Strategic Success Modeling (SSM) and ASSESS

Aligning People with Strategy to Achieve Success


White Paper prepared by Assess Systems, A Bigby Havis Company



Human Resource processes and systems, like other key components of the organization should directly support the strategic goals and objectives of the organization.  The strategic plan should be translated into behavioral objectives that will guide the activities of the people in the organization. This shifts the focus of Human Resource processes from rules to results and "raises the bar" on employee performance by integrating selection, performance management, training, compensation, and promotion. 


In recent years, many companies have used the concepts of competencies and competency models to define the broad behavioral capabilities necessary to achieve these behavioral objectives.  Others have used concepts such as success factors or human capital strategies to describe critical abilities and attributes desired in employees to give the organization a workforce that will be able to achieve strategic goals.   


These concepts and others focus Human Resource processes on the most important capabilities and provide a global framework for defining desired behaviors and the knowledge, skills, personal characteristics and other attributes necessary for achieving these behavioral goals. We call our version of this type of modeling for Human Resources in organizations Strategic Success Modeling.  Strategic Success Models provide the basis from which employment selection, performance appraisal, employee development, training, and other HR processes are derived.  The Strategic Success Modeling (SSM) program, as a complement to our ASSESS system, allows companies to align human resource initiatives to overall business strategy.  The following paper documents the conceptualization and validation background of the SSM process beginning with an overview and theoretical basis of competencies and competency models.


Why Competency Models?


A competency can be defined as the underlying sets of skills, knowledge, personal characteristics and abilities needed to effectively perform a role in the organization and help the business to meet its strategic objectives.  The combination of these factors lead to defining superior performance and excellence.  By using competencies as a basis for performance management, an organization can more effectively align people's attitudes and behaviors with what is needed to be competitive and successful as an organization.


The roots for competency modeling date as far back as the early 1900's when Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management from the 1920's, argued that the task of a management scientist was to break down the subject into its component parts in order to better understand behavior.  Thus, job success is best understood when broken down into its component competencies and behaviors that lead to performance.  The popularization of competencies in the workplace is credited to Hay-McBer company founder David McClelland through his work with the United States Information Agency in the 1970's.  In this work, he identified the attitudes and behaviors of outstanding officers.  This was done so that the agency could begin selecting employees on the basis of relevant criteria rather than standard screening tests that were currently being used such as IQ.  He and his team did extensive interviews with outstanding and "secure but not outstanding" performers, which focused on behavioral incidents with good and poor outcomes.  He found characteristics such as Social Sensitivity and Political Judgment to be key differentiators.  He then validated these results by developing personality measures of these competencies and evaluating them against job performance.  Later, McClelland published his results arguing that selection for many jobs should be based on competencies rather than standardized tests.  As he put it "If you want to test who will be a good policeman, go find out what a policeman does.  Follow him around, make a list of his activities, and sample from that list in screening applicants" (Lucia & Lepsinger, 1999; McClelland, 1973).   


Competency models have become widely popular in recent years.  Through their use, organizations are able to align behavior with organizational strategy and values through various organizational processes and practices. 


Competency-based Selection and Development Processes


Competency models have multiple advantages.  They clarify work expectations for individuals and create a shared understanding of expectations among individuals by using a common language across jobs and the organization.  In this way, they clearly communicate consistent standards.  In turn, Human Resource systems can be linked to this language to facilitate selection and guide development.  Selection processes increase effectiveness and efficiency when each facet of the selection process is designed to evaluate one or more of the competencies needed for the job.   For example, defined competencies help recruiters to target and evaluate potential candidates and help the organization to identify, develop, and utilize assessments and interviews that are job appropriate.  All these components help to ensure informed hiring decisions with a higher probability of selecting the best person for the role.  For individuals hired or currently employed, gaps between current and future competence can also be identified and developmental resources can be appropriately allocated for the highest gains. In short, competencies ultimately impact business results (Spencer & Spencer, 1993).

Within both selection and development contexts, competence in an area is the result of many factors working together, which include innate characteristics (natural ability, personality) and learned characteristics (knowledge, experience and skills) as is presented in the following chart. People who have the right competencies or who have a good potential for developing these competencies will be able to do the right things (behaviors) to produce the desired results (effective outcomes).


Success in a competency area is achieved through developing and building learned skills and knowledge, as well as possessing, applying, and moderating innate factors, such as personality and intelligence, that may impact the competency area.  


It is important when evaluating a person's demonstrated effectiveness, or potential to display a particular competency, that all of these factors – both innate and learned – be evaluated and considered.  The learned factors, such as knowledge, experience, skills, and learned abilities can be measured through several methods.  An evaluation of past critical experiences, specific and targeted skill assessments, a targeted, structured interview, and 360 degree feedback in a development context are just a few ways of measuring learned factors.  The innate factors can be examined through measures of intellectual ability or potential, motivators, values, interests and personality.  Through our experience and research, we have found that the ASSESS Expert System, which evaluates intellectual abilities and work-oriented personality, is an effective measure of many of the innate factors that influence the display of competencies. 



ASSESS Competency-based Assessments for Selection and Development


An Overview of the ASSESS Expert System


The ASSESS expert system evaluates the work-related personality and abilities of candidates for managerial or professional-level jobs.  It is a state-of-the-art system that administers, scores, and evaluates the results of an assessment battery and writes assessment reports much like an Assess Systems psychologist would for use in the business environment.  


ASSESS assists managers and HR professionals in two critical human resource functions: (1) Providing hiring managers constructive means for making effective decisions within the context of personnel selection, placement, and promotion decisions, and(2) Assessing and providing objective feedback regarding the long-term developmental needs of current employees.   


The ASSESS Personality Survey contains a core of standard questions which measure characteristics related to effective job performance. In a hiring context, this core may be supplemented with one or more general and/or specific ability tests (i.e. critically thinking, quantitative ability, etc.) depending upon the type of job for which the candidate is being evaluated.  ASSESS then provides important information about individuals on a number of personality traits and characteristics which can impact a person's job performance, such as energy level, assertiveness, cooperativeness, and practicality in thinking.  ASSESS provides a comprehensive assessment of the strengths and potential liabilities that a candidate is likely to bring to a position and the developmental needs of a current employee within a position. 


Personality-Competency Mapping in ASSESS


Because of the growing number of organizations that utilize competency models (i.e., job specific models, leadership models, enterprise wide models, etc.) as the strategic basis of their HR processes, it became increasingly evident that there was a need to link assessment results to these models to maintain and leverage a common language throughout HR practices.  As a result, we began receiving requests from many current and potential clients to more directly link personality to their competency model in a cost-effective way.  In the early version of ASSESS, because there was no system in place to efficiently handle this "linking," the process of mapping assessment measures to a client's competencies was both time-intensive and costly.  Given the need for this type of more automated and efficient system, the thinking from these early projects was the basis of our current version of ASSESS – which includes a new, flexible interface that quickly allows the tailoring of the ASSESS system to produce custom reports that speak directly to an organization's competency model(s). 


ASSESS allows trained ASSESS consultants to load competency model(s) directly into the ASSESS system or work with clients using the Strategic Success Modeling process to refurbish a model that is out of date or to quickly build a new model that can be loaded into ASSESS.  In either case, with the expenditure of a small amount of effort, the ASSESS system can be tailored to client-specific competency model(s) and produce selection and development reports that speak directly to these models.

The foundation of the ASSESS competency based reports is the relationship between specific personality characteristics and a particular competency.  In developing these linkages, the psychologists of Assess Systems maintained a number of guiding concepts based on their prior research:

Using these guidelines, linkages and ranges were developed based on expert judgment and prior research linking personality characteristics to job and competency success.  In developing the final content of ASSESS Competency Reports, Assess Systems psychologists:

For example, the competency of Visioning is defined as follows:

  • Views tactical problems or initiatives from a broad perspective and emphasized solutions that support strategic objectives

  • Generates new ideas/solutions that can be successfully implemented

  • Challenges and pushes the organization to constantly improve and grow

  • Identifies long-term, future goals for the organization and/or the department

  • Champions his/her ideas to successful implementation

  • Supports and champions the strategic initiatives of others


The ASSESS Personality attributes which were mapped to this competency were:

Reflective -- The tendency to be perceptive, introspective, and philosophical, as opposed to a tendency to be less contemplative

Realistic Thinking --The tendency to be an imaginative, perhaps wishful thinker, as opposed to a more practical and here-and-now thinker

Serious Minded -- The tendency to be serious-minded and deliberate in dealing with information/situations

Assertiveness -- The tendency to take the initiative with people and make one's presence felt, as opposed to a preference for remaining in the background

Self-Reliance -- Preference for relying on oneself and accepting responsibility as opposed to relying on or seeking/accepting support from others
Work Pace -- The pace at which one prefers to do things

Desirable and undesirable ranges for each characteristic were set and the corresponding mapping and a sample of interpretative statements for ASSESS are shown below:


Please see links provided in the Appendix portion of this paper for sample selection and development competency reports.


The ASSESS Strategic Success Modeling Library


At the core of the ASSESS system is a library of competencies from which client-specific competency models may be built.  In developing the competency library, we reviewed research on job success.  Also, Assess Systems in its own consulting practice has had much experience in developing competency models for numerous client organizations across a variety of roles and used this expertise in the development of the competency library.  The resulting ASSESS Strategic Success Model library is a consolidation and integration of the important concepts across many existing models, developed with the business and organizational perspective we have gained over the years from helping clients with their strategic hiring and employee development. 


The ASSESS Strategic Success Model library consists of 38 competencies grouped into three general areas: Thinking, Working and Relating.  Company-specific success models or success models tailored to a job or job class typically can be constructed from 10-15 of these competencies with some drawn from each general area.  The ASSESS SSM Competencies are provided below.





Visioning or



In-Depth Problem Solving And

       Analysis or       

       Decisive Judgment


Championing Change or

        Adapting to Change


Courage of Convictions


Business Acumen


Functional Acumen


Planning And Organizing


Driving For Results or

       Delivering Results


Quality Focus or

       Continuous Improvement or

       Policies, Processes And



Customer Focus or

      Customer Service








Continuous Learning




Teamwork and Collaboration


Influencing And Persuading

       or Persuading to Buy


Managing Others or

    Team Leadership


Coaching And Developing Others


Motivating Others


Organizational Savvy or

      Relationship Management


Negotiation or

       Conflict Management


Interpersonal Communication


Written Communication


Presentation Skills


Meeting Leadership or

        Meeting Contribution


Respecting Diversity



The ASSESS SSM library was intentionally designed to account for and accommodate the differing levels of competence that might be expected for different levels of job responsibilities within an organization.   For example, there are a number of competencies that maintain the same core components as the paired competency, but also include components appropriate and expected at a higher level in the organization.  For example, the competency "Visioning" is a higher order competency than "Innovation."  At a professional level position, it may be important for a person to be innovative in order to perform their job more effectively.  At a higher level in the organization it will be important that the individual can effectively transform this innovation into a clear vision for the organization and champion or communicate this vision to others.  Other examples of this include "Adapting to Change or Championing Change,"  "Delivering Results or Driving for Results,"  "Customer Service or Customer Focus,"  "Relationship Management or Organizational Savvy," and "Meeting Leadership or Meeting Contribution." 


In addition, there are other competencies that were paired together because of their relationship to each other.  In these instances, the general concept between the competencies is similar, but how this concept is operationalized on the job might be different.  Examples of these include:    "Managing Others or Team Leadership,"  "Influencing and Persuading or Persuading to Buy,"  "Quality Focus or Continuous Improvement or Policies, Processes and Procedures," and  "Negotiation or Conflict Management." 


As described in the prior section (Personality-Competency Mapping in ASSESS) Assess Systems psychologists have developed the linkage between the ASSESS personality characteristics and   Strategic Success Modeling competencies.  In most situations, the standard SSM library can be used or quickly adapted to fit all or most of the competencies in the organization's model.  For those circumstances where unique competencies are required to define job success, new mappings can be developed quickly and uploaded into the system. Afterwards, the ASSESS system will produce selection and development reports based on personality assessment results, and these reports will speak directly to the organization-specific or role-specific competency model.



The Strategic Success Competency Modeling Process


In response to the growing need for an efficient and effective process to develop competency models that can be easily integrated into employee selection and development programs, the industrial/organizational psychologists and the technologists of Assess Systems developed ASSESS Strategic Success Modeling (SSM).  SSM is a software-aided process designed to define the competencies important for success in a given job.


If a model has not been developed or the current model is out-of-date and needs revising, a new or revised model can be developed quickly and easily using the Strategic Success Model building process.


ASSESS Strategic Success Modeling is a process by which an organization, with the facilitation of an SSM consultant, can easily develop a new competency model for a position or group of positions, or can update an existing, outdated model. Model building is initiated with a card-sort process that is facilitated with competency cards and sorting pads for participants.  The overall process is facilitated with computer software that which is easily downloaded from the ASSESS Distributor website.


If a model has been previously developed and is current, no formal SSM process is required.  The SSM consultant, with input from Human Resources or key managers, can map the existing model directly to ASSESS using a combination of the SSM software and the ASSESS distributor website. 

Developing an effective competency model requires an analysis of the critical components of a job or set of jobs in relation to the goals of the organization.  For a competency model to be useful and accepted within the organization, there must be:


After identifying and discussing the job/jobs and establishing the scope for the competency model, an initial draft of the model is constructed from the SSM competency library using three exercises referred to as:  'The Pairs,' 'Singles,' and 'Ins.'


These exercises incorporate individual exercises as well as group discussions and consensus.  After participants verify the model as developed to this point, the modeling building process concludes by a revisit of job discussion notes to detect if any competencies that may have been missed should be added.  


After this initial draft is completed, it is refined and adjusted to fit the needs of the organization.  As a final check, job discussion notes are again revisited and reflected against the model to make final additions or changes.  Final adjustments are made to make the model as organization-specific as possible. These adjustments can include changing the titles of the competencies, rewording the definitions and the behaviors, and changing the order in which the competencies are to be displayed.  


A draft competency-based interview protocol is automatically generated by the SSM software and the ASSESS distributor website once the model is complete.  The participants, the consultant and/or key members of Human Resources refine this draft following good interview construction guidance provided by the consultant and the software.  System-provided interview questions are edited to fit the organization and new interview questions are written to address competencies not mapped to ASSESS.    


As a result of the ASSESS Strategic Success Modeling process, an organization will have a tailored competency model aligned with the organizations' business objectives.  This model is then integrated into the ASSESS Expert System to provide competency-based assessment reports for the selection of candidates and development of employees.


On-going Research


Since ASSESS and the supporting SSM software were launched at the beginning of 2003, Assess Systems has initiated on-going validation research and has begun refining the personality-competency linkages.  In addition, international studies have been conducted in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Columbia, Ecuador, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.


Additional Modules


To further support the use of competency-based assessment for development, we introduced Assess 360 and Focus 360. Assess Review for performance management was added to align this process with competencies.


Lucia, A.D. and Lepsinger, R. (1999). The Art and Science of Competency Models:  Pinpointing Critical Success Factors in Organizations. Jossey-Bass. 


McClelland, D.C. (1973)  "Testing for Competence Rather and for 'Intelligence.'" American Psychologist, 28(1), pp. 1-14.


Spencer, L M. and Spencer, S.M. (1993).  Competence at Work:  Models for Superior Performance, New York: J. Wiley & Sons.



Sample ASSESS Selection Report – []


Sample ASSESS Development Report – []