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The SCARF Model

Editor's Note: Take a look at our featured best practice, HR Strategy: Job Leveling (26-slide PowerPoint presentation). Job Leveling is a disciplined approach to gauge the value of work for individual positions across the organization. It entails ascertaining the nature of work done by each position, authority levels, and the effect of each job on business results. Jobs that are configured inadequately bread [read more]

Also, if you are interested in becoming an expert on Human Resource Management (HRM), take a look at Flevy's Human Resource Management (HRM) Frameworks offering here. This is a curated collection of best practice frameworks based on the thought leadership of leading consulting firms, academics, and recognized subject matter experts. By learning and applying these concepts, you can you stay ahead of the curve. Full details here.

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Leadership skills are the most important attribute for someone starting out in an entry-level career or seeking to advance the job ladder.  Competent and able leadership is at the core of every successful business.

Leaders who are able to deal with different personalities and behaviors are more likely to create an effective workplace than others.  They should create a culture that promotes collaboration and be knowledgeable of strategies to treat employees in ways that enhance their engagement levels.

Employee engagement refers to the level of emotional commitment, enthusiasm, and dedication that employees show towards their work and their organization. Engaged employees are typically more motivated, productive, and satisfied with their jobs.  They are willing to go the extra mile, contribute their best efforts, and actively participate in achieving organizational objectives.

By prioritizing employee engagement, leaders are able to attract and retain top talent, enhance productivity, and drive organizational growth.  Employee Engagement warrants an in-depth interpretation of the workforce’s psychology and behaviors before anticipating the desired involvement from them.

This is where the SCARF Model focuses.  Developed by neuroscientist David Rock in 2008, the SCARF Model helps businesses apply empirical research to managing the workplace and teams and identify the environment required to make employees feel engaged.

The model comprises 5 key drivers that have a significant impact on our behaviors, commitment, and engagement levels:

  1. Status
  2. Certainty
  3. Autonomy
  4. Relatedness
  5. Fairness

The SCARF Model captures 2 key elements of the human brain derived from the neuroscience realm: Rewards and Threats.  Rewards describe things that make us experience positive sentiments, e.g., creativity, affection, or optimism.  Human responses to rewards include better focus, problem solving, and increased idea generation.

Threats, on the other hand, make us experience negative sentiments, e.g., nervousness, fear, or distress.  Our responses to threats include fight, flight, fear, or a diminished ability to think or generate ideas.

Let’s now discuss the drivers of the SCARF Model in detail.


Our ranking compared to others defines our status in the organization.  We have a natural inclination to value status.  Our brain’s reward and threat pathways are greatly influenced by any changes in our status.  According to research, people’s threat response activates and releases stress hormones when they consider a decline in their status.  Conversely, when our status increases, our Dopamine levels go up, which in turn improves our mood.

Therefore, status has a direct impact on an employee’s general wellbeing.  Implementing a carefully designed, participatory performance evaluation, recognizing employees, and praising them in front of others helps them feel less threatened and preserve their status.


Being in the dark about what will happen next is devastating for people, as it uses up extra brain resources.  Our brain is hardwired to begin to overwork itself when we are uncertain about something, since it tries to make sense of the unfamiliar.  Uncertainty makes us feel intimidated, distracted, disengaged, and act unusually.

Leadership is all about helping people achieve their goals in the face of uncertainty and training them on how to stop feeling threatened in uncertain conditions.  The breakdown of tasks into small, manageable parts assists employees in feeling certain about a job.  Open communication with employees, clear expectations, agendas, guidelines, roles, and timelines foster confidence in people.


One of the main psychological drivers of human behavior is the desire for autonomy.  Autonomy is the sensation of having complete freedom to decide how one behaves or performs.  When individuals’ autonomy or control is threatened, they immediately become anxious and unmotivated.  This hinders their ability to think and act rationally.  A sense of increased autonomy, conversely, raises feelings of assurance and lowers stress.

To counter this, leaders and managers need to stop micromanaging people and give them more autonomy and authority.  They should allow workers to manage their own schedules, trust their judgment, and experiment with new ideas.

Interested in learning more about the other drivers of the SCARF Model and strategies to keep the employees engaged? You can download an editable PowerPoint presentation on the SCARF Model here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement with Our Comprehensive Management Toolkit Are you ready to revolutionize your organization's employee engagement strategies and drive meaningful results? Look no further! Introducing our all-inclusive Employee Engagement Management Toolkit - a dynamic [read more]

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The purpose of Human Resources (HR) is to ensure our organization achieves success through our people. Without the right people in place—at all levels of the organization—we will never be able to execute our Strategy effectively.

This begs the question: Does your organization view HR as a support function or a strategic one? Research shows leading organizations leverage HR as a strategic function, one that both supports and drives the organization's Strategy. In fact, having strong HRM capabilities is a source of Competitive Advantage.

This has never been more true than right now in the Digital Age, as organizations must compete for specialized talent to drive forward their Digital Transformation Strategies. Beyond just hiring and selection, HR also plays the critical role in retaining talent—by keeping people engaged, motivated, and happy.

Learn about our Human Resource Management (HRM) Best Practice Frameworks here.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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