The SCARF Model was originally proposed by David Rock of the Neuro-Leadership Institute and has been acclaimed as one of the best and original ideas in management over the last 15 years. 

SCARF ModelIn a world of increasing inter-connectedness and rapid change, there is a growing need to improve the way people work together. The study of the brain is starting to provide some key insights that can be applied in the real world – for example in the work place. Social neuroscience explores the biological foundations of the way humans relate to each other and to themselves  in terms of emotional regulation, attitudes, stereotyping, empathy, status, fairness, collaboration, persuasion, morality, compassion, deception and trust…

Two key themes are emerging from social neuroscience. Firstly, that much of what our motivation and what drives social behavior is governed by  an overarching need to minimize threat and maximize reward.  Secondly, the brain networks that maximize reward and minimize threat are the same brain networks used for primary survival needs.

In other words, social needs are treated in much the same way in the brain as the need for food and water.

The SCARF model summarizes these two themes in a framework that captures the common factors that can activate a reward or threat response in social situations. This model can be applied (and tested) in any situation where people collaborate

The SCARF model involves five domains of human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

So how does the SCARF model relate to say how managers in organizations think about what drives their colleagues? A lot of managers might think that higher pay would be a just reward for hard-working staff but this might not be the best incentive for everyone.”

This is how the five domains within the SCARF model look – there will be overlaps and it is possible an employee may be influenced by more than one domain:

Status-oriented employees can be motivated by a possible designation change or having associations in some way with key initiatives and projects in the company. These employees give great value to their status in the scheme of the organization.

Certainty-oriented employees are motivated tremendously by the stability of their jobs and by affirmations that they are valuable hence “permanent” members of the team. They need continuous reassurance about the importance of their jobs.

Autonomy-oriented employees may need the ability to work from home, or simply slip on their head phones to tune everyone else out. Entrepreneurs, creative professionals, company “rebels” all fit into this category. They do not like over-supervision and operate best when given latitude.

Relatedness-oriented employees are motivated by the inter-connectedness with other employees. They are motivated by the chance to operate in groups, to engage with colleagues in social activity outside work, volunteering for sports activities, etc.

Fairness-oriented employees are always on the look-out for discrepancies in fairness or even-handedness in the organization. They resent being treated unjustly and need reassurance that all staff will be treated in a consistent manner.

For a detailed look at the SCARF model, please visit