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The question at the heart of every succession planning process: To Buy or to Build?


One way to think about succession planning is to think of it as the pursuit of ensuring that you have the right people in the right positions at the right time. Some organisations think of this as “future-proofing” themselves against market developments, putting skills in place to enable growth and to best ensure continued performance into the medium- and long-term.


One of the key issues that anyone engaged in this process will come up against is the question of whether you are better off buying in fresh talent or building the skills of existing employees. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages in both courses of action.


To Buy


Hiring from outside holds a number of key advantages for businesses working to move talent into the right places in an organisation. Buying in talent means increasing the ability to acquire particularly specialised skills; perhaps, in particular, those skill-areas created by rapidly changing market demands. It also allows a company to benefit from a crucial influx on new ideas and fresh perspectives. External talent is not beholden to “the way it’s always been done” and will likely bring experiences from other organisations that might provide the basis for a change of direction.


The other side of this coin, however, is that external talent is unproven within your organisation, and can be seen as more of a risk than a “known” insider. While a robust recruitment process should weed out those who really aren’t capable or willing to work, there is always the potential for recruiting a candidate who is simply not a “good fit”. In addition, external recruitment is expensive – both in terms of the costs involved with attracting and assessing top talent, as well as the inevitable costs involved with onboarding, and the time-lag between starting work and building up to maximum effectiveness in a role.


To Build


Talent that you build and develop from inside an organisation will, of course, be more of a known quantity than an outside hire. You will have been invested far more in their development journey, with the opportunity to feed into their development to train them to your organisation’s “specification”. You will also have had greater opportunity to assess how they might perform in a particular role, while enjoying the benefits of increased engagement that can come from offering greater internal development and mobility opportunities.  
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