Free Employee
Motivation Techniques

Here you will find the most powerful free employee motivation techniques you can use as a direct supervisor, to motivate the people that report directly to you – whether you are an entry-level new manager, or the CEO.

Hence, my focus is NOT on what you can do as a top-level executive to create a more motivating work environment for your entire organization’s workforce (if you would like to see a living example of what it takes to build motivation at the entire organizational level, read our Southwest Airlines Employee Motivation article).

The order in which these free employee motivation techniques appear on this page is meaningless – it has nothing to do with their level of impact on performance. They all appear on this page because they all really matter – I strongly suggest you eventually integrate all of them in your performance management practice.

This is an ongoing effort that is not easy, but it is indeed well worth it.

By implementing these free employee motivation techniques, you won’t have to add an extra load of work to the amount of work you are already doing, rather, you will be doing your work in a different way – more effectively.

If you do, you will be glad you did.

7 Free Employee Motivation Techniques


First things first: In order to motivate your direct reports, make sure every single position have these three characteristics:

  • The job description must be up-dated: Market changing conditions tend to have a direct impact at all levels of the organization
  • The functions of each job must be crystal clear: Roles and responsibilities must be obvious
  • Each position must be filled in with the proper candidate: The candidate’s hard skills and soft skills must match the job’s functions

    Lack of clear-cut job descriptions is a major source of de-motivation.

    Photo courtesy of Mike Licht

    2) GOALS

    Another free employee motivation technique that should be mandatory in any work setting is this one:

    Individual goals are NOT goals if they are not SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound. Each one of the goals you give to each one of your employees must have these five characteristics:

  • Specific: What do you need to accomplish? What is the outcome you need to achieve? Is it clear to others what you are trying to achieve?
  • Measurable: What are the performance targets that you are aiming for? How will you know that the goal has been met? What are your quantitative or qualitative measures that you can use to help you know when you will have reached expected results?
  • Attainable: Do you have all the necessary resources to attain this goal, despite all the foreseeable obstacles?
  • Relevant: Are the goals directly related to the business goals? Do they address key customers (internal and/or external) requirements?
  • Time bound: Do you have regular dates set up to review your progress? How long will it take you to achieve this goal?

    Grab all the goals that each one of your employees currently have, filter each one of them through these SMART criteria, and see if they pass the test. If they do not, correct them until they do.

    Unclear goals is a primary cause of de-motivation and low performance.


    This is another free employee motivation technique that is a must. Make sure your employees have both the big picture and performance transparency.

    Understanding the big picture means two things: clarity about your organization’s vision and strategy, and clarity about what matters most and why – today, next month, next quarter.

    Employees must know that their work does indeed matter – they must understand how their individual contribution impacts the end user, the bottom line, and the vision of the company.

    Performance transparency means knowledge about current performance: how to measure it (individual, Departmental, and organizational performance) and how to have an impact on it.

    With your supervision, let employees decide how to reach their own goals and let them do the tracking themselves – your direct reports must always know which indicators need to be closely watched, by which people, and which actions need to be taken to improve them.

    You build up a greater sense of personal accountability if you help them gauge their own progress and input.

    Give your people a complete image of the context in which they work, where they fit in, and what it is they can do to make a difference – and you will have a much more motivated workforce.

    It doesn’t matter how menial the work in question might be – this motivational rule applies to every human being.

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    Feedback has several uses, one of which is to motivate your people. For feedback to motivate your employees, it must be positive (recognition, appreciation, admiration – let your employees know how their work makes a difference).

    Positive feedback is perhaps one of the free employee motivation techniques most underutilized.

    Your Positive Feedback must possess these six characteristics:

  • FREQUENT: Give it in at least 4:1 ratio (where 4 represents the number of times you provide Positive Feedback, and 1 represents the number of times you provide Constructive Feedback), so your ratio may be 5:1, or 6:1, etc., but never less (i.e., 3:1)
  • IMMEDIATE: Provide it within the first 24 hours
  • SPECIFIC: Focus on the behavior – be facts based (erase the word “Attitude” from your vocabulary)
  • SINCERE: Sincerity is related to what you say and how you say it
  • PERSONAL: Express how you feel, be yourself
  • UNIQUE: Don’t mix Positive Feedback with Constructive Feedback (and never use negative feedback)

    Make your employees feel respected and important – sincerely. People must feel appreciated genuinely by someone in a position of authority.


  • If any of these six guidelines is missing in the Positive Feedback you provide to each one of your employees, motivation and increase in desired behavior is less likely to happen, you must follow all six guidelines if you want to truly motivate your people and increase desired behavior.
  • If you make the mistake of providing mechanical positive feedback, routine recognition (as in “I must give this positive feedback so I will just do it and get it over with”), and/or dishonest appreciation, your feedback will backfire, you will be perceived as dishonest, and you will de-motivate your employees.

    About Constructive Feedback:

  • Never fail to provide Constructive Feedback – we all have areas of opportunity and we all need to grow.
  • When giving Constructive Feedback, keep your emotions out of the way – never do it when you are angry.
  • Focus on behavior – not on the person – never blame your employee.
  • Strive for improvement – not for perfection.

    Truly honest recognition is one of the most powerful sources of human motivation – yet it is one of the must underused and misused.


    Another free employee motivation technique we consider vital to motivation is your integrity as a direct supervisor – whether you are a new manager, a seasoned executive, or the CEO.

    All the people that report directly to you must perceive a 100 per cent alignment between your words and your deeds. Period. There is no way around it.

    You are their role model – they are always watching for your guidance.

    Lack of integrity has several major negative consequences, one of which is cynicism, and as a consequence, de-motivation – you don’t want that.

    Integrity is a key building block in the creation of trust, and without trust, it is impossible to have candor – without frankness, it is impossible to build a high performing team.

    In other words, without integrity there is no way you are going to have a team of direct reports who behave as high performers.

    There is a direct relationship between your integrity as the boss, and your direct reports’ motivation.


    A fundamental free employee motivation technique is the adequate use of your company’s values.

    Your company’s values provide the framework within which your employees must perform – values are guidelines that let employees know what’s important and what behaviors are most valuable.

    You must role model your organization’s values – you must always breathe them, behave according to them, and you must constantly live by them.

    And of course, you must enforce them through on-going feedback and formal evaluations (e.g., performance appraisals).

    Having a clear playing field within which to perform is a major source of motivation.


    And last but not least, the Mission of your organization.

    This is another free employee motivation technique that most companies don’t use to its full potential.

    Your job is to make your company’s Mission come alive – you must be able to translate your company’s Mission into a noble purpose in the eyes of your employees.

    You have to be able to get to the point where your employees visualize your company’s Mission as a dignified purpose that rises above any short-term financial profits – making just a profit in the stockholders’ interest does not motivate any workforce.

    When you are able to translate your company’s Mission into passion – when employees stand for their organization’s purpose and when they do believe in what they do – you ignite conviction, commitment, and of course motivation.

    Here you have seven free employee motivation techniques that will motivate the people who report directly to you beyond your expectations.

    If you would like to see a great example of what it takes to build motivation at the entire organizational level, click here to read our Southwest Airlines Employee Motivation article.


    First: Performance transparency and recognition go hand in hand – you must not do one without the other.

    Second: Free employee motivation techniques are more significant than monetary rewards in creating motivation.


    There are many books about free employee motivation techniques. Due to their clarity, simplicity, and effectiveness, I particularly like:

  • Kenneth H. Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles, “Gung Ho! Turn On the People in Any Organization” (William Morrow, New York, NY: 1997)
  • Aubrey C. Daniels, “Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement” (McGraw-Hill, New York, NY: 1999)
  • Jon R. Katzenbach, “Peak Performance: Aligning the Hearts and Minds of Your Employees” (HBSP, Boston, MA: 2000)
  • Patrick Lencioni, “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job” (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA: 2007)

    If you would like to learn more about my free employee motivation techniques through my speaking and/or consulting services, please click on this link.

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