With Brighton slowly becoming a global startup hub, it was no surprise to see a bunch of local companies become listed as Worldbu’s most democratic places to work in the UK for 2013. Wordblu is a global network of companies large and small striving for freedom and democracy in the workplace and it has accredited companies such as Brighton’s Propellernet, NixonMcInnes, Brandwatch and Do Something Different that are pushing boundaries in leadership and management, and paving the path to more freedom in business, something which we believe startups should incorporate into their culture as they grow.
We visited Propellernet last week as they opened their doors for Brighton Digital Festival’s Open Studios, for a peer into the way they work and to gain insight on how their ethos drives democracy and sustainability.
Propellernet are a digital marketing agency whose purpose as a business is to improve the lives of their clients, client’s customers and employees. They aren’t a very large team by any means, 47 employees and counting, with no plans to grow bigger than 80 so as to retain their awesome culture and strong communication across the business.
Their portfolio of companies they work with couldn’t get much stronger and founders Jack Hubbard & Jim Jensen put their success down to placing focus on their reason for being, rather than chasing figures and algorithms. The founders realised that in today’s climate, competition between agencies is soaring, you can’t walk into pitches shouting about what you do, because chances are every other company can offer the same service as you. It becomes important to set your business apart, so instead Propellernet pitch the reasons why they do what they do, taking inspiration from the brilliant Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start with why’, and it all revolves around (their mantra) “Making life better”.
With every business or creative decision, the team ask “will it make life better?” or “will it make the boat go faster?” to direct their decision process. They aim to ‘make life better’ for three core groups; their clients, their clients customers and most important of the three, their employees.
To ensure happiness and creativity is at its peak in the workplace, the company have developed a health and wellbeing offering that includes regularly engaging in fun activities, making use of resources and the city around them and introducing innovative ways of working. And it’s the impact this has had on the team, that’s earned Propellernet success with clients as well as winning awards for being the UK’s best workplace.
Stefan Hull, Insight Director at Propellernet ran us through a few of the ways the company keep their employees productive, happy and driven.
- “The vast majority of our policies and practices have been developed from the bottom up. People contribute to decision-making and know that we encourage them to share their opinions and engage in healthy debate. This has enabled them to own and be responsible for their work and to feel good about what they do.”
- “We practice democracy in the workplace by sharing business information, including agency commercials, details of strategic opportunities and proposed changes to ways of working on a weekly basis via New News meetings, when the whole agency gets together to discuss the stuff that matters openly and democratically. For example, if anyone raises ethical or moral concerns about a particular business, these are discussed and scored and the opportunity voted on.”
- “We’re committed to improving our working environment. We recently commissioned a survey that garnered 12,000 words of feedback from the team. We then visualised the results so everyone could more easily understand what had been said [image above] I’ve worked with a wellbeing consultant to come up with some ideas based on the feedback; mostly temporary measures so we can see how people use spaces etc. Off the back of it we will be investing in improving our working environment.”
- “Five percent of company profits go into a health and wellbeing fund that everyone decides how to use. Our two elected “health and wellbeing ministers” are first among equals in organising and promoting activities, although it’s fair to say that everyone gets involved in making suggestions.”
- “We have also recognised that people have both personal and professional aspirations, and by connecting them, we have been able to bring an even clearer sense of purpose to our agency and the people within it. For example, we have recently introduced the idea of “dream balls” – each and every one of us has shared our dreams and we’ve captured one per person (to start with) in dream balls held in a “dream machine” (a reimagined old –fashioned sweet dispenser). When we hit a major target (commercial or otherwise), one ball is drawn at random. You can read about how we’re going to make two people’s dreams come true here.”
A lot can be learned from Propellernet’s values as a business. and it’s this transparent, collaborative and human approach to organisation that resonates with us and our approach to projects here at Spook Studio. We optimise for business happiness, not profits.