I Lost My Job for Asking a Question

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. (upbeat music) 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’d 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 or eight years, I’d 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 four hundred 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. And 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. And so 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. And I remember one particular session where the CEO, who was 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. 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 and
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. (upbeat music)


  1. Post
    BVM (BVisionMedia)

    You did what any L&D professional and life learner would do…ask a question to a subject matter expert to break it down. You were intuitively doing your job!!! Great job!!!!!!

  2. Post
    Jonathan Rock

    Thanks for sharing this story Ant. Frustrating and inspirational when you see how you pivoted from the setback and doubled down with your passion for people you are trying to communicate with. Man I wanted to say “learners” there!

  3. Post
    Mike McQueen

    Ant! Sharing your story takes guts and will help many people that have faced similar situations. ~Mike

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    Cornelius Alberts

    Thanks for sharing I know the feeling, been in Training and Development for 20 years now. It is a thankless job but someone has to do it.

  6. Post

    Your example, to me, demonstrates that this organiztion does not have a training culture, that is, the belief in the ability to learning what you don't know.

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    Zack Lim

    Great sharing! Yes I've done stuff like these too! Asking questions on behalf of the learners when somehow they are not asking them, nudging them along, advocating things which are beneficial to the learners which are not very popular in the eyes of the bosses, etc. It is truly great whenever I hear or see feedback from learners that they have really LEARNED a lot (much more so than if they comment the session was interesting, fun or otherwise, and of course I dont really mind good or bad feedback as long as it helps the people, organisation and society, however little impact it was. OK but we ourselves are also learners who learn from others' experiences, so next time I'm going to be more clear that I am asking on behalf of (or for the benefit of) the audience at large. Haha… less the suits think I really dont know what I am doing.

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    phil campbell

    Its all about the people and trying you do whats best for them , i've been in L&D for nearly 20 years and yes it is sometimes a thankless task but when you do things for the people and they return that in appreciation and that "lightbulb moment" it becomes worth it 🙂

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    Bollywood Rangeela

    Yeh done with your side ….

    Now want to listen story from your company side…..

    May be ….. you only show us outer part iceberg……

  10. Post

    Congrats Ant… mister "Hero" for the sake of "venting out" your experience. I like the paragraph about "sacrifice", I like the "story telling" ambiance. I have been in the exact same situation as you described : in that public session, I was the guy that didn't want to demonstrate too much, nor want to reveal incompetencies in some areas, and so… gess what ? I still got kicked out violently and got traumatized by such action. However as you say, there's a notion of "surrender" but for the good cause.

  11. Post
    Elisa Umaña

    That experience resonated a lot with a horrendous job experience I had in 2015; it is sad to see that there is little concern for a robust learning culture in many, many companies. It also gets very political in some cases as well… getting along with management, for some, seems to be more important than having people truly learn, have a career path that makes sense and truly worry about the transition of new-hires from new-hire training to their actual jobs.

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    V Karen Miller

    Asking questions rocks the boat. Fake open cultures really want buyin on group think, not inquiry. With that said, companies consider that training is an adjunct not a mainstream line of business department. Pompous tech leaders have their heads in the cloud ( pun intended) and would rather be surrounded by bleeting sheep who babble buzz phrases rather than answer the simple yet powerful questions. You are better off out of that toxic environment. Run free, ask simple questions and create training that resonates with learners.

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    Patrick Haynes

    Great video. I wonder if the CEO felt that you were publicly challenging him? Firing someone for asking a question seems extreme; but, an employee questioning the CEO’s understanding or ability to communicate could be viewed as insubordination. Regardless, it does sound as if your intent was misinterpreted. Like any “hero”, you rose above the challenge. Well done.

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    Kevin Timmins

    You did exactly the right thing! I used to be in L&D, am now just in Software, but I am often the only person in my team who will ask those annoying questions that very few know the answer to, but feels like they will look stupid if they ask. The simple matter of the fact is, if it's critical to the business, then it's even more important to be exceptionally clear as to what it is. To assume knowledge is a sure path to failure through misinterpreted requirements and subsequent demoralisation of the team/business followed very closely by some of the most rapid churn you've ever seen. I applaud your actions and wish you the best for your future endeavors.

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