Gagne’s event number 6: Elicit the learner’s performance

One of my clients negotiates payments between health care providers and insurance companies, so that the final bill is fair.  They earn their money by taking a percentage of the gap between the amount billed by the hospital and the amount they negotiate in favor of the insurance company. 

Needless to say, these negotiations are tough.  I work with two groups, the front-line salespeople who sell the company’s services to insurance companies and the in-house negotiators who spend their day on the phone with the hospitals.  Their communication skills are a critical element to their success, so they must understand why and how they say the things they do, and have the skill to say just the right thing at each critical time.

I’m going to call this company, “Sample A.”

I have several other clients who fall into one of these three categories: they have “seasoned” veteran salespeople who resent going to training, are not incented well to achieve new sales, or they have a loose sales management process.  I’ll call all these companies “Sample B.”

I can always tell the difference when I train “A” companies and “B” companies, because when we discuss a new concept, approach or behavior, the learners in the “A” companies say, “Can we role play that?”, while the “B” learners moan, “Oh, you’re not going to make us role play this are you?  I hate role play.”

“A” company learners recognize that the training room is a perfect and safe place to practice doing something differently, and they will practice as much as they can, in order to be more effective on the job. Role play or skill practice of any behavior is one of the best methods to help people learn.  Look at that old guy in the green shirt learning how to run up a hill!

When you elicit learner performance, you not only give them a chance to practice, you also help them to recognize when they have done something correctly or incorrectly. In other words, like most things in life, they learn from their mistakes.

Gagne recognized this opportunity to practice, make mistakes, correct the behavior and internalize the learning as a critical event.  Most good trainers use a lot of practice.  In my workshops I make people practice just about everything, from two-person role plays, to triads (where one person is a coach/observer), to fishbowl exercises where I might call on someone at random with, “(Name), say that back to me just the way you would say it to a customer.” It really accelerates the learning if you can make the learners work.

For non-skill areas, or what we call the cognitive domain content, you do best with informal testing.  Remember that joke “pay attention because there’s going to be a test”?  I use pop quizzes all the time, because I find that people remember the content better if they’re quizzed on it. Learners get excited to take a quiz, compare answers and discuss the questions afterwards.

You might ask yourself how well you are doing with this key event of instruction.  How many skills do you role play?  How much of the fact-based content do you test on?

If a one-day workshop does not contain at least four short quizzes, then you are missing a chance to elicit performance.  One final tip: if Human Resources insists you can’t use quizzes and tests in training, explain that the tests are destroyed and scores are not kept. The test is for learning purposes only.

We’ll look at Step 7, “provide feedback,” on Friday.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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