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Wear your SCARF if you want to improve your Employee & Customer Experience...

Put your SCARF on!

In any organisation, there are people that we manage, and people who manage us. Influencing people to want to perform is the secret of good management (Leadership). And sometimes, we need a way of managing our managers. And other times, we just need to be able to manage the people on, for example, a cross functional / project team. One way of thinking about social interactions is to use the SCARF model, which can help to make those interactions more successful. As a manager of front line service employees, considering (wearing) SCARF can have a huge impact on how your employees perform. Let me explain a bit. Unlike many other motivational theories, the SCARF model is relatively new – it was first published in 2008 by David Rock. SCARF is an acronym.

  • Status, which is about relative importance to others.

  • Certainty, which concerns being able to predict the future.

  • Autonomy, which provides people a sense of control over events.

  • Relatedness, which is a sense of safety with others.

  • Fairness, which is a perception of fair exchanges between people.

Behind all this, is the idea that our brain will make use behave in ways that try to minimise perceived threats and maximise rewards; and that the brain reacts in the same way to social needs as to our primary needs like food and water. So, if a stimulus is associated with positive emotions or rewards, you will probably approach it. But if it is associated with negative emotions or punishments, you will perceive it as a threat and you will probably avoid it. That all sounds pretty straightforward. Therefore, you can use the SCARF model to plan interactions with other people in such a way that you minimize threats and maximize rewards in each of the five areas (or domains, as they’re called). And, even better, you can use the technique to go on and activate the other person’s reward response, and so motivate that person more effectively by using their internal reward system. If a person feels that they are being threatened, their primitive emotional brain – particularly the amygdala – will work quickly to protect them, and this reduces their ability for rational thought, to make decisions, to solve problems, and to collaborate – which are the things, I imagine, you want your staff to do. What makes the SCARF model so useful, is that it identifies the five domains that activate the primary reward or primary threat circuitry in a person’s brain. According to David Rock: “Data gathered through measures of brain activity, using fMRI and electroencephalograph (EEG) machines or gauging hormonal secretions, suggests that the same neural responses that drive us toward food or away from predators are triggered by our perceptions of the way we are treated by other people”. Apparently, being ostracised activates similar neural responses to being hungry; threats to our social status elevate cortisol levels in the same way as happens with chronic anxiety and sleep deprivation; and unpredictability uses the same areas in the brain as physical pain. So, if your team feel that they are going to receive a reward, they will bring more cognitive resources, more insights, more ideas for action, fewer perceptual errors, and have a wider field of view. Whereas, if they feel threatened, they’ll experience reduced working memory, a reduced field of view, a generalised threat feeling, and err on the side of pessimism. So which would you prefer? How would you like them to feel? In his article successful educators, trainers and facilitators intuitively use the SCARF model, David Rock suggests SCARF “is not new. People have been using it for ages – the very people we identify as showing emotional intelligence”. Let’s take a closer look at these five domains:

  1. Status – this is our sense of worth, it’s where we fit into the hierarchy at work both socially and organisationally. Status is a significant driver of workplace behaviour. If your boss has had his status threatened, it may help you to understand his behaviour, when you find that he’s taking it out on you, if you know about this model.

  2. Certainty – clarity and certainty are important. A person’s brain uses fewer resources in familiar situations than unfamiliar ones. And working with a lack of clarity can increase a person’s stress levels and impair their ability to make effective balanced decisions.

  3. Autonomy – gives a person a sense of control over what they do. A person’s brain will process the lack of autonomy as a threat situation (and this will lead to more stress), whereas being promised more autonomy actually activates the reward system in the brain.

  4. Relatedness – we’re social animals, and we naturally form social groups and build relationships. These groups build mutual trust and form a barrier against the unknown. This leads to the production of oxytocin, which increases the positive feeling of trust and stabilises these relationships. It helps build the team.

  5. Fairness – if a person thinks something is unfair, their brain automatically goes into defence mode. A strong response from a person that removes the unfairness can activate the reward centre of the brain.

That leads to the idea of taking stock of the five domains before interacting with a group, particularly a service team – whether they are your reportees or people you are on a team with – and ensuring that they are all positive in order to get the most out of that group of people. It also provides a framework for understanding your own responses after an interaction with your own boss.

Get in touch if you would like to find out more.

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