How to Create a Recruiting Strategy: Buy, Build, and Borrow

How to Create a Recruiting Strategy: Buy, Build, and Borrow

There's more to fulfilling your talent needs than just hiring.

By Sharlyn Lauby May 11, 2018
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This article is excerpted from Chapter 6 of the newly published The Recruiter's Handbook: A Complete Guide for Sourcing, Selecting, and Engaging the Best Talent (SHRM, 2018).


When organizations need to acquire talent, they have three options: buy, build, or borrow. They can "buy" talent—meaning hire someone as an employee. They can "build" talent—which involves training employees to assume new or different responsibilities. Or they can "borrow" talent—suggesting that they would find a freelancer or consultant to do the work. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of them.

Using a BUY Strategy to Find Talent

One of the most obvious advantages of hiring talent from the outside is that you can bring in skills and experience not currently within the organization. For instance, startups might need a professional with experience in getting funding. Or if the organization is launching a new product line, it might make sense to bring in a marketing professional with experience in that area.

Another advantage is having a fresh set of eyes in the organization. If the company feels that something is missing in the collaborative process, bringing in a new perspective could be the answer. Also, organizations looking to make difficult personnel changes might find that hiring from the outside helps usher in a new way of thinking. It's a reality in business that the people who got the company where it is today might not be the people who can take it to the next level.

The downside of bringing in talent from the outside is cost. Top talent is always in demand. If the company wants specific experience and skills, it will have to pay for it. And if the unemployment rate is low, organizations need to be prepared to compete by offering competitive wages and benefits.

Then there's the issue of culture. Even when organizations do a great job with their employment branding and candidate experience, new hires don't know the organization and culture. Organizations have plenty of unwritten rules that new hires need to figure out. Any external hire will have a learning curve.

Every organization needs to have some level of buy in their recruiting strategy, even in organizations that place emphasis on promoting from within. There are times when bringing in a person from the outside just makes good business sense. Examples are starting a new product or service or needing a culture change. However, in both scenarios, it's important for the new hire to understand his or her role. The company needs to set new hires up for success.

Filling Your Talent Needs with a BUILD Recruiting Strategy

Organizations that focus on building talent can concentrate on building the skills and experience they need. It's an incredibly good use of organizational resources. For that reason, building talent can be less expensive than buying it. Building talent is also great for employee morale, which can have a positive impact on employee engagement. Employees want to know that the organization is willing to invest in their success. They like to see their hard work (and the hard work of others) recognized.

On the downside, building talent can take a while. Chances are, the skills and experiences you want employees to learn aren't quick to master. That doesn't mean your current employees will be unable to learn them; it simply means that training takes time. It also means that companies need to have a clear sense of what they need. This can be incredibly difficult to identify. Many industries are moving so fast to keep up that they struggle to know what they will need six months from now, much less two years from now. That impacts their ability to develop internal talent.

First and foremost, a build recruiting tactic works best when the organization's goals allow for a long-term development plan. An example is the AT&T case study at the beginning of the chapter. The business knew that over the next decade, it would shift priorities from ABC to XYZ. Acknowledging future priorities allowed it time to identify the skills that employees currently have, the ones they would need, and a path to bridge the gap. It also allowed the company to allocate resources over time to address skills gaps and needs.

The build tactic also works very well when the workforce is stable. Obviously, organizations don't want to train and develop people so they will leave. That being said, this discussion isn't about zero turnover. Turnover is inevitable. Organizations cannot be afraid to develop talent for fear of being poached. In fact, the opposite is true—developing talent is a way to engage and retain employees.

Finally, the build tactic works to help companies develop their succession plan. According to HR People + Strategy, two-thirds of U.S. public and private companies admit they have no formal succession plans in place for senior management. It seems only logical that, if companies aren't planning for the departure of senior executives, they're probably not dedicating significant resources toward succession planning (or replacement planning) for the rest of the organization.

Even if you're sourcing and selecting the best candidates right now, at some point, you may need to consider a build strategy. It's better to think about succession planning now because it takes time to develop people and see the results. For example, Pew Research reported that 10,000 people each day turn 65. While not all Baby Boomers are leaving at the same time, someday, eventually, they will leave. The best time to think about the future of talent in your organization is when you can address it proactively. Plan ahead and put a build strategy in place long before you need it.

Leveraging a BORROW Recruiting Strategy to Meet Your Staffing Needs

Many organizations, regardless of size, have a need for specialized skills. They don't need it all the time—but when they do, it's important. Instead of hiring a full-time employee, organizations can hire a freelancer, contractor, or consultant. Another option is hiring part-time, on-call, or seasonal workers.

According to The Intuit 2020 Report, more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be independent workers by the year 2020. Please note: this is right around the corner. Regardless of the reason for the increase in self-employment (and there are many), organizations have an opportunity to leverage independent work by borrowing talent when they need it.

But using a borrow strategy involves a mindset shift. For years, organizations have associated freelancers as "temporary" or "dispensable" workers. Those days are over. To successfully implement borrow tactics, organizations should view contingent workers as an essential piece of their staffing strategy.

The biggest advantage to borrowing talent is the proper utilization of resources. Organizations can get specialized talent when they need it, at the moment they need it, without hiring a full-time employee. In addition, companies can keep their existing talent engaged. For example, companies don't have to lose the knowledge and experience of employees transitioning into semi-retirement or former employees looking for a "side hustle."

Keeping both freelancers and employees engaged can be challenging. A benefit of successful borrow tactics is having freelancers who are available when the company needs them, but they must feel connected to the organization to stay. Engaging contingent workers means managing them in a new way. Likewise, keeping employees engaged means making sure they understand the organization's strategy and do not feel threatened by a consultant working on a regular basis.

Companies also need to find ways to keep consultants and contractors connected even when they aren't working on a project. Managers must be able to effectively select, engage, and maintain relationships with their freelancing team. Vendor management isn't simply a skill for procurement departments; it's a skill that needs to be developed at every level.

The Ideal Way to Implement a Borrow Strategy

While certain industries (for example, hospitality and retail) have been using contingent workers for decades, using a borrow strategy isn't contained to one type of business. Businesses that have defined peaks and valleys might find that contingent workers are a great way to staff up during busy times and staff down during slower ones.

It can also be valuable to find similar companies that have peaks and valleys the opposite of yours. Helping talented freelancers find other gigs is great for engagement! For example, I worked at a hotel with a defined busy and slow season. We found that the city's local sports teams had the opposite busy and slow season. The jobs were similar in responsibilities, pay, etc. When our employees couldn't get all their hours with us, they knew they could work someplace else.

A tenured workforce is another opportunity to use borrow tactics. There's lots of talk about the benefits of doing some work during retirement. As employees start to discuss retirement, companies can let them know that freelance or consulting work is available. It's a win for the employee who might want a few extra dollars and a win for the company because it gets to keep employee knowledge a bit longer. The same philosophy applies to anyone who might be leaving traditional jobs to freelance and have more freedom with their time. Organizations do not have to lose an employee's knowledge and skills. It's possible that employees leaving full-time jobs would be open to part-time work arrangements.

Every job is not a full-time job. Part of a recruiter's role is to make sure that the jobs created are truly necessary and provide value. That includes contingent worker jobs. Companies can develop a well-publicized contingent workforce strategy that supplies the talent they need and helps with retention. But it takes developing a new recruiting mentality and treating freelancers as an extension of the workforce.

Organizations Need to Weigh Time and Resources

The decision to build, borrow, or buy comes down to two factors: time and resources. Organizations with limited time might not be able to build talent. Companies with limited budgets might not be able to buy the talent they need. Talent acquisition professionals can take the information they've compiled in their workforce plan and use it to develop their recruiting strategy. Companies should think about their current and future skills needs and then plan accordingly. For example, if an organization wants to build its own talent pipelines, then it should start planning for how it is going to do that. It might involve replacement planning, succession planning, talent pools, training resources, dedicated training staff, and other strategies.

Please visit the SHRMStore to order your member-discounted copy of The Recruiter's Handbook: A Complete Guide for Sourcing, Selecting, and Engaging the Best Talent by Sharlyn Lauby.

Sharlyn Lauby, SHRM-SCP, is the author of HR Bartender blog and president of ITM Group Inc., a Florida-based training and human resource consulting firm focused on helping companies retain and engage talent. The author of two SHRM titles The Recruiter's Handbook and Manager Onboardingher personal goal in life is to find the best cheeseburger on the planet.

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