The trusty SCARF model…

17th November 2021

The trusty SCARF model…


Autumn has arrived, leaves are changing colour and are falling from the trees, transformation is happening all around us; winter seems just around the corner…

Time to wrap up warm. And as all good business change managers know it’s always good to have a SCARF handy. In capitals you’ll have noted. Yes, it’s an acronym and I owe it to Dr David Rock who created and introduced the SCARF model concept (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness) more than ten years ago.

For those of you who are less familiar with Rock’s work it’s from neuroscience and is an extremely useful tool for business change managers (and business analysts) who recognise SCARF elements as being important as we move personnel toward the desired change. Our brains are still wired for fight or flight, although it’s a little easier in the office to imagine threat or opportunity – bear this in mind as we unravel the detail of the SCARF model:

Woolen scarf composition on yellow background.

  • Status … let’s be honest many of us like being the ‘go to’ person, even when our grade doesn’t place us into the leadership, or management, position. Knowledge is power, when a transformation takes away the source of that power then the whole team begin their journey again at the same stage, for example legacy software moving to a cloud solution. Your expert may feel left out – and they will need to be managed very carefully in order that they remain onboard.
  • Certainty … How often have you heard “It’s not how we do things around here”? People like to know what’s happening around them. This is why it’s called change. The better the transition is supported then the higher the chances of success.  Excellent communication includes sharing your change roadmap, and providing very clear messaging around the new ways of working.
  • Autonomy … Few people like being told exactly how to do things (yes there are many examples available where it’s critical – ask a pilot or a surgeon). However, when we can see that our agency is threatened then defences come up. Which means that the joy of work is lost, and we sometimes lose our best personnel if autonomy is threatened.
  • Relatedness … We are all in this together. A brilliant phrase, and one I’ve heard many times.  The truth is we may be in the change together but the consequences can be very personal. The better leaders empathise with those they are asking to support their vision, then the more likely their teams will be to trust them, and join them.
  • Fairness … Life isn’t fair – I know.  However, there is something in our genetic make-up that looks for fairness; be transparent, deliver unwelcome news such as lay-offs with a plan to support transitioning to new roles. On a happier note, create an even playing field and be clear about what it takes to be promoted – the old boy’s network should be a relic right?

Some of this can be within our sub-conscious, it may not be overtly displayed by all personnel, be mindful and take the time to listen carefully to concerns. Be kind and think about how often you go toward what looks good much quicker than what worries you.

So, the next time you take a walk on a chilly autumn evening, or watch your favourite team whilst shivering at their performance, have a think about how you might use the SCARF model in your transformation.

by Jon Watkins, Senior Consultant at CMC Partnership Consultancy Ltd