It was recently our pleasure to welcome Dr. David Rock to the Qualtrics office where he shared some innovative concepts from his book “Your Brain at Work.

His thoughts both inspired and left us wanting more.

David coined the term ‘NeuroLeadership’ and co-founded the NeuroLeadership Institute, a global initiative bringing neuroscientists and leadership experts together to build a new science for leadership development.

David has been using the Qualtrics 360 assessment suite as the platform for his innovative approach to 360 assessments.

In this interview, David gives insights into understanding the brain, effectively developing leaders, and his innovative SCARF 360 model for assessments.


1. Can you give an overview of the type of 360 Assessments you’re doing?

We are building a new approach to developing leaders through understanding the brain, drawing on the thousands of studies emerging from neuroscience labs about decision making, emotional regulation, collaboration and facilitating change.

One of the big models we developed is called the SCARF model.

The SCARF model provides an easy way to remember and therefore act upon the social triggers that generate toward and away (eg threat or reward) responses in the brain.

The outcome of the SCARF360 is a detailed report that looks at how well you meet the social needs of those around you. The optimum result is that your team, peers and supervisor all experience social interactions with you in a rewarding way.

2. Why is it called the SCARF360?

The assessment focuses in one the five domains of the SCARF model:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

The tool is a 360-degree assessment as it looks at your self evaluation in comparison to key groups you work with such as your manager, direct report and peers.

3. How did you get your competencies validated? How was the research conducted?

The SCARF model is a summary of important discoveries from neuroscience about the way people interact socially.

The model was developed from 4 years of research with 30 neuroscientists, and was first published in a peer reviewed publication called ‘The NeuroLeadership Journal’, and then in his book ‘Your Brain at Work‘ (Harper Collins, 2006).

The 360 assessment model is built on three central ideas:

  • First, the brain treats many social threats and rewards with the same intensity as physical threats and rewards.
  • Second, the capacity to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others is generally reduced by a threat response and increased under a reward response.
  • Third, the threat response is more intense and more common and often needs to be carefully minimized in social interactions.
These five domains have been shown in many studies to activate the same reward circuitry that physical rewards activate, like money, and the same threat circuitry that physical threats, like pain, activate.

The model is made up of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

These five domains have been shown in many studies to activate the same reward circuitry that physical rewards activate, like money, and the same threat circuitry that physical threats, like pain, activate.

Understanding that these five domains are primary needs, helps individuals and leaders better navigate the social world in the workplace (1).

The tool itself is still undergoing validation and reliability testing.

4. What does validated mean?

That the SCARF360 does what it says it will do!

This is being tested in a range of research projects with our NeuroLeadership Institute post-graduate students and other client organisations.

We are also testing reliability with people re-taking the assessment several times to ensure the results are consistent.

5. Can you explain your different competencies?

Summary of the five domains:

| 1 |

Status is about perceived relative importance to others.

Your brain is constantly monitoring your status in any group. It literally assigns you a number in that group.

When you feel like you’re going up in status you start to feel some of the ‘toward’ emotions.

For example, being presented an award for your work in front of peers, you get rewards such as the release of the ‘feel good’ hormone dopamine, you feel more secure and confident about yourself in that group. So we are constantly looking for ways to increase our status and feel good about ourselves.

On the other hand, if you feel your status going down you start to feel more of the ‘away’ emotions. For example, if someone criticises you in front of a group of peers, there is arelease of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ and you feel less secure and confident in the group.

The brain doesn’t differentiate between physical and social threat, and literally sees a drop in status as a threat to your life.

| 2 |

Certainty involves being able to predict the future.

Certainty is a fundamental driver of the brain. The brain is a prediction machine, mapping past experience to the present. Whenever we experience some uncertainty we get a limbic system response.

In other words, we experience more of the ‘away’ emotions.

For example, if your manager requests a meeting in their office, without explaining what you will be discussing, you may experience uncertainty and the ‘away’ emotions. However, if your boss takes the time to explain what the meeting is about, what you need to do in preparation and what you can expect to get from the meeting, then there will be less uncertainty and the limbic system is less likely to be aroused.

A small amount of uncertainty can be pleasant. But when we get too much uncertainty the limbic system takes over.

| 3 |

Autonomy is a sense of control over events.

Autonomy is the experience of having choice. When an individual feels there is some choice in a given situation, then they are more likely to experience ‘toward’ emotions.

When you feel that you don’t have any autonomy or choice then you may experience ‘away’ emotions.

For example, when you’re boss tells you what to do, there is no autonomy and you may experience anger and frustration at not being given a choice. However, if your boss asks your opinion and/or gives you options then you feel like there is autonomy and you’re more likely to experience ‘toward’ emotions, such as motivation and commitment.

Research has shown that in a stressful situation where people feel like they have choice they experience hardly any stress.

The opposite is also true.

| 4 |

Relatedness is a sense of safety with others.

Relatedness is about whether you consider a person a friend or foe. When you connect with people you like or can trust you get a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and an injection of the ‘feel good’ hormone dopamine.

In other words, you experience more ‘toward’ emotions.

When you meet someone you don’t trust you feel threatened. You start to feel more of the ‘away’ emotions, an increase in cortisol and possibly adrenaline if the other person is considered a major threat.

For example, if the last time you spoke to a colleague they criticised your ideas, then you might consider them a threat and experience ‘away’ emotions the next time you see them. You also will probably not listen to what they have to say.

On the other hand, if you’re meeting with someone who has been encouraging of your work, you’re more likely to trust this person, listen to this person and feel ‘toward’ emotions.

| 5 |

Fairness is a sense of fair exchanges between people.

Everyone likes to feel that they have been dealt with in a fair manner. When we feel that we have been treated unfairly, for example in a pay review, we experience ‘away’ emotions, such as disappointment, anger, disillusionment and frustration.

When we are treated fairly, for example receiving more than we expected in a pay review, then we feel ‘toward’ emotions, such as joy, happiness, motivation and commitment.

6. What makes yours model unique?

The SCARF360 is unique in its ability to not only give feedback on how your current behaviour impacts performance and engagement in the people around you, but the model itself is powerfully embedded in your brain for future reference.

The SCARF360 has the capacity to create long-term behavioural change.

7. How do you take your feedback and put it into action?

With an individual debrief session with a Results Certified Coach.

Can be one stand-alone debrief session to help understand and interpret your report, along with some specific actions to take. Or it can be three or more sessions to help embed the new behaviours.


You can learn more about Dr. David Rock’s SCARF 360 by watching the video below.

(1) Rock, D (2008). SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, NeuroLeadership Journal Issue One.

About Dr. David Rock

David is the author of 4 books including the 2009 business-best-seller ‘Your Brain at Work’ (you can pick up the book here). David is also the founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Group a global consulting and training firm with operations in 24 countries.

Follow David on Twitter, check out some of his articles on PsychologyToday, or pickup his revolutionary book “Your Brain at Work.