Marching Sheep: A Thought Leader and Trusted Partner in the HR Consulting Market 

Marching Sheep | Sonica Aron | The Enterprise World

Established in 2013, Marching Sheep is a globally acclaimed HR consulting firm that aims to make a difference to people’s lives and careers while driving respect and equality for all. 

The Organization has been recognised across multiple platforms for its commendable work in building long-term sustainable organizational capability and effectiveness for its clients through structured and customized interventions and solutions. It offers services in the areas of Diversity and Inclusion, HR Process Design and Implementation, Learning and Leadership Development, and Talent Management. Marching Sheep works closely with clients to provide customized and effective HR interventions that support their strategy in the current lifecycle stage, as well as supports them in the realization of long-term business plans. 

The Woman of the Hour

Marching Sheep is spearheaded by Sonica Aron Founder and CEO, an experienced and passionate HR professional, Leadership Coach, and Inclusion Champion.

A Post Graduate in Human Resources from XLRI, Jamshedpur, Sonica has worked with companies like PepsiCo, Vodafone, Roche Diagnostics, and ICI paints. Sonica has worked in Sales, in factories and has an acute understanding of what business really needs for the HR function.

She was heading HR for Philips Consumer Lifestyle business in 2012 before deciding to take a break from the corporate world and established Marching Sheep in 2013. With Marching Sheep, she intends to roll out interventions that truly make a difference to organizations as well as people’s lives and careers. 

Be a Partner, Not just a Service Provider

Marching Sheep offers completely customized solutions. The firm serves its clients as partners. It is committed to stay with clients throughout their journey—from diagnostics to solutioning to implementation and monitoring. Understanding the nuances of the situation along with the societal backdrop and the mindsets individuals and organizations struggle with. Marching Sheep 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.

Today, Marching Sheep is the leading HR firm globally. It has been featured twice in Forbes, twice in CIO, once in Fortune, and recognized by Your Story, Business Today, IAF, and several other platforms. Sonica is known across the industry as a thought leader and her opinions and articles have been published by leading media houses like the Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Statesman, and The Pioneer. Moreover, she is often invited as a speaker and panellist by conferences and educational institutions. 

Being industry and geography agnostic, some of Marching Sheep’s 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, and IIFL to name a few.

Bouquet of Services

  1. Diversity & Inclusion Strategies and interventions: Marching Sheep truly believes that inclusive organizations are more productive. Thus, it enables its client organizations to arrive at their Inclusion and diversity charter and strategy through diversity diagnostic and executable plans, and also partner with the execution, drive mindset change, and culture building.
  2. Human Resource Consulting: Organizations need their HR strategy, process, and policies to enable employees to deliver on the business strategy and goals. Marching Sheep works closely with client organizations to streamline the vision, mission, values, behavioral frameworks, HR strategy, policies, and practices. The firms also help clients drive communication and socialization, and the internal Leadership, and managerial capability to enable the same. 
  3. Bespoke learning interventions: Since the pandemic, the world has changed significantly. As the socio-economic fabric is evolving, the competencies needed to succeed at work are evolving. Marching Sheep works with clients to enable individual contributors, managers, and leaders to succeed by building the right competencies. It curates each intervention to drive the right behaviors through the facilitation of insights, reflection, and practice. 
  4. Health & Wellness Portfolio: Today, Wellness 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 the help of clinical psychologists, Marching Sheep enables individuals to become emotionally resilient by identifying their stress triggers, stress responses, and coping mechanisms. This makes them more productive, both 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 a business. She knew HR, however, she was not aware of the statutory requirements to establish a setup—whether it should be an LLP, LLC or a company, or a proprietorship. Developing a website from scratch was also a challenge. Being bootstrapped, she was in a vicious cycle to hire a team member or to wait for revenues to reach a certain level. 

During the initial days, Sonica was constantly juggling, doing everything from BD, delivery, and invoicing to client management and even paying taxes herself. Being an introvert and shy person, doing Business Development i.e., sales did not come naturally to her. Sonica was hesitant about singing her praises as a consultant, which was the need of the hour. Moreover, she was hesitant to network. It took her time to learn this art. Managing cash flows was another issue she faced. 

Slowly and steadily, Sonica learned, hired, and grew. The client base also expanded and revenues stabilized. However, environmental challenges came time and again. These challenges included 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 every time to meet the needs of the clients and help them stay relevant. This taught the team flexibility and adaptability.

Slow and Steady wins the Race

The growth of Marching Sheep 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 had 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,” adds Sonica. 

Today, Marching Sheep works with clients to build inclusive cultures for all dimensions of diversity—women, LGBTQIA community, people with disabilities, the multigenerational workforce, racial and ethnic diversity, inclusion of indigenous people.

While Covid-19 brought its challenges, it also brought numerous opportunities. The pandemic 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 ten years, the company has gone from strength to strength. From being a one-woman army to a team of committed HR professionals today, from one client to a healthy roster of clients across industries and geographies, and from Pan India presence to a global presence—Marching Sheep has grown leaps and bounds. Today, the firm is considered a thought leader and trusted partner across the HR consulting industry. 

Winning Businesses with Hearts

Marching Sheep is unique in numerous ways. Being a purpose-driven organization, its purpose of ‘making a difference to peoples’ lives and careers’ and ‘driving respect and equality for all’ is reflected in all its solutions.

Moreover, Marching Sheep is the only firm that is driving inclusion holistically. Instead of focusing on any one dimension of diversity, it helps the organization build inclusive culture 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 they have 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 time that what made her happy was making a difference. She took a sabbatical in 2012 when she was heading HR for Philips Consumer lifestyle business. 

After a year, when it was time to get back to work, Sonica realized the power of having streamlined HR policies and processes, aligned, the motivated and capable workforce in driving business results. At that time, she was a mother of two and an HR professional for over a decade, having worked across industries like FMCG, FMCD, telecom, and healthcare in Strategic HR business partnering roles. Being 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 natural for her to establish Marching Sheep with service lines in these areas. 

Glorious Triumphs

Marching Sheep today has been recognized as the leading HR firm not just in India but globally. Some of the accolades include being listed as the Top 10 women Entrepreneurs- Forbes 2020, India’s Most valued People Forbes 2021, India’s Leadership Icons- Fortune 2021, India Top women Leaders- Business today 2021,Top 5 Global brands & leaders- Digilive 2022, Who’s who in Women leaders- International Coffee Book- Unified Brainz 2022, Women Entrepreneur of the year 2022- Indian Achievers’ Award, Dynamic Achiever 2022- Business World, Most trusted HR consultant 2023- Business Connect, Top 10 inspiring Indians 2023 by India today, and top business leader to follow in 2023 by World’s Leaders magazine. 

Setting a Benchmark

Being a consultative service provider, Marching Sheep takes pride in the fact that it 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.

Moreover, the team comprises experts from the industry who have experience of working as HR practitioners across different industries. It brings in consulting expertise as well as 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 the work at Marching Sheep. Additionally, 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. 

Empowering and Exquisite Work Environment 

The team of Marching Sheep is passionate about what it does. The firm believes that its work impacts people, and that makes the team happy. Every new client or new intervention is an opportunity for Marching Sheep to connect with more people. This keeps them focused on the quality of the intervention.

Every day is a new challenge and every team member works well together as a team. There are no hierarchies in Marching Sheep. Every team member 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 the team celebrate and a loss makes them more determined.

A Robust Team and Culture 

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 operations are running smoothly. Handpicked, nurtured, and continuously developed, each team member demonstrates complete ownership and accountability. The empowerment, delegation, coaching, nurturing, rewarding, and family atmosphere in Marching Sheep keeps the team together through the highs and lows. 

Overcoming the COVID-19 

When COVID hit and the lockdown was announced, all clients cancelled their planned interventions and their revenue stream dried up overnight. Heeding the new normal, Marching Sheep 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 organizations needed to increase their capability for business continuity and recovery during those tough times. Marching Sheep proudly shares that with these efforts, no one in the 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.

Before the pandemic, Marching Sheep used to deliver its services in-person at the client site. Today, it has adapted to a healthy mix of in-person and virtual delivery. This has enabled it to grow globally and reach international markets. This has also allowed it to expand the team. While the Marching Sheep team was always working remotely, COVID-19 helped it strengthen the remote working processes.

Defeating the Setbacks of the HR Consultancy Market

Today, employees want to work for organizations that are purpose-driven and provide them with an environment where they can learn and grow. Instead of going for mandated training calendars and forced nominations, they prefer meaningful learning frameworks that help them move toward their career goals. Thus, organizations will need to look at the learning framework from a new lens. E-learning modules are great, and technology is great, however, whether they drive behavior change, or they are a tick in the box is a hard question to ask and answer.

Moreover, 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. Organizations will need to invest time and energy in identifying these people and nurturing them. Assessment centres, development centres, 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 are not relevant anymore. A multi-generational workforce, multiple ways of working, 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 Interviews to understand employee speak, understanding what they need, and then addressing those needs in a structured way 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.”

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