Why you need a SCARF

I see it everyday in my coaching practice: leaders not responding well when challenged by their team, micromanaging, not clarifying expectations. Then they wonder why people feel threatened, alienated from the team and incapable of taking productive action.

One thing is for certain, in a world of increasing interconnectedness and rapid change, there is an urgent need for leaders to better understand the true drivers of human social behavior, specifically the model offered here: SCARF. Based on research of social neuroscience, SCARF consists of five domains of social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

Let me explain how SCARF applies to the workplace. An overarching organizing principle of minimizing THREAT and maximizing REWARD governs much of our motivation, driving social behavior. The domains of SCARF draw upon the same brain networks to maximize REWARD and minimize THREAT as those used for primary survival needs. In other words, these social needs are treated much the same way in the brain as the need for water and food, staying alive, and fight or flight!

The 5 domains activate either the primary reward or primary threat circuitry of the brain. For example, a perceived threat to one’s STATUS activates similar brain networks as a threat to one’s life. And we wonder why some leaders respond so poorly when challenged by their team! On the positive side, when someone is rewarded with increased AUTONOMY, this activates the same reward circuitry as receiving a monetary reward.

I love studying human behavior as it relates to job performance and all the fascinating new research that’s coming out as a result of brain imaging and related studies. But much of this is common sense. Think about it: you hire people because they are entrepreneurial and full of energy and curiosity. Then you put them in an environment where they have no real AUTONOMY over their work. You don’t clarify your expectations (CERTAINTY) and you wonder why people rebel, feel threatened and act in a manner that is counter productive.

The SCARF model is a useful tool that falls under the heading of Emotional Intelligence. Implementing tools such as SCARF can be a game changer in bringing the best out n people.

Elite performers are constantly looking for that extra edge, that little nuance that can make all the difference in their performance. SCARF and other behavioral models require study, lots of practice, and commitment but the reward is worth every minute of your time!

2 thoughts on “Why you need a SCARF

  1. HI!

    Where did you get that information? Is it in a book somewhere? That’s good stuff–like everything else you post.


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