as they arise. Tune in to the latest episode to get a peek inside a radical new paradigm for business, plus a few tips on how to get started on your own journey: -What to do instead of consensus-based decision-making -What to do instead of strategic planning -How to align benefits packages and reward systems to reinforce your culture -How to scale your culture to support "astronomical" growth (even if NASA isn't sending your products into space) Rick Plympton is the CEO of Optimax located in Ontario, NY. During his 22 years at Optimax, he has held several roles including Quality Manager and VP of Sales and Marketing, before taking on the role of CEO. Optimax manufactures precision optics for research and industry, serving a wide variety of applications for semiconductor, medical, defense and aerospace, including the optical equipment for the Mars Rover and other NASA projects! Founded in 1991, Optimax currently has 300+ employees sharing a corporate culture of continuous learning and employee empowerment; and continues to grow at an average rate of 20% per year. He was named the 2012 Small Business Person of the Year in New York State by the SBA and in 2018 was inducted into the Rochester Business Hall of Fame.

Episode Notes

[1:10] The early days of Optimax located in a barn but leveraging computer-controlled machining
[2:45] Growth assisted by Kodak, now working with NASA Mars Rover
[4:00] Focusing on "small volume, high quality, quick delivery" and through a combination of Technology, process and attitude, becoming the largest Optics manufacturer in the US
[5:15] How lean manufacturing plus a culture of openness, sharing and distributed decision-making keeps Optimax growing
"We know that some of the best ideas for improvement come from the people DOING THE WORK every at Optimax, we've tried to make sure that we build in processes that enable those ideas to percolate to the top."
[8:00] The EVOLution of corporate culture at Optimax - "What was the right decision or the right process yesterday, may not be the right decision or the right process today, so we're continuing to look for opportunities for improvement
[9:00] How to get started on the EVOLution to a self-empowered organization: "A fundamental belief that most people wake up in the morning and they want to create value, so what we have to do is provide our employees with training, resources and current information so that they can make good decisions, so that they can show up at work and do whatever needs to get done to create value. In contrast, if you look at a traditional pyramid-structure organization, it's really frustrating because people in the organization doing the work have really good ideas but what tends to happen is that many of those ideas get squashed and it destroys people's spirits."
[10:35] "I don't think we began to realize until we were on the journey, Optimax was growing in the early days at the sphere of influence of the leadership team. As we let go of the reigns and started allowing others to make decisions and take responsibility, Optimax started to grow at the sphere of influence of the entire team."
[11:30] Why every individual can be a superstar when their role is aligned with their gifts
[12:30] How the cultural EVOLution has driven 20% annual growth, still with plenty of opportunity ahead
[13:30] Rick's personal evolution as a leader - peer reviews, creating a learning culture, working with Bruce Peters (Bruce's episode here:
[15:45] How to get started on the teal journey
(Recommended reading: Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux:
[18:00] Why a self-empowered team does NOT need consensus, and what to do instead
[19:50] The corporate structure and decision-making processes with self-empowered teams Optimax - "We're relying less and less on some sort of strategic plan...and more and more on living life in the moment and sensing and responding to the opportunities that are there today."
[25:15] Aligning the reward system with the culture that you're trying to create - monthly profit sharing at Optimax, investing in higher education, 401k matching, donating time off to potential employees
"I'd like to make sure that every one of our employees has the opportunity to be a millionaire by the time they retire."
[28:15] How to onboard employees into a teal culture
(Recommended reading: Question Behind The Question by John Miller:
[30:30] Creating more "Inclusive Prosperity" through more conscious succession planning that ensures that they will stay vibrant, keep jobs here and benefit the local community - "most of the wealth created by the company goes back to the employees so the people creating the wealth share in the wealth. This would be a great way not only to benefit employees but also to strengthen communities across the nation."
[33:00] Rick's Aspen Institute Fellowship on Job Quality
[35:45] The leadership EVOLution necessary for the EVOLution of business toward Conscious Capitalism: "As a business leader, I think if you're willing to let go of the reigns, you'll find that you'll end up on a path that will take you places you never imagined you could go."
[37:30] The importance of finding your strengths and finding a role where you can leverage those strengths
[40:20] Creating a culture where people can share challenges and help each other grow:
"Some people come to Optimax just looking for a job, they're at a place in life where they just want a paycheck so that they can pay their bills, but it's a beautiful thing to see that same individual a few months later where they've gone through a transition and they've learned some new skills and they've begun to understand the culture that we have and they show up at work and they're passionate about what they're doing. I just love that."
[43:45] Investing in internal R&D, but also looking at how to helping support employees with ideas of their own
[46:00] Scaling the culture for continued growth at Optimax