How to make your workforce smarter

Date: 05-03-2015

Tagged as: Video


Chair of the Association for Business Psychology and leader of IBM’s Smarter Workforce Science Consultancy, Clodagh O’Reilly explores how businesses can optimise their most valuable asset: people.

Clodagh O’Reilly

Clodagh O’Reilly is Chair of the Association for Business Psychology and leader of IBM’s Smarter Workforce Science Consultancy.

Clodagh O’Reilly

There has never been a better time to really get to grips with workforce optimisation. The drive to improve productivity, increase efficiency, offset an ageing population and address a problematic skills gap are putting human resources (HR) firmly in the spotlight.

For many businesses, making the most of HR – the most fundamental business asset – can be perceived as more of an art form than a science. Here Smarter Workforce champion Clodagh O’Reilly shares her insight on how businesses can eliminate the guesswork and get workforce savvy.

What do you mean by a ‘smarter workforce’?

Evolving a smarter workforce is about really understanding the way that the organisation and its personnel interact to the fullest extent, and using that knowledge to empower the individuals, leaders and teams to achieve and sustain high levels of performance.

To achieve that, three things are required:

  • Insight - into overriding objectives so that all enabling solutions are aligned.
  • Gathering and application of data - no solution should be deployed without a robust exploration of the intelligence that informs it.
  • Strategic implementation - to ensure that solutions are scalable and effective long-term, with further enhanced data generated and analysed along the way.

What are the core business benefits?

For the majority of businesses, their single highest cost is their workforce – not just in terms of salaries, but also the costs associated with recruitment, training and development. The return on investment in people is crucial. If you’re not optimising your workforce, you’re eroding value in your business.

A smarter workforce offers the potential for optimal, sustainable performance at an individual and group level. This may take the form of:

  • increased productivity
  • enhanced product quality
  • higher customer satisfaction
  • reputational gains
  • improved profitability.

Within the workforce itself we would expect to see increased job satisfaction and loyalty. Across any organisation, people are motivated by results – success has a reinforcing effect, increasing engagement and further promoting smart working.

What trends are driving increased focus on smarter working?

The austerity measures brought in as a result of the economic crisis taught businesses to be more frugal - also to do more with less. The effect of surviving as a leaner organisation is that many business leaders now have little appetite for re-inflating budgets to previous levels, but instead are consolidating these efficiency gains.

We’re also seeing a change in the demands businesses place on their HR functions. It’s increasingly recognised not just as a business cost, but as a business-enabling function with subject matter experts who can deploy systems and processes to improve business effectiveness. Today’s HR function is strategic as well as operational, and that should be encouraged as a source of value.


The skills gap is also having an effect. The person/role fit is an important driver of smarter working, ideally informed by behavioural science. Workforce optimisation can be seriously compromised by lack of appropriate skills or by underutilisation of available skills. Smart businesses are assessing the true skills of their team and their capacity to learn new skills and deploying them more effectively.


How can businesses limit the impact of the skills gap?

I’d recommend four key ways to tackle this challenge.

  1. Promote the role of HR in recruitment. This might require investment to up-skill your team to undertake new activities, including:
    • actively sourcing candidates
    • engaging through various media
    • building talent pipelines aligned to strategic direction.
  2. Invest in the next generation. Apprenticeship schemes can bring immediate and ongoing returns; longer-term advantages can be secured through partnering with organisations such as Plotr¹, which offer career development support to young people.
  3. Optimise spend in workforce development. Review training and development programmes to ensure they remain fit for purpose, aligned to the business’ strategy, and consider coaching and mentoring opportunities.
  4. Explore new trends in learning programmes. We’re seeing a range of innovative and efficient techniques emerge: using social media to deliver peer-to-peer education and support, interactive/online training and employee-authored video training, for example. However, be selective when it comes to innovation: be wary of fads with unsubstantiated ability to deliver results.



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