Five Free Motivators to Increase Employee Engagement

By January 6, 2023LTEN Focus On Training


DEVELOPING LEADERS – by Larry Freedman

How can leaders motivate their people without a big budget?

Often, when managers think about how to motivate a salesperson, they may think about providing a big bonus, an exotic rewards trip or an incentive like company stock. While the aforementioned items can be motivating to many, they come with a huge financial cost to an organization, which precludes many companies from doing these types of things and severely limits others.

Given this challenge, how can leaders motivate their people without a big budget?  In this article, we’ll explore five motivators that will increase employee engagement, build culture and inspire hearts and minds.


One of the best books that I’ve read on leadership is the “The Progress Principle,” by Steven Kramer and Teresa Amabile, which explores progress as a powerful motivator. I learned a lot from the book, but in a nutshell, the central theme is captured in this one sentence: “Of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful one is progress in meaningful work.”

There are many ways a leader can recognize progress, which positively reinforces the behaviors that led to the positive result. This positive reinforcement from the manager is motivating, feels good and is very likely to generate more progress toward achieving a specific goal. Small wins are often the path to bigger wins!


This is an underestimated motivator but leaves a strong and powerful impression.  As a leader, when you really take the time to listen to someone, you are showing them respect, consideration and credibility. This makes your team member feel more valued and appreciated, which is a powerful motivator with with no associated cost.

This is even more impactful when your team member feels that they can “speak up” and respectfully challenge and disagree with you. This not only helps with motivation, but it also helps with employee retention.


Providing clarity is a powerful motivator because most employees want to do a good job and having clarity on expectations and performance is critical to their success. This is where leaders need to be as specific and focused as possible on their expectations.

There’s a Russian proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.” As a leader, you should make certain that your people have focus and clarity, and know the answers to two questions:

  • What is expected of me?
  • How am I doing?

The book “The One Thing” by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan is a helpful resource to reinforce the concepts of focus and clarity. From the book: “Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus. The way to get the most out of your work and your life is go as small as possible.”

Personal Recognition

When it comes to recognition, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve appreciated the costly (recognition) items as much as anyone. Having said that, little things can and do make a big difference, and I still will read hand-written notes from past leaders and reflect on special times.

Other examples include when a senior leader reaches out and personally calls (not texts) to recognize a special milestone. Personalized plaques, trophies and including a significant other can also go a long way.

It’s these types of kind gestures that will make a difference in creating and shaping a culture.


My hunch is that if most people were to create a list of various types of motivators, having a mentor would not make their list, but please hear me out. Having a trusted and respected mentor can absolutely be motivational, assuming the relationship is authentic and not transactional.

A true mentor should be a teacher, a trusted adviser and someone you respect and want to emulate. A mentor can help you with your professional development and growth, which is also a motivator. Finally, a mentor can connect you with other people in their network who may be able to help you in your career.

On the flip side, being a mentor is extremely rewarding because it means that you’ve earned your mentee’s respect and can help to make a difference in their life.


Motivation doesn’t have to be all about huge incentives, and sometimes the best things in life are free! I encourage you to explore new ways to motivate, inspire and show your team how much you care about them.

These five items are just a starting point, so feel free to share an example of how you’ve inspired and motivated someone on your team. Most importantly, always remember that as a leader, “without them (your team), there is no you!”

Larry Freedman is a senior commercial director in the pharmaceutical industry. Email Larry at


About LTEN

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network ( is the only global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in meeting the needs of life sciences learning professionals. LTEN shares the knowledge of industry leaders, provides insight into new technologies, offers innovative solutions and communities of practice that grow careers and organizational capabilities. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to more than 3,200 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, and industry partners who support the life sciences training departments.

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