The Tooth Fairy and Other Talent Management Tales

March 21, 2016 | David Lee | HCI
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The little girl was horrified when she realized the implications of what just happened.

She had just lost her tooth by the pool on vacation. She had NOT lost her tooth at home, and therefore, how would the tooth fairy know this had happened and leave her whatever swag the tooth fairy leaves in her family.

She expressed her dismay to her parents as they lounged by the pool at the Ritz Carlton property, where they were vacationing. They assured her that everything would be OK.

They had no idea how OK things would be.

The parents and their little girl went out exploring that afternoon and returned to the hotel later in the day. When they walked through the doors at the Ritz Carlton, the little girl stared, her mouth agape.

There, in the lobby, stood the tooth fairy.

The little girl knew exactly who the tooth fairy was waiting for.

She ran up to the tooth fairy and gave her a huge hug. The smiling tooth fairy hugged her back and handed her an epic tooth fairy swag bag, full of Ritz Carlton-quality goodies.

A “Wow” Story That Can Also Be an “Attract A-List Talent” Story

I heard this story from Diana Oreck when she was the VP of Ritz Carlton’s Leadership Center. We co-presented at an ERE conference a few years ago on how employers can use storytelling to dial up the effectiveness of their Talent Management efforts—from attracting A-List Talent, to the hiring process, to new hire orientation, to keeping employees inspired and engaged, to coaching.

Diana used this story as an example of a “Wow” story Ritz Carlton uses to communicate their vision of world class customer to employees and their guiding philosophy of anticipating and meeting unexpressed wishes of their guests. It’s a stellar example of how employers can use stories to make cultural values understandable and actionable, rather than leaving them as abstract concepts that live only on wall plaques and unread leadership retreat documents.

Ritz Carlton leaders share these “Wow Stories” on a weekly basis with their teams as a way to provide clear examples of what great service, the Ritz Carlton way, looks and sounds like on the job.

This story and those like it, though, can also be used in the talent attraction component of Talent Management.

Think about what A-List Talent wants in an employer. They want to:

  1. Work for an employer they can feel proud of.
  2. Work with other “A-List Talent”.
  3. Get the chance to make a difference.
  4. Get the chance to do great things.

Stories that communicate that YOUR organization provides this opportunity will help separate you from all the other employers competing for A-List Talent who just communicate in unsubstantiated abstractions like “You’ll get to do great work here” and “Employees are our greatest asset”, and “You’ll get to work on exciting projects with great people.”

Anyone can make those claims. Not everyone can tell YOUR organization’s stories about what makes you a great employer.

To Put This Into Action

  1. Have someone interview selected employees for examples of what makes you a great place to work, especially those examples (i.e. stories) that show how you satisfy the key attraction and engagement drivers of today’s talent.
  2. Collect stories from delighted customers, clients, or patients that demonstrate the great work that your organization does—and why A-List Talent would be proud to work in your organization.
  3. Curate and categorize these stories so you know what ones to share when and for what purpose. The more clear and intentional you are with why and when you tell a particular story, the more effective will be your use of storytelling in Talent Management. So for instance, for one particular applicant, you might want to share a “Here’s why you can be proud to work here” story that speaks to your high standards and operational excellence, while with another, you would want to share a “Here’s how employees get to make a difference, how they get to make an impact, in our organization” story.
  4. Curate these stories and teach them to managers, and better still, all employees, so they can act as informal recruiters at networking events and conferences. 


David Lee
Founder and Principal, HumanNature@Work

David Lee is the founder of HumanNature@Work ( and an internationally recognized authority on practices that optimize employee engagement and performance. He is the author of Managing Employee Stress and Safety as well as over sixty articles and book chapters that have been published in trade journals and books in North America, Europe, China, India, and Australia.

In addition to his own research and work with both struggling and high performance businesses, Lee’s work draws from a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, peak performance technology, anthropology, trauma and resilience research, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology.

Taking this research, which typically doesn’t find its way into the business world, Lee translates these principles of human nature into leadership and managerial practices that optimize employee performance.

Using the popular TV show The Dog Whisperer as an analogy for the difference understanding human nature makes, Lee’s work helps leaders and managers become “Employee Whisperers.”

For more of his articles, go to