When giving feedback, bring your SCARF

Where I work, and, I suspect, in many other workplaces, it’s that time of the year again – mid-year performance feedback is underway. For some of us, it’s a time of dread. For others, it can be something to look forward to. And often, it’s a non-event, and not for a good reason. One of the things we can do as managers and leaders is making feedback an event to look forward to by bringing our SCARF to bear.

I have just finished doing my immediate team’s mid-year assessments. One of my direct reports, a high-potential and talented individual, told me that he dreads the assessment process – “it’s like schoolwork” was his description.

When I asked him what caused that feeling, it was clear that his past experience with manager-driven reviews had not been either consistent or necessarily positive. As a result, he often left the review feeling that it had no value.

I have been reading books and articles on neuroscience for a while. I recently signed up to do a coaching course from the Neuroleadership Institute called Brain-Based Coaching. The models in use in this course resonate strongly with me. It’s one of the reasons I decided to take a different approach to how I conducted my mid-year assessments this year.

Performance assessments can take many forms. Often how they’re conducted is down to the individual manager, regardless of the organisational framework. This year I decided to keep the SCARF model in mind when giving feedback to my team. SCARF is a model that was documented by Dr David Rock in 2008 and stands for:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

From a psychological perspective, we move away from a source of threat and move towards sources of reward. If any of the above areas are negatively impacted, we go into an “away” state.

When we’re in an “away” state, we are less able to listen, less able to appreciate other’s viewpoints, and less able to think rationally. So you can see why putting someone in an “away” state could result in a review process that is perceived negatively.

To create equal status in a review, we can ask for permission – “is this still a good time to have your review?”. To create certainty, we can provide context for the review and clarify that we’re going to focus on positives and not deliver the proverbial “sh*T sandwich”. By asking questions about how the person feels about their performance and asking them how they would like to progress in the coming period, we can establish a level of autonomy. By treating them with respect and dignity, we establish relatedness. And by taking into account their input, playing back their successes to them, and focussing on the future, we behave fairly.

There are situations where we need to be prescriptive – sometimes, people genuinely need to be told what to do and how to do it. More often, though, opportunities exist to enable people to identify their own areas of improvement and focus. We can do this by asking quality questions during reviews and encouraging people to examine their own thinking. Then, once they’ve done so, our job as managers and leaders is to support them in achieving those goals or provide some gentle steer in a new direction.

If you want to learn more about your score on the SCARF model, you can take an assessment here. In addition, you can read more about how SCARF and other NLI models work in practice in David Rock’s book “Quiet Leadership – Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work“. It’s a great read, and I strongly recommend it – not just for approaches to performance reviews but for improving interactions with everyone in our lives.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Click to access the login or register cheese