Employee engagement: the SCARF model

Elements that drive human behaviour (the SCARF model)

The SCARF model (Rock, 2008) summarises key discoveries from neuroscience relating to how people interact socially. The idea is that our brains treat a variety of social threats and rewards in the same way as a physical threat or reward.

Performance feedback and employee engagement can become more effective when we learn how to manage these five elements. Our ability to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others, is often directly impacted by our responses to threats. When we learn to manage these threat responses we are able to increase engagement.Emotional Intelligence the SCARF model

Each of the scarf model elements can increase or reduce engagement in an interaction. Taking these into account enables improved communication.

The SCARF model:

  • Status looks at the relative importance of people. i.e. a perception of our worth in relation to the people around us. Feeling “better” or “less” than others impacts or sense of security and power.
  • Certainty is about reducing ambiguity. Our brain seeks certainty in order to make predictions – we want to know what will happen.
  • Autonomy is about our ability to rely on ourselves. Our perception of having control over our environment. When we feel unable to make choices, or influence outcomes it triggers our threat responses (often fight or flight).
  • Relatedness is about connection and a sense of belonging. It involves our sense of belonging to our ‘tribe’.
  • Fairness is the perception of being treated fairly. This need fairness may be part of  why we experience internal rewards for doing volunteer work to improve our community; it gives us a sense of decreasing the unfairness in the world.SCARF model increasing Employee Engagement Infographic

If we take these elements into account when communicating we can reduce threats and increase rewards. Acknowledge their status, be reliable, allow them to make decisions, increase their sense of connection and be fair.

To increase Emotional Intelligence use the SCARF model to reduce conflict.

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Richard Riche

Change Communication and Employee Engagement specialist at One Clear Message Consulting
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills. Employee Engagement / Experience, Emotional Intelligence skills, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. TED style speaking and presentation skills. Training, consulting and coaching.
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