Breaking Down Barriers Between AP and Upper Management

September 6, 2023


One thing that many AP professionals experience is finding themselves compartmentalized away from the organization as a whole. That’s due in part to the mistaken perception that accounts payable is a strictly clerical function. Yet the irony is that a major portion of the company’s cash moves through the hands of AP, a department that has inside knowledge about finance operations — and where both the inefficiencies and opportunities lie. 

In this podcast, we speak to an experienced AP Director to explore strategies and techniques for leveraging this knowledge, with a goal of changing the organization’s thinking about the role of accounts payable and bringing their business intelligence to bear for positive change. 

Tiffany Miller, APM
Director of Accounts Payable, The Empire Portfolio Group 

Tiffany Miller, APM, is Director of Accounts Payable for the Empire Portfolio Group in New York City. She is an active IOFM Advisory Panelist and has presented at workshops, webinars, podcasts and chapter meetings. 

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Female Voice: Welcome to the IOFM podcast. This is a podcast for accounts payable and accounts receivable professionals who want to stay in the know with current AP and AR trends and ideas. We'll be interviewing professionals in this space on a wide variety of subjects, including automation, artificial intelligence, career growth, compliance, leadership, and much more.

Royce Morse: Hello and welcome to IOFM's podcast series. I'm Royce Grayson Morse. I'm the Managing Editor for IOFM, and today I'll be speaking with Tiffany Miller, who is the Director of Accounts Payable with Empire Portfolio Group, Certified APM.


Tiffany, today we're going to talk about how to break down the barriers between AP and upper management, and I know that this is an important topic to our members because a lot of times AP folks feel undervalued or passed over when it comes to getting their input on important issues, or weighing in on things that can actually help the company's bottom line. Tell me a little bit about your experience in this regard, please. 

Tiffany Miller: Absolutely. First, Royce, thanks for having me. I'm always excited to talk about all things AP and this topic specifically because I do feel like, with all of the discussion around automation and process/procedure, some of the leadership and issues with management get overlooked. In my experience, it has been very difficult to break into the senior management group when it comes to AP. There are not a lot of jobs out there where you could have a VP title with accounts payable or director positions in accounts payable.


Although I do see more than I have in the past, it's still something that's scarce. I think it is important to talk about it so that we can address what some of these issues are, what are leading to some of these issues, and how to break through it. I think the first one starts with the topic of education. 

Royce Morse: Absolutely. So tell me what kinds of education or learning experiences you recommend to help AP folks within the organization understand what's going on above them and kind of get them the insight that they need to communicate in a meaningful way.


Tiffany Miller: One of the issues that I've noticed is that there's not a clearcut, structured way to be part of accounts payable, right? A lot of people have fallen into accounts payable, and I don't think any of who are in accounts payable graduated high school and said, "I'm going to go to school and I'm going to be in accounts payable."

Royce Morse: [Chuckles] Probably not, no.

Tiffany Miller: If you want to be an accountant, there's a very structured way to get there. You go to college, you take accounting, you graduate with a degree in accounting, you take your CPAs, and you get hired with little to zero experience, but you have the degree. 

I find that quite the opposite exists in accounts payable, that you could have many, many years of very valuable experience, but, without the degree, people find that there are a lot of barriers and can't get into the next levels of accounts payable management or leadership without that. 


Royce Morse: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think perhaps that has to do with just the perception of accounts payable in general as being a clerical function. Does that resonate at all?

Tiffany Miller: Absolutely. And I think we have technology to thank for how far accounts payable has come in terms of realizing the value that is here and that there's so much more in terms of analytics and strategy that come from AP leaders. And it's not just data entry anymore. It's not a backend function that people are able to hire somebody, say, like a mail clerk, to come in and do accounts payable anymore, where we might 15, 20 years ago have somebody who started as a mail clerk, but is now an accounts payable manager.


So it has made great strides and we've come very far, but now we have this disconnect between the required education and AP professionals with an extensive amount of experience. 

Royce Morse: Do you find a certification helps with that?

Tiffany Miller: I do find that certifications help, but I do also see that a lot of companies are offering programs that will help pay for college, and I think that's a great place to start if you are in this situation. If you're caught in the in-between and if you're still looking to advance your career further, I think it's good to start by looking for organizations that are larger and who are offering benefits such as paying for continuing education, or for getting your education in the role that you are being hired for.


Royce Morse: I understand. Let's flip the script for a minute. So we talked about how people who are in the AP role can improve their education and kind of enhance their visibility in the organization, but how do you educate people up the chain about what AP is doing and what their value is?

Tiffany Miller: Absolutely. So one of the — I guess we could call it a double-edged sword in AP. While one of the things that I do and have done in my career in AP is to advocate for the importance of this role, so I have pushed for people to see the value and I have pushed for people to listen to their AP leaders, what comes with that is them now wanting more of a requirement. They're looking for people who do have that degree or have a four-year degree in, say, accounting even I've seen.


So I think that the discussion has great benefits for accounts payable as a department, but it can get a little bit sticky when it comes to how they're viewing the people and what we need to bridge that gap. 

Royce Morse: Yeah, that makes sense. Talk to me for a bit about how people in the — practitioners, not necessarily management, but people that are hands-on, doing the work, what their understanding tends to be about what's going on up the chain. And how do you communicate the challenges that the organization as a whole is experiencing so that they can get a better understanding and a better perspective on the place where they work and how they might contribute? And how do you get the word out? Do you do meetings? Do you get reports? What's the communication style that you recommend?


Tiffany Miller: All of the above. I think it definitely has to do with you understanding your organization and your own senior leadership team. Something that I think is also a place for us to work at is this idea of speaking to senior management and speaking to the C-suite being taboo or breaking the hierarchy or breaking the chain of command, and having these very open and honest conversations casually.


It doesn't always have to be that you go above your manager because you want to get to your CFO and talk to them about what you need. It's that the conversations could be much more causal. I think that's where it has to start because the one thing that I've noticed in trying to break into that senior management team and find out what's going on and get involved in budgeting is that there's a lot of assumption that you're going to step on somebody's toes or that you're getting into a conversation with people who are above your paygrade, or you're in a place where you don't belong. [That's] the thought process I've encountered across my career.

I think part of it is that we need to start having these conversations in a very causal way, and in a way where we're seeking information. We're not seeking resolution for any problems yet. We're just wanting to understand the inner workings of what's happening. We want to be included in the budgeting discussion because we want to know where the money's being spent. 


And also it helps with things like us saving money and getting better discounts. A lot of what AP can do can help lead and lend to those budget discussions and can lead to what the organization is doing strategically, and I think it's a very important voice to have at the table. Unfortunately, we do have this issue where AP isn't necessarily welcome at the table yet. 

Royce Morse: I see that, although it blows my mind. When you think about it, almost all of the money that goes out of the company goes through AP's hands, aside from payroll. Yeah, they're considered less than top-drawer contributors.


They're the ones who are seeing how the money's being spent and issues with vendors and that kind of thing. You would think that that information would be more valued, so I guess it's a matter of communicating, "Yeah, we know stuff. You want to know it, too." [That] kind of thing. 

Tiffany Miller: Exactly. I think one of the really good places to start when trying to break through this is to start with maybe your sister departments, so payroll, treasury, accounting, finance, FP&A. Start asking questions: How does it work? How does what I do affect you? How do the things that I do — where are the pain points? How can I make it better? Really get people comfortable with what you do and let them know that you're there and you're willing to learn, and you want to understand how your department and your role affect them.


I feel like it's a much better approach in getting people to open up. It's also a much better way to get AP to collaborate with the other teams that we impact the most closely, and then together we can come up with a plan for talking to senior management together. A lot of times, all of those groups will roll up to the same senior leadership team. So instead of just AP coming to the same senior management conversation, AP, accounting, and finance all come together to find and address gaps, find a way to solve the problem, and then bring that suggestion up to the senior leadership team. But I think it's very important that there's a representative from AP there when that happens. 


Royce Morse: I think that's brilliant advice. I feel like if you are able to collaborate with other people who whom you have sort of intersecting responsibilities, that you'll not only strengthen those relationships and be able to do a better job, but also be able to do a more convincing job of communicating to the people up the chain, "Yeah, we know what we're talking about. We're working together on this. Let's get you involved in the discussion here, too, and see what we can do better."

Tiffany Miller: I think it's very important that that collaboration happens because, unfortunately, I don't always feel like the same weight might be given to an AP manager saying the same thing that the controller comes with. They could say the exact same thing to maybe their CFP, but it's not given the same weight, and so I do think it's important to get that buy-in from the people who you work closely with on your management level.


Royce Morse: That makes a lot of sense. It's kind of an off-topic conversation a little bit, but do you think that, if you were in a position of management or director or some position of authority within AP, it's helpful to kind of have a little bit of braggadocio, a little bit of attitude, not to feel kind of shy and withdrawn about talking to management? You might have to just kind of be brave and put yourself out there a little bit?

Tiffany Miller: Absolutely. I think that's part of the evolution of AP. Typically, it has been a backend function, and so a lot of people like that you can come to work and kind of just do your thing and then leave. There's no meetings. There's not a lot of presentations. There's not a lot of public speaking.


But I do think that, in AP leadership, that's a skill that either we need to learn or we need to expand on, because I think that it is so important to be able to get up in front of that team of leadership and to state your case and to be able to make a very clear and convincing argument to whatever you need, whether you need to be part of the budget discussion, whether it's about automation, whether it's about headcount. I think it's very important that people know that you're very comfortable in front of that team and that you can be there. Then I think that will also lead them to being more comfortable inviting you to more and more meetings and more and more discussions going forward. 

Royce Morse: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. If they are comfortable with your level of knowledge and the fact that you're willing to communicate openly and have information that they need, I'm thinking that they're going to be much more receptive to what you have to say.


When you are working with your team members, the people that report up to you, how do you encourage them to communicate in that style? 

Tiffany Miller: The way that I've always run my AP departments is that it's very high level. I think it's important to talk about the high-level picture and to understand where the information is coming from, where the decisions are coming from, how that affects you, and why what you do affects them. I think it's extremely helpful because it's very easy to become discouraged when somebody maybe comes to you with a great idea, but it's not in the budget, or it's just not the right time. To just say "no" to those kinds of situations can be very discouraging.


I think when people understand more where the information is coming from and why the budget is the way that it is, and maybe the decision is a no right now because IT is undergoing to a major transformation and they don't have the resources to lend to AP to do an implementation or implement any type of automation at the moment. So really giving high-level perspective of what's happening at the organization and why things are happening I think is extremely important to not only make sure that your team isn't discouraged to bring you ideas, but for them to really have a good grasp of what the entire company is doing and how they fit into that. 

Royce Morse: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Tell me a little bit about your experiences with team members. Have you run into any resistance from any of them, in that they just want to sit at their desk and pay bills and don't want to kind of take that step forward? Or are people just longing for that?


Tiffany Miller: In my experience, I've seen much more longing to advance. There's a lot of barriers there to overcome, unfortunately. There is an occasional employee who just wants to come in 9:00 to 5:00, do the job, and they're very hesitant of automation. They're very hesitant of advancement. They just want to do what they signed up to do. But most people, I find, are extremely excited to learn more of the ins and outs of AP and not just paying bills and not just data entry. When we start talking about and looking into analytics and when we start getting into the information of the inner workings of the budget and the forecasting and the cash availability, I notice that they start to open up and realize that there's much more for them in this role or future roles within AP. It's not just data entry, and they're not going to get stuck there.


I definitely would say that it's much more people longing for more. 

Royce Morse: That's good to know. Obviously, it's a path to advancement: the more you know, the more empowered you are, the more valuable you'll be to the organization. It's in your best interest, if you're looking to do more and make more money, to get a grasp on big picture. Can you give me an example — I'm curious about your own personal experience — of a challenge that you've encountered dealing with upper management and how you overcame that challenge?


Tiffany Miller: In one instance, I was challenged with really bringing the department to a higher standard, making sure that everybody on the team was understanding of what their role was and advancing the policies and procedures, including automation and technology advances. However, I was not given a budget to do any of that. When I asked what the budget was for that task and was told, "There's no budget," we had a very honest conversation about [how] AP doesn't actually have a budget here. It was just kind of rolled in the accounting and finance team budget.


So we had to start discussing [that] AP is different and in order for all of these things to happen, there have to be dollars spent. What we ended up getting from that conversation was AP's budget needs to be separate from everybody else's, and we had to carve out funds that had never been associated with AP before. They had just always assumed that the AP budget was part of the accounting and finance team. But after that, AP actually had an annual budget to pull from that was its own, and then we could start moving forward on some of these tasks, in terms of elevating the department and getting some automation in there. 


Royce Morse: That's awesome and very interesting that they wouldn't understand that you needed money to move forward. [laughs] That's kind of expected, but I guess they just hadn't really thought about it in that way. So I'm guessing that, in that situation, if you needed anything, you would've had to go to somebody else and make a case for it, and they might give you a hard time because they felt like they needed the money to do their own thing.


Tiffany Miller: That was always the case. The dollars were already spoken for, for all of the accounting and finance projects. I think this is where talking about high level is very important, because I don't think the accounting team understood that either. They didn't understand that we were a part of their budget, so they never carved out a piece of it for us. It just had all been lost in translation over the years. So it was a really good conversation that we had, and it's a very simple conversation to have to get the ball rolling, to find out: Does AP even have a budget? I guess [that's] a great starting point.


Royce Morse: That's a really good question and you would assume that they did, but perhaps not. Well, I've enjoyed speaking with you. Any last words for our listeners, anything that you'd like to tell them or that you feel like they should know?

Tiffany Miller: I think my parting  piece of advice would be to really start having conversations with everybody. Ask questions and be curious. As much as we want to advocate for AP and get our message out there, sometimes it's really good to start by listening. Having those conversations will give you so much insight into what other people are doing. And it might really give you ideas on how to better accounts payable. If you can listen to somebody's point of view, come back to your own department, make a change that makes their life easier, I promise you that you've just gotten buy-in with somebody who will support you as you consider having conversations with other teams and other leadership.


Royce Morse: That's fabulous advice. Thank you. This has been Tiffany Miller, Director of Accounts Payable with Empire Portfolio Group. I'm Royce Morse, Managing Editor of IOFM. Thank you for listening.

Female Voice: Thank you so much for listening to the IOFM podcast. Remember to head on over to the Member Forum to discuss today's episode and provide ideas for our next one. And to stay up-to-date on IOFM's current events, both in-person and virtually, head on over to

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Receive 1 CEU towards IOFM programs:

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