Purpose Over Fit

Hurricanes are bad.  “The Ladies” (otherwise known as Hurricanes Irma and Maria) were really, really bad for the residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, destroying homes, churches, roads, and even police stations.  Very few places were spared.  This past week, I volunteered to do hurricane relief work with All Hands and Hearts, a rapid disaster response organization tasked with gutting homes to prepare them to be rebuilt. The experience was amazing, and it taught me a very important management lesson – purpose matters, fit doesn’t.

In September, I watched the news and saw images of one of my favorite childhood places get whacked by hurricanes, I wanted to help.  I put feelers out on social media that I was looking to give more than just money, I wanted to give my time and somewhat able body.  I applied to several programs, ultimately getting chosen by All Hands and Hearts for the week of Thanksgiving.  When I signed up, I really didn’t know what to expect, but sleeping arrangements and what I’d eat really wasn’t on the top of my priority list.  I wanted to help and that’s what mattered most.

This was the same sentiment of everyone at our base camp.  Yes, we got eaten by mosquitos, worked, ate, and slept in extreme heat and humidity, and got bruised and/or scraped, but those were minor complaints compared with what we had the privilege of doing.  One team worked at a home owned by Cynthia.  Cynthia had lived in her home for decades with her husband, who had recently passed.  During the storms, Cynthia cowered in her bathroom while her roof was torn off by winds and nearly 20 inches of rain soaked her belongings and walls.  Her husband’s vast record collection was waterlogged and mold was starting to creep in.  The All Hands team helped gut, clear and clean her house as she lovingly tried to save part of his records.   A team of volunteers removed water-logged drywall, killed mold, and sanitized Cynthia’s house in just three days.  Those volunteers had a purpose.  They wanted to help Cynthia and others like her.  So, they worked hard and with compassion.

This experience has convinced me that those folks who have drunk the culture fit kool-aid have it wrong.  What the culture fit gurus try to sell you is that when people “fit” together, they work better and faster. But the All Hands teams in USVI don’t fit together and often had very little in common.  Most of us even had very little training, arriving on the island with only our desire to help (and maybe a pair of Carhartt bibs).  Instead, what drove our team was a leader who worked with us (David was so great) and the common purpose to help individuals and families devastated by the storms.

There was Rex, a slowly retiring CEO of a wildly successful business; Natalie, a 19-year-old working for the Washington Conservation Corps; Paul, a former Longshoreman and Alaskan trucker with decades of experience with circular saws; Grace, a hospitality worker who quit her job to come down from the UK to help; Kelly, a COO of a tech company; Kathleen, a stay-at-home mom trying to figure out what she wants to do next, and Royce, a young associate at a large investment firm. This motley crew worked hard in the heat and humidity, taking weeks out of their busy lives to sleep on cots in a church banquet hall in order to make a difference in a place that is often overlooked.  I was and continued to be impressed and inspired by their commitment.

No hiring manager would put this team together. Yet, All Hands and Hearts brought these volunteers together, worked them hard with only one day off a week, and quickly made life just a little easier for hurricane victims.  All of the volunteers were focused on this purpose.  And while there may have been minor gripes and groans, we were focused.  So, for me, purpose trumps fit.   All Hands and Hearts proves it.



Since today is #GivingTuesday.  Please consider giving to All Hands and Hearts using this link.  Thank you! 

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