Leaders Speak – Nikki Gatenby

Well I am just a little excited...

To bring you this next instalment of Leaders Speak as I interview Nikki Gatenby, successful business leader and author of Super Engaged. I first met Nikki as I was a Judge at the 2018 Business Book awards were she was Highly Commended as "extraordinary book by a woman".

As I read her book, I realised that she was talking my language and my philosophy. She not only shared her success, and her failures, but also gave practical tips that she has done in her own company. It was real.

Tell us about yourself

I am fascinated with what makes people tick. How we make decisions. What drives us. And over the last 20 years I have been experimenting with entrepreneurial ways of working across international teams in competitive digital agencies in London, Paris and now Brighton.

With the ethos that people and purpose are you’re route to profit, my goal is to create genuine business success by putting people first and propelling them forward, both personally and professionally. In doing so, my business, Propellernet, has been described as the UK’s answer to Zappos and the most engaged business in the country’.

As co-owner & Chief Growth Officer of digital marketing agency Propellernet, I enabling brands to be found for the products and services they deserve to be famous for, hand in hand with the agency being consistently ranked as one of the Top 15 Best Places to Work in the UK since 2013.

And more recently I have founded a start-up that runs alongside Propellernet. As co-founder & CEO of audience insight platform Searchlistening™, I help you uncover unbiased, powerful insights about your audience, based on what they truly think and actually do. Think ‘social listening’, however instead of social data, we use search data - where people reveal their full truth.​

Your background

In line with my roles in Searchlistening™ and Propellernet I’m fascinated with helping to enable people to be the best that they can be, I am a qualified cognitive behavioural coach, charity trustee, and non-exec director or two other businesses.

In sharing my experience I’m a regular speaker and author of best selling book ‘Superengaged’ – how to transform business performance by putting people and purpose first.

Superengaged has also been shortlisted as Business Book of the Year 2019. (In print, kindle, ebook & Audio https://amzn.to/2K1aR9R )

With this approach, Propellernet has thrived and is known its culture of inclusion, personal responsibility and creative freedom. Often showcased for the way it works, by the BBC, the Guardian, The Times, Management Today, the Parliament Trust and the Chamber of Commerce to name a few.

What's the biggest issue business leaders face right now?

Engagement. We live in a world where only 30% of people are engaged in their jobs, meaning the other 70% have left their ingenuity at home, probably not bringing their full selves to work, possibly just turning up hoping not to get fired.

What a waste of our collective human intelligence. How bad is that for business?

Think about your business, I’m not saying your engagement levels are languishing around the global average at 30%,but is everyone in your company fully engaged? Taking these numbers to the bottom line, can you imagine the impact on your P&L by paying 100% salaries for people who are only 30% engaged? You’re potentially wasting 70% of your salary bill, now that’s not an effective way to run a business!

What's your take on Leadership?

Take a people first approach.

Treat your teams engagement levels as seriously as your margins.

This doesn’t mean a people only approach, more like ‘51% people : 49% profit’ if you’re looking for the balance I’m striving for.

Under the simple premise that the more engaged your teams are, the more ingenuity they will bring to the business, the higher your commercial gains will be.

What's your philosophy onleading/engaging/developing people? 

It’s my fundamental believe that we should be able to enjoy what we do everyday.

Happy people do better work than miserable people. It‘s not rocket science, but it’s rarely factored into the business plan.


I’ve spent the last 20 years on a bit of a mission to put people before profit. Having worked with various captains of industry in the advertising world, and been a little disappointed at the single line focus on the money, the margin on everyone’s head, rather than the human side of business.


The irony being if you put people first, yourcustomer experience improves, your business performance increases and if youcharge appropriately for it, your profit naturally does too. 


At Propellerent, …we’ve flipped that statistic. Our mission is to ‘Make Life Better’. Against a backdrop of a global engagement figure of 30%, 90% of my team are engaged.  30% of those, are superengaged


And why is that so important? Well it shows up in the numbers every time.

  • 98% of our team would recommend working at Propellernet to others – and actively do
  • This has a positive impact around the business, on each other, our customers, our environment – it’s a magnet for good people, having a positive ripple effect beyond the agency walls to you.
  • And this level of recommendation saves us considerable time and effort on recruiting, time we can focus into customer impact instead.
  • Our staff turnover rate is less than 7%, the industry average according to last IPA report is over 30%
  • Here we benefit from a reduction in wastage, less time needed on re-recruiting, along with the pain of client knowledge and agency expertise walking out the door with each leaver.
  • And our customers enjoy  building consistent relationships with long term agency contacts, rather than the frustration of having tore-brief a new person every time the account director, or creative lead, or PR contact, or developer, or media strategist (and so on) leaves.
  • We enjoy world class customer satisfaction levels of around 95%recommendation rates and great feedback
  • 80% of our business comes from client referral, they just can’t help saying great things about us
  • We average 1 day off sick a year, industry average is way higher, anywhere between 5 and 12 days, depending on what source you look at
  • Planned absence, holidays, are essential for people to take. When time out is planned, both client and agency benefit, primarily from being able to plan around the work in advance and having the joy of a refreshed and invigorated agency person back after their break (too many cancelled holidays causes burn out and health issues).
  • Unplanned absence on the other hand, has a huge impact on both agency team and customer alike. If someone phones in sick(and we’re all allowed to be ill) it has a direct impact on the agency team and ability to hit client deliverables with the speed and quality that everyone wants to achieve.


The last point is particularly pertinent in our industry; where overwork and burnout are endemic. At what point did it become acceptable for a cerebral career in marketing to cause so much anguish?

Nationally there is a worrying increase in the number of people absent from work through illness. And if we take the statistics from London alone, according to the Mayor of London’s office, sickness absence costs London businesses £10.4billion a year.   An organisation of 250people can lose £250,000 a year due to sickness absence.

That’s shocking. And there is so much we can all do about it. Backed up with plenty of evidence – here’s a couple of sources; Happy Consulting and Gallup:

1. Consulting Company, Happy, are experts in the field of engagement and have significant proof points;

·        Happy , engaged staff are 22% more profitable

·        For every 2% increase in how happy employees are, revenue grows by1%

·        Investing in a great workplace compared to the standard stock market over the last 25years would give a 3.5% increase in return

Source: Happymanifesto.com

2. Gallup2016  survey; employee engagement vs bottom line across 1.8millionemployees, concluded that business divisions scoring at the top half reported employee engagement had nearly double the performance impact, compared with those in the bottom half.

This is regardless of the organisation, industry or company; regardless of changes in the economy or even massive changes in technology. In simple terms, on a global scale, people who are engaged are natural brand ambassadors and deliver high quality outcomes.

So if performance and profit are important to you, your people are the place to start.

Who inspires you?

So many people –however three key people that have delivered brilliant perspectives on the modern world of work and who inspire me are:

Brene Brown​  

Shawn Achor

Francis Frei 

What big project/initiativeare you focusing on right now?

There’s a couple…

Firstly, my start up www.searchlistening.com is here to enable marketers to understand what their audience truly think and actually do; what questions they ask and how we can help them to find the best answers.  We’re all searching for something and the brands that enable their audiences to find what they need are the brands that will be the most admired.

Hundreds of thousands of people search online every minute, asking technology for answers to both their everyday needs and the most intimate of questions. As Seth Stephens-Davidowitz says, 

'... Google searches are the most important dataset ever collected on the human psyche.'

(Think of the last time you googled something and if you’ve ever googled something you wouldn’t tell anyone else…it’s like a confession box!)

Searchlistening.com is here to teach marketers how to tap into this incredibly rich data source so to understand their audience's true needs, motivations and behaviours. Enabling more insight into communications that people want to receive, products people want to access, problems people want to have solved.

Imagine what the world would feel like if we could cut crap marketing and actually focus on what people want to find out about, what their needs are – rather than what a brand wants to flog.


Secondly Superengaged, the book, is here to help other business leaders make life better for themselves and the people they work with. It’s an honest and upbeat look at the value of having values and the power of being people focused, packed with tips and guidance to help them transform their business’s performance. It’s for CEOs, Coos, HR directors, and finance directors, entrepreneurs, business owners and anyone who’s on their way up.

Judging by the avalanche of positive feedback I’ve had from around the world, it’s certainly stoked a few fires!

Nikki Gatenby

Co-owner and CGO @Propellernet www.propellernet.co.uk

Co-founder and CEO @SearchListening™ www.searchlistening.com

Author of best seller, Superengaged www.superengaged.com 

(print, kindle, ebook & Audio https://amzn.to/2K1aR9R )

Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/nikkigatenby/

Twitter https://twitter.com/NikkiGatenby