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Marching Sheep doesn’t see itself as ‘external consultants’, but as partners, who stay with clients through the entire assignment journey and beyond!
Marching Sheep, an HR consulting firm established in 2013, is focused on building long-term organizational capability and effectiveness for its clients through structured interventions and solutions in the areas of Diversity and Inclusion, OD consulting, Employee wellbeing, Learning and Leadership Development and Talent Management.
Marching Sheep has been founded by Sonica Aron, an experienced and passionate HR professional, Leadership Coach & Diversity champion. A Post-Graduate in Human Resources from XLRI, Jamshedpur, her corporate work experience spans multiple industries and geographies. Some of the companies she has worked with include PepsiCo, Vodafone, ICI Paints and Philips. Marching Sheep’s solutions are completely customized and contextualized.Their high impact interventions – Diversity diagnostics, Women@work, Unleash, Diversity@Work, Inclusion boot camps and Women Leadershipprograms have been very well received by the industry.
THE WOMAN WITH A VISION
Sonica Aron is the Founder and Managing Partner of Marching Sheep, an HR consulting firm specializing in Strategic HR advisory, Diversity and inclusion interventions, employee health and wellness and capability building. An XLRI postgraduate, Sonica has worked with companies like Pepsico, Vodafone, Roche Diagnostics and ICI paints. She started her career with a sound understanding of business where 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 to her diversity practice were born. Before starting Marching Sheep, Sonica was Head of HR for the consumer lifestyle business at Philips.
Team at Marching Sheep works closely with clients to arrive at customized and contextualized high impact HR interventions that support their business strategy and address the real business needs.To know more about the company read the excerpts of the interview;
ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND SUCCESS
Sonica has been an HR professional for more than 2 decades. She brings with her a strong experience of handling leadership roles in the HR function across industries. She started Marching Sheep with a vision of truly impacting organizations and peoples’ careers and lives. Staying true to this purpose has been the biggest strength of Marching Sheep. The company does not push off-the-shelf solutions, but spends time in understanding the true need of the client and then finding and curating the right solution and delivering contextualized interventions.
Sonica further added, “I realized the power of having streamlined HR policies and processes, aligned, motivated and capable workforce in driving business results. Having been a woman professional, I 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 me to establish my firm Marching Sheep with service lines in these areas.”
What has been some make or break moments in your career?
I have been an HR professional for nearly 2 decades now. I was heading HR for Philips Consumer Lifestyle business in 2012 before I decided to take a sabbatical for personal reasons. Within 1 month of the break, I realized that I was not cut out to sit at home and went through an identity crisis, wherein I deliberated internally on my next steps. Should I go back to work or should I do something on my own? I picked up a couple of gig assignments and enjoyed them.
It has been bumpy ride. From understanding the different taxes to legal obligations of running a business to getting my first client, to learning how to market Marching Sheep, making my first website, to attracting the right talent despite being bootstrapped. There were many obstacles along the way, from demonetization, or implementation of GST, and more recently Covid pandemic, which did see drying up of revenues for short spells. But it never dampened the fire in my belly or the steam in my team, driven by the passion of truly making a difference.
What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
One of the most critical decisions I’ve had to take in recent times is the direction Marching Sheep would take when Covid struck and the lockdown was announced. Overnight, all clients cancelled their planned interventions and our revenue stream dried up. We recharged and re-invented ourselves to meet the needs of a turbulent, uncertain and evolving marketplace. As a team, we 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. I Am Proud to share that with these efforts no one in Marching Sheep team was laid off or suffered a salary cut. In fact,we recruited two new team members. Wehonored our commitments to the summer trainees from institutes like IIM Ranchi and IMI.
How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
As a consulting organization that offers customized solutions, problem-solving and innovation is an intrinsic part of our day-to-day work. I do not need anything special to make my team think out of the box. Once faced with a problem or need statement, they will automatically look at different approaches that can help arrive at the most appropriate solution. They collaborate and leverage each other’s strengths. We have a very flat and non-hierarchical structure that allows for the sharing of ideas and thoughts freely.
Which is most important to your Company—mission, core values or vision?
It is our purpose- making a difference to organizations and peoples’ lives and careers that is most important. Our vision, mission, values all flow from there. So, in addition to our business activities, we engage in a lot of awareness campaigns. Campaigns around the importance of emotional wellbeing, or importance of building psychological safety in teams, or why International Women’s day is not just a day but needs to be seen as a culmination of everything we do through the year to drive inclusion. We believe in driving collective learning and societal change with continued conversations through various platforms.
How has the Consulting Company changed over the years?
Over the last 8 years, we have gone from strength to strength. From being a one-woman army to today a team of committed HR professionals. From 1 client to a healthy roster of clients across industries and geographies, with Pan India presence as well as international assignments. We offer end to end HR solutions and are trusted partners for our clients.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Humility. As a leader, I find that my biggest strength is my team and the connection I share with them. I am transparent with them about my weaknesses and openly seek feedback and work on it. I am accessible to my team, for both professional and personal concerns 24*7 and I know that they would do the same for me.
What is the biggest challenge facing female leaders today, and when you face challenges as a leader, what encourages you?
The society still stereotypes women, irrespective of their achievements. When I started Marching Sheep, a well-intentioned input was, business development is not for women. Why don’t you join someone else’s firm instead of starting your own? There have been many other instances for example when it comes to negotiating, I have been asked if I will be the one taking a call or is there someone else in the team handling the commercials? So yes, these biases still exist…but these stopped bothering me a very long time back. The task needs to get done and when the other person realizes that I am the one S/he has to deal with, they are the ones who have come to terms with it.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
Leadership is a journey. As Marching Sheep is growing, so is the team. In the last few years, we have focused on the portfolio and establishing the firm and that will continue. Now that the team has also stabilized, going forward the focus will be on building capabilities of my team members and helping them grow further.
What are some of the ways people from your [industry/field] are making a difference in the world?
The areas of diversity and inclusion, awareness around emotional wellbeing is work in progress. While there are some positive steps in that direction, we must understand that organizations are but a subunit of the society and societal change takes time. There are so many institutions, individuals, opinion leaders, writers, bloggers, NGOs who are constantly trying to raise awareness, but it’s a slow burn. We simply need to continue driving these conversations across multiple platforms- unhesitatingly, unashamedly, unflinchingly!