Sometime this last week the Lobster from the Little Mermaid started saying “First you have to set the mood” in my head.  It was probably a direct result of spending a week with 8-10 year old kids at a camp I co-led.  But this advice from Sebastian (the lobster) is valid.  Before you can do something of importance, you have to set the mood.  Several weeks before the camp, I wrotea letter to our workers to encourage them in a couple of areas.

I basically told them:

  1. This should also be fun for us.  We are making it for the kids, but let’s not forget that we can also enjoy the time together.
  2. Be spiritually ready!  My greatest wish is that  the kids experience the love of Jesus through us.
  3. We are dealing with kids between 8-10 years old, and that offers some special challenges.
  4. Be flexible.  We are doing some things for the first time, and all the plans are not 100% set in stone.

Over the last couple of days I have been thinking that this kind of advice should be mandatory before someone starts a job.

What if every new hire received a letter outlining some basic things about the job and the corporation?


What do you as a boss expect the atmosphere to be like?  Since most of the workers at the camp were taking vacation time to invest in the kids, I wanted them to know that I was expecting an atmosphere where they could and should also have fun.  We wanted a fairly stress-free environment, where the kids were able to enjoy and learn in an atmosphere that did not place too much stress on us.

Some work atmospheres are obviously different.  There are job givers who pride themselves on creating a very fun and free atmosphere.  But other situations demand something different.  What atmosphere do you want to create?  Some questions to ask:

What do I want the employees to experience?  What do I want the consumers/customers to experience?  When members of the team come to work, they should feel like they are part of a…

I went to a bank once when it was casual day, and that really through me off.  I felt strange giving my money to people in jeans and t-shirts.  Creating the right atmosphere can be difficult, especially when you are trying to find the perfect balance between employee care and customer care.

Communicating your expectations in advance can also go a long way to making sure that you attract the right team mates.  It can also relieve potential worries or concerns.


I have appreciated going on trips to foreign cultures the most when I was coached a little on what to expect.  Before one trip to Central America we were told that the plumbing was not strong enough to handle our toilet paper, and that there were trash cans provided for them.  It was nice to know in advance, it helped me mentally prepare for what I might find.

What oddities does your organization have that people should be prepared for?  We recently had an intern at our gallery, and I warned her in advance of our odd hours and potential long nights for a couple of events.  I told her that the artists did not speak very good English (or German), and that we woul have to be communicating through translators.

If I was hiring someone full-time, I would tell them that a decent work-life balance has become a priority for me, however there are weeks in which that is difficult.  My hope is that our weekly schedule allows time for rest and quality time with family.  There will be weeks in which that will be challenging.

Your Normal Audience

Some people call this target audience, and while I understand the need to have a target, I have often seen that something surprising happens.  The audience you were aiming at is not at all interested – but another group is.  This leads to an interesting challenge.  Do you work with the new audience, or stubbornly hold on for the target audience?

For our camp, that was not an issue.  We had kids of a certain age, who had their own set of strengths and weaknesses.

What is true about your audience?

I work with artists, and while I love artists, but I have learned that artists see the world differently than I do.  Their creativity is something that I need, and they tend to need my organization skills.  Artists and art lovers also tend to have a different daily schedule than mine.  We were opening the gallery at 10 am every day.  We quickly discovered that this was fairly pointless.  Pushing that back a couple of hours and staying open later “fit” better.

What do your employees need to know about your customers?  How quickly do they expect responses to questions?  Do they prefer email or telephone?  Are they demanding?  Are they looking for conversation or a certain service?

We think these things should be obvious, but they aren’t.  Even if someone is coming from a similar organization, the cultural difference from one town or city to another could create different expectations.  I would expect that a gallerist in New York is different than one in Berlin.

And you might want to create a completely unique atmosphere with a unique customer base – but if you do, be sure you let you know your incoming people what that is.


Since I have often worked with very structured volunteers, and have worked at camps with a very defined schedule, I knew it was important to ask our volunteers to be especially flexible.  There were matters outside of our control that made scheduling and programming more nebulous than we would have liked, and we wanted to make sure that people knew that were were expecting and valuing a lot of flexibility.  We really could not afford people saying, “But the schedule says we should be leaving for (fill in the blank) now!”  That is not the atmosphere we wanted.

Other organizations or events may have a different expectations.  Whatever they might be, they can only be fulfilled if they are communicated.  For people who have spent a long time in an organization, this expected behavior is clear.  For those who are new, the expectations are often foreign and confusing.  Communicating them clearly can be a huge help.

What would a letter like this look like?

The sooner expectations are communicated, the better.  Communication with potential volunteers during their “application” process, or with potential employees as part of the application process is best.  The exact how will naturally vary depending on the organization itself.  More important than the expected atmosphere is clearly communicated.