Manage Change with SCARF

As a business coach and people developer, I address the needs of my clients during an initial in-depth discussion. I have one of these coming up soon on 25th January, with a new client for whom I have not worked before. I was recommended to them by a colleague of theirs who knows and trusts how I work.

In that initial session, I will help them to ascertain whether the issues they perceive they have are, indeed, the ones they need to address. That is often an unusual step for prospective clients to take. After all, they are the client, and surely they know what’s wrong?

Many years of working as a management consultant, coach, and mentor tell me the exact opposite is often the case.

What can I do to help them or you do to help yourself?

The answer, simply put, is to structure your conversation using many of the excellent, tried and tested tools that exist in the leadership, management, and business development archives. Not sure which one to pick? Here’s one of my favourite suggestions.


I have used the tool I will briefly describe below many times with a variety of clients and great success. It originates from Dr. David Rock, who is the Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute and a former staff member of Ashridge Executive Education, a world-class leadership and management think tank and learning centre, housed in the Hult International Business School.

As a tool, it helps me create a framework for improving a client’s internal thinking, ensuring it becomes more potent in driving forward behaviour that delivers results.

For those less –focused, in my view mistakenly, on personal growth and development, it also helps me to enable a client to minimize a business threat, and maximise business reward.

The acronym means

STATUS – what is your perception of where you are in relation to others – a perceived improvement in status lights up your brain more than a monetary reward, as does feedback. How much do you invest in seeking and working through feedback?

CERTAINTY – your brain is a certainty-creating machine always trying to predict what’s going to happen next. Removing ambiguity as much as possible reduces threat signals to you and your team, or your organisation.

AUTONOMY – people need to know they have choices, even if they are limited. No perceived or real choice equates to high stress, no control, and no autonomy. Autonomy compares to regaining control, and usually, in such circumstances, stress levels drop dramatically.

RELATEDNESS – our brain perceives people we’ve not connected with as threats. Once we join together, reach out and engage, we generate a perception of ‘friend rather than foe,’ enabling us to move to more readily to ‘common ground’. Common ground builds our capacity for collaboration and for investing in each other to our mutual benefit.

FAIRNESS – a fair exchange activates a reward experience, and an unfair trade activates a danger response. Best advice – treat people fairly, by being more transparent than may seem needed. It will boost your authenticity and a desire on the other party to engage more fully.

What if I don’t?

Not applying the SCARF principles and practices can lead to a series of manager missteps, and these can, in many cases, be easily avoided or remedied. Making those missteps will lead a leader, manager, team or organisation potentially into a negative spiral. That is a place most, if not all, would wish not to be.

In summary

At the root of the SCARF model lies the assumption that the brain makes us all behave in certain ways. That assumption is that the brain’s function is to minimise threats and maximise rewards. Research in neuroscience suggests that while we all know that the brain takes a threat and reward approach to primary needs, such as food, water and shelter, it also does that with our social needs.

Primarily, a positive emotion or reward stimulates us to act, whereas the reverse stimulates us to avoid.

So, if you wish to lead and manage change and do so by collaborating with and influencing others, give SCARF a try!

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