Revitalize, Optimize, Appreciate: Nurturing Morale, Efficiency, and the Value of Accounts Payable

March 25, 2024


29 min
Whether you’re a team leader seeking to transform your workplace culture, a professional eager to streamline operations through a more holistic approach to efficiency, or simply someone who believes in the power of recognizing each individual’s unique contributions, this episode is a must-listen.
Katie Noto, Senior Manager of P2P, BDO USA
Grace Chlosta, Content Manager, IOFM

With a team as important and hard-working as Accounts Payable, it is easy for members to feel overworked, overwhelmed, and unmotivated to come to work. As leaders, it’s important to build our teams up, help them utilize unique communication strategies, and think outside the box in order to be efficient.

In this episode, we speak to Katie Noto, a Senior Manager of P2P at BDO USA, and delve into the intricacies of revitalizing team morale, optimizing efficiency without solely relying on automation, and appreciating the true value of your role in Accounts Payable.

Whether you’re a team leader seeking to transform your workplace culture, a professional eager to streamline operations through a more holistic approach to efficiency, or simply someone who believes in the power of recognizing each individual’s unique contributions, this episode is a must-listen.

Katie Noto is a Senior Manager of P2P at BDO USA and a busy working mom. Her passions are leadership, people, and numbers. She works daily to make P2P a profit center while inspiring her team to be the best versions of themselves.

Katie Noto
Senior Manager of P2P, BDO USA

I am a working mother striving to succeed in each role that I play.  Professionally, I am the Procure to Pay Senior Manager at BDO USA, with my passions being leadership, people, and numbers!  I am working to make the P2P space a profit center, with a focus this year around transitioning from 20% PO invoices to 80% the day we go live with our new ERP system.

Grace Chlosta
Content Manager, IOFM

Grace Chlosta joined the Institute of Finance & Management (IOFM) in 2022 in a new role for the team as the Content Manager. She is responsible for the planning, organization, development, and implementation of all the content for IOFM’s digital products and (virtual and in-person) events. Grace is committed to ensuring that IOFM’s content stays timely, relevant, and actionable for all financial operations professionals, and works closely with a team of content developers, industry leaders, and subject matter experts to guarantee this happens.

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Grace Chlosta: 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.

Today we'll be interviewing Katie Noto, Senior Manager of Procure to Pay at BDO. Katie is a working mother striving to succeed in each role that she plays. Professionally, she is the Procure to Pay Senior Manager at BDO USA, with her passions being leadership, people, and numbers. She is working to make the P2P space a profit center, with a focus this year around transitioning to 20% PO invoices to 80% the day she goes live with her new ERP system.


She'll be being interviewed by me, Grace Chlosta, Content Manager at IOFM. I joined the Institute of Finance and Management in 2022 in a new role for our team as the Content Manager. I'm responsible for the planning, organization, development, and implementation of all the content for IOFM's digital products and virtual and in-person events. I'm committed to ensuring that IOFM's content stays timely, relevant, and actionable for all financial operations professionals, and work closely with a team of content developers, industry leaders, and subject matter experts to guarantee this happens. 

All right, and I am here with Katie. Welcome, Katie, to IOFM podcast. 

Katie Noto: Hello, Grace. Thank you so much for inviting me.


Grace Chlosta: Yeah, so we're super excited to get into the conversation today, all about leadership and really how to shape a team with really low morale. But just to get us started, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at BDO?


Katie Noto: Absolutely. So I am a working mother, trying every day to find that balance to allow me to be successful in each of the roles that I play. That led me to BDO in itself, looking for more balance and a place where I could grow my career and be successful, as I said, in all the areas of my life. I worked previously for Gordon Food Service, a wonderful company. I learned so much there, and that's where I started in AP as a team lead for the MRO space, so looking at rogue spend, tail spend, helping the team out there.

From there, I was promoted to a supervisor of an analyst team, where I supported both the expense MRO side as well as the purchasing side of payables. I was able to learn a lot, work on account reconciliations, just really grow my knowledge of finance. That then led me to BDO, where I started as manager of the payables team, and am currently a senior manager of procure to pay. 


I recently took over the procurement department, where we are, hopefully, as we transition to a new ERP, going to step from 20% purchase order invoices to 80% the day we go live with our new system. 

Grace Chlosta: That's awesome. That's super exciting. Can you tell me a little bit what drew you to AP or P2P, like what kind of made you want to get involved in this industry?

Katie Noto: It actually happened by chance. I did social work before I started my career in finance, so a very drastic change there. I've always loved math. I tested out of math classes. I was taking college math classes my freshman year of high school, so kind of a natural fit there. I was able to take some of the different customer service skills and people skills that I learned in social work and transfer that to finance. I got the opportunity to work at Gordon Food Service. Once I started learning, I just was a sponge, absorbed as much as I could, quickly grew in my knowledge and my career, helped find efficiencies, and that just really propelled — maybe my passion for it there was just continuing to learn and have people who would invest in me. So maybe that's where I fell in love with that.


Grace Chlosta: I always like to ask, because it's kind of like AP finds them. No one really goes to school, like college, specifically for AP, so it's always interesting to hear how people found this industry, I feel like. When you joined BDO — we talked a little bit about this when we first met — you mentioned that you were really coming into a team with a low of low morale, a really understaffed department. Could you talk to me about what it felt like walking into a team with that environment that was already in place?

Katie Noto: Yeah. I was already — I felt like I was starting behind the ball, but I was going under the "fake it until you make it." Others had more confidence in myself at that point than I did. I had been a supervisor before, but never in charge of a whole department. I knew I was walking into a department that —


I didn't necessarily know about the low morale initially. That came after I spent time in the department, but I knew I was coming into an inefficient — maybe not an ineffective team. They got the job done, but a very inefficient team that was so overworked, understaffed as you stated. Once I kind of stepped in, I had huge ideas. I was like, "Oh, we can automate so much!" At Gordon Food Service, we had gone through a full automation. More or less implemented our own ERP in the payables department, in line with procurement, so I was ready to move forward and excited to do that. 

It took me a while to realize that this team was so beat down. They didn't even want to say hi to anybody on their way back from the bathroom. They felt like they needed to rush to their desk. Their head had to be down. There was no communication. The team all sat in their cubicles. It was an open work environment when we were in the office, but everybody had their backs to each other. There was no chatter. There was no joyous talking. You didn't know about the individuals' personal lives. These people had worked together for almost — gosh, I have an employee who's been working for BDO my entire life — from a span of 5 years to 25 years, and there was no personal connection there. 


Grace Chlosta: Is that from probably a fear of other leadership personalities that might've been there before you? Was that just really fear on their part?

Katie Noto: I'd say it absolutely was, and it is completely against the culture at BDO. We are people first, trying to be our best every day, in every way that we can. I'm not going to name off all of our core values and different things here, but it was very — it was mirror opposite of what I thought I would walk into based on the culture and people that I knew that worked there. So it definitely was individual leadership, and it was really kept under the radar, because these individuals who were suffering had fantastic year-end evaluations, so upper management thought everything was wonderful.


Grace Chlosta: Right, and it's really just they're kind of keeping that all in internally. Once you kind of uncovered all of this, what are some of the strategies that you implemented to get that morale up, like get people [shining] again? And not only that, [but] to increase efficiency within your department?

Katie Noto: So some of it was looking in the mirror myself. As I stated, I was so excited to come in, and I so eager to automate. There was so much low-hanging fruit, and I thought: What can we do? And I'm saying "automation." The team I have now, we call ourselves the dream team. We're all family, pretty much.


I keep mentioning automation, which we have not done yet. I have been able to become effective with this dream team that I mentioned. Automation is fantastic. We're not there. It was really then taking a look in the mirror, as I started this conversation, saying, "Oh, I want to make all these big changes." I then was — to a team that was really beat down, already fearful (as you clearly called out) and you can just see in their behaviors. I was saying, "We're going to automate. We're going to automate." So then they thought, gosh, my job kind of sucks already, but I need it. There were a lot of different whys behind why they remained. 

Grace Chlosta: Right.

Katie Noto: It definitely wasn't the relationships that were there. And then here's this girl coming in — I was a girl to a lot of them, right? Big age gaps — who is saying, "We're going to automate." I'm going to more or less, say, take your job away. So I had to take a big look in the mirror and say, "What am I doing?" and correct myself, and make sure I was really not letting my desire to learn, my desire to grow, my desire to change really impact what I was pushing on others.


I needed to meet them at their level, and make sure I was really creating that foundation before I started saying, "Change, change, change." Let's get to know each other. Let's rebuild — not even rebuild. We had to tear down walls, right, and then become like our cornerstone and starting rebuilding from there., 

Grace Chlosta: That's huge, to kind of take away your own personal goals. If you were just looking at the company and your team as it stood and you were like, "Okay, yeah, we need to automate. We need to do these things." But taking the step back and making sure that, to start, your team felt good with each other. What would've happened if you had just started automating without your team feeling together? That would've, I'm sure, been probably a disaster. If they were already feeling that way, to try to take on even more without feeling good to start is probably a recipe for disaster.


Katie Noto: Well, yeah, 100%. I didn't even have their trust to truly understand the day-to-day processes for them to tell me: "Here's what's going well, and here's what's not." Everybody knows you don't want to automate a bad process. I couldn't even get to the root of these problems because there was not that trust or that foundation, so it was really having to take a step back and be able to start to build the relationships. It wasn't just the relationship with me; it was between each other. "Can I trust this person to have my back?"

You talk about PTO, taking time off. They didn't cover for each other, so they would come back to a mess. And then, in the end, they stopped taking PTO because it was pretty much punishment. You'd come back to a ridiculous workload, and then that snowball [where] you can't catch up, and then you're getting scolded. 

Grace Chlosta: Right. It's so crazy. So it kind of seems like you went just — a complete change. Do you have any specific experiences, or anything that really highlights some exact things that you did to gain trust within your team?


Katie Noto: Absolutely. One, just really listening. This is very cliché, but not just — you're listening to understand. Obviously, you want to do that first, but really listening and picking up on the key things that maybe somebody is not giving that information freely, but you can identify different things. A very small thing — not everybody celebrates the same holidays, but it was Christmas and I wanted to make sure I did something for each person. So I sent out a little survey: What are the things you like? And then we all shared and everybody kind of started to get to know each other.

But then it was each person I got a very personalized ornament. Somebody who I picked up on — I thought they might like hiking, so I found something that did that. Not that you have to give a gift, but pick up on the little things. And then including everybody in the questionnaire and saying, "Oh, hey, here are commonalities." So really elementary things that I did just to — hey, here are some icebreakers.


Then another probably cliché — I call myself a very cheesy person. I am and I'll own it. I'm just going to embrace it. That's how I build relationships, too, is I started [on] random days throughout the week, I would call it a Terrific Tuesday, Thankful Thursday, Fantastic Friday. It was a requirement to share some news. My requirement was that it can't be that you're alive. It needs to be something. It can't be "I'm alive" or "I have a house." Find something, like an exercise you would do with somebody who's trying to get over losing someone, just a standard thing there. Then it just started building from there. And then it started the relationships between the team. If somebody would reach out, it was either in our team chat that we have or an email that we would do that. And I would switch it up, so they never knew which way it was coming or which day, so it was very genuine and sincere. 


But then, from there, it started to roll into, "Hey, I'm having a tough time" with X, Y or Z. Not everybody wants to share personal stuff. It can be work. But it allowed those doors to start opening — and maybe I should say windows. It was probably windows opening before doors. But then everybody started to catch on, and then there was that trust being built. 

I will say another lesson learned in there was that I did have somebody come to me and say, "You know, you're making us all share this stuff," and she was going through a very difficult time, and she was like, "I just am not comfortable sharing personal information." I wasn't requiring personal information, but I never came out and [said that]. So being very clear and, again, just paying attention and picking up on the little cues and what you know about the individuals through truly, truly listening to understand the individual and what's going on. 

Grace Chlosta: Yeah, I feel like that's huge. Even the fact that she was willing to come to you and say that she felt uncomfortable, I feel like that even says something [about] that comfort. Like you said, the window was kind of opening just to share even that. So you mentioned right when you started — or you had mentioned being in office, so now are you remote or are you hybrid? How is that, managing a team remotely? You kind of built that trust. The windows were opening. How did that switch happen? Now that you're fully remote, do you still feel like you have a really good culture? Has it increased, decreased? How do you think that switch has affected your culture?


Katie Noto: Yeah, so it actually really helped. At the time, most people did. After COVID, we were 100% remote. A couple of us still went into the office to handle the things that had to be done there, but that was really a volunteer. I volunteered to make sure everybody else was safe at home so I could go in and do that, take care of those little tasks.

But, before that, I will say, we were probably ahead of the game. Everybody was at that point working from home part-time, so half the week. We had different days. There was only, I think, one day a week that everybody was in the office. Some of that challenge I had already overcome. But when we transitioned to fully remote — we do have an option to go in the office, but it's rare. Now my team is spread across the country, so it doesn't happen; we don't get together in person. 


But it required that intentionality and all of us to change. I mentioned our team chat. We didn't have a team group chat created. Everything was email or individual, so that was part of the change is having that group chat always going. And we have actually a couple of different group chats now. We have one that has a prior team member, who were able to help meet a career goal and help her advance her career in our department. So we have that chat as well with her. It includes our new team member. We backfilled her position. But that one is more personal stuff. But then we have our team chat that's work. "Hey, I'm here today." It's still the nice, fuzzy, "How are you?" but it's different intent, and with a focus to make sure we're all communicating well and can do our jobs well. 


The other thing with being remote that I think we've been very intentional about is finding time to connect and continuing that relationship. Every week, we have an hour block for our check-in, to go over numerous things. We're constantly touching base, but have an hour set aside every month where work talk is not allowed. We call it our coffee break. We have people in India as well, so time zones. Tea, coffee, whatever you prefer, water. It's that break that we're required to be on camera and no work talk. Keeping that alive has been extremely important in keeping the morale up and just allowing us to know each other on a personal level so you really want to support them, and you have that desire to be a part of that team, which, selfishly, helps with retention as well. 


Grace Chlosta: Yeah, it's crazy. I hear from a lot of people that — even personally, when I think about my own role, I never really sometimes talk to team members who might've been in other departments or other offices across the country, but I feel like a lot of people have even somehow — crazily enough — felt more connected after we're all remote. It's crazy, but I hear that all the time, and I feel it myself.

Katie Noto: Yeah, I agree 100%.

Grace Chlosta: You got your team morale. The culture is going really great, it seems like, so what are — you mentioned when you came into BDO you wanted to automate, so where are you at in that journey? Is it something that's on the horizon for you? If not, what are some ways that you're still staying relevant and kind of increasing your efficiency without automation?

Katie Noto: That's a really good question. Part of why I was brought in was to help automate. We've done very minimal automation, and I can speak to that in a moment, but more of what we have done is find efficiency gains in utilizing the tools that we have in place. One, I had an understaffed team, so I was able to get, through research, through data analysis, identify strategies so I could calculate the headcount that I need. That was very mathematic, very methodical, and it was true.


The calculations that I was able to do [were] spot on. I've been able to help others get there as well for their teams, and help to identify the formula there. So that was a piece of it. And being more effective and efficient was being fully staffed. I think the other big piece was identifying where we can make changes. What is the work that — I said I have some people who have been at BDO my entire life that are on my team actually in the same role, which is absolutely okay. We need people who want to grow, and we need people who want to stay where they are, because then they retain so much knowledge. She obviously had ways of doing things, and it was years and years that had been engrained in her, and it didn't seem like useless work. It didn't seem monotonous because it's what she's always known. Along with a person who had only been there two years, because that's how they were taught. 


We went through process mapping, which I don't think everybody loved. I had an outside individual from a different team help with process mapping to make sure I wasn't taking for granted things, and that the individual who owned that process was also on these meetings for each process that we did separately. It was myself, the individual from another team, and the individual that owned the process. We didn't want to take things for granted that an individual just does automatically. We didn't want to skip a step. That was very successful. We also used that to work with other teams within finance and outside of finance that worked within that process itself. If we had to work on a client refund with the AR side, we then worked with the AR team to map that process, and we linked [our vizios] together, so we had a huge, huge data map. 


But we knew exactly where manual processes were, where unnecessary processes were, where duplicated efforts were, and that really helped us to 1) cut down our processing time, but then 2) identify areas where we can provide better customer service so we're not getting as many questions because we have a full understanding of our process, as well as the processes that impact us and we impact. And then the automation piece we did then identified thought processes. We have thought processes that — that's swivel-chair work. So we did eliminate a lot of work there. I think I eliminated 40 hours/month in one process, and we multiply that by about four that we were able to do. 

We also identified places where we could use data uploads versus manual entry of invoices. That, I think, was about two weeks of work for a single individual. So there's a lot of things that you can do with the tools that you already have. You just have to really look at: What can you do? I'd say that's another thing before we could even get to automation, is understanding what we have at our fingertips before we go and spend a ridiculous amount of money on a new project — which we did start to do. 


And then that got shut down, only because we are implementing a new ERP system, and we are going with a strategy of a single system, so now that's what we're working on. And we will have a more automated process here in July. 

Grace Chlosta: That's super exciting. And I love that piece you touched on about, a lot of people in AP really fear automation because they think it's going to get rid of their jobs. What's this going to mean? It's only eliminating those manual tasks and opening up room for them to do things with their brain and be creative and just use their knowledge a little bit more. So I feel like that's a really, really great point.


Katie Noto: Grace, you just hit on something. If I can take a step back to the morale piece and building people up in the work that they're doing, and using their brain and changing, that really made me think of one exercise that I did with the team. I recognized when people were saying, "Oh, well, what do you do for the company?" We'd have different meetings with other departments, and they would always say, "Oh, I'm just an AP coordinator," or "Oh, I'm just in AP," but they always said "just." I jumped on my soap box and I got on a call with the team — made them be on screen for this one because I was so, so passionate about it. They were just diminishing their worth in their own words and I was like, "Gosh, what do you believe about yourself when you're saying that?" And what you believe about yourself is what you're projecting onto others.

So they were required — another requirement — just a silly but easy thing, to remove "just" from their vocabulary. It's not allowed. And I also required that we all held one another accountable. And it was to the point [where] I would call people out in a meeting with others. It was very intentional, very purposeful. You need to value yourself and the work that you're doing. 


In order to do that, I didn't just say that. I talked about, "Hey, let's look at our RONA," return on net assets, and try to show them how the work that they're doing impacts it, even if it's: "Hey, here's what happens when there's an error," and then look at how that trickles down to the bottom line. Look at how the end goal of the company is to be able to have great financials, look at the bottom line, but the impact that each of those individuals has on the bottom line, and getting them to truly understand and realize that it is not "just" entering an invoice or a small task. I think that was huge. 

The other thing was helping them to identify the value in what they're doing, not through RONA and bottom line, but having to explain it to others as we were doing process mapping and having other departments say, "Whoa! I had no clue payables was this complex." I think that was a really big piece. 

Grace Chlosta: Very.


Katie Noto: And then the third step in that — I'm sorry. I didn't mean to talk over you.

Grace Chlosta: No, it's great.

Katie Noto: The third step in that was creating our own value statement — value statement [or] mission statement. However you want to say it. We have all of those as a company, but I required the team to come up with their own. My requirements on that — and this was, I think, probably like a three-month process because it needed to be meaningful. It needed to really drive our goals as a team. Then we needed to be able to come back to it and make sure: "Yes, I'm proud of this. I'm proud to be a part of this team, because this is what we're trying to do."

The only way I led that was by saying, "You guys need to come up with this. You cannot say in your value statement the word 'invoices.'" You cannot say all the things that say, "We process invoices. We pay suppliers." It is a beautiful mission statement that I've been asked by other executives to share across the company, and hope to inspire others to do that. 


I think it really was successful, and they are all proud of it. We go back to it quarterly and make sure our goal is aligning with this. Do we need to modify this? Does it still make sense? But it was so collaborative with each individual on the team, which I think is why it was successful. Again, that might be elementary with getting people involved, but they were all proud. They were proud by the end of that. They were proud of their roles, the work that they do, and then of the value statement. 

Grace Chlosta: I've got to say, that just hit the nail on the head. I feel like all the time at IOFM we hear, "No, I'm just this. I'm just that." It's so, so true. I love the idea of finding a mission statement for your team. It's a small piece of advice, but I feel like that could really transform how people think about themselves, the work they do, and their team. AP is so, so important. It affects every single team — definitely not a "just." That was really huge to hear.

Katie Noto: Thank you.


Grace Chlosta: Amazing advice already. Do you have any other key lessons or takeaways from your journey that you want to share before we head out today?

Katie Noto: Yeah, I think one of the biggest things — and I don't recall if we talked about this a little bit or not — is just continuing down the path of development and making sure you're supporting people through that. I had mentioned we were able to help somebody who was in payables. She came in, and we knew this was her end goal, but she was a fantastic asset because she brought different insight and values and things that we didn't know about into this role, but then we were also to create bridges and help her get to — she's in an office admin role, which she absolutely loves, and she's thriving. But that's through development. And everybody will be in different stages, so it's hard because not everybody wants to do it, right? And I said I don't want to push my own principles and values on others. They need to live by their own, but I think continuing developing, whether it's in your current role and finding efficiencies, continue developing if you want career advancement (or even just knowledge).


Whatever that is, it's so important to allow the space for that and ask your team to prioritize that, no matter how busy they are. That was a big hurdle that we had to jump over, and a big mindset shift to allow people to find space for that — not find, but to make space for that. So much so that it did, in the end, become a requirement. On top of our other meetings I said, in one of our monthly meetings, we require once a month that everybody shares some of their development from that month, whether it's watching a TED Talk and what that means to you or how you put it into play, whether you like it or not. Sometimes you don't. Or if somebody is very intentionally looking to advance their career, we, as a leadership team, may help them to focus and hone that in, but they need to own that development. So the biggest piece of advice there is just making sure you, yourself, are prioritizing time for development, and then really pushing others as well because that's where you're going to find your efficiencies and effectiveness, even if you can't automate. 

Grace Chlosta: That's so amazing. Thank you so much, Katie. Super inspiring. It was so great to talk to you today, and I'm looking forward to talking to you again in the future.

Katie Noto: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Grace.

Grace Chlosta: 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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