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Four acronyms to help understand work and motivation: SCARF, SEEDS, AGES, and TAPS

Source | | Ted Bauer

A good deal of our work at Neuroleadership Institute is about finding easily-conveyable, sticky approaches rooted in brain science to help explain core aspects of work, such as motivation, feedback, and more. We want organizations and individuals who attend our training(s) to come away with something easy to recall. Ideally, this easy recall — plus a delivery method that spaces out learning — will help the learning truly resonate with people, and that’s the baseline of habit activation. In turn, habit activation shifts long-term behavior in organizations. It’s a process, but one that works.

It can take literal years for teams at NLI to develop these “sticker” acronyms, and four of the major ones we return to are detailed below for context.


This, in some ways, is the “granddaddy of them all” (for college football fans who remember Keith Jackson) of NLI acronyms.

SCARF stands for:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

When it comes to workplace interactions, psychology research makes it clear that leaders can maximize engagement and drive lasting performance when they help their team members meet one another’s needs.

So which needs should leaders focus on?

Over a decade ago, a research team led by NLI Director and CEO Dr. David Rock identified five such domains in humans’ social experience.

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