Specialist digital educational publisher Twinkl was recently named as a recipient of a Queen’s Award for Enterprise. unLTD’s Laura Metcalfe caught up with CEO Jon Seaton to find out how the firm is making working life ‘engaging and enjoyable’.

The Twinkl office very much reflects its founder and CEO, Jon Seaton – it is bright and open, and very busy.

When I meet with Jon, it’s clear he is very hardworking, but you would never guess that he used to be a lawyer.

He said: “I’m used to, as I imagine a lot of entrepreneurs are, a more corporate work environment.

“I didn’t necessarily dislike that environment, but I feel like if I want to come to work in jeans and a t-shirt then that’s what I’m going to do.

“I’m a great believer that life should be taken a little bit more lightly – I think people work better when they’re more comfortable, when they’re enjoying what they’re doing and when they’re in a calming environment.

“We wanted our offices to have a nice feel, putting in cool features like a café and some plant life. We wanted the whole place to feel quite natural.

“If you’re going to be spending a lot of time at work then it should be enjoyable.”

Twinkl, based on Ecclesall Road, is a specialist digital educational publisher with a workforce of more than 460 members worldwide. ‘To help those who teach’ is the driving force that started the company and this mission still inspires everything the team do today. 

They recently received royal recognition after being named as a recipient of a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade.

Jon continued: “You have to work unbelievably hard at building and reevaluating the culture. It’s not even maintaining it, it’s shaping the culture and rebuilding it where needed.

“For me, company culture is about building relationships, whether that’s within the team or externally with our teacher community.

“All business is about relationship building – you want give and take when there’s a problem and if you just take, take, take, you’re definitely not going to get any give when you need it.

“I always say to our team that there’s never a good reason to give anyone bad service. We don’t argue with our customers because you’re never going to win in that situation. Even if you think you’ve won, you haven’t won.”

Many of the staff at Twinkl are ex-teachers with most of those writing the content still in teaching, meaning the materials on offer is created by teachers for teachers. Jon believes in a very hands-on approach to people management and spends much of his time ensuring he can help his staff in any way possible.

“I lead in a way that I believe people need to be led – quite pushy but supportive, firm but fair. I think every person needs the right level of challenge in their daily work because as humans we tend not to stray into things that we’re a little bit fearful of. We don’t push ourselves enough,” explained Jon.

“As a leader what I’m trying to do is say to people that it’s okay to fail. Don’t be afraid of getting something wrong because that’s how we learn and grow. I encourage my team to fail fast and then communicate why and what they have learned on that journey.

“Good communication is fundamental to building a good company culture. And it’s really hard work. We work on lots of different projects every single day, so it can be quite difficult for us to communicate every idea. But we have communications channels to make it easy to encourage conversations, even with our remote team, we use our intranet and I encourage quick, regular video calling.

“Our method to improve what we do is to constantly ask questions, every single day, to try and gauge how the team are perceiving the culture and work streams. For me, it’s being consistent in asking those questions to see how we can improve.

“I always think if you stick to your values and you do the right thing, that’s the best you can do.

“Due to having such a clear culture at Twinkl, that everyone buys into, we know that even the quickest of decisions are made with the best interests of everybody at heart. We also listen – decisions can be reversible.”

Staff engagement is important to Jon and he is keen to encourage his team to get behind Twinkl’s goals and values.

“Being engaged with the Twinkl mission is completely vital and we work really hard to ensure our staff understand what our core aims are,” he adds.

“I recently started sharing a weekly video update which allows me to provide all key information directly with staff. I’ve found this is a nice way to communicate with the teams as it opens a dialogue and encourages people to ask questions, which is exactly what the team needs.

“A lot of my role is focused on empowering others, so I try to avoid having too many meetings booked in. I find this approach works better for me as I like to be flexible enough to help people throughout the business.

“This gives me the room to talk things through with my staff and work towards a fast and effective solution.”

One thing is clear about Jon – he works hard, and he expects the same of his staff.

“I view every problem as an opportunity,” he continues.

“We have a very particular way of doing things at Twinkl, in that we expect rapid work. It’s about facing the task at hand, finding the best possible solution, and producing high-quality work.

“We’re lucky that Twinkl staff are incredibly hardworking and focused. There’s a wide range of people with expertise in different areas who work together to make the best resources possible.

“We want to cultivate a positive working environment where our team feel appreciated and enjoy coming to work every day. Our staff are incredibly talented and have a wealth of options open to them, so it’s important that we make life at Twinkl as engaging and enjoyable as possible.”