Module 18 – Motivation and the Brain


Proficiently outline the brain’s response to social contexts, alongside understanding each level of David Rock’s SCARF Motivational Levels and implementing targeted strategies to enhance productivity as a leader, leveraging this insightful knowledge.


Download your worksheet and additional reading using the link here.

Register here to download your worksheet and additional reading immediately.


So how did you get on yesterday? Hopefully you’ve managed to find some really positive things to say, and you gave somebody some really good feedback. And when you’ve given good feedback to somebody else, generally you’ll get some positive feedback too, and that’s feels good, doesn’t it?

Now today, we’re going to carry on the theme of motivation, and I’m going to give you a model which will help you to think about how we can motivate people, and just as importantly, how we can avoid demotivating. Now we’ve spoken about the limbic response. We’ve spoken about people going into a threat situation.

And this is great model, which has five dimensions to it, which helps us to think about that, and to try and find ways to increase the positive, to increase the positive motivation of people. The model, you can see it when written down, has five parts to it and it has the acronym SCARF, S, C, A, R, F. And if we attend to all parts of this model, then we will hopefully be motivating somebody. We attack anyone of these areas, and then we’ll be putting people into and away from state, and demotivating.

So quickly, and you can read more in the text, S is for status. We are constantly ranking ourselves in relation to everybody around us. And if we feel that our status is being boosted in relation to those around us, then we get the feelings, positive feelings, and we will startlingly be put into a toward state.

If we are treated in a way that’s not in line with our perceived status, then we feel under threat. We’ll become seriously demotivated. And the limbic response will cut in. And this is quite simple to do, it’s as simple as giving people positive feedback, as we said. Reinforcing the value of what they do and making them feel an important, valued member of the team. So tend to their needs for status, it doesn’t need to devalue yours by the way, it’s simply about boosting theirs. And by doing that, you are actually boosting your own, but concentrate on them. Status.

The C stands for certainty. Any change in situation, and we’ve already spoken about this, is perceived as a threat. If you can create a solid structure around people, a degree of certainty of what’s going on, they will feel more relaxed, and more motivated. When they feel that things are constantly changing, they’ve got no idea what’s going on, everyday is different, and every day is chaos. There’s no certainty, the limbic response cuts in. They’re not thinking clearly, and they become demotivated. And it starts from the simple things, like when you sit down to have a meeting, tell them how long it’s going to be, “This is going to be a 30-minute meeting,” and then make sure you finish in 30 minutes. Then they’ll feel a degree of certainty around what’s going on. Tell them it’s a 30-minute meeting, and it runs on to an hour, then they can do uncertainty. And they will not be trusting you in the future, and you won’t have that certainty there. So, status and certainty.

The A is for autonomy. People need to feel that they’re autonomous, they can make decisions, decisions within their own realm. So, make sure people know what they can make decisions about, and then let them do it. It’s so damaging, if somebody’s taking decision that they thought was one they could take. And then somebody else, maybe you come in, and countermand it. It’s hugely destructive. So let people know what freedom they have and then let them work within that, and they will have the autonomy they want, and they will be far more motivated.

The R is for relatedness. This is about feeling that human connection that we’re all members of one team, and it’s that human bond. The most damaging way of treating somebody is to make them feel like they’re one that’s left out in the team, they’re on their own. And that is hugely, hugely damaging. So, remembering your [Inaudible], remember the team. Make sure every field is included and part of it, and they’re all connected together. So that’s relatedness.

Finally, F for fairness. Fairness is an intrinsic part of what we are as human beings. To some extent, it doesn’t matter what happens to us, so long as we feel that it is reasonable and fair. And definitions of fairness will change according to setting. But make sure you’ve got standards, you’ve got rules, you’ve got procedures, you’ve got ways of behaving, ways of working, stick within it and everyone will feel they’re being treated fairly. Work outside it, or make some exceptions for some, and then people feel unfairly treated, and then demotivated.

So, today, think about SCARF, think about all your team members, think about their status, their certainty in their work, their autonomy to make their own decisions, the relatedness of everybody in your team, and with everybody at being treated fairly. So, that’s the task for today, and we’ll wrap up this section tomorrow as we think about how to create new thinking. Best of luck today with the SCARF.