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  • Matt Raskin

Talent: Buy, Borrow or Build

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

The Balance


Nothing impacts organizational performance and culture like the people we select to become a part of our company.

Ensuring we get the right talent for the right opportunity is one of the most challenging and essential responsibilities we own. To help select the right talent, we must understand what we are looking for in the role we are hiring (need help - Clarity: Goals, Roles & Behaviors).

We must also leverage different perspectives to balance the short and long term realities of the organization, customers, and employees. To balance selecting the right skills against the right organizational needs, we must decide if we should buy, borrow or build our talent.

  • Buy: Should we hire this talent as part of this organization?

  • Borrow: Should we partner with contractors to complete this work?

  • Build: Should we build the talent we need over time?

Selecting the right talent strategy should balance the needs, capabilities, and capital of the organization. Next, we will take a look at each of these strategies to explore the intention, pros & challenges with each option.

Buying Talent


When we buy talent, we choose to define this role as a part-time or full-time (W2) employee of the organization. In this capacity, the role participates in organizational benefits, technologies, services, and growth opportunities.

When we buy talent, we usually need them to be able to hit the ground running. We are looking at the required skills or experiences for the position with the understanding that salary and benefits expectations will be market dependent.

The current market demand for these skills, experiences, and available talent pool will determine the market rate for this role, adjusted based on geography.

For example, when we look at software engineering as a segment, there are more jobs available than talent. As you would expect, their salary and benefits expectations are high for in-demand talent.

Buying talent makes sense when we believe that the investment in this role supports the longer-term vision & goals of the organization, employees, and customers we support. Buying talent should also identify and select specific experiences, skills, and abilities required to help our organization grow.

Buying Talent: What Should We Expect To Pay?

Figuring out where to start can be tricky, here are two quick recommendations to get us rolling.

01 | HR Professional: We recommend starting with an internal or external HR professional. These individuals can help develop position/job descriptions and develop cash compensation ranges based on the role, market/labor realities, and geography. Salary fluctuates across different locations (Minneapolis vs. San Francisco), and we should prepare for varied expectations.

02 | PayScale: There are many salary benchmark services, we've found success in leveraging PayScale. Developing pay ranges are as much an art as science, but PayScale does a good job building solid compensation foundations. None of these services are perfect, but they can be a great starting point.

Be prepared to pay a bit of money for HR or compensation services. These fees tend to be fractional when compared to the salary we will be spending.


Pros: Buying Talent

  • Good hires impact our short & long-term performance & culture.

  • Talent Mobility: Good talent should help grow different parts of the organization through different roles, over time.

  • Potential infusion of industry or role experience can accelerate the perspectives, maturity, and growth of the organization.

  • Usually able to be instantly productive.

Cons: Buying Talent

  • Market conditions and available talent pool drive compensation rates and expectations.

  • Poor hires can negatively impact the culture and performance of our organization, and performance management is both time, resource, and energy-intensive.

  • While cash compensation gets the most attention, traditional benefits (health care, 401K etc.) can be large expenses, costing the organization 15-20% (as an estimate) of the employee's salary.


Borrowing Talent

When we decide to borrow talent, we are looking to contract an individual or organization to outsource the work.

Borrowing talent generally allows us the ability to access specific skills, expertise, and experiences. When borrowing talent (using 1099 or outsourced services contracts), we should expect to pay a premium for the projects provided and hours worked.

Borrowing talent allows us to scale skills up or down quickly within our organization. Provided that a majority of work is project or time based, it also becomes easier to extend, limit, or eliminate contracts as it makes sense.

Borrowing talent makes the most sense when work is limited, time-based, well-defined, established, and understood. Temporary staffing augmentation, specific marketing projects, or new market/product exploration tend to be great opportunities for borrowing talent.

1099 Vs. W2: There Is A Difference!

One big issue we see is when organizations borrow talent but treat them like employees. Fundera put together a great resource to help businesses understand the contractual, behavioral differences, and expectations between a W2 & 1099 contractor.

Remember, always work with internal or external HR partners to understand the needs and expectations of any contracted role.


Pros: Borrowing Talent

  • Fast access to skilled and experienced practitioners

  • Contracts are generally project or time-specific allowing for more dynamic adjustments in the relationship

  • Limited to no benefits or internal services costs tend to be incurred

Con: Borrowing Talent

  • Project and hourly premiums tend to be higher costs

  • The organization has limited controls over the contracted relationship and expectations

  • Leveraging an external relationship is still work and will require time, attention, and intentional focus

  • The knowledge that talent gains leaves when the contract is over (we often call this brain drain)

Building Talent


When we build talent, we make a mindful selection of individuals based on their potential, not necessarily their current skill set. Similar to buying talent, we intend to hire a part or full-time employee (W-2) to the organization. The difference is committing to helping this individual grow into their role within the company.

This is often the choice many organizations make, without a strong understanding of what is required to accomplish this task.

If our talent strategy is - "They will figure it out" - please don't build your talent, instead buy your talent. Growing talent requires long-term perspectives, and the ability to invest our time, effort, energy, and capital into emerging talent.

Building talent makes sense when our internal expertise and systems help onboard, mentor, and grow new talent. Building talent works well when there is a directed career path (Entry-Level Support to Support Supervisor to Product Manager, etc.) for employees to grow within.

Apprenticeships can be alternative ways to build talent. This approach usually establishes a tight 1:1 relationship that allows for high levels of engagement, coaching, mentorship, and knowledge transfer.

Building Talent: 70, 20, 10

Understanding how to grow talent starts by understanding how adults learn. The 70/20/10 approach provides a framework to understand how adults best learn and grow.

70%: Experience

Think about when we learned the most? The odds are good we thought of an experience we've had vs. a training video. We tend to learn the most through our experiences and opportunities. When given the chance to leverage and expand our new skills in action, we tend to see high levels of growth and development in talent.

20%: Coaching & Community

Peer and manager feedback are fundamental to developing new skills. When we have a network to supply feedback and direction, it helps employees leverage the experiences (70%) provided. The feedback and coaching should be provided frequently and from multiple sources (managers, coaches, peers, and partners).

10%: Classic Training & Courses

Without some fundamental training, courses, or conferences, the coaching, and experiences we provide tend to fall short. Virtual courses and resources are more diverse and accessible than ever before. We traditionally think of employee growth as courses, and while this is an important part of the process, it is less impactful than we hope.


Pros: Growing Talent

  • We tend to develop deeper more personal relationships that support higher engagement & tenure levels

  • We are able to develop the specific skills, abilities, and approaches we need to see within our organization

  • Building talent allows us the ability to expand opportunities and access to more people

  • Talent we build is often more loyal to the organization

Con: Growing Talent

  • Significant time & effort are needed up-front, to get employees started on the right path

  • Longer-term planning is needed to ensure proper systems are defined to grow employees effectively

  • Programs may require several months of operations before desired outputs are realized

Combining courses, coaching, and intentional experiences build an environment where growth can be optimized. If we've decided that building talent is a strategy, we must be intentional and create the optimal conditions for growth. Growing talent is challenging work, but when done right can completely change the health of our organization, the growth of our employees, and the success of our customers.

Moving Forward


Deciding on our Buy, Borrow or Build talent strategy helps our organization solve for short & long-term needs. Before hiring, take the time to slow down and evaluate the best talent strategy for our customers, company & employees.


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