The SCARF Model®

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

The SCARF Model was developed by David Rock in 2008. It may seem a deceptively simple model at first, but it creates a broad range of conversations to help develop you develop as well as the people around you and the team/s you lead.

SCARF stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

The model depicts the possible reactions to the 5 areas when threatened or rewarded. In other words, if we recognise or help establish someone’s Status within a team, they will be more engaged. Threaten the Status and they may be less engaged, less productive and a flight risk!

First some definitions:

  • Status: Concerns an individual’s social standing, where do they fall in the pecking order.
  • Certainty: our brain’s ability to make accurate predictions about the future. Even if that prediction is that you’re sure you don’t know what’s coming.
  • Autonomy: The power to exert control over your environment.
  • Relatedness: feeling connected to other people—in particular people we identify as being similar to us.
  • Fairness: Humans have a hardwired desire for fairness. We seek a fair exchange of information, services and ideas. We also seek a fair exchange of respect, acknowledgement and a sense that we have been heard.

Applying SCARF

There is certainly more than one way to apply SCARF but I see benefit in the following:

  1. Delivering SCARF
  2. Developing SCARF

Delivering SCARF

Delivering SCARF is about providing each element to others. This might be seen as the role of a leader but it applies to anyone.

We can all raise the status of others. Acknowledge them, give them positive feedback, show appreciation, asking them to speak up in a meeting if you know they have something to contribute. It’s not difficult.

How can we provide certainty to our colleagues? What can we say and do that will help them be more confident and sure about the future? What information do you have that would be helpful? Do you have information you don’t fully understand and therefore not share it? If your team are relying on you, you may be putting certainty at risk!

How do we help them build the skills so they can achieve greater autonomy? What guidelines can they can work towards? Do you plan a direct report’s development with providing greater autonomy in mind? Do they know that?

How are we developing our relationships so they know they have something like a “best friend” at work? In the book, 12: The Elements of Great Managing, Wagner and Harter propose that,

“Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him (sic) to do positive things for the business he (sic) would not otherwise do.”

To support this, you will likely find, when completing and reviewing exit interviews, the most common expression people provide is, “… the people were great … “

How can we ensure they know they are being treated fairly? This can be hard. Perhaps we use an internal compass. Do you suffer from the “horns or halo effect” where you consciously or, worse, subconsciously play favourites? (Worse be because you may not be aware that you do!)

Developing SCARF

Another aspect is taking responsibility to develop our own SCARF characteristics. These are similar questions but the responsibility is on ourselves to develop each elements of the model.

How can we raise our own status in order to make a greater contribution?

Can we take steps that will increase our own certainty? What research can we do? Who can we speak within the organisation? Is there product material we could read? All with the aim of being more confident within ourselves and, when the time is right helping others with this information.

Are we learning more about our role and responsibilities to allow greater autonomy because the boss trusts us? What are we demonstrating? What initiative are we showing?

Are we building our relationships with others in the team and across other teams?

Are we treating others fairly? How do we know and what can we do to ensure we meet this expectation?

The Consequences

One of the consequences of failing to consider these elements is staff turnover. I’ve seen this occur and I have been responsible for … fixing it!

I worked in an organisation where we had 40%+ staff turnover. It was just above the top of the industry range. We were turning over our whole staff every two years. As this was the resources industry (Mining & Gas) the cost of this was astronomical. Lose a good person and you had to replace them. If salaries were averaging $150k that meant recruitment costs were between $15k ands $30k. Do the math!

Twelve months later we were at 19%, just below the industry norm!

What did we do?

  • We increased out connection with your people.
  • We communicated what opportunities were available internally.
  • We developed recognition systems that truly valued people’s contribution.
  • We allowed the team to promote their areas to “recruit” internally.

Connection

We redoubled our efforts to remain in contact with people on site. We received feedback that once we placed them, we forgot them. More regular visits and news from “head office” were welcomed, rather than what was happening before. This showed we valued them and their opinions. They were connected to the company and felt part of something bigger. All of a sudden the greener grass elsewhere began to fade. (Status, Certainty, Relatedness)

Communication

We made sure they knew what was going on in the company. Many of these people knew colleagues on different projects and sites. And they talked. If we left a gap, they filled it in with their version of the “truth”. We worked to open the communication channels to get ahead of the rumour mill and keep in touch with those at risk. (Relatedness, Certainty)

Recognition

This was crucial. We developed mechanisms to recognise years of service, outstanding project work and anything else worth a mention. And when a client sent through a compliment, we shared it far and wide. Not just a “thanks” back to the client. (Status, Relatedness, Fairness)

Team Promotion Expo (see note below)

This started off as a beast of a project to organise but was an outstanding success. The premise being an internal expo. Teams were invited to set up stalls to promote what they were doing. “Be as creative as you like”. They promoted what they did at their site and used all sorts of methods to do so. Some showed skills in presentation we didn’t know they had! They let people know what skills they used on site, what skills were still needed or would be needed soon. This allowed others who were rolling off projects to look at options internally. This was a huge relief to many, as they didn’t want to go on to the open market. Having roles come up internally provided a great deal of peace of mind. And those needing the skills, gained people who knew the culture and the basics of the project already, this limiting a downturn in project productivity. (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness)

Conclusion

Admittedly, we can reverse engineer any successful strategy. However, looking at what we accomplished without SCARF in mind, demonstrates the benefits of the model. The principles hold true.

Reviewing these tactics, and how they significantly impacted turnover, provides a template for what to do across a number of critical organisational strategies.

Note: The expo, in many ways, demonstrated support for Deming’s 14 Total Quality Management Principles, in particular:

  • 8 – Drive out fear
  • 9 – Break down barriers between staff areas
  • 12 – Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship

Thoughts?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: