The secret sauce of a Great Place to Work?

Nikki Gatenby

April 28, 2016


We were inspired by the emotionally intelligent ‘how it feels’ mantra of top award winner Foundation SP.  And the incessant commitment demonstrated to each other at Intuit UK. Having met Dan Marsh, their Employee Relations Leader on the next table, their ethos of sharing lit up our conversation.


The stats of the top workplaces in the UK speak for themselves, when you compare them to that of the average organisation – recognition and reward factors are twice as good in the top workplaces compared to others. And trust in leadership is sky high.


Simply looking at the list of giants in the top Best Places to Work in the UK, reveals a positive working world reflection.


What’s the secret sauce and how do we spread more of it around?


We’d love to know what other Great Places to Work are doing to achieve such high engagement. So thought we’d kick it off by sharing some of how Propellernet works.


We’re a Brighton based, globally operating, big on ambition, small in size, officially awarded ‘Great Place to Work’ search marketing agency. We want to be the best place to work in the world.


Propellernet has been listed as one of the top 10 UK Best Places to Work for the last 4 years running, winning pole position in 2013.


100% of our team rated Propellernet as a Great Place to Work. We work hard, and play hard, to fuel this and can feel the impact every day, as high engagement means people can’t help but bring their enthusiasm and ingenuity right into the heart of the agency.


Our secret sauce isn’t really secret, it’s about having the ambition to be the best place to work in the world.

It’s about focusing on living our values to achieve our dreams.


Looking at the results from last nights awards, there must be so much we can learn from each other.


*Top 5 small UK Best Workplaces : average;

   Best workplace                 Average

Recognition                          99%                              56%

Reward                                 92%                              42%

Talent Management           99%                              58%

Values & Ethics                   98%                              54%

Trust in leadership             98%                              60%

(Great Place to Work Trust Index survey 2016)


Our mission is to Make Life Better through our work for our clients, their customers, our community and our team. It creates an incredible ripple effect across our business. Here’s 12 of the things that we do that foster the engagement we enjoy:


1. Living dreams


We care about our people’s dreams. By creating an agency that encourages each person to lead a full life and follow their dreams, we’ve landed a full roster of creative, innovative, award-winning talent; it makes everybody’s lives better. Our people’s dreams form part of our business plan; we’re making dreams come true and smashing through our bucket lists together.


2. No revolving door


Being a great place to work, we enjoy low levels of staff turnover (less than 5%), which means that our clients have consistent points of contact and ever deepening relationships with the team. Agencies work better in partnership with clients and we’re reaping the rewards those partnerships brings.


3. Recruiting for values, drives value


When we do recruit, we hold our values dear, ensuring those that come on board have a strong spirit of adventure, applycreative thinking, embrace innovation, take care of themselves and their wellbeing and ultimately are fun to be with. It’s working out to be a recipe for success.


4. Stunning growth


We expect our people to be ‘Stunning Colleagues’ (thanks Netflix) but also have a healthy disrespect for job descriptions, operating outside of them on a regular basis. It makes life more interesting and naturally broadens individual and collective horizons; we routinely review the shape and structure of our team, playing to people’s strengths and creating as much space as possible for them to grow, personally and professionally — to have a bigger impact on the world.


5. An open mind to hustle


Because our teams dreams are forming part of our business plan, interests as diverse as travel, fashion, writing, music, film, safari’s and charity are forming what our ideal clients look like whilst shaping personal development pursuits.


There’s no waiting around for client briefs to land, having two people focused on hustling for opportunities keeps our pipeline strong and full of potential clients our team want to work on, where we can match our skills and values to produce great work. Our team are on the lookout for new business just as much as the crack new biz team we have on board. It keeps it interesting.


6. Prefer to refer


With engagement high, it’s no surprise that our clients are happy too. 95% say they would be extremely happy to recommend us to another person or organisation. A significant number already have. Each time we work together we’re all predisposed to a positive relationship. Jackpot.


7. Pitch less, pitch better


The knock-on effect of this is that we’re not constantly pitching. We do pitch, it keeps us sharp in pressurized bursts; but not to the extent that it’s detrimental to our current clients and staff.


Being in a situation where winning new business is the only priority is not healthy for anyone. If we see our high conversion rate from pitch to win falling, we pull back on the number we are doing. Better to do 1 brilliantly, than 3 and lose them all.


8. Talking in clients & customers, not silos


Clients are a priority, so we structure ourselves around their businesses, not agency silos. We never talk about separate P&Ls (search, social, display etc.); the focus is on client impact and driving value through great relationships and high-quality work.


9. Heartfelt goodbyes


Our client retention rate is high. But like all relationships, some won’t last forever. We keep it healthy and recognise when it may be time to move on. If a client decides to make the move, we send them off with as much love and as many fantastic results as possible.


And we’re never afraid to say if something isn’t working. Pursuing profit over harmony is a bad strategy. It’s better to part as friends, than continue at crossed purposes. Life’s too short.


10. And an open door


Because we encourage our team to think about their dreams, they may want to step out of the agency at some point to follow their dream in its entirety. And that’s OK.


We’ve helped people set up their own businesses — and refer business to them. We’re creating space with Propel Days (a day a month for personal development) and sabbaticals to allow time for personal projects too. If someone wants to leave, we send them off with a bang, armfuls of contacts and future support. In turn it creates a precious space for a new person to join the team, armed with their own ingenuity, enthusiasm and ideas.


11. An adventure, not a race


We’re not in a race to ‘grow, grow, grow’ at the expense of everyone involved. Our adventure is not about piling on more and more clients and more and more staff, simply scaling more of the same. Managed growth that enables creativity and innovation are the foundations for a great place to work and that’s not going to change. We’re aiming to stay small, to enjoy the constraint and the creativity it drives, to have a big impact on the world.


12. Small in number, big in impact


Who said the ‘more, more, more’ approach is the only way to scale? We’ve invested (without an external investor in sight) in developing technology products based on our agency needs and we now have people in more than 1,000 cities worldwide using our new SaaS product a tool that enables all marketers to show off their hard earned media, beautifully. Check it out, it may just save you a shed load of time and make your work look even more amazing. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of our innovation behind the scenes.


Our secret sauce isn’t really secret, it’s about having the ambition to be the best place to work in the world.


It’s about focusing on living our values to achieve our dreams.


And striving to Make Life Better.


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