John Zitzner, president of Bradley Co., an $18-million insurance-software developer in Cleveland, believes in treating his employees like family -- better than any other company has ever treated them. Then, they'll return the favor to his customers. "In nine years, that philosophy hasn't gone wrong," says Zitzner. The theory isn't unusual, but Zitzner's practice of it is:

* Appreciation. Every year while Zitzner is on vacation, he writes his 18 employees a letter thanking each one specifically for his or her efforts and contributions. "It's not me that makes the company tick, it's everyone else," he explains.

* Equitable rewards. Zitzner used to try to figure out which people in the company were worth more than others in divvying up the profit-sharing pot. Last year he simply took the whole pool and divided it among his 18 employees. Everyone got around $1,500 -- a bit less than a few people had been receiving, but, Zitzner says, everyone endorsed the change. Performance-based incentives for the company's salespeople continue to vary according to individual results.

* Communication skills. Bradley devotes its annual retreat, as well as one evening a month, to building personal and communication skills. Human relationships are a part of everyday life, reasons Zitzner -- why not school everyone in them? This year's retreat focused on why conflicts and communication breakdowns occur, and a recent evening session taught employees how to sharpen their listening skills.

* Flexibility. You have a choice when an employee comes to you with a request for a special accommodation. Say no, asserts Zitzner, and you erect a barrier. Say yes and you strengthen your relationship. Zitzner is willing to create odd work schedules, offer extra time off, and do anything else necessary to respond to employees' needs.

If all that touchy-feely stuff weren't genuine, Bradley wouldn't have earned its employees' extraordinary loyalty, which is evident from the company's extremely low turnover rate. In fact, there has been no turnover among the company's seven management members in the past seven years.

-- Ellyn E. Spragins

To see just how valuable the work-as-family concept can be to an employee, pick up Work/Family Conflicts: Private Lives, Public Responses, by Bradley Googins (1991, Auburn House, 800-225-5800, $17.95). It provides an excellent perspective for company owners who are establishing policies.

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