Should you build, buy, or borrow your talent?

Organisations today are trying hard to attract the millennials to work for them. They realise that if their customers (and future customers) are going to be millennials, they better have products developed by the same ilk. Else, they would be just gearing up for the famous “generation gap” between what they serve and what their customers want. A perfect recipe for failure.

So, HR managers of organisations – large and small – are constantly figuring out whether they should build, buy, or borrow their talent. ‘Build’ refers to developing internal resources through training to create specific skills required for the organisation. ‘Buy’ refers to acquiring new resources and talent through acquisitions. ‘Borrow’ refers to getting access to talent for a certain period through contractual relationships or alliances. You can call it the ‘Uber’ style of hiring if you want.

Much has been said and written about the ‘build’ and ‘buy’ strategies in the past. The ‘build’ approach is still considered fundamental if you want to create a talent pool for a new set of skills unavailable in the market. It also allows organisations to train and skill the people as per their precise requirements while keeping cultural values intact. If you can’t build your resources in-house, for whatever reasons, you ‘buy’ from outside. In the past, it was as simple as that.

However, the present scenario is a little different. In today’s startup environment, companies are increasingly looking at the ‘borrow’ approach. The reason is simple – most millennials don’t want to be bound by a formal job contract. Also, startups may not have the resources to train and build their talent from scratch. “Borrow could emerge to be the most disruptive HR strategy,” says Manu Narang Wadhwa, HR head, Coca Cola.

The ‘borrow’ approach is great news for the millennials many of who abhor the 9-5 work shift, want greater variety of assignments and teams, want more flexibility, may not want to work every day, and pursue their passion while working. Sujaya Banerjee, CEO, Capstone People Consulting cites the example of Instagram which is valued at $1 billion and employs only 13 fulltime employees. “All others work in other creative format,” she says.

Pop up teams, as they are called, are going to increasingly be a standard feature for delivering work across organisations, says Banerjee. “These are an ensemble of people who work for themselves or are available to work part-time but bring unique capabilities to contribute to the requirements of tasks and teams. The definition of workforce itself is undergoing a dramatic change in VUCA times with contract employees, consultants, project executives, insourcing, outsourcing and other interesting formats of contributing to an assignment. Shared services using consulting etc. have existed for some time but the concept of fulltime employee is going to reduce dramatically as work challenges and solutions require experts to come in with generative solutions,” she says.

‘Borrow’ also allows an organisation to stay lean. By borrowing talent, startups benefit from a cheaper workforce, and workers get to enjoy greater flexibility. But the key challenge with this approach is in maintaining the cultural integrity within the organisation. Cultural fit is the congruence between individual and organisational values and a very critical element in building success within the organisation. As long as you are able to weave in the cultural aspect, ‘borrow’ can work out to be a great strategy, say experts.

Drivezy, a self-drive car rental startup believes in ‘borrowing’ talent in specific cases such as short-term projects which do not require permanent employees. “In the early days of a startup, the business might take a different trajectory in a short span of time, making the current skill-set redundant. It would be an injustice on our part if we adopted a hire and fire strategy every time this happened. At a startup, each role is valued at the time it is being performed, and it would be unethical on our part to hire long-term employees if we knew that there is no future for them with us,” says Ashwarya Pratap Singh, CEO and co-founder of Drivezy.

‘Borrowing’ often works out as win-win for both the employees and employers. Millennials want to be seen as innovators and stay clear from anything that sounds mundane. They would rather work as a freelancer in a startup doing some crazy but exciting stuff than work in some routine project in a large corporation bound by a formal contract. Yes, they prefer to be ‘borrowed’ than ‘bought’. They realise the value of freedom more than anyone else. A life with no strings attached, indeed!

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Ayushman Baruah
Ayushman Baruah is the founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Startup Observer. With 10+ years of rich experience in journalism spanning across newspaper, magazine, and news wire, Ayushman takes a conscious effort to stay away from the rat's race and the noise of breaking news. The Startup Observer is a noble initiative to serve the readers with ideas that go beyond news. In 2013, Ayushman won the prestigious 15th Annual PoleStar Award in jury's category for excellence in technology journalism. He loves writing, public speaking, observing, travelling, aquariums, and anything that makes him think. He believes in keeping his feet on the ground but eyes on the stars.