Business Bites: The SCARF model

Nick Walsh FBDO
ABDO head of corporate development

Teams who know each other well show strong relatedness

As a manager/leader, you should be creating an environment where staff can perform at their best and flourish. To do this, you need to be able to eliminate/reduce threats and maximise rewards.

What is SCARF?

Developed in 2008 by David Rock, CEO of Results Coaching International, the SCARF model focuses on:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness


How an individual feels in relation to others such as colleagues, managers, friends, etc. At work, a person’s status can be increased by success, inclusion, recognition, promotion and praise. It can be eroded by criticism, exclusion and failure.

Eliminate/reduce threats
How you handle feedback will be the important factor here. Irrespective of whether the feedback is positive or formative, the timing, environment, content and tone will all play a huge part. Feedback should be given as soon as possible after the event that dictates it. There is little point trying to give feedback days, weeks or even months after the event. If formative feedback is needed, try asking the individual for their feedback on the event first. You may be surprised by their views and learnings. Don’t over promote individuals. You’ll only be setting them up for failure.

Maximise reward
Recognise your talented team. Regular praise when there are successes, plus recognition of individual’s contribution to a team success, are great ways to reward without monetary input. Recognising an individual’s increased capabilities in their role and the business through promotion (with an associated salary increase) helps that individual to grow – but also indicates the routes to career success for other members of the team.


An individual’s need for clarity and direction. For some, this may be driven by routine. Change of routine can have a negative impact for some – something to consider within your change management.

Eliminate/reduce threats
Uncertainty can lead to a fear of the unknown. If you are planning business changes, as part of your change management plan, keep communicating with the team. Encourage them to ask questions and to express concerns. You may need to help the team understand larger scale change by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable projects that make it easier to see when and where they may be impacted and/or need to contribute. Have a clear strategy, clear plans, clear goals and communicate these with the team regularly.

Maximise reward
Very few individuals can say honestly that they flourish in times of uncertainty. Help your team know what to expect, what you need from them, and what success will look like.


An individual’s sense that they have some level of control over events and that they are contributing positively.

Eliminate/reduce threats
Avoid micro management. Having to refer every little decision to management is a sure fire way of undermining autonomy. By including individuals in the decision-making process and checking they have a full understanding of what is needed, you should be able to trust their judgement. When delegating tasks, make sure that they are delegated to the right individuals and don’t then try to get involved in every level of detail of the task.

Maximise reward
Employ people whose judgment and decisions you can trust. You can slowly build confidence, both of individuals and your confidence in them, over a period of time. Gradually build trust. Within agreed limits, give your team freedom to try out new things.


An individual’s sense of connection to others. Teams who know each other well show strong relatedness.

Eliminate/reduce threats
Create rapport. Have a buddy system. Utilise mentoring. Be aware of more vulnerable team members. This may include remote workers who do not share the office rapport.

Maximise reward
Have regular one to ones. You may extend this to regular team meetings or even team meals. What about Team Building events? As a manager/leader you can also increase relatedness through coaching and mentoring.


An individual’s sense of right and wrong. Something seen as unfair will trigger a threat response in that individual.

Eliminate/reduce threats
Make time to discuss and explain decisions that may be unpopular or even seen as contentious. Treat everyone fairly and expect the same from others in the team. Don’t exclude individuals on purpose from team discussions and decisions.

Maximise reward
Discuss and explain what is happening and why. Through this you can restore the sense of impartiality and even help the individual recognise their status and what reward there may be. Work with the team to build a Team Charter or an agreed ‘way of being’.

Sources/useful links

Rock D. and Cox C. SCARF in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. NeuroLeadership Journal issue 4.
Your personal SCARF Inventory. Brilliant Minds