How to make your people SUPERENGAGED – Interview with Nikki Gatenby

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Today’s interview is with Nikki Gatenby, MD of Propellernet, a multi-award winning Brighton-based digital marketing agency that operates globally and the author a new book: Superengaged: How to transform business performance by putting people and purpose first. She joins us today to talk about the new book and what they have done at Propellernet to produce some astounding commercial and engagement numbers.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Design is how we treat each other – Interview with Rie Nørregaard – and is number 282 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my interview with Nikki:

  • Nikki is interested in how we can push the boundaries of what we can do within culture at work.
  • Propellernet is consistently ranked amongst the Best Places to Work in the UK.
  • The book is full of hints and tips and is a story of what Propellernet have tried and what they have found works.
  • A lot of people think culture comes at the expense of profit. It’s actually the other way round. The more engaged people are at work, the better their performance and the better your margins.
  • Culture is their strategy and how they run their business.
  • Propellernet in numbers:
    • Their staff turnover rate is less than 7 percent compared to an industry average of over 30 percent.
    • They average one sick day a year compared to an industry average of between five and 12 days.
    • 90 percent of their team would recommend working for Propellernet.
  • Superengaged is a state that is similar to one that you would feel when doing something that you love, like a hobby. When you reach it it transcends the traditional notion of being at work and is where the balance between work and life gets blurred.
  • The book is full of lessons from things that they have tried and failed at, including when they nearly went to jail for putting on a party to raise money for a local property charity.
  • They have limited the size of their business to 60 people or seats for a bunch of reasons:
    • To stay intentionally small.
    • To apply constraints that forces them to think differently about their business and how they can grow it without adding more people.
    • It keeps everyone focused on what they do to ‘earn’ their seat.
  • That has also enabled them to look at new technology products that solve problems in their business. For example:
    • Coverage Book automates the capturing of coverage achieved by PR campaigns and takes 90 percent of the manual time out of doing that task. It is structured as a Saas product, is selling globally and is on course to generate higher revenues than their core business.
  • They have a dream ball machine which is all about helping the dreams of their people come true.
  • Like two of their team members that they helped go to the football World Cup.
  • And, Sophie, an animal lover who has been able to structure an arrangement where Propellernet built a website for a safari company in Namibia and markets them. In return and because they have no money they receive a number of free safaris every year. This has also been a great learning experience for everyone involved in that project and they have been able to translate those lessons onto other client projects.
  • Dan wanted to make something so developed Answer The Public, a supercharged Google search engine, if you like, that is now being used by 140000 people around the world.
  • The dreams have to go hand in hand with Propellernet’s overall strategy for them to be considered.
  • Happy and engaged people do better work and that leads to higher client satisfaction.
  • They have a client satisfaction rate of around 95 percent and they get the majority of their new business from referrals.
  • Propellernet have very little hierarchy but they do not have a flat structure. Therein lies madness, Nikki believes.
  • Therefore, traditional progression doesn’t happen in the same way as it would in other companies.
  • As a result they have developed a climbing frame approach as opposed to a career ladder.
  • Check out Superengaged: How to transform business performance by putting people and purpose first

About Nikki

Nikki GatenbyNikki Gatenby is a force to be reckoned with (in a good way).

She spent the first 12 years of her career experimenting with entrepreneurial ways of working across international teams in competitive digital agencies in London and Paris. She then brought her skills to the growing digital hub in Brighton, becoming MD of Propellernet eight years ago and, more recently, a co-owner.

During her time at Propellernet, Nikki has overseen its transformation from a small, Brighton-based digital marketing agency to a globally operating powerhouse. She has led a team that has tripled margin, quadrupled revenue and generated ten times more profit. And she has proved beyond all doubt that putting people first creates genuine business success.

Under her leadership, Propellernet has become known for its culture of inclusion, personal responsibility and creative freedom. It has been showcased for the way it works, as well as the work it does, by the BBC, the Guardian, Management Today, the Parliament Trust and the Chamber of Commerce. The company has had a top fifteen listing in the Great Place to Work® awards five years in a row and was voted one of the top five medium companies in Campaign’s Best Places to Work 2018. It also boasts one of the lowest staff turnover rates in the industry.

Nikki is known for combining a no-bullshit approach to business with a passion for helping people be the best version of themselves. When she’s not making life better for her staff, clients and community, she is usually to be found at the top of a mountain or the bottom of the ocean. But not at the same time.

Check out Propellernet and the book’s website SUPERENGAGED. Once you have done that grab a copy of Superengaged: How to transform business performance by putting people and purpose first, say Hi to Nikki and the folks at Propellernet on Twitter @nikkigatenby and @Propellernet and feel free to connect with Nikki on LinkedIn here.

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 Thanks to Pixabay for the image.

2 comments On How to make your people SUPERENGAGED – Interview with Nikki Gatenby

  • >They have limited the size of their business to 60 people or seats

    I like this idea, but I can’t help but think their self-imposed limitation won’t last for long, if their business thrives. They’ll have no choice but to hire more than 60 people eventually… no? Their heart is surely in the right place with an idea like that, but I just don’t know how realistic it is.

    • They are still growing and the constraint of only 60 seats is forcing them to think very creatively about how they grow their business. I’d watch them and their space to see what they do next. They will surprise you 😉

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