David Rock, Ph.D. coined the acronym SCARF which stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. These are the five domains that influence us emotionally, much of the time as a threat. Leaders can mitigate the impact of SCARF threats by creating some SCARF rewards.
Common status threats include not being able to influence work decisions, feeling one’s opinions or concerns are minimized, being a target of sarcasm or ridicule, and feeling disrespected. Leaders can work to diminish this threat through soliciting employee concerns and perspectives, active listening, demonstrating vulnerability (I’m having a hard time with this, too) and expressing high regard for the work and sacrifices of frontline employees.
Certainty allows us to not waste unnecessary mental energy worrying about what might happen. The most difficult kind of uncertainty is that which is unexpected, such as the speed and extent of the pandemic’s impact on everyday life.
Think about how you can add or support a greater sense of certainty. Be specific about when you will meet with individuals and your team and what will be discussed. Make follow through one of your own priorities. Be clear about assignments and schedules, even more than usual. Also, be as transparent as possible about your intent and expectations to help alleviate uncertainty.
Involve employees in discussions that affect their work. Whenever possible let them decide how their work should be done. Provide guidance and resources that enable them to work as independently as possible.
Set short-term, realistic objectives. Help them identify what they can control in terms of how they perform their work, what resources they can access, how they can reach you and the support you will provide.
Simply being in a hierarchical relationship with an individual can create a sense of social distance and disconnection, especially when you are working remotely. Foster relatedness through more conversations, including small talk and words of appreciation. Include questions in 1:1 conversations like: “What have you done this week that you’re proud of? What has been challenging?”
People feel a greater sense of injustice in the absence of an open dialogue; we may not feel that it’s necessary to get our way, but we do feel that it’s necessary to have our say. If we feel that we’ve been given an opportunity to voice our opinion and to be heard, we’re more willing to accept an outcome that’s not aligned with our preferences.
As leaders, we may assume that the intentions behind our actions are obvious to others, when in fact they may be anything but; being clear and explicit about our intentions can help mitigate perceptions of unfairness and increase others’ sense of safety.