James Micklethwait
VP Kahoot

James Micklethwait is the Vice President of Kahoot! at work, where he leads the growth of the Kahoot! at work business area. In his position, he oversees revenue, usage and strategy for building out new cases for Kahoot! in a work context.

Originally joining Kahoot! in 2017 as VP of Products, James has led the Kahoot! at work team since its founding. Previously, he has worked in product development and strategy roles for the BBC, ITV and Rightmove.

James holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Modern History from University of Oxford.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup talks to James Micklethwait, Vice President of Kahoot! at work, about their newly discovered phenomenon named “quiet constraint,” and how it is actually the new workplace villain.

You’ve likely heard of Kahoot! for their fun quizzes and yet, these days the platform has become much more. Kahoot! at work can be used for trainings, presentations, meeting and events to boost employee engagement.

What is “Quiet Constraint?”

In a recent study for the company’s annual Workplace Culture Report, what was expected was a high level of employee disengagement. (Especially with all the recent talk of quiet quitting.)

Rather, what was uncovered is what they aptly named “Quiet Constraint,” where over half of respondents reported that they actually hold back knowledge that they believe others would benefit from–rather than sharing with their peers.

Why would they do this? Tune in to learn more.

Listening time: 27 minutes

The Kahoot! Annual Workplace Culture Report can be downloaded here.

Some Conversation Highlights:

What we’ve found at Kahoot! is that there’s a very, very interesting way of sharing information. When you combine the quiz part of Kahoot! […] with slides at the same time, the quiz itself acts as a way of actually bringing people together.
It’s friendly competition and it’s a very, very effective way of bringing people together. But what’s clever about the quiz questions is it also is real-time feedback for the person presenting as well.
It’s actually a very elegant way to ask the audience, and it feels like actually a bit of fun about a topic.
Mixing up the traditional workplace slides from a presentation with a quiz question to assess knowledge, we found to be very powerful. You can also go further than that and you can add in discussion questions. So, polls, word, clouds, open-ended, literally a brainstorm. You can say, “Well what are your ideas?”
And with groups that are quite large size, you can literally collect workplace ideas, vote on them all in the space of a small number of minutes when you would normally be doing a one way, it’s all slides with Q&A at the end. We find that to be way more effective, particularly when you have an audience that’s not necessarily in the same room at the same time.

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William Tincup (00:34):

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s William Tincup and you are listening to RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have James on from Kahoot. And our topic today is The New Workplace Villain is Quiet Constraint. This is one of the first times I’ve heard of quiet constraints, so I’m really excited to talk to James about it. James, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Kahoot?

James Micklethwait (00:57):

Sure. I will do. Hi, William and hi everybody. My name’s James Micklethwait and I’m from Kahoot. It’s fantastic to be here with you today. Kahoot, for those of you who aren’t aware, is a game-based learning platform, probably most famous as a quiz used by teachers in Midland High School all around the US and in fact all around the world. But maybe what many of you don’t realize is that Kahoot’s also used by 97% of the Fortune 500 and it’s used as much more than a quiz these days. You can use it for training, onboarding, events, presentations and workshops. So, my role is all about the use of Kahoot in the workplace, which is why I’m here today. And we do an annual workplace culture report that we publish every year where we commission a survey to find out what’s going on in the world of the workplace. And we just released those results. You can download them for free on our website if you’re interested.

But in short, the findings of this year’s survey that we were expecting an extremely high level of disengagement. There’s been a lot of talk out there in the industry about quiet quitting and we are expecting a very high level of disengagement. And whilst we found some of that, we can touch on that later, it wasn’t quite as high as we expected. What we instead uncovered was a really interesting finding that we called quiet constraint. And that is that a whopping, 58% of employees say that they hold knowledge that they believe would benefit others inside their organization, but they haven’t shared it yet. So that’s what we mean by quiet constraint.

William Tincup (02:30):

And so, first of all, I can see that. So, first of all, that tracks for me that makes sense for me, but why do you… I mean unpacking that just a bit? Why do you think that is? I don’t want to lead the witness or anything. I have some thoughts myself, but why-

James Micklethwait (02:48):

I’m sure you do, and I think everyone listening will be, have a few ideas. So, of course we asked the reasons why in the survey as well because that’s actually much more interesting than the statistics itself. And so, there are a variety of reasons and some of them I guess are maybe less surprising and some I think are maybe more surprising but let me run through them. So, some of them of course relate to company culture, just that people don’t feel they have a mandate, and we ask a specific question about for people to agree or disagree with whether they’re never asked, they haven’t been asked to, and that came up as well. So, somewhere around company culture and people feeling like either they’re not valued or that they don’t feel that anyone wants them to share that knowledge. So that was one big theme.

(03:41)
The second theme was actually you might also suspect, some people feel that actually sharing knowledge might be detrimental. So, they feel that the workplace is a little bit competitive, and they might give away a competitive advantage to their colleagues. And so, perhaps that’s one of the first things that comes to mind when people think about this because this is not an entirely new subject.

(04:04)
But I think what we were surprised about was that as big a reason as certainly the selfish reason was that actually people don’t feel enabled. What they say is that there’s no channel, there’s no particularly good means for them to share knowledge in that way. And maybe we can talk about that in a bit more detail. But what we also found is that the traditional ways of sharing knowledge, often via a presentation or via a training, there’s a very high level of disengagement with those mediums. Especially in a world of hybrid work where you’re not there at the same place. And those formats for either communicating or delivering training just clearly don’t work as well as in a physical context when everybody’s in the same place at the same time.

William Tincup (04:48):

So, I went first of all, I love those reasons and I can see that tracks well, but I went to a darker place in terms of did you just because it’s my nature, but I went to job security and this is a way of making myself indispensable, so I’m not going to share that knowledge. And you touched on it in terms of a competitive landscape, especially with we economics, macroeconomic issues we might be dealing with right now, is if I share that knowledge, then I become disposable in some ways. I mean, maybe that’s the worry is that I become disposable. And the other thing is, and I don’t know if this is true or if it’s just in my head, but I’m not sure how people receive feedback in the sense of I can just speak to this in the first person. I have a bunch of Millennials that work with me, and I found as squarely Gen X person, I found that giving them feedback, I’ll run with something and not really ask for feedback because I’m just accustomed to just, “All right. Run with it and go.”

James Micklethwait (06:06):

Yeah.

William Tincup (06:06):

And I found that that’s turn a turnoff for them. And I’ve also found myself in situations where I can’t feel… I don’t feel like I can give them… I don’t feel like if I tell them then somehow they react negatively to… you know what I’m saying? It’s almost like I’m caught either way. If I tell them the answer, to the quiz, I’m guilty. And if I don’t give them any guidance at all that I’m guilty. So, I wonder if managers find themselves in a curious position on how do they share, which is to your point. How do they share things to where they’re consumable by the audience?

James Micklethwait (06:51):

Yes. Yeah. I think that that’s a fascinating series of points you make. And I think I’d make two points that just spring to mind straight away. And so, I think the first is you mentioned managers as well and I think one of our big philosophies at Kahoot, is that it absolutely shouldn’t just be managers and of course experiences necessary, but not necessarily managers who are the only ones who are sharing knowledge. So, the target audience for us, if you is all subject-matter experts inside a team, so imagine a team and a team leader. We would encourage a culture where everyone around the table and nearly everybody in a role has specialist knowledge actually and tend to be best in team at one particular domain. So, nearly everybody has knowledge, it just doesn’t have to be a question of team leader and seniority.

(07:44)
So that’s the first point. And then the second point about feedback is an absolutely fascinating theme. I completely agree. And what we’ve found at Kahoot is that there’s a very, very interesting way of sharing information, which is when you combine the quiz part of Kahoot, I don’t know if you are aware, were aware of it yourself, William, with slides at the same time because that allows you in a very… actually it’s a very warm way. And actually, the quiz itself acts as a way of actually literally bringing people together. It’s friendly competition and it’s very, very effective way of bringing people together. But what’s clever about the quiz questions is it also is a real-time feedback for the per person presenting as well. So, it’s actually a very elegant way to, you can ask the audience and it feels like actually a bit of fun about a topic.

(08:32)
And then if most people don’t know the answer to that, then you are given effectively a mandate to say, okay, let’s talk about this a little bit more. A lot of you thought this then that’s not actually correct, and you can talk to it. So, mixing up the traditional slides from a presentation with a quiz question to assess knowledge, we found to be very powerful. And then you can also go further than that and you can add in discussion questions. So, polls, word, clouds, open-ended, literally a brainstorm. You can say, “Well what are your ideas?” And with groups that are quite large size, you can literally collect ideas, vote on them all in the space of a small number of minutes when you would normally be doing a one way, it’s all slides with Q&A at the end. We find that to be way more effective, particularly when you have an audience that’s not necessarily in the same room at the same time.

William Tincup (09:18):

It’s interesting that you mention that because I often… because I deal with a lot of founders. I always ask before I give feedback, I always say, “How do you like your feedback?” Because I’m gauging, do you like positive feedback, negative feedback? What flavor is in? And it’s nice because they’ll give me some guidance. I just tell me every brutal honesty is my best friend. All right. Cool. Great. Fantastic. And sometimes I’ll get people that will say, “You know what? Just tell me the positive stuff today. I’m having a bad day. Just give me the positive and we’ll deal with the other stuff later.” All right. Cool. Great. So, I love that part of BBB able to personalize knowledge to the audience in a way of like okay, if they can consume it. I wonder if you’ve seen in your world have you’ve seen rewards or incentives as a way of sharing information? Have you seen that work? Is there a way to compensate? Well, that’s maybe the wrong word, but is there a way to motivate people to share knowledge?

James Micklethwait (10:28):

I think there is, I think a lot of these things I do believe, I think the thing that’s really going to move the needle is when this happens culturally. So, I think there are some tools that you can use and I can talk about those in a second and they will make a difference definitely. But I think we should start with culture because that’s actually what really drives behaviors. So, you need to create and it’s a much talked about idea, you need to create a culture of learning. Well, how do you do that? It’s like most things in my mind that are cultural, it needs to start from the top first of all. And you need to make learning something that everybody inside the organization makes time for.

(11:15)
So, I think there’s a couple of angles I have on this actually. So, the first is that make time for it. What does that mean exactly? Yes. It does often mean making time for what you might describe as a sort of, it’s a training session or a knowledge sharing session. So, you carve that time out of your diary, so that is part of it. But what I would also say, because I know, I think we all know how hard that is to actually carve out time from our busy days. I think it’s also raising the bar about what you are doing in your existing presentations and meetings and trying to get a lot more value out of them. What I see a lot is many meetings and there are so many discussions around the place that seem to somehow lack, especially regular team meetings, all hands meetings, those sort of things. They somewhat lack a bit of a purpose why you are there. It’s something to do with sharing some information.

(12:05)
Some people know why they’re presenting, but it’s recognition in itself. Well, I think you can get a lot more value from those regular meetings, team meetings, all hands meetings if you, as I said, raise the bar and you think very hard about what it is that’s going to be most valuable to share for everyone and you share it in a very engaging way with tools like Kahoot. So, I think that there’s a whole cultural piece. And then very briefly on the second side of things, so what specific tools? How can you incentivize it? Well, I think we are very into, Kahoot is all about game-based learning, which is a particular take on gamification.

(12:44)
But we do see this time and time again that where you have leaderboards for example, that recognize people for doing certain activities. If again, there’s a part of the company culture and say in your regular all hands meetings you recognize and this is what our best customers do, this is this month’s number one employee, then you can really change behaviors. You don’t have to give out prizes, you don’t have to certainly incentivize it financially. But what people really crave his recognition. So you can use these techniques like gamification and to your point, it doesn’t have to be just about learning, it can be about sharing. So, you can have a leaderboard about who’s the person who’s created the most content, who’s delivered the most engaging Kahoot knowledge sharing sessions. So that’s how I think you can really create incentives to make this happen.

William Tincup (13:34):

So, learning and in sharing, if we were to bifurcate those two things, so you’ve got to give time for people to learn. So, maybe that’s a scheduled bit to your point, maybe that’s a Friday after 12, everybody gets five hours, everybody go learn something, whatever. Whatever the bid is, and I guess every culture, or a company can do that… obviously we’ll do that differently. So, there’s the learning part aspect and then the… or at least I see it as two different things. You have to have give people time to learn something new and then you got to give people time to share what they’ve learned. Am I miss that? Right?

James Micklethwait (14:16):

No. You’re right.

William Tincup (14:17):

Yeah. First of all, if I have that right or ish right, how do we institutionalize that? How does each company come and come about both the learning and the sharing? Because learning years ago, EY, Ernst and Young did a really great job and then knowledge center and whenever you weren’t consulting or whenever you were on the bench if you will. You got into the knowledge center, you just learned stuff and you were incentivized like go learn Java, go learn something, you go learn something. And now that wasn’t sharing, that was learning. So that part was, I think they did that well. Now, I’m not sure how they did the sharing part, but how do you see with your clients, how do you see how they tackle both sides of that thing?

James Micklethwait (15:04):

Yeah. No. I think you put it very well. There are two different things going on there. So, I think on the learning side of things, I think the key there is to really put yourself in the shoes of the learner to figure out exactly how to do that best. And actually crucially, our view at Kahoots, that’s not about taking people too far out of their day jobs, blocking along lots of… blocking out lots of time and potentially engaging with subjects that are quite far removed potentially from the day-to-day work. So, you’ve probably heard this term learning in the flow of work, and it’s quite popular now. But essentially, we really believe that it does make a lot of sense to you and make these learning and sharing experiences, you make them relatively short, and you make them incredibly convenient to fit into people’s daily jobs. And that could-

William Tincup (16:03):

I’m sorry to interrupt, James. So as sure, in the sense of because like attention span wise or we’re busy, or people are used to YouTube.

James Micklethwait (16:12):

Yup. Literally, all of the above. And we are very inspired by the new media formats on social media. That is how a lot of people are spending their time and they’re used to consuming content now. And so, we think it absolutely makes sense that one of the things we do at Kahoot is obsessed day and night about really engaging but also impactful from a learning perspective content formats. But we definitely take inspiration from social media. So, it’s actually all of the things, it definitely is attention span, but it’s also… there’s a bit more to it than that. It’s attention span, it’s genuinely busyness as well. So, it’s just everybody’s busy. And what you find, I think again with, if you look at lots of learning experiences out there and actually generally experiences, one of the reasons why social media has been so effective is because it’s so snackable. You fit it right around your day. When you aggregate the amount of time people are spending on social media, it’s absolutely massive. But no one’s ever doing that in one sitting.

(17:11)
So that is the same concept that applies with learning, and then it fits around everyone’s lives. The second point that’s related to this is that actually, I think in the past there’s been a temptation to try and deliver too much learning. It’s also been described as content dumping. And there’s some fairly famous research about the forgetting curve, which basically says that if someone tells you a bunch of stuff or you read a load of stuff, unless you apply that knowledge very, very quickly to what you’re doing, you’ll forget the vast majority of it very quickly within 24 hours. So that’s another reason why a small bite size chunks of learning make sense from a pedagogy point of view.

William Tincup (17:54):

So, in your research, did you find anything that stuck out to you in terms of demographic, male versus female, age groups, generations, any of that type of stuff or personalities?

James Micklethwait (18:09):

Yeah. We did.

William Tincup (18:09):

Anything that stuck out, because of course my mind goes, “Well, extroverts.” They can’t send it. They’d have to sit on their hands not to be able to share what they’ve learned or maybe that’s wrong. But what did you see in the data?

James Micklethwait (18:23):

That’s a great question. Introverts and extroverts, I think is a very, very interesting question for sure. And actually, we didn’t test that in this particular survey, but maybe we can try that for next year. What we did find out was Gen Z that was very, very striking. So, of all of the demographics we found that Gen Z were the most bored with the traditional mediums of especially, so online training by the way, was the single way to spend time at work where people reported they were most oftenly, mentally checking out, and then closely followed by virtual presentations. So, those traditional formats when translated over onto Zoom or Teams or whatever people are using really don’t work. But it was particularly Generation Z who said they found that they weren’t working. And they also, that group partly because they’re younger and we need to be honest here as well, Gen Z, of course, they tend to be, they’re younger and have less experience.

(19:21)
And so, it’s perhaps not surprising that they were the ones who felt most strongly, even more strongly than average, that they had knowledge to share that they weren’t being asked to share. And then finally, when we talked… we dug into okay great, we’ve got to create this cultural learning and you’ve got to make learning fun and easy. And we wanted to know how people related to making a knowledge sharing fun and easy. And we tested friendly competition because that’s very much at the core of Kahoot. And it was Gen Z again who reported a very high interest. They really related to that actually. So, 59% of Gen Z said they would really highly value friendly competition as a way to make sharing knowledge fun and easy. So, I think what you see in this younger demographic is increasing a heightened level of impatience with a traditional way of doing things.

(20:13)
And they are really looking for… I alluded to. I think these experiences that are where you really raise the bar. So, you don’t just have a team meeting, actually we have a team meeting and as part of that we’re going to use some new and innovative techniques. Kahoot is one of them, but there are many others that you can use as well. And actually, there’s going to be a very specific goal where one team member is going to share something that we agree is valuable for the team. And that all happens when the space of team one team meeting instead of perhaps some slightly dead time. We’re catching up regularly because we always catch up regularly and we’re filling time just raising the bar. So, what we are seeing is Gen Z, I think would really respond very, very well to a culture like that.

William Tincup (20:54):

Two things came to mind with the leaderboard and Gen Z in particular. Both my sons are squarely, Gen Z, and they’ve been gaming since they were very young, right? So, they’re accustomed to playing Fortnite and Minecraft and all this other stuff. So, is this gaming or there just the access to the internet their entire lives, does that play a role in their… not just the way that they want to learn, but then in stylistically, but also the timing? Do you think that gaming has… they’re wanting to be a leaderboard level up, moving up, being able to see where they are. Do you see gaming having a relationship at all?

James Micklethwait (21:38):

I think so. I think so. And as we know now, it’s such a huge industry gaming now so much bigger than the traditionally huge entertainment industries like movies and TV. It’s now mainstream and not just the young, but absolutely they’ve known nothing else. And I have kids too, and they’re pretty young right now, but I’m very struck by how they just seem very reluctant to do… I mean, they’re very comfortable doing more than one thing at a time, but I think the key word is interactivity and gaming is obviously one manifestation of that. But what they’re very, very reluctant to do is just sit there and even consume TV for too long that doesn’t quite hold them the way it used to maybe hold you or I, when we were that age.

(22:24)
So, interactivity was a big theme that came out. And as well as testing friendly competition, we asked our survey about other experiences and that I think resonates particularly with Gen Z, but with all ages now, it’s just about… like I said earlier, it’s about a brainstorm. It’s about discussing rather than the didactic one way, one person at the front communicating. And then maybe if you’re lucky, there’s a quick Q&A at the end. I think those days are gone now and that’s what everyone, all generations, but particularly Gen Z expect now is much more a conversation, make it a conversation and make everybody part of that conversation.

William Tincup (22:59):

Well, on one level you hear this and the audience going to hear this and it’s like, “Well, why was it ever not fun? Why did we suffer?” I mean, I’ve said this a couple times to people, I’m like, “I’m so envious of Gen Z because they just don’t put up with things that I would’ve put up with.” Oh, yes, I would’ve put up with the training room and somebody at the front of the training room for three or four days and nodding off and all that stuff like this. There was no other model that was the model. But they’re just, I love this, I love this about both Millennials and Gen Z. They’re just unwilling to just put up with these old models, which I love that about them.

James Micklethwait (23:47):

I agree. It’s forcing us all to change, isn’t it? Which is a great thing.

William Tincup (23:52):

In a good way. I mean, in a wonderful way. So, one of the questions I had was, okay, COVID. Would we be at the place we’re at right now with learning and sharing and quiet constraint in the way that we think of it, if COVID hadn’t happened? If the pandemic hadn’t happened? What do you think we would already be here? Or do you think that sped it up or do you think COVID had any impact in where we’re at?

James Micklethwait (24:20):

That is a really great question. I think there’s probably a couple of counter trends going on there. So, unfortunately, we only picked up this trend this year and we will quite possibly be tracking it going forwards to test, see how this is changing over time. So, I can’t give you any hard numbers on this, but what we’ve seen with COVID specifically is it’s obviously had an absolutely massive effect on the way that we’ve worked. So, if anybody who works in a desk job is most likely now working to some extent hybrid, and I think the jury’s still out on where that’s going to end up. And the effect of that I think has been, when it comes to knowledge sharing has been, on the one hand it’s been very profoundly positive for digital tools, and digital tools are extremely effective. And what we found in some research, actually the same survey last year, is they’re incredibly inclusive digital tools.

(25:14)
So, what you get, for example, using a digital tool like Kahoot is if you have a hybrid audience or even an audience who’s in the same place at the same time, because everybody must engage with the experience, you really do draw out those introverts that you described earlier. The people who wouldn’t necessarily participate or feel confident enough to put up a hand or speak in front of their peers. So, these tools are very powerful for including everyone, whether they’re physically present or not, and whether they’re introvert or extrovert. So, I think that’s been very positive and what COVID has done has really show a light on the power of these kind of tools, learning and communication tools to make people collaborate more. So that’s one very positive trend. On the other hand, I think what’s quite interesting is that the move to hybrid has also made, created some challenges for sharing knowledge, which is that those serendipitous moments where you sit next to a colleague at a desk and they just quickly ask you, “Oh, hey, I was just wondering about this. Can I just ask you quickly about that?”

(26:17)
The barriers to sharing knowledge in that way have gone up. I think considerably you can do it asynchronously, of course over tools like Slack and Teams, and that’s I think how people fulfill that need now. But I think it’s just harder than that physical just quick moment. Let me quickly ask you about something and serendipitous conversations. It feels like now it has to be a little bit more intentional. So, I do think there are some changes that teams need to make just in the same way as all teams have had to adopt their management styles and their cultures to working in a hybrid way. I think we also need to adapt the way we think about sharing knowledge as a team and be very, very intentional about doing that in the best possible way now that we are working in different places.

William Tincup (27:02):

Love it. This has been a wonderful conversation. James, thank you so much for your time and your wisdom today.

James Micklethwait (27:09):

Absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, William.

William Tincup (27:11):

Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

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William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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