SCARF Model of Engagement: The Vehicle to Drive Employee Engagement and Performance

Employee engagement is critical to a company’s success. But it has always presented two perplexing issues! Fortunately, the SCARF model is perfectly positioned to assist us in better understanding human behavior and driving the type of engagement we desire.

To begin, it is important to note that you cannot simply demand employee engagement. Only if you could accomplish it! You could then include it in job descriptions and raise it in annual reviews.

You, however, cannot. In fact, any attempt to compel engagement frequently backfires and breeds resentment. Employees must give it to you of their own free will.

Secondly, engagement is shrouded in mystery. It can be difficult to understand why one employee is detached while another appears to be engaged. It’s like being locked in an escape room with no way out.

Fortunately, David Rock and the SCARF Model can assist! The SCARF Model is a five-component framework that assists in explaining human behavior as it is influenced by social concerns.

In this article, we’ll go over the SCARF model in depth before demonstrating how to employ it to develop a highly engaged and productive workforce.

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What exactly is the SCARF Model?

According to David Rock‘s pioneering research on the social nature of the brain, social situations can elicit a positive or negative response. Our interpretation of five qualities, in particular, stimulates either a threat or a reward response. This is referred to as the SCARF model:

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

SCARF, according to Rock, is a disruptive language. He claims, “Disruptive language is something that you don’t have to work hard to remember; it just pops into your consciousness at the right times. So once you learn it, you can’t unlearn it, and it follows you around.”

SCARF defines:

  • Why are people reacting? (emotionally or positively)
  • Why are they motivated or demotivated?
  • What is happening as we interact?


Your brain is continuously detecting your position in relation to other people’s. In other words, status is sociometric that defines where you stand in relation to others. We immediately, automatically, and unconsciously try to figure out our and their status in every interaction, and we are uncomfortable until the issue is resolved.

The brain is naturally aware of our standing in each community, including:

  • What is our status?
  • Who do we need to pay attention to?
  • Who is responsible for paying attention to us?

In the workplace, for instance, the CEO holds the highest possible position. Employees, particularly managers, strive for status by performing well and avoiding mistakes. Our behavior is constantly influenced by our social standing. The bottom line is that our status affects every interaction we have with everyone.


The second possibility is certainty—our capability to predict what will happen in the future. All of our decisions are based on predictions, past experiences, and the likelihood of what is going to happen.

When things are uncertain, you become anxious, which can result in a strong, negative reaction. On the other hand, providing people with certainty, such as by answering questions, removing ambiguity, and setting expectations, can trigger a positive, rewarding response.


Autonomy is defined as having a sense of control and having choices or options. When we are stressed, it is often because we have unconsciously decided that we do not have control and do not know what to do. However, when we recognize that there is an aspect over which we have control, it becomes more manageable.

When your boss tells you to do something right now, in this exact way, your autonomy may suffer. When, on the other hand, when your manager gives you three options for completing a task, your autonomy may increase. Even though your manager has been directive, you have a greater sense of control than you anticipated.


Relatedness is the experience of being in an “in-group” with other people. This occurs when people share similar knowledge, experiences, understandings, and goals. It doesn’t matter how different you are when you’re both trying to accomplish something together. When you form an ingroup, you establish relatedness.


Fairness is really something that we can read. Fairness is extremely important. It manifests itself not only in legal issues, but also in politics, social interactions, and business. We are constantly monitoring levels of fairness.

These domains are essentially the things that the brain is passionate about. The proposed framework that drives our behavior is avoiding negatives and obtaining positives.

SCARF and employee engagement

One of the most powerful features of SCARF is the ability to see in real-time. You can predict what might go wrong during and after an interaction, label it, and adjust.

Employee engagement occurs when employees become more knowledgeable about their work, gain more certainty, have more control, are treated fairly, and collaborate with others to create good things.

SCARF provides a language for increasing engagement by:

  • Getting rid of unnecessary noise to increase certainty
  • Increasing autonomy inspires creativity
  • Fair experiences foster positive interactions.

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How to implement SCARF to improve your performance management process

SCARF engagement is beneficial in a variety of ways. People become more open-minded, insightful, and creative as positive interactions increase, and they soak up important data that enables them to perform better in their roles.

Nonetheless, many companies struggle to adapt to frameworks for continuous performance management. In fact, due to the pandemic, some companies were forced to abandon annual goals, and many returned to regular, stand-up meetings to talk about weekly work progress.

While this is great news for employees, it is also important to consider how the SCARF management model can improve your performance management process.

Performance management should focus on the following rather than management:

  • Making things clear
  • Chasing excellence
  • Requesting feedback
  • Creating understanding
  • Building your team

Here are a few ideas for making the transition to a more ongoing performance management process in the future:

Define performance

Leaders must comprehend what constitutes good performance in order to increase people’s certainty, autonomy, and relatedness to shared goals and expectations.

Request critical feedback

According to research, asking for feedback, rather than giving feedback, should be the driver of performance. Encourage employees to solicit feedback and managers to solicit feedback from their team members in order to build trust, reduce stress, and enhance honest and accurate feedback.

Develop a growth mindset

Growth revolves around assisting employees in becoming better. Rather than pressuring people to look good, figure out how you can help them continuously improve and concentrate on progress.

These three factors are critical in next-generation performance management. As you can see, incorporating the SCARF model into your employee engagement, performance, and development initiatives can have a significant impact on the performance of your employees, teams, and business.

Final Thoughts

The SCARF model allows you to see engagement for what it is. You can see through the confusion to the true fabric of engagement. And it’s extremely simple.

After all, who doesn’t want to be treated with respect and fairly, to have some predictability about the future, and to have positive relationships with coworkers? And everyone wishes to make a positive impact on the world. To leave it in better shape than they found it.

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