“Buy-Make-Sell” in Talent Management


For those who’s had this discussion on talent management would know that I’ve been using the “Buy-Make-Sell” model to describe what a Talent Management framework would look like.

I first came across this model in a manufacturing company where the operations manager was trying to describe the plant’s manufacturing process from the procurement of raw materials, the manufacturing of the goods and the selling of the finished product. That was when I fell in love with the model. It was simple and easy to follow.

During one of my early stint as a HR business partner, I started exploring the then-trend of “skills inventory” and deriving employees’ individual training needs based on their role and function.

It wasn’t much of an issue back in those days as average tenure was much longer than today’s. This also means to employees stayed longer in roles and take longer to move up. The other observation I had was that development plans were often in-function as compared to being crossed-function.

Today, there is a lot more employee mobility and there is a bigger emphasis on cross functional skill sets.

That created a rather complex problem. First, there is a shorter runway for employees to be developed in role (before they look for the next move), and secondly, the cross functional skill sets are often picked up by trial and error as compared to an intentional developmental plan.

As I took a step back to look at this talent issue on hand, I realized that it’s not a training or retention issue. Some of the earlier interventions which I felt was a quick fix was to slap on a training bond or retention to lock the employees in so that the company can justify the returns on investment.

However, that doesn’t address the root cause of the issue, and employees are staying because they had to, not because they want to.

What went wrong? So, I started tracing the issues and thought about what I would do to mitigate the issues in the simplest manner.

All my answers eventually pointed to “career succession”.   Do note that this is very different from “leadership succession”.

For the full talent management cycle to be complete, employees need to be able to visualize and plan their career where they can map what the next role(s) would look like, understand what are the gaps in getting there. This can be employee driven, manager driven or even company driven. Ideally, employees should be self-motivated to want to plan their career, and not wanting to move up or move to a new role is perfectly fine. Company could provide the framework and support. Managers to facilitate the process.

Let’s look at how it all comes together graphically.

By adopting the simple Buy-Make-Sell model, we look can look at talent management in the following three stages:

  • Acquisition
  • Development
  • Career Succession

Roles are being filled either with external or internal hires. This is quite straight forward. There is seldom a 100% fit in role, and one would expect candidates brought into a new role would require a certain degree of training and orientation to get to their full potential.

That brings us into the development stage. There’s two parts to that. Development within the role and development for the new role. As the employee plans his/ her career within the organization, a development plan is put in place to look at skill sets that this employee would need to acquire.

As we move into career succession, the employee moves into a new role already acquiring some of the necessary skills in his/ her development prior to the move. The employee thus moves back to stage 1, where he/ she is brought into the new role through the acquisition process.

I do need to state that this is a simplistic way of looking at talent management. There is a lot more complexity with how the entire career plan for the employee would come together, right down to looking at compensation outside of range for cross-functional moves etc.

Although the model also caters to majority of the employees, it doesn’t really cover the high potential and a lot more thoughts would need to go into adapting this for management trainee program.

I hope this is useful for those who are new to talent management, and would also love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Talent management is something that I feel passionate about. It is also constantly evolving and there is so much more for me to learn.

Happy Thursday and have a wonderful week ahead!

Eric Wong

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Eric Wong is APAC Head of Talent Acquisition Leader at Fitbit. His experience spans across the various human resource functions such as HR Information Systems, Business Partnering and Talent Management. Eric currently sits on the Advisory Board of the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS). Connect with him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter @ErickyWong.

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