Tip #747: Why Care About SCARF?

businesswoman interviewing new

“Many great leaders understand intuitively that they need to work hard to create a sense of safety in others. In this way, great leaders are often humble leaders, thereby reducing the status threat. Great leaders provide clear expectations and talk a lot about the future, helping to increase certainty. Great leaders let others take charge and make decisions, increasing autonomy. Great leaders often have a strong presence, which comes from working hard to be authentic and real with other people, to create a sense of relatedness. And great leaders keep their promises, taking care to be perceived as fair.”  David Rock

David Rock is the director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, which uses hard science to transform leadership effectiveness. He is also the author of Your Brain at Work. His SCARF model is a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. It provides new ways to think about motivation.

The model is built on three central ideas:

1.The brain treats many social threats and rewards with the same intensity as physical threats and rewards.

2.The capacity to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others is generally reduced by a threat response and increased under a reward response.

3.The threat response is more intense and more common and often needs to be carefully minimized in social interactions.

Rock’s research shows how dopamine is one of the primary chemicals that our brains produce to decide when we feel a sense of reward or punishment. He demonstrates how, based on chemical reactions, the human brain is hardwired to respond to these five key social needs or domains:

  • Status is about relative importance to others. It is easy to accidentally threaten a person’s sense of status, Rock warns. “A status threat can occur through giving advice or instructions, or simply suggesting someone is slightly ineffective at a task.”
  • Certainty concerns being able to predict the future. The brain craves a sense of understanding the future, the SCARF model suggests. “As people build business plans, strategies, or map out an organization structure, they feel increasing levels of clarity about how an organization might better function in the future,” Rock notes.
  • Autonomy provides a sense of control over events. People need to have choices. “A reduction in autonomy, for example when being micromanaged, can generate a strong threat response.”
  • Relatedness is a sense of safety with others – of friend rather than foe. People are at their best when they are part of the group. “Increasing globalization highlights the importance of managing relatedness threats. Collaboration between people from different cultures, who are unlikely to meet in person, can be especially hard work.”
  • Fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people. What people feel is fair and unfair is about much more than money. “The threat from perceived unfairness can be decreased by increasing transparency, and increasing the level of communication and involvement about business issues.” For example, Rock notes that providing employees with details about financial processes can provide a motivational advantage.

“Understanding these drivers can help individuals and organizations to function more effectively, reducing conflicts that occur so easily amongst people, and increasing the amount of time people spend in the approach state, a concept synonymous with good performance,” Rock concludes.

May your learning be sweet.


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