Established in 2013, Marching Sheep is an HR consulting firm to make a difference in people’s lives and careers and drives respect and equality for all.
Today, the firm is unequivocally the most recognized firm globally for its work done in building long-term sustainable organizational capability and effectiveness for its clients through structured and customized interventions and solutions in the areas of Diversity and Inclusion, HR Process Design and Implementation, Learning and Leadership Development, and Talent Management. They work closely with clients to arrive at customized and effective HR interventions that support their strategy in the current lifecycle stage, as well as support them in the realization of long-term business plans.
Meet the Woman of the Hour
An experienced and passionate HR professional, Leadership Coach, and Inclusion Champion, Sonica Aron is the Founder and Managing Partner of Marching Sheep, an HR advisory firm specializing in Strategic HR advisory, Diversity and inclusion interventions, and capability building.
A Post Graduate in Human Resources from XLRI, Jamshedpur, Sonica has worked with companies like Pepsico, Vodafone, Roche Diagnostics, and ICI paints. She started her career with a sound understanding of business when she went route-riding with Pepsico and was part of the team that launched Pepsi 200 ml at Rs 5. She was the first lady HR Manager stationed at a factory in Upcountry UP and there the seeds of her diversity practice were born.
She was heading Hr for Philips Consumer Lifestyle business in 2012 when she decided to take a break from the corporate world and founded Marching Sheep in 2013, she intended to roll out interventions that truly made a difference to organizations and people’s lives and careers.
Be a Partner, Not just a Service Provider
Marching Sheep solutions are completely customized. The organization doesn’t act as “external consultants”, but as partners, who stay with clients throughout the entire journey- from diagnostics to solutions to implementation to monitoring!
It understands the nuances of the situation along with the societal backdrop and the mindsets individuals and organizations struggle with. It proposes and implements multi-pronged solutions, thereby driving visible, long-term, sustainable change. Its diverse interventions based on extensive research, a deep understanding of lived realities, and contextualized industrial backdrop have been very well received by the industry.
Marching Sheep is the leading HR firm globally today, featured twice in Forbes and once in Fortune, and recognized by Your Story, Business Today, IAF, and several other platforms. Their CEO Sonica Aron is seen as a thought leader and her opinions and articles are published by leading media houses like the Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Statesman, and The Pioneer. She is invited as a speaker and panelist by conferences and educational institutions,
Being industry and geography agnostic, some of their clients include Uber, Concentrix, UPL industries, Mercedes Benz, Tata Group, Mahindra Group, Avery Dennison, GSK, John Deere, Sterlite Power, SBI cards, Diageo, Clifford Chance, GO-MMT Group, JCB India, Continental Tyres, Reckitt Benckiser, GAIL, IIFL to name a few.
The Fantastic Four Main Services: From Sonica’s Desk
- Diversity & Inclusion Strategies and interventions: We truly believe that inclusive organizations are more productive and we enable our client organizations to arrive at their Inclusion and diversity charter and strategy through a diversity diagnostic, and executable plans, and also partner with the execution, drive mindset change, and culture building.
- Human Resource Consulting: Organizations need their HR strategy, process, and policies to enable employees to deliver on the business strategy and goals. We work closely with client organizations to streamline the vision, mission, values, behavioral frameworks, HR strategy, policies, and practices, drive communication and socialization, and the internal Leadership, and managerial capability to enable the same.
- Bespoke learning interventions: In the last two years of the pandemic, the world has changed significantly. As the socio-economic fabric is evolving, the competencies needed to succeed at work are evolving. We work with clients to enable individual contributors, managers, and leaders to succeed by building the right competencies. We curate each intervention to drive the right behaviors through the facilitation of insights, reflection, and practice.
- Health & Wellness Portfolio: Wellness today includes emotional, mental, and physical well-being. While policies and insurance can take care of the physical aspect, there still needs to be awareness and life skill-building around dealing with issues like anxiety, stress, and burnout. With programs curated after research and with the help of clinical psychologists, we enable individuals to become emotionally resilient by identifying their stress triggers, their stress responses, and coping mechanisms and hence more productive, personally, and professionally.
Conquering Challenges to build an Empire
Being an HR professional turned entrepreneur, Sonica entered the world of entrepreneurship with little knowledge of running her business. She knew her craft, which was HR, but little about the statutory requirements associated with having one’s setup. Whether it should be an LLP, LLC or company, or proprietorship. Making her website from scratch was a challenge, being bootstrapped, she was in a vicious cycle, to hire a team member or to make revenues to reach a certain level.
She is constantly juggling, doing everything from BD to delivery to invoicing to client management to paying taxes herself. Being an introverted, and shy person, doing Business Development, that is sales did not come naturally to her. She was hesitant about singing her praises as a consultant, but that was needed. She was hesitant to network. It took her time to learn this art. Then came the issue of managing cash flows.
Slowly and steadily, she learned, hired, and grew. The client base grew, and revenues stabilized. However, there were governmental challenges that came time and again like demonetization, GST implementation, and more recently the pandemic.
Each time, the industry got destabilized and the client focus shifted from HR interventions to business continuity. The firm had to evolve each time to meet the needs of the clients to stay relevant. That taught the team flexibility and adaptability.
Slow and Steady wins the Race
There was no one specific point. Growth has been steady and planned. The first few years were about establishing the firm as an authentic partner to clients that offered customized curated interventions based on diagnostics.
“We did not peddle canned off-the-shelf programs. That earned us client respect. Word of mouth and client references helped in getting us more clients. We have been operating in two verticals till then, OD consulting and Diversity and Inclusion with a focus on women’s inclusion. Once the credibility was established, we evolved with the evolving market trends and expanded our portfolio. We carried out extensive market outreach, research, surveys, and panel discussions to gather the pulse of the client needs and evolving workforce needs,” added Sonica.
Today, it works with clients to build inclusive cultures for all dimensions of diversity- for women, the LGBTQIA community, people with disabilities, the multigenerational workforce, racial and ethnic diversity, inclusion of indigenous people, and intersectionality.
While Covid-19 brought its challenges, it also opened many doors. It broke down geographical barriers, and Marching Sheep went global. Today, it has conducted sessions across 80 countries across the globe and on every continent.
Over the last nine years, the company has gone from strength to strength. From being a one-woman army to today a team of committed HR professionals. From one client to a healthy roster of clients across industries and geographies, with Pan India’s presence to a global presence.
Winning Businesses with Hearts
Marching Sheep is unique in many ways. Being a purpose-driven organization, its purpose cuts through all its solutions.
Also, the company is the only firm that is driving Inclusion Holistically. It is not focused on any one dimension of diversity but helps the organization build inclusive cultures irrespective of any kind of differences thereby building long-term sustainable capability.
Lastly, each of its solutions is completely contextualized to the client’s needs and therefore is a high impact.
Sonica: The Go-Getter
Sonica always thought of herself to be the most risk-averse person. However, as she navigated through different professional and personal life stages, she realized over some time that what made her happy was making a difference, a real difference. She took a sabbatical in 2012. She was at that time heading HR for Philips Consumer lifestyle business.
After a year, a mother of two, when it was time to get back to work, having been an HR professional for over a decade and having worked across industries like FMCG, FMCD, telecom, and healthcare in Strategic HR business partnering roles, she realized the power of having streamlined HR policies and processes, aligned, the motivated and capable workforce in driving business results. Having been a woman professional, she had also seen the evolving narrative of diversity and inclusion and the gaps in the industry closely. Armed with these insights and experience, it was but natural for her to establish Marching Sheep with service lines in these areas.
Today, Marching Sheep is the leading HR firm globally, having done work in more than 80 countries across the globe. Their founder and managing partner Sonica Aron have been listed among the Top 10 Women Entrepreneurs in 2020 by Forbes India, India’s Most Valued People in June 2021 by Forbes India, Inspirational Icons in Leadership by Fortune in 2021, among the top 100 Digital Influencers by Yourstory and most recently as the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by Indian Achievers Forum at 75th Atmanirbhar Bharat Summit in 2022.
Marching Sheep’s Long-standing Success is a Benchmark
Being consultative service providers, Marching Sheep takes pride in the fact that the organization does not have canned products or services. Every solution or intervention offered is curated after an extensive diagnostic and engagement with the client team to understand the real need or problem statement. This ensures high-impact solutions and outcomes.
Secondly, the team comprises experts from the industry who have experience of having worked as HR practitioners across different industries. They bring in not only consulting expertise but a strong understanding of what business expects from HR interventions.
They are not just trainers, but HR professionals who have recognized their passion for contributing to client organizations in tangible ways, and are realizing this passion through our work at Marching Sheep.
Thirdly it does not just consult, but also helps in the implementation and all its assignments are KPI-linked. It truly helps clients move the needle.
Cherishing an Empowering and Exquisite Work Environment with
Passion, Focus, and Fun.
Marching Sheep is a team passionate about what it does. It believes that the work it does impacts people, and individuals, and that makes them happy.
Every new client or new intervention is an opportunity for them to connect with more people. That keeps them focused on the quality of the intervention.
Every day is a present. And every member works well together as a team. It has fun together. There are no hierarchies in Marching Sheep. Everyone is clear about their roles and yet, no one shies away from stretching and helping each other out. Everyone is just a step away and one has to just ask.
Every meeting starts with pulling each other’s leg and ends with laughter.
A win makes them celebrate and a loss makes them determined.
A Team and Culture like None
Marching Sheep’s team is its most valuable asset. Sonica believes that one can teach a person tasks, and skills but not attitude.
The Marching Sheep team is passionate, committed, and dedicated to its purpose. Even if Sonica is not available, the team ensures that the show goes on. Handpicked, nurtured, and continuously developed, each team member demonstrates complete ownership and accountability.
There is empowerment, delegation, coaching, nurturing, rewarding, and family atmosphere in Marching Sheep that keeps the team together through the highs and lows.
Giving a Tough Fight and Thriving the COVID-19 Situation
When Covid struck and the lockdown was announced. Overnight, all clients canceled their planned interventions and their revenue stream dried up. It recharged and re-invented itself to meet the needs of a turbulent, uncertain, and evolving marketplace.
As a team, it conducted extensive research, client outreach, panel discussions, and surveys to find out what is it that organizations needed to build organizational capability for business continuity and recovery during those tough times. It is proud to share that with these efforts no one in the Marching Sheep team was laid off or suffered a salary cut. It recruited two new team members. The organization honored its commitments to the summer trainees from institutes like IIM Ranchi and IMI.
Shifting Gears with Changing Times
Pre-pandemic, all Marching Sheep’s work used to be in-person delivery at the client site. Today, it has a healthy mix of in-person and virtual delivery.
This has enabled them to grow globally and reach international markets. This has also enabled them to expand their team. While the Marching Sheep team was always working remotely, Covid-19 helped them strengthen their remote working processes.
Defeating the Setbacks of the HR Consultancy Market
Employees today want to work for organizations that are purpose-driven and provide them with an environment where they can learn and grow. They are not looking for mandated training calendars and forced nominations but meaningful learning frameworks that help them move toward their career goals. The organization will need to look at the learning framework from a new lens. E-learning modules are great, and technology is great but do they drive behavior change, or are they a tick in the box? There will be some hard questions to ask and answer.
Secondly, in the era of great resignation, quick quitting, and quiet quitting, where employee retention, employee attraction, and employee engagement will be key, it will be essential to identify and retain critical and top talent. Organisations will need to invest time and energy in identifying these people and nurturing them. Assessment centers, development centers, ongoing feedback, constructive feedback, and developmental feedback, are some of the interventions and capabilities that organizations will need to look at.
Policies and HR practices as a one-size-fits-all approach do not hold anymore. With a multi-generational workforce, multiple ways of working- remote or hybrid or work from anywhere, evolving mindsets, and increasing irreverence towards stereotypical norms will compel organizations to take a hard look at their policies and make them more contemporary and meaningful to meet the needs of their people. Stay interviewers were listening to employees, understanding what they need, and then addressing those needs in a structured way is something that is both high impact and sustainable.
The business world and workforce needs will continue to evolve and HR consultancies will need to keep pace with the evolving needs to stay relevant.
Sonica’s Classic Advice to Budding Entrepreneurs
“Follow your heart, and be persistent. There will be obstacles, and there will be naysayers, but you need to be confident about what you are doing and keep at it. Nothing succeeds like success.”