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Meet Gregg Ward of The Gregg Ward Group

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gregg Ward.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Back in the 1980’s, I was a starving actor in New York City and working as a temp for the College of Criminal Justice in the City University of New York. My boss, the Dean of Special Programs, wanted me to help him develop a training program for police officers that used live, professional actors and their improvisational skills to help cops learn how to manage “EDP’s (Emotionally Disturbed Persons).”

So, I hired a bunch of my fellow actors and worked with police psychologists and hostage negotiators to develop an experiential learning program (before it was a thing) that was so effective we had cops weeping in our classroom. I must admit we were all surprised at how powerful the program was. So, the police department alerted the media and CNN and the New York Times covered it. It was the first time I saw how my work as a theater artist could transform peoples’ lives outside of a darkened theater.

Since then, one way or another, I’ve been creating and leading training and coaching programs for companies, non-profits and the government that work not only on a cognitive basis in peoples’ heads, but also emotionally, in their hearts. I count my lucky stars that I’m being given a chance to practice my art in a really practical way that makes a positive difference with people, and actually make a living at it too!

Has it been a smooth road?
The biggest challenge for me has been helping prospective clients get comfortable with the unusual techniques – involving live actors, facilitated discussion and experiential learning – that we propose to use in their training rooms. Even if it’s just me up there without the actors, our programs are not your typical stand-and-deliver-a-slideshow lecture. Our programs are extraordinarily interactive; they generate strong feelings – that’s the idea!

And they all involve bringing up loaded topics – like giving feedback, leveraging diversity and inclusion, respectful Leadership, developing emotional intelligence, and managing conflict – that most people really don’t want to talk about in a training session. So, when I’m pitching to a prospective client, I have to make sure they understand that what we do is based on sound learning and development practices; that we specifically customize our programs to meet their needs and expectations; and that everything we do in the classroom – especially the “experiential learning” segments (which is really ‘role play on steroids’ with professional actors) – is carefully controlled.

The other big challenge is some of our clients’ expectations – that we can deliver our training online or by conference calls or on video in a few hours or less and still have it be as powerful and effective as it is in person. Some prospective clients simply don’t have the time, the budget or the experience with the kind of work we do so they don’t necessarily understand why we just can’t do the online “lite,” abbreviated version during an hour-long lunch-and-learn. Those are unrealistic expectations. The reality is, when it comes to teaching leadership, interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution skills, NOTHING beats the in-person, interactive training experience that rolls out over the course of a day or two or three.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with The Gregg Ward Group – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We’re really known for using live, professional theater and experiential learning as workplace training techniques on complex, loaded issues. We’ve been using these techniques for over 30 years since I started doing training for the New York City Police Department.

I’m really proud that our clients typically report that our training programs are the most powerful and effective they’ve ever experienced, that our programs literally “changed their lives,” or helped them learn practical tools and techniques on so-called “soft skills” (which are really ‘hard skills’ because they involve emotions) and use them effectively back at work.

We’ve analyzed the evaluations we’ve received over the past 30 years, and we’re very proud to report that over 90% of trainees have indicated that our program was among the best, if not the best, ‘soft-skills’ training they’ve ever experienced.

I think what sets us apart from many other training and coaching organizations is our 30 years of experience using our techniques in hundreds of different kinds of organizations in every industry and government vertical. The truth is, there aren’t a lot of training organizations out there that do what we do.

That’s because this work is very labor intensive, involving writing customized scripts, casting and rehearsing actors who know how to use these techniques and then making sure every single thing we do in the classroom is woven together in a seamless training experience that not only provides useful knowledge and skills but also engages, delights and even “moves” the trainees.

I have to bring to bear all of my experience and skills as a professional actor, director, writer, producer, facilitator, and coach, not to mention everything I’ve learned about business, management, organizational development, and leadership. To be honest, if I didn’t totally love what I do, I wouldn’t do it, it’s completely exhausting.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
When I first moved to San Diego 20 years ago, I learned that everyone here calls it “a small, big city.” And, after a few years, I realized that that is totally true! San Diego is big – what are we, 1.4 million people in the metro area now? It was less than a million when I moved here. But even with that rapid growth, it has a lot of small, distinct communities, just like the big cities I’ve lived in over the years, New York and London. It also has a diverse, border city feel to it; you can’t throw a rock without hitting a fabulous restaurant or cultural parade, fair or event. The diversity of people, art and culture here is really exciting. The other thing I really like about San Diego is the huge diversification in business.

When I first arrived, San Diego walked and talked Navy, and to some extent, it still does. But then the cell phone, biotech, and medical technology industries exploded onto the scene; and then we became indie music and craft beer capital. This is a tremendously vibrant city when it comes to business, entrepreneurial spirit and innovative industry.

The only downside to all of this terrific business growth is the traffic, I’ve never seen it so bad, and it’s only getting worse. What do I like least about our city? As a New Yorker who grew up with two teams for every major sport, I can’t stand it that San Diego is a small market city when it comes to sports. I’m stunned that the Chargers ownership turned their backs on our great city and it deeply saddens me that the Padres can’t seem to bring in and hold onto top talent.

We keep settling for second best when it comes to major league sports in this city, and that’s just wrong, especially since we’re America’s “finest city.” The other thing that bothers me is the lack of affordable housing. San Diego is a terrific place to live in and raise a family; that’s why I moved here from New York. But we all know it’s now one of the most expensive cities in North America to live in – especially when it comes to housing.

We’ve got to solve this lack of affordable housing problem, because if we don’t, San Diego will become more and more divided between the haves and the have-nots; our arts and culture will be diminished because our up-and-coming creative innovators won’t be able to afford to live here; and our communities will become even more insular and lose the vibrancy that diversity brings. We either come together to solve the housing problem, or we will surely fail on our own.

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