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Using the SCARF Model

Hi there. Russell Stratton, President and Leadership Champion with Blue Gem Learning.

I work with organizations just like yours, to help managers improve individual and team performance, and ultimately drive up results in your organization.

The last couple of vlogs I've been talking about Managing the Unmanageable, having those difficult workplace conversations.

In this final vlog in the series, I'd like to look at

The SCARF Model

This comes from the work of David Rock going back into 2008, and it explores how people approach change and whether it's going to be something that they're working towards positively, or something that they're running away from.

Whenever we have any change in the organization...

and this can be big change like a complete restructuring, merge or acquisition,

or it can be more localized change where - perhaps you have to engage in a conversation with an employee about performance improvement.

People react to this by

  • Running away from something that they perceive to be a threat or

  • Moving towards something that they believe to be a reward.

So this is a little counterintuitive.

In some ways we tend to think if we offer people a reward they're more likely to move towards it, however the reality is often that people are far more likely to move away from something that they feel threatened by.

Based on this understanding, there are five areas under the SCARF model that David Rock talks about and I just want to run through these with you because it helps us understand why perhaps some of our employees are behaving the way that they do.


At any time when somebody believes that their status is being challenged, they tend to balk at that and we get resistance from them.

That status could be their job title, it could be their perception of their role within the organization, where they think they're going in their career.

Imagine sitting with somebody who's quite ambitious, wanting to do well, and you're telling them that, actually, their performance isn't up to the standard you need...

This can sometimes feel a challenge to their status which is why you get push-back from them.


Often people feel they're not certain about what the future's going to look like.

This comes into play especially around large change initiatives like structural organizational change.

How I've done things in the past is not going to be how I'm going to be doing them in the future and people start to push back.

They shy away from it. It's something that they're not comfortable with.

This uncertainty causes an issue for a lot of folks.

The saying that we need to be comfortable with ambiguity sounds great, but for a lot of people, uncertainty is something that they find unsettling and that could be why you're getting push back.


People like to feel like they have control not only over their own lives, but also the work that they do.

Employees want to control how they do their work, including within reason:

  • when they do it

  • what tasks they take, and

  • in what order,

Any time this autonomy begins to get challenged, even when we actually need the job done differently for legitimate reasons, we will get push back


This is the ability that people have to relate with others and to interact with others in your organization.

Again, whenever we change anything in terms of team make-up, perhaps you bring in new team members, or perhaps there might be conflict within team members, where people aren't getting along for whatever reason, that starts to influence their feeling of relatedness and can have people unsettled and pushing back towards us.


Everyone wants to feel like they are being treated in a fair manner.

At any time they feel that something is unfair, even if it isn't, we get push back from them.

This could be something like a simple change of work duties.

"Why I'm asking this person over here to change their shift pattern. Why are you asking me and you're not asking my colleague?"

That's the bit where they feel they're being treated unfairly and then you get push back.

The benefit of understanding the SCARF Model is when you're getting challenge from employees or team members... and perhaps that challenge is moving into being unmanageable, we now have some understanding as to why this might be.

So take a reflection back if you're having those difficult situations.

Is it something to do with the persons status?

Is it to do with certainty about what they're doing?

Is it to do with autonomy over what they do?

Is there an issue around relatedness with other co-workers or,

about their perception of fairness?

These questions may give you an idea of where you need to focus your efforts in terms of solving the problem with them.

If you found that information useful, feel free to share with you colleagues, comment below, and I'll see you next time.

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