People leaders - Winnie Man from Propellernet

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Winnie Man is Chief Employee Experience Officer for Propellernet.

Based in Brighton, Propellernet help their clients to BE FOUND online.

They have once again been named as one of the UK’s Best Workplaces™ – now for a sixth year running. 

Propellernet don’t want to be the biggest agency in the world; they’re working hard to be the best, working in partnership to deliver a competitive advantage for fewer clients rather than doing commoditised work for a large number.


Hi Winnie, thanks for talking to us.

Please introduce us to Propellernet and your role in the business.

We’re a full-service, insight-driven digital marketing agency based by the sea in Brighton, we service clients across Europe with the mission to Make Life Better. My role here as their Chief Employee Experience Officer – aka People Manager is to ensure our people processes are in place to enhance their careers and enable them to be the best versions of themselves.

My career spans 15 years (!!) in executive search and Organisation Development, focussed on developing high performance teams in growth organisations within telecommunications, technology, fintech and more recently creative agencies.

What was the catalyst for your interest in workplace culture and employee engagement?

A strong focus on workplace culture and engagement should be the bedrock of all organisations, I’ve personally seen how a focus on profit over people can have a detrimental effect on an organisation, eroding employee confidence and resulting in an unproductive and dissatisfied workforce. This directly impacts the bottom-line and a completely short-sighted way to operate.

The concept of “culture eats strategy for breakfast” as originally coined by Peter Drucker is never truer, I’ve been fortunate to work in both multinationals and innovative start-ups and central to the success of these organisations have been the focus on its people and culture, helping to bring that to life through various initiatives has been an exciting journey.

Describe your people approach / ethos in 5 words or less

Does It “Make Life Better”?

What are the specific people challenges faced in your industry?

We are fortunate to live and work in such a diverse and creative city, and with engagement here at Propellernet being so strong – over 90% in our recent engagement survey the specific challenges we face come from finding talented employees with specific skills that share our values.

How do you balance a positive and engaging workplace with high performance?

It starts with ensuring everyone is clear on our mission and values, providing a secure and happy working environment and being clear on how individual objectives meet organisational strategy. Regular and consistent feedback is essential for growth and development as is a clear development and career plan.

When you look at the people and the culture of your business, what makes you smile? What are you most proud of?

Its seeing people overcome barriers and reaching their potential. Building organisational capability is rally rewarding, enabling teams to succeed.

What has been the toughest ‘People’ or culture challenge you’ve encountered (big or small)?

Maintaining employee engagement through the aftermath of employee churn or redundancy is always tough, but continual communication during these challenging changing environments is imperative. Giving employees a voice and providing support can help shape and prioritise engagement initiatives.

Has anything really surprised you?

Always! Organisations that think burning out staff is still okay, baffles me.

What is the quick / simple ‘win’ you would suggest to someone at an early phase of addressing people & culture within their business?

Listen to your people. Building an authentic employer value proposition starts with understanding who you are and encapsulating your vision of where you want to be.  

Be open and transparent in your communication with your people, bring them into your decisions, collaborating with them to overcome challenges helps to foster community in an organisation.

Are there any mistakes that you made that you can share? Or anything you wish someone could have told you at the start of your journey?

Slow down. Take your time, it’s a journey not a race. I think there are always things you can learn from, mistakes or doing things in a different way, I’m constantly learning so being open to change and feedback is important.

Does anything frustrate you about the world of leadership, engagement or workplace culture?

This probably comes from seeing some leaders who are unauthentic or unwilling to listen to their employees, the true top down approach. Where communication up needs to be filtered to the nth degree for fear of reprisals. These environments are corrosive.

Are there any resources you’d recommend?

I’d recommend instilling a mentoring and coaching culture, having a resident coach can be transformative for your people and yourself. You can help foster resilience in the workplace, it can also help with inspiring innovation.

Who else do you think is doing great things in this area? Who else would be great to talk to?

I’d interview my good friend Holly Fisher, Head of Talent at BozBoz who shares a lot of the values and approaches I’ve mentioned here.

What is next for you/ Propellernet? What future challenges or initiatives are you most excited about?

There are a few things I’m keen to tackle in the coming year and I’m excited at the prospect of shaping our academy and delivering some award-winning learning development programmes.

Thank you Winnie – I really appreciate your time!

You can learn more about Propellernet by visiting their website (

Propellernet are a really interesting business and I’d strongly recommend looking at this article from their blog outlining 10 of their learnings.

Plus, you can get a sneak peek of their forthcoming book – Superengaged.

More interviews with other interesting and dynamic organisations will be released soon.

Do you have any recommendations for who else would have some great insight to share? If so, please do let me know!