Stephanie Hodge is CEO and Principal Consultant for Essex Consulting, LLC; a certified women-owned enterprise consulting firm providing Human Resource and business consulting and professional development and coaching for small and mid-sized companies. She has over 20 years of global HR experience leading teams in North America, Canada, and South America.
Stephanie is known as a transformational leader with experience in performance management, talent development and succession planning, and strategic HR management. Under her leadership, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta was the proud recipient of the “2016’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For” award.
As a business owner, Stephanie’s philosophy is to help businesses develop and execute strategies that achieve organizational success, through the development of their people. Stephanie enjoys aligning people strategies that support business goals, adding a personal touch, by utilizing her HR expertise to resolve business challenges.
Stephanie is a certified professional in human resources (PHR), holds a Master’s degree in Organization and Management; and is currently pursuing her doctorate in Business Administration. Stephanie is a faculty member for the Non-Profit University (GA Center for Non-Profits), and guest lecturer for Georgia State University. She is a member of NAAAHR Atlanta, SHRM Atlanta and National Chapters, National Black MBA, Atlanta Black Chambers, and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
Intro: [00:00:05] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWABC Open for Business. And this is going to be a good one. Today, I have with me Stephanie Hodge, and she’s with Essex Consulting. Welcome.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:00:28] Thank you. Hi. I’m glad to be here.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Well, before we get into things too deeply, can you share a little bit about Essex Consulting? How are you serving folks?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:00:38] Sure. We are in HR consulting firm. So, what we do is really help businesses with any HR needs, whether it’s HR outsourcing, they may need help with benefits administration, or we can come in and help train and develop their managers and employees. So, it really depends on their need. And we provide HR support in whatever area.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:06] Now, how did you get into this line of work?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:01:09] Well, I’ve been doing human resources probably for about 25 years, progressively growing in different HR roles. And recently, so my company is about three and a half years old. So, I’ve been supporting other organizations, and learning a lot about the HR function and leading teams, and decided I wanted to do this for my own business, so I can do things the way I want to and support a number of different companies. So, that’s really fun for me, both nonprofit, for-profit, a lot of different industry experience. And so, that just makes it fun and challenging. And so, yeah, I’m a glutton for HR punishment and just really like to deliver HR services.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:02] Now, is there a sweet spot for you? Because I would imagine some companies may think they’re too small to have an HR person, and then some already have full-time HR people. So, what is kind of the sweet spot for you?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:02:16] Right. So, I find that the majority of our clients end up being small to mid-sized companies. So, those companies who have been growing and didn’t really see a need initially for an HR staff or HR team and realize after they start hiring more employees that they do need to get some control in order. It would be nice to have a handbook and some policies in order. So, we do a lot of foundation work for small to mid-sized companies to make sure that they are compliant and understand what it means to manage employees at different sizes, different number of employees.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:03:04] But we also support organizations that already have an HR team. So, a lot of times, with human resources, there’s so many things to do and functions that many professionals only have time to make sure that the train is moving, that things are moving forward, but they don’t have time to focus on initiatives that they may want to deliver. And so, we can come in and help those teams deliver initiatives around performance management, changing benefits, or administering their benefits. Any kind of project that they may want to roll out, we can come in and help make them look like rock stars. We help in the background. So, we kind of service both ends of the spectrum.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:58] Now, when you’re working with these smaller firms that may have not focused on HR or elevated it to the importance that it deserves. how do you kind of sell them on the benefits of having, at least, in your case, kind of this outsourced HR expert at their disposal?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:04:17] Right. So, the main benefit is not having a full-time FTE on your books, right? But I think that the true enhancement for those companies, if someone can come in, either myself or someone from my team who has HR expertise and can help them in a number of different areas. So, they get this 20-25 years of experience without having that person at the staff member. But We serve as a partner. We kind of play plays an extension of their team. And so, the real benefit for them is making sure that they have their books in order, they are being compliant, and feel like they have a resource that they can trust, they can lean on to help guide them through that process.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:14] So, sometimes it sounds like you come in maybe on a project basis to help them get some just stuff done for them that maybe mitigate some risk, maybe at some policies, procedures, things like that. And then, over time, they realize, “Hey, this is handy to have somebody kind of available to us, so we can kind of get ahead of things and maybe kind of really solidify some of the ways that we do business. And I think it could even creep into the company culture that shows how much you care about your people.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:05:48] Right. That’s exactly true. There’s a focus on really engaging employees and making sure that they’re taken care of. And a lot of times, when companies are growing, they care about their employees, but the focus is on how do we grow and how are we servicing our clients. And we come in and can help them to make sure that their environment is such where employees feel engaged, they feel connected. We help guide them through that process and support them in different initiatives to help their employees.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:24] It sounds like in marketing, my background is primarily a marketing, but in marketing, they have a saying that you’re always branding even if you’re not branding. Like even if you’re not trying-
Stephanie Hodge: [00:06:33] That’s absolutely right.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:33] … people are going to have an opinion about your brand. It sounds like the same thing is true with corporate culture that if you don’t kind of consciously develop a corporate culture, a corporate culture is being formed with or without your kind of permission, right? So, it would be good to have some-
Stephanie Hodge: [00:06:50] And you don’t want it, right.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:52] Right. So, it would be good to have an expert on hand that can have some best practices on how to kind of cultivate the right kind of work environment for the team and your people because a lot of people, at least, give lip service to say their people are their most important asset.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:07:08] Right. So, the rubber has to hit the road. And I find that helping employers even understand that, we facilitate engagement surveys to really understand, “Okay, how satisfied are your employees? And how engaged and connected are they?” Sometimes, there’s a disconnect between what’s really happening, and that’s that culture that’s developed on its own, and what management thinks is happening. And so, we help to bridge that gap and make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:46] And I’m sure you have some data to support that if your company is one of those best places to work, you’re going to have a lot of easier time attracting the right folks to be part of the team rather than just take whoever shows up.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:08:02] That’s exactly true. It helps you to be more competitive and attract new employees. And we’re also finding that we’re helping to retain employees in that same fashion. Employees have options now. They can move from one organization to another. And so, finding ways to really help keep them engaged, help them feel the benefit of staying with the organization is really essential. So, you’re right, we help to attract employees, and we help to retain them.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:41] Now, how have you been helping your clients deal with this COVID pandemic that we’re going through? I’m sure that’s been a difficult time for a lot of folks.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:08:50] This has been a difficult time to navigate. The first way we’ve been helping our clients is really to translate what’s happening around them, right? So, the CARES Act was one of the main policies that came out that affected employees and employers, and we helped to translate what that means, right? What does what does that mean for the company? Our policies, how are they affected? How do we execute where we need to? So, a lot of it is really kind of bridging the gap between what they’re seeing on the news, and the policies rolling out, and how that affects the day-to-day operations.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:09:37] And I think the other piece is really helping to keep a focus on employee safety and health, providing guidance around how do we help support our employees to work remotely and really support that versus making it more difficult, right, or seeing it as a challenge. We kind of look at it like this is a great opportunity to roll this out. It may have been something we’ve been talking about for a while. And then, now, most recently, we’ve been trying to plan on how to bring people back if they’re ready to come back. How do we keep them healthy and safe in the work environment? Does that mean we look at changing our seating arrangements? We’re bringing in more protective gear and cleaning supplies. I mean, there’s so many things to think about in this time, and having us as a resource and a partner kind of walking together through this process has been helpful.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:44] Now, how has your work with the GWBC helped your business?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:10:52] Oh, my God. So, being a member and working with GWBC has been helpful because … especially for me as a newer business, right? So, we’re a little over three years but, now, we’ve gained this broad network of other professionals, other women professionals, and it helps me to learn. So, I’m provided with opportunities for development but it also helps to strengthen our service as I’m meeting other professionals who do similar work or extensions of our work. We can think about partnering. So, it’s really been a great opportunity to be around other professionals like mine and helping stay motivated in the process of my own company’s growth.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:45] Yeah, it sure is nice to have a resource that allows you to have kind of real conversations with folks that are in the same boat, so you can get that advice not kind of sugar coated but just somebody else that’s going through something that might be similar that you’re going through, it’s good to get that kind of unfiltered conversation, especially during a difficult time like this.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:12:10] Exactly. And it helps to feel like you’re not the only one going through it and that it’s normal growing pains, if that’s what it is, or whatever is happening in the environment around us.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:24] Now, getting back to your business, what is kind of a baby step that a company could start to an engagement with you? What is usually the first thing that they do where you can do some work to kind of see if it’s a good fit?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:12:40] We do free consultations, and they’re really just conversations to learn. For us, it’s to learn about what’s happening in the work environment, what stage of growth is the business in, number of employees, and kind of talk through are there any pain points that the organization is feeling that the leaders are struggling with. And we help to identify if there are areas for us to provide support. Sometimes, those conversations lead to engagement. Sometimes, it’s just they want an opportunity to talk something through. And that’s fine as well because we’re helping to grow our network. So, we don’t mind having those conversations and maybe seeing opportunities in the future where there could be a potential to work together. So, we do that. People can reach us through our website and schedule a consultation. And we do a 15 to 30-minute meeting, depending on what the need is and kind of figure out it, is there a fit for us?
Lee Kantor: [00:13:54] Now, does Essex Consulting have any specialties? Do you work in certain areas?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:14:00] We actually are more of what’s called generalist. So, all of the different functions of HR, we typically can touch from comp and benefit, to employee relations, to training and development. So, we sort of touch all of those areas. And our primary function is serving as an HR outsource for our companies.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:27] Now, these companies, are they in any specific industries? Do you work mainly in for-profit, non-profit, or do you have a specialty like medical or finance?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:14:39] Actually, we work with non-profit and for-profit. And I have a small staff. So, there’s three of us, and three additional staff members. And we have experience in manufacturing, in healthcare, and technology, and financial services. So, those are kind of our main areas. One area I’m interested in getting involved in is health care, but we haven’t yet had a client in health care. But it is one area that I’m looking forward to us growing into.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:19] Now, if somebody wanted to learn more and have a more substantive conversation with Essex Consulting, is there a website?
Stephanie Hodge: [00:15:26] Absolutely. Our website is www.essexconsulting.net. On our website, you can click to schedule a free consultation, and we’ll get back to you as quickly as we can.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:43] Good stuff. Well, Stephanie, thank you so much for sharing your story today.
Stephanie Hodge: [00:15:48] Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:50] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on GWBC Radio.
About Your Host
Roz Lewis is President & CEO – Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®), a regional partner organization of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of the WBENC Board of Directors.
Previous career roles at Delta Air Lines included Flight Attendant, In-Flight Supervisor and Program Manager, Corporate Supplier Diversity.
During her career she has received numerous awards and accolades. Most notable: Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion award; 2017 inducted into the WBE Hall of Fame by the American Institute of Diversity and Commerce and 2010 – Women Out Front Award from Georgia Tech University.
She has written and been featured in articles on GWBC® and supplier diversity for Forbes Magazine SE, Minority Business Enterprise, The Atlanta Tribune, WE- USA, Minorities and Women in Business magazines. Her quotes are published in The Girls Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business book by Susan Wilson Solovic and Guide Coaching by Ellen M. Dotts, Monique A. Honaman and Stacy L. Sollenberger. Recently, she appeared on Atlanta Business Chronicle’s BIZ on 11Alive, WXIA to talk about the importance of mentoring for women.
In 2010, Lewis was invited to the White House for Council on Women and Girls Entrepreneur Conference for the announcement of the Small Business Administration (SBA) new Women Owned Small Business Rule approved by Congress. In 2014, she was invited to the White House to participate in sessions on small business priorities and the Affordable Care Act.
Roz Lewis received her BS degree from Florida International University, Miami, FL and has the following training/certifications: Certified Purchasing Managers (CPM); Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD), Institute for Supply Management (ISM)of Supplier Diversity and Procurement: Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta (DLAA), Negotiations, Supply Management Strategies and Analytical Purchasing.
Connect with Roz on LinkedIn.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina