EP 5: Our Journey of Effective Strategic Planning – An Interview with Dr. Cynthia Whitaker

September 22, 2022

Show Notes

It’s one thing for an executive team and a board to align around a strategic plan. It’s something else entirely when an entire organization, from the newest hire to the most senior board member, realizes they have shared vision and are moving in the same direction.

That’s exactly what happened at Greater Nashua Mental Health when CEO Dr. Cynthia Whitaker led them through developing a co-created strategic direction.

In this episode of THRIVERS, Dr. Cyntha shares story after story of core values being prioritized and lived out in real time, of community members recognizing the alignment of priority, and of new life being breathed into the organization.


Greater Nashua Mental Health

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Tucker: Hey there, welcome to THRIVERS: Nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal. I’m your host, Tucker Wannamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT. And our mission is to solve nonprofit leader burnout. Burnout is the enemy of creating positive change. And we want to connect you with impactful mission-driven leaders so that you can learn to thrive in today’s nonprofit landscape.

And today’s guest, we have a guest today and I am so over the moon excited to have you on here, Dr. Cynthia Whitaker. Thank you so much for being on here. Before she says something – I just want to celebrate. I want to celebrate you, Dr. Cynthia. I should just call you Cynthia. What should we call you, Cynthia?

Dr. Cynthia: It’s all good.

Tucker: You can do like five different things. It’s so funny. But I wanted to celebrate you, that your nonprofit, which is Greater Nashua Mental Health – a community mental health organization in New Hampshire. Won Nonprofit of the Year by the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

So hey, congrats on that! That was incredible. What an incredible feat.

Dr. Cynthia: Yeah. Thank you so much, Tucker. And for that to have happened during this process was quite interesting and cool. I was excited about it.

Tucker: That’s awesome. Well, and what’s awesome about this, and this is where we’re going to go into the story, is you’ve been with Greater Nashua since 2006. But you were, just a year and a half ago, not all that long ago, were named the CEO. And so this is really a celebration, of course of your team and the board, but really of your leadership. But it hasn’t always been, you know, nonprofit of the year, of sorts.

And, and so what we wanted to do for those of you who are listening, Cynthia just mentioned the process. We just had a four-part podcast on the four main pieces of strategic planning that we believe nonprofit leaders need to live into. And we just went through a strategic planning process through everything that we just taught on in those episodes with Dr. Cynthia and her whole organization Greater Nashua.

And so I wanted to get into the story. What has led up to this particular process? And when you became CEO a year and a half ago, what were you charged with? What were some of the pains that you were brought on to address? What was the board saying, “All right, you’re on, but we need you to tackle this.”

What was really going on a year and a half ago in Greater Nashua Mental Health?

Dr. Cynthia: Yeah. It’s interesting to reflect back on that, because you know, certainly the past few months have been more positive. And so to think back on, “What were those challenges?”

We had just kind of started the COVID-19 pandemic. So that was a piece of it. So the agency was a little bit in upheaval because of that. But even prior to that the board was sort of feeling a sense of that we really needed to step into some improvements in care. What was getting in the way of people accessing our mental healthcare? How could we improve timely access? Making sure all levels of staff in our organization were clinically responsive. And so, as a psychologist that was part of my charge, if you will, what I was charged with. But more importantly, and why this process with THRIVE IMPACT has been so important to us, is that I was also charged with, “What is the organizational culture? What was the staff morale? And how we were perceived in the community.”

Because it was becoming increasingly clear to the board, and those of us who had been here for a while, like myself, that we really weren’t going to experience those benefits in care and being able to provide better mental healthcare if we didn’t also focus on the org culture, and the staff wellness, and what our connections and collaboration looked like with our Community Partners.

So it was a clinical charge, but more importantly, it was an organizational charge.

Tucker: Hmm. Well, and you know, that’s a lot for a board to say, “Alright, welcome new CEO. You need to fix all these issues.” Right? And you know what’s interesting, I’m curious, you had a lot on your plate and, you know, strategic planning – the strategic planning process – is time, it’s resources, it’s energy. And you chose to go down this path of tackling many of those issues, which were not necessarily “strategic planning-oriented issues”, but you still chose to go down a strategic planning process.

Why was that the case? Why did you decide to go down that path?

Dr. Cynthia: I mean, the easy answer is, you know, it was time. It was due, right? Our previous strategic plan technically had a date ending of 2019, but then got extended to 2020. And so, you know, the idea of, “Oh, we’re gonna extend it and extend it and not embark on that process again.” It just wouldn’t have set right with me. So that’s the easy answer, right? It was time.

But I do think that the changing environment or landscape of mental health treatment, the challenges our staff were experiencing, I mean we shifted from a barely-telehealth-agency to doing almost all of our services via telehealth in two weeks in March of 2020.

And so, you know, that was a few months before I officially became the CEO. And so like that really, in my mind, necessitated needing to pause, reflect, and say, “Okay, who do we need to be in this new landscape?” You know, and I think it also went back to the, if it’s not just about providing good care, and we’re making that connection of the culture in the organization is also important, then we need to think about, “What is the organization’s direction? Where are we headed? You know, who do we want be? What are our values? How are we going to show up in the world moving forward?”

So it was the right time. It just was the right time.

Tucker: Well, and I think a lot of, if you’re listening to this podcast, many people are finding themselves in those “even if it’s not the right time, maybe it’s still the right time”, right?

Whether you have a strategic plan sitting on the shelf gathering dust and you need to re-energize that, but many of us are finding ourselves at these types of inflection points, essentially, right? Where we need to co-create our future.

And speaking of that, the process we went through – and we’ve talked about this in some of the podcast episodes. Was very – actually the term that kept being brought up was “non-traditional”. But it was a bottom-up, co-created oriented approach. And, you know, we talk about the use of Appreciative Inquiry and co-creation in one of the episodes.

And I’m curious, what about this approach did you love, and also what was challenging about this approach from your perspective?

Dr. Cynthia: What I love about it is the idea that all-voices are part of the process. And some might say, “Well, the traditional process allows that, too.” – like with surveys or interviews. But all of the voices came together to be heard. So it wasn’t as if the board or the senior leadership team got to hear all the different voices. Everybody got to hear all the different voices.

So for me, that’s like starting the process of developing the org culture and creating connection during the process, right? Instead of, I think, what the more traditional approach is, sees the development of the strategic plan as very separate from the implementation of the strategic plan.

It’s like, there’s a checkmark where it’s done. But, really we began implementing the strategic plan before we even knew what it was, during the process. Because we were creating those connections, we were hearing all of the voices, we were, you know, just doing all of the things that happened with this more bottom-up, co-created approach, which fit with who we needed to become as a community mental health center.

Tucker: Mm. I really love how you said that many times traditional will bring in voices, but through a filter of a consultant or a filter of a leadership, a board chair, whatever. But that it was about the voices coming together – not the voices going through a filter – but the voices hearing the voices. Right?

It was your staff hearing each other, not through something.

Dr. Cynthia: Yeah, exactly. And I think that allowed the impact of the voices to be exemplified, or to build off one another, right? It created an energy that for some people, maybe that are more introverted or think introvertedly – in introvert kind of ways – you know, maybe they’re gonna do their best thinking in a survey.

I’m kind of an external thinker, and I do my best thinking by hearing and interacting with people. So somebody’s going to get their best ideas out of me in conversation, not in a survey. So us using all of those approaches – allowing conversations where people were together. I mean, we still did surveys! It just kind of allowed it really to come together in a better way that really just kind of energized the whole process.

Tucker: So what I hear you saying is that all voices were able to be brought in in a way in which many people wanted to bring their voice, whether it was through writing it out, whether it was through speaking it out. I know we did some creative exercises, so maybe it was through drawing it out, right?

We did an artifact exercise where people had to go find a symbol that represented their leadership. Like, so all these different ways of voices coming in was important, or including some of your deaf participants who are on your staff, right? And making sure that their voice was coming in through an ASL interpreter. But all those different voices coming in the way that the voice is able to come in.

Dr. Cynthia: Right. Exactly. And you bring up that particular group of our staff, that I did a little bit of extra legwork. Sometimes making sure that group had access, if we were going to read something in a meeting or if there was going to be something with some more significant words and verbiage, that they had access to it ahead of time so they could. And also gave them opportunity to give written feedback, if that was easier.

So yeah, exactly. All voices together, not through a filter, in the way that was best for each person. I mean, that’s really what I love about the approach.

Tucker: Yeah. Which really gets into inclusivity. We talk about diversity, equity and inclusion all the time in the world that we exist in and we should! And more of those conversations need to be happening. But how might we apply those to the very meetings that we have, the very processes that we do, to where we’re going out of our way to make sure that those voices are able to be brought in an inclusive way.

Cause we have a diversity of voices in your organization. You have a lot of people in your organization, right? There’s a diversity of voices for sure.

Dr. Cynthia: Right. And it goes again, back to what I was saying about it’s not a plan and then an implementation. Right? So if our plan ultimately says, ”Oh, we need DEI work – diversity, equity, inclusion work.” but we don’t actually do inclusion in the process of creating that plan. We’re just talking talk. Right?

How do we start walking the walk, actually, in the strategic planning process? And that’s what this bottom-up, co-created approach really allowed us to.

Tucker: Wow, that’s really good. I’m curious, what was challenging about this approach or this process? What comes up for you around anything that was challenging, or that maybe unexpected – you’re like, “Oh, we need to figure this part out.” You know, that kind of a thing.

Dr. Cynthia: Well, you already mentioned that the word that kept coming up was nontraditional. “This is nontraditional. This is nontraditional.” So we did need to do some extra legwork and probably could have even done a little bit more to get some of the board and staff buying into doing things a little bit differently.

I think as the process went on, it was certainly there. But it was challenging in the beginning. And rightfully so. Right? I mean, people have something that comes to their mind when they think about strategic planning and that process. And we were providing them with something different. And so we just needed maybe to bring that in a little bit more.

Tucker: Yeah. And I’m, you know, for example, I’m reflecting too, the core of a strategic plan – mission, vision values, uh, or vision, mission, core values. And, you know, this approach is definitely a more emergent approach. Meaning we don’t come in and say, “What are your core values?” and then wordsmith there. We discover it through a journey of these conversations. And I think that’s where it seemed like is that this nontraditional approach is a little more emergent. Meaning, core values came and we were gathering them along the way. We just didn’t blatantly say that yet. Right? We didn’t say, “These are core values. What is your mission? What is your vision?”

We instead asked questions of, “What has been the best of who you are? What is it that you actually want? What are we celebrating about our organization and the impact we’re able to have?” And those started to shape what these were on the back end of the process, as opposed to hitting it on the front end.

Dr. Cynthia: Right. And I think that’s hard for some people because they want a linear “Check-the-box, we have this. Check-the-box, we have this.” way of doing things. Where the very art of co-creation is allowing things to emerge more organically. Right?

You didn’t say, “We’re having a conversation about values today”. Right? We had a conversation about, “Who are we? Who do we want to be? What are our strengths? What’s the best of who we are?” And from that, it was clear, and there was a lot of synergy around what are the values that we knew we wanted to have and embrace moving forward.

You know, another challenge for me, and I think it’s even for my whole team, as leaders, we’re often trained to be the experts and to come in with the answers. And there were many points throughout the process where I easily could have said, “These are our values. This is our mission statement.” Right? But I had to constantly take the time to slow down and remember to allow the time for all the voices to emerge because, ultimately, we got to a better, more polished place. Even if it wasn’t completely divergent from my opinion, or a decision I could have made, but it allowed it to have more depth to it. And allowed it, once created, to already have the buy-in and the voices of the staff.

So when we brought this to the staff, kind of unveiling the plan that we had agreed upon, they could see their voices in it. Instead of if I made all the decisions, they would only see my voice in it.

But it is challenging as a leader who’s trained to be the expert. Right? As the doctor, it’s a challenge to remember, to allow the process – to trust the process – as you know, we might say in therapy in our mental health world.

Tucker: Wow. Hmm. You know, you’re kind of hitting on voices. And that’s an element of data. Data’s really a whole bunch of voices in many ways of looking at it. And during the process, we gathered a lot of data. And we leveraged a group called the Synthesis Team to literally synthesize. I like to call the Synthesis Team “the deeper listeners”. They’re more deeply listening, not just synthesizing, but deeply listening into, “What was the staff, and the board, and the community actually saying here?”

And just kind of curious, what surprised you about the data that came? What surprised you about, you know, what came out in terms of that?

Dr. Cynthia: Well, first there’s how much of it there was! Right? How, you ask a question and the amount of answers that you get. But within that, there was both convergent and divergent ideas at the same time. There were a lot of themes that easily emerged, but then there would be one or two not quite connected to the others, but so super important. And had we missed those voices, we might have missed something. So that was surprising because I think going into the process, we assume, “It’s mental health, the field hasn’t changed that much.” Right? There’s going to be a lot of convergence and synergy, but there was also divergence.

Tucker: Yeah. And how do you wrangle that as a Synthesis Team? You know? Yeah.

Dr. Cynthia: And, and I think, you know, we did wrangle it as a Synthesis Team, you know, by looking for where were the themes, or what was the essence of an idea. Maybe there was something in the data that we knew, “Well that doesn’t quite fit.” But maybe there was something underneath it that did fit. And I think that was part of the craft of the Synthesis Team to take that breadth and depth of ideas that were really more than we could have imagined ourselves. And again, I think it came out of that creativity and that connection, you know, here came all these thoughts and ideas and data from the staff, from the community, from, you know, just what’s the impact of the changing landscape and all of that.

Tucker: You know, as a part of this and being on the Synthesis Team one of the things that we talk about in our approach is building a learning organization, right? That’s your ability to be relevant is not based on some single point in time, where you created the plan and now you implement it, I like how you shared that earlier. But it’s really based on your ability to adapt and learn over time.

I’m curious, what did you and your team learn from this process of deeply listening, of synthesizing, and applying this data in an iterative way.

Dr. Cynthia: Certainly like, kind of I already mentioned, that idea of looking for themes, looking for convergence even in the divergence. The allowing of all ideas and then prioritizing them, is part of learning.

One of the other things that I think was helpful for the team was just, “All ideas are valid.” Every single one of them. Even if it’s an innovative idea or an implementation idea. Now, maybe now is not the time for a variety of reasons, but we can catalog that data. We can honor the spirit of it, that essence I was talking about within something else.

Something just came up recently in a meeting where one of the staff who was facilitating, literally modeled exactly what we did in some of the meetings, where the person owned, “I’m an extrovert and could quickly just move on, but I’m gonna pause for a moment and give the introverts among us a little bit of time to process, just to see what else might emerge in our conversation.”

And that is something that we modeled in the process, right? And I think that too kind of shows the learning part that people really took on the Appreciative Inquiry. And just some of those other things that this process modeled for them and are using it in other parts of the organization with, you know, directors using it with their teams and those kinds of things.

Tucker: I love that like, basically because they were a part of, you know, going back to voices being involved, because their voices were involved in voices-to-voice, you know, that they were able to experience different ways of facilitating. Because, I mean you know this, Cynthia, like all of us are facilitators.

If you’re gathering any form of people in any way, shape, or form. A meeting, you’re creating the conditions to allow for that to be an inclusive experience or a non-inclusive experience. We’ve all been a part of board meetings where you’ve had the “silent majority” and “the vocal minority”. Right? That’s based upon how a facilitator sets things up in the first place.

And so what you’re saying is it sounds like your team was able to gather ways to create that space, to continue that process. The strategic planning happened at the beginning of the process, and was in the process, and they continued to learn and grow from modeling it and doing it over the course of a few months.

Dr. Cynthia: Yeah. Yeah. And I think really just learning the “respect for all voices” was part of it. And I also think there’s part of being the learning organization that takes the pressure off. So we’ve done things now like about celebrating our not-successes. Because this is an iterative process, just like our strategic planning process was. Our operations could also be iterative.

“What could we learn from how poorly that went?” And so I think that constant, that allowance for learning, just makes people able to be more authentic. So, when it didn’t work, so that we can learn from the process and get better. And I think, you know, this bottom-up, co-created strategic planning, again, allowed us to walk that walk from the top all the way down. Which just really shows it’s a value for our organization.

Tucker: Before the last question, Cynthia, I had another one I wanted to ask you, which is, co-creation I think I think can be intimidating. And particularly in a way of – you talked about all ideas are valid, but I can’t do all the ideas. We can’t do all the things that everybody wants.

How do you deal with that? Because there’s a fear there that if I open up “the co-creation space” now I have to do everything in a sense. But that’s not necessarily the case but there’s a fear there, and I don’t know if you had that fear, I’m curious your thoughts and reflections on that.

What would you say to a CEO out there who’s wanting to go this, but has some trepidation around co-creation?

Dr. Cynthia: I would definitely say I had moments of that fear, for sure. Much like the, I needed the reminder that, “I don’t need to be the expert. I don’t have to have the answers.” There’s that fear of, “Oh, you gotta do all this. Do all this.” No.

How, how I move through it, and I think the response to it, is authenticity. And so constantly saying, and genuinely saying, “All these ideas are great, unfortunately regulations don’t allow us to do them.” Or, “In order to get to that idea, I’ve gotta do two or three steps of legwork, like cultivate more donors, or figure out a revenue stream before I can do it, but I’ve got it. I’ve gotta pin in it. Thank you for that idea.”

And just being open about the “why not now?” or appreciating what was great about the idea and then saying, “And, you know, not right now because of…” And just being open about that. And that to me is the way to have to manage that. And I think people loved it.

I mean, people are still talking about how amazing it is to just have their voices heard.

Tucker: Well, and that’s where you kind of get back to the foundation of any great strategy is the space of belonging. Which is, “Do we feel heard?” Just because somebody shares an idea doesn’t mean you have to do it. And that’s also where the Synthesis Team came in, too. It was, we opened up that aperture real big on a variety of different things. Like “how might we…” questions around culture and got tons of ideas. I mean, we have pages and pages and we were able to synthesize those down, part of our work was synthesizing, and then your work as the Synthesis Team too, to what you said earlier, “What’s the essence of this?”

Also, you hit on something I think is so important. It’s the sequencing, right? “That’s a great idea. Let’s make sure, that is probably for two years out.” It just isn’t “now”. We don’t have to do all the things now.

And I remember going through this process with you and noticing when you were talking about “taking the pressure off”, helping people to feel like we don’t, especially the Synthesis Team, they would see all those ideas and think, “Oh, crap.” initially. And then we were able to take the pressure off saying, “No, we’re not doing all these all now, right now, all the things, all now”.

Dr. Cynthia: Right. We’re creating a direction. Right? I always like to, in New Hampshire, we have two main highways – that might seem weird to people from bigger states – but we have two main highways and one goes relatively north-to-south. And the other kind of towards the west, because we’re on the east coast.

So, I always like to say things like, “As long as we’re on the right highway of where we’re headed.” We might take an exit ramp, we might sitesee along the way. But are we on the right highway? And so I think of this strategic direction like that. And all of these ideas and the things that got generated, we might have to take an exit ramp or two before I can get to your idea. But if it’s on the right path, it’s gonna get incorporated.

If you give me an idea, that’s on the other path. Well, “Hmm maybe not, but let me see if there’s something about your idea that can apply”. But that’s an analogy I often use.

Tucker: I love that analogy.

Dr. Cynthia: It makes sense here too.

Tucker: Yeah. And it really is not a strategic “plan” that’s done. It’s a “direction” that we’re “learning into” in a sense, right?

Dr. Cynthia: Yeah, exactly.

Tucker: Well, for my final question, which is a little bit of a loaded one, but it’s kind of almost going back to the “why” at the beginning, in the first place.

But what was made possible for you? What was made possible for your team in this process? And what was made possible for your community that you’re noticing already, by going through and choosing to do this type of a path and a process?

Dr. Cynthia: Oh, there’s so much to this question, Tucker. So I’m glad you recognize it’s a loaded question. So you mentioned, I’m a relatively new CEO. I’m officially in the role for a year and a half or so. Now, kind of having this strategic direction and having gone through the experience, it gave myself, my board, my team, this shared understanding and experience that we can now anchor into as a foundation that we can build on. Kind of like a shared language or direction, for me, that I feel like I can come back to.

More interestingly, when we were having some conversations about core values, one of the board members spoke up and said, “Well, this value of empowering needs to also apply to Cynthia. And how do we, as a board, empower Cynthia more?”

Because you can imagine, as a new CEO, maybe they’ve been a little more hesitant to give me authority. Right? Like there may be a little stricter delegation of authority than a more seasoned CEO. And so that was amazing. Right? And had we not gone through this process of, you know, co-creating the values alongside the board and talking about how it applies across the agency, I’m not sure that same recognition or realization would have occurred in quite the same dramatic way. Which to me was a moment of relief.

We truly are on the right path. And helped me in my moments of, “I can’t do this.” to feel re-energized. “No, no, no, I can do this.” I, there are people that are trying to create an empowering environment for me as well.

Tucker: And I love the phrase that you gave to “empowering” in your core values, which is “creating the conditions to allow essentially for you to thrive, for people to thrive.” The underlying conditions that allow, and it’s that love extra level of thought, and that the board member noticed that.

What was made possible for your team in this? What kind of stories came out and what was made possible there?

Dr. Cynthia: I mean, certainly I think about my Leadership Team. We were already doing some work about connecting amongst us, especially, but this has really allowed people to connect with people across the agency.

I mean, you can imagine, right? I mean, you mentioned we are a staff of 260-something like that. Right now, it changes every day in the current culture of workforce. But we can get siloed, right? Where we might not interact with one another. And so it really created some avenues of connection. Then people would have an interaction in a meeting and then be like, “Oh, we need to follow up”.

And just created this ripple effect of connection across the agency that’s happening. I think the team, the inline staff, being valued and knowing their ideas were important, has also had a ripple effect.

So not too long after one of our workshops, in the middle of the process, a relatively new inline staff person noticed something and went to, not even her manager, but a manager’s manager – so a director level person – and just said, “Hey, I noticed this and I have this idea.” And it was such a great idea, we literally implemented it the next day!

But it came on the heels of this creative workshop and where we were talking about what could be. And I’m not sure that would’ve happened had this process not been there. So people feel comfortable giving feedback and providing ideas.

We also had a staffer who had given their notice. Their manager told them to still come to the workshop, even though the workshop was within their resignation period. “No come, you’re still part of the team! It’s about generating ideas. We want you to come and be here.” That staffer was going to stay with us, kind of like moonlighting part-time here or there, went for their first day at their new job and then called us and said, “I don’t want to leave.”

The culture and conversation that they were having at that other place was not at all like the culture they, again, were seeing us walk-the-walk, not just “talk it” in this process. I mean, there are all kinds of stories and things like that for the team that are happening.

Tucker: So, you know, Cynthia before we get into what you’re noticing with the community. You know, one of the innovations that we actually did with you that came from your and, you know, Jim Jordan – who’s on the board – and some of the other board members, the impetus there was, “We need to have, if we wanna lead well in the world, we need to lead well within our organization.”

And how do we not just have impact measures out in the world around excellent care, and us as an agency, and empowering the community – but how do we have impact measures that we’re measuring all in our strategic plan, right? This internal-meets-external.

What did that do when the staff, if you noticed, what is that doing for the organization and blatantly acknowledging in a very public, direct document around our strategic direction. “Over the next five years, we are measuring these things about our own wellbeing, right? Our own mental health.” What have you noticed that that’s done for the organization?

Dr. Cynthia: I mean, I think it goes back to that idea of belonging, seeing, hearing people, right? That people are important. We’re not just a system that delivers a product. We’re a system of humans. So in order to deliver that product, we have to take care of the humans in our system. And, you know, of course in the mental health field, I think our staff get that, because it’s something we often preach, but don’t necessarily walk ourselves.

So I think to see it truly valued – on paper, in writing, with their CEO giving commitment to it, is pretty powerful.

Tucker: “We care about you – actually – and we’re measuring it too, to make sure that you’re okay.”

Dr. Cynthia: Right. Part of my performance measure as the CEO is, “How healthy is our organization?”

Tucker: Wow. What was made possible just that you’ve noticed so far and I mean, this is a relatively finalized, or recently finalized, strategic direction. But what have you noticed so far that’s been made possible for your community? And the people you serve and the partners that you work with and all that?

Dr. Cynthia: I think it’s very similar to, like with the staff, they were invited into the process. So they saw us in action. We were actively seeking their input, their collaboration, they got to hear one another. We didn’t do them individually. We brought them all together.

And so I think it just set the foundation for true collaboration again. “I’m not in it for me. I’m in it for us, for our community.” I think that just came out and it was clear. So we’ve already had a few reach-outs from others, like who are working on their own strategic plans who heard about what we did. I had two different organizations say, “Hey, what questions did you ask again?” And “How did you go about collecting that data? Because we want to do a little of that, too.” And of course they struggled with to do it completely “untraditionally”.

But fascinating to support some other organizations, and at least bringing in pieces of what we did, if they weren’t ready to take the big jump. The healthy, I would call it a healthy risk. As a CEO, I took a healthy risk in embarking on this, you know, nontraditional, bottom-up, co-created process with you and it has done nothing but give us a return on investment that really, I don’t know that we can quantify.

Tucker: Wow. Wow. Well, you may or may not have it ready, but I’m curious just for sake of we did a lot of this work. What’s your mission and your vision, Cynthia? What was co-created and you know, some of the pieces around your Impact Pyramid? This is like a way of testing it out. Because this is still fresh, right?

Dr. Cynthia: It is still very fresh.

Tucker: This is still a strategic direction. But, I mean, you even said this earlier in our prep that somebody has already started to use this language in community conversations. It’s become organically coming out naturally, which is great.

But curious, just to like tell us a little bit about your organization.

Dr. Cynthia: Yeah. So our vision statement is that we envision, or we really want to see a community in which all individuals and families have access to the transformational, integrated mental health services they need in order to live hopeful, fulfilling lives.

And so our mission statement, how we hope to make that vision happen, is by empowering all people to thrive through excellent care, community engagement, and a commitment to innovation and growth.

Tucker: Hmm. And then you’ve mentioned your core values many times, because that’s been a big part of this process and that they’re not just words on a page. But, would you mind sharing what’s the value, maybe the little sentence below it that gives some color to it.

Dr. Cynthia: Yeah sure. We ended up with four core values. So Collaborative – that we work together to achieve our collective goals. Compassionate – we care about each other and our community. So there is another shout out to the “each other” in there, that it’s not just about being compassionate to those that need mental health services. Empowering – we can create conditions that allow people to thrive. And Authentic – we show up as we are and accept others as they are.

Tucker: I’m curious, what’s your favorite one that you’d bring in the “to live this out”. Because some of the problems with core values is they become “words on a wall” and they’re like, “Oh, that’s a nice word. I don’t know what that means.” But I know we went through the process of “What does this even mean in living it out?”

Uh, curious if you’d share just one of them. One of those around whichever one you feel compelled to.

Dr. Cynthia: It’s interesting that you bring that up. In a manager meeting just yesterday, one of the directors of one of our departments said the best part about the values was the, “To live out, this value we…” section.

And so for Empowering as an example, so “we create conditions that allow people to thrive.” People might be like, “well, what is that?” Right. So to live out this value, we maintain hope for each other and our community. We honor and promote the freedom to choose from many paths. We utilize practices and provide resources that promote inclusion and support wellbeing for people of all abilities and identities.

So it goes from this kind of, “Well, how do we create an environment?” This is how. We honor, we hope, we use inclusive practices.

Tucker: Well, Cynthia, uh, this has just been such a delightful conversation. I so respect and honor and appreciate your leadership. You are the type of a nonprofit leader that I think many would like to be like, to be honest. And watching you, in the way you consciously chose, right? You mentioned it multiple times where some of those old habits may be of “what leadership is supposed to be”. You paused many times, you noticed what was going on, and you chose, actually these values.

Whether you knew them or not at that point, but you chose them. And I just want to acknowledge and appreciate you for being such a mission-driven leader and courageously stepping into this. It sounds like your courage is paying off, which is great. And so I just appreciate you so much and what you bring into the people that you’re going to serve in the Greater Nashua region of New Hampshire.

Dr. Cynthia: Oh, thank you so much, Tucker. And really appreciate you and the whole team, just being such a support for this process and allowing it to emerge even when it got messy. And then when it was beautiful and co-created toward the end. So just thank you too for working with us.

Tucker: All right, everybody. Well, thank you for listening in to our podcast today. As usual, we’ll have some links to the show notes and any of the things that we talked about today. Otherwise we’ll see you on the next iteration, the next version, the next episode of THRIVERS, the podcast around Nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal.

So thank you, Cynthia. Y’all have a great day.