Events like the annual practice management conference Winning Is Everything, hosted January 16-18 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, tend to prompt self-reflection.

"Accountants are nice people," one managing partner mused during a cocktail reception. His tablemates agreed -- and for reasons beyond their coincidental, shared past dalliances with rock stardom. The profession would require severe image degradation and several rehab visits to match the level of ego and betrayal contained in just one episode of Behind the Music, sure, but contrasts were also made with the perceptions of doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

"Nice" can be an overlooked attribute, but it's a powerful one when considering a frequent credo over those three days in Vegas: People should be a priority.

Innovation and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson made that a point of his conference-closing session, describing the need for people to find their "element" -- that intersection between what they're good at and what they love to do.

The onus for discovering this sweet spot, he argued, lies on company leadership. Innovative firms will ascertain employees' unique talents and build a mutually beneficial relationship that leads to corporate success. To achieve this, partners merely need to pay attention.

In another session, SS&G's Gary Shamis mentioned "out of touch" firm leaders who fail to create a culture that the next generation would want to inherit -- one grounded in transparency. Partners should have frequent, honest meetings with staff to make sure both parties' needs are being met, and encourage mentorships with real accountability. In this kind of open climate, the younger generation can achieve another Millennial priority: input into the firm's strategic direction.

And it all starts with listening -- otherwise known as being a nice person.

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