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I Lost My Job for Asking a Question

In today's episode, I'm gonna tell you the story about how I got fired for asking a question. Back in 2010, I took a job as the training manager of a large web company. And one of the reasons for this was that I kind of got to a point in my career where I felt that like my professional development had stagnated a bit. I'd been doing classroom training for seven eight years, I dipped my toe in the water into elearning, content design, but couldn't really see a career for me immediately there. So I thought the natural progression would be to manage the training function at a large company.

And so the company I worked for had about 500 employees, and what they'd recently done was started an initiative to bring together the senior management team and the shop floor staff, essentially who consisted of, I'd probably say three or 400 much younger individuals who were probably in their first or second jobs within their career. Some of them were school leavers, so there were a lot of 17, 18, 19 year olds. And the company had noticed that there was a big gap between the senior management team and the people who were driving the company and then the younger guys who were actually doing all the work.

They felt there was a disconnect and so what they'd done was they'd set up this initiative where they would have these lunch time sessions where they'd have this open ended question and answer session where they're have the senior management team sat on one side of the room, and then all the other staff would be invited in and they could ask questions in this open forum.

I attended a couple of these sessions and what I noticed was happening is that quite often, the people who were attending the sessions weren't being that proactive in asking questions. And I think sometimes it'd be maybe that their supervisor had suggested that they should go to the sessions and show their faces almost. But when they were in that environment, and there was a desk full of senior managers who were very impressive, ambitious, very technical people and then they were sat on one side of the room and then these other guys who were sitting amongst their friends, they were much younger probably less confident, they just didn't feel confident to ask questions because of the nature of the environment.

I remember one particular session where the CEO, who is a very technical, he was a German guy, spoke very quickly and very passionately about technology, but wasn't always the easiest to understand. Not just because of the fact that he was German, but also because he spoke so quickly. And he was so intelligent and he knew so much that he didn't appreciate that the level of other people was maybe a little bit less. And he wasn't the best at talking plain English. And so one particular session, this guy was rattling on about how the future of the business was in the cloud and talking all about cloud computing and how all of our products and services need to be aligned to the cloud and whilst I had a pretty good grasp of what the cloud was, I mean this was almost 10 years ago, so I'd only recently learned about it but I kind of understood the concept. I could see that there were some people in the room that maybe didn't know what it was, and also, they weren't asking any questions so I knew that if they're not asking questions, there's no way they understand everything. So I thought, maybe this situation requires somebody like me to ask some questions, and then maybe other people in the room will feel more confident in asking questions as well?

So at one point, I put my hand up and I said "Can you just explain in a little bit more detail and break it down a little bit for us what exactly do you mean by the cloud and cloud computing?"

Now the guy didn't even hesitate. He just replied to the question and he kind of broke it down a little bit and I remember thinking he did an okay job of explaining it but I wasn't confident that everybody understood what it was from his explanation.

But I'd hoped that by asking the question, not only had it helped other people in the room learn because I'm the training manager. My job is to help people learn. But I hoped that by asking that question, other people in the room would feel more comfortable in asking some questions as well.

Now I didn't think anything more about this until about two weeks later. I was called in to speak to the human resources manager and told that my services at the company were no longer required. I was to finish there til the end of the month and that would be the end of my time at the company. And I'd only been there for six months. So for somebody who's as proud and competitive and stubborn as I am, this absolutely knocked the stuffing out of me and when I look back at my life this is probably one of the most significant periods of my life and I did a lot of soul searching and it was a really traumatic experience for me.

What made it worse was that it was a real shock, because it was only a few weeks before that I had an appraisal and I was told that I was doing really well and the projects that I'd initiated were really being looked upon positively and they thought I was doing a good job.

So to be suddenly told that you're no longer required when you think you're doing a good job is pretty horrible. Anyway, I will probably never know exactly why I got fired and I'm sure if you were to ask the guy who fired me, he would say that there was a whole number of reasons, and it didn't just come down to one thing.

But I have a hunch that because I asked that question, the guy who was answering the questions thought that I didn't know the answer. And he probably looked at me and thought, well hang on a minute, the future of our business is in the cloud, this is our training manager, this is the guy who is teaching our staff how to use technology and how to essentially training them on all different aspects of things they need to know to do the job. If this guy doesn't know what the cloud is, is he the right man for the job?

Now I'm sure there are other factors involved, like I was incompetent or I wasn't up to the task. And when I look back at the situation, I often ask myself, should I have handled that situation any differently, I could have quite easily not asked the question, and probably slipped under the radar and that guy would've been none the wiser that I didn't know what cloud computing was.

But I feel really proud of the fact that I did that and I almost feel now like I almost sacrificed myself for the cause. And I think the whole point of me talking about this today is that I think as learning development professionals, trainers, instructional designers, all these roles that we're doing, quite often, we are sometimes sacrificing ourselves. We need to sometimes try new initiatives, we need to try to do things differently if we think that the way it's currently happening isn't working. And quite often, by putting ourselves on that pedestal, we're putting ourselves in a position where we can be ridiculed, or laughed at, or thought of as stupid, or, worst case scenario, fired from your job.

But, I feel like that's maybe the commitment that I've made to this industry and to this career, and again, I look back on this now, and would I have done anything differently? No, I wouldn't, I can look at myself in the mirror now and I can think to myself, you know what? I did that for the right reasons. Now I'm not claiming to be any type of hero, but if you were to call me a hero, that would be totally fine.

But I think what I'm saying is that working in this industry can be a pretty thankless task. You're not on your own; there are other people out there who are facing the same difficulties on a day to day basis. And every time you feel like you're just banging your head against the brick wall and you're not making any progress, just think of those times when you've actually implemented some training or you've delivered a new course, or you've stood in front of a classroom and taught somebody something. And they've had that light bulb moment where they've understood something that they didn't previously understand. Those are the reasons that I do this job and I'm sure those are the reasons that you're doing this job as well. And just remember those and focus on those because that's the most important thing, isn't it? I'd love to hear back from you, if you've got any stories about where you've sacrificed yourself for the cause. If you have, just drop them in the comment section below the video, and I'll see you in the next episode.

Ant PughComment