SCARF model


The SCARF model explores the core issues that drive engagement at work. Based on recent neuroscientific research, these assessments identify how well an organization or manager is providing people with what the brain requires in social settings for optimal performance and engagement.

There are five main domains that when either positively or negatively affected, can have a major impact on one’s motivation and engagement levels.


  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

When it comes to almost anything, but particularly anything within these domains, the brain is wired to look at them as either a threat (negative), or reward (positive). When we are threatened in any of the domains, this creates an away response. We retract, are unable to process complex thoughts, think clearly or take in new ideas. When we are rewarded, or feel positive in any of these domains, we become motivated, are happy, able to think clearly, make the right decisions, have insights and make less mistakes. We have a towards response.


How does it feel when someone puts you down in front of others? That horrible, deflating feeling comes from an attack to your status. Our brains are naturally drawn to things that increase how we feel about ourselves in relation to others here are a few tips from David Rock for increasing one’s status;

  • Openly praise and give positive feedback in front of others. ‘Constructive’ feedback should be useful and done in private.
  • Help people achieve more. In a work setting, help them break large projects down into smaller parts so that there is a sense of achievement. When we achieve, our feeling of status goes up. Rather than give promotions to roles, which may be outside of someone’s ability, try giving people special projects to work on that are based upon their skills set. Create a sense of ‘importance’.
  • Focus on their learning and their development. When people feel they’ve learned something new and are ‘better’ their status goes up.

When there is uncertainly looming in any area of our life, it can consume our thoughts. You may have been in a situation when your manager has been vague or ambiguous about you in your role, or what they expect from you. How did it feel to have that uncertainty?

  • When dealing with staff, communicate your expectations clearly up front, and allow the employee to ask questions that will give them 100% certainty of what you expect. Make sure you make it comfortable for them to ask questions.
  • If you have to speak about a challenging subject (either as a manager, partner or friend), don’t create a sense of uncertainty a long time before the conversation will take place. For example, ‘I need to have a discussion about your performance on this project, how does next week sound?’ will negatively impact the performance of an employee.
  • Help people plan and organize their thoughts or work. Having a plan in place creates a sense of certainty, even when it may or may not be used.

We like to feel as if we are in control of the things in our life. Being in control means having choice. How many people do you know that have left a job because they were micro-managed? People leave jobs in the hope that they can have some sort of control over their work.

  • Don’t micro-manage!
  • Give people options. Try the statement: ‘here’s two different options, what would you prefer?’ You’ll get a much better reaction than: ‘Here’s what you need to do’
  • Give the perception of autonomy – in work, allow people to have flexibility around how they organize their day, their workspace, work hours can give employees a sense of control over their life.

Relatedness refers to how connected we feel to someone or a group of people. Whether they’re a friend – someone who ‘gets’ us and is on our side, or a foe – someone who you don’t connect with, doesn’t understand you or is in competition with you.

  • No doubt, you would have encountered a lot of both varieties in your life! How does it feel when you really connect with someone? You’re much more open to hearing their ideas and engaging with them in meaningful dialogue. You’re also willing to give more. Here are some tips to increase relatedness:
  • Create safe spaces to increase relatedness with others. For example, setting up buddies or mentoring and coaching relationships that are well defined.
  • Take the time to understand people and really hear what they are saying. In a manager and employee relationship, it’s important to ensure that your employee sees you as someone that’s on his or her side. You can do this by ensuring that you’re listening to them and communicating with them in a respectful way.

There is nothing more de-motivating than feeling as if you have been treated unfairly. You see this commonly amongst siblings. If one feels that the others are being treated more fairly, it creates an intense away response. When you feel as if you are being treated fairly, you are more engaged in what you are doing. Here’s some tips for creating a towards state of being in fairness:

  • Ensure that the same set of rules apply for everyone.
  • Involve groups or teams (or even family members) in setting the rules, so that everyone feels included and agrees on what is considered ‘fair’.
  • Establish clear expectations from the start so that people know what they need to set out to do and cannot argue that they have been treated unfairly if they haven’t performed.

Keep the SCARF model top of mind and identify where you are creating a towards or an away response with people in your life. Ask yourself, to be more effective in my interactions with this person, what do I need to improve on in these five domains?


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