The R in SCARF

Why the R in SCARF is the most important element.

SCARF is a great tool for anyone, leader or not, to help improve the environment at work. (You can use this in your personal life as well.)

The basic premise is we operate by threat or reward. If something seems threatening, we work to avoid it. If something looks rewarding, we’ll move toward it.

When it comes to work environments, businesses and teams often look at material rewards to gain people’s cooperation, be it bonuses, gift cards, chocolates and time off, to name a few.

And they all have their place. (I am an anti “either/or” person. Things are seldom that black and white.)

But, using everyday human considerations, as described by the SCARF model, would go a long way to improving a workplace without additional monetary costs. Plus, it’s just a good thing to do.

But there needs to be a word of caution for anyone looking to adopt the model without investigating a little further.

The key is the “R” (Relatedness) in SCARF.

Relatedness is a feeling of being safe in the presence of others (trust vs distrust). We can flesh this out quite easily to say that good relationships at work are essential.

In addition, Todd Wagner & James K. Carter, PhD, cited in their great book “12: The Elements of Great Managing” the need of having a “best friend” at work. That is, good relationships.

Get the Relatedness element wrong, and you may struggle to see the results you are looking for. And many times the leader doesn’t know why.

Here’s why!

Let’s look at how a less than ideal relationship might affect the other aspects of SCARF. Remember, if it is not ideal, it can be seen as a threat. And people try to avoid threats.

Status

Is the relationship being used to create a win-win or a win-lose scenario? If it’s perceived as win-lose, then the status level of one party (Individual/Team/Division) is going to be diminished (i.e. threatened). If status is threatened, goodwill reduces. Teamwork fades and performance dissipates. Will the relationship break completely once one of the parties has achieved their personal goal? How will that affect the organisation?

Certainty

How would a good relationship build certainty? If one party sensed the relationship wasn’t strong, how would that affect certainty in a role, in a team, in an organisation? Often, when there is uncertainty, people begin to fill in the gaps in the story. And, again, because this is a threatening situation, people tend to retreat. It can then be a self fulfilling prophecy of an adequate performer becoming a poor performer, not because they don’t have the skills, they’re in protection mode!

Autonomy

I have seen and experienced this myself. Be on the right side of the person and life is good. Be on the wrong side and it can go horribly wrong. All of a sudden you feel like you’re being watched and yet you may not have any real idea of what you have done … because there is no significant relationship. So, with less autonomy, they begin to follow the rules. If they follow the rules they are safe. Less initiative is shown, less risk and this can be viewed as poor(er) performance.

Fairness

I hope it’s obvious what the lack of a good relationship will do to affect the fairness element of the SCARF model. And, more importantly the performance of the business.

What does this all mean?

Must every leader need to have a strong personal relationship with every member of their team?

From a logistical point of view, and when talking about large numbers, it’s likely not possible. But a leader can lead by example with their immediate team where it has more chance of flowing across the business.

Even leaders who do good things and with good intentions need to be aware e of the perception of their actions.

A humorous example is that of the late Colin Powell, as an image in his autobiography, A Soldier’s Way, shows. He often used the “six-gun” method when calling on reporters at the Pentagon. He’d done it for years and no-one told him. Then Saturday Night Live got a hold of it!

(On a More Serious) Case in Point

Two managers I know, different companies, make a point of walking through their business each morning to say hello, be available to talk with and be visible. It’s a quick walk and not intended to take a lot of time but the effort is made to engage with the staff and if an issue needs to be raised, they stop and listen.

One manager gets a great response. People look forward to the morning “chat with the boss.”

It’s a bit different with the other manager. His staff make a point of “hiding” when the morning walk begins. Some staff message others to say, “The boss is coming!” … it’s a warning!

Same activity, two very different outcomes.

It all hinges on the relationship.

Over to you. What have you seen that works well? Do you agree or disagree? Happy to have a conversation.

Note: Links to resources in this article do contain affiliate links. This means I may get a small payment if you use the link. The resources do not cost anymore to you.