Coming from a family of doctors. The youngest of three siblings, no one in Sonica Aron’s family has studied or practiced business management. So, this was a completely new world for Sonica. From having medical discussions at the dinner table as a child to today where she and her family talk about social justice, gender expression, awareness about disabilities, and inclusion.
Sonica is an HR professional with more than 2 decades of experience. She has completed her graduation from XLRI Jamshedpur, which is also one of the sought-after institutes for studying Human Resources in India. While working at PepsiCo, Sonica was exposed to diverse roles and geographies. She worked in sales and sales HR. She worked in a factory. She also worked in a city as well as in remote areas. This experience helped her realize, how diverse people viewed women workforce, worked with, and dealt with them.
Sonica later went on and gathered experience from companies like ICI paints, Philips, Vodafone, and Roche diagnostics. While she was heading the HR department for Philips Consumer Lifestyle Business in India, she decided to take a different path and reshape her career.
So, come February 2013, Sonica Aron founded Marching Sheep with the vision of making a tangible difference to peoples’ lives and careers.
During her 2 decades-long career as an HR professional, Sonica has seen the narrative of Diversity Equity and Inclusion evolve. Once there was a time when the best organizations were not aware of Vishakha guidelines to now where organizations are not only working seriously towards increasing women participation in the workforce but there are organizations that are looking at other dimensions of diversity like Persons with Disabilities, LGBTQIA+ community as well.
Sonica also believes a lot of organizations have moved ahead of ‘token’ efforts like standalone sessions and are approaching the issue with serious intent and are taking a holistic approach- through inclusive policies, processes, driving mindset change, inclusive leadership, communication, and decision making.
Making a Tangible Difference in Peoples’ Lives
As a consulting organization, Marching Sheep had to evolve with the evolving times. During the pandemic, the company had conducted extensive industry engagement and came up with interventions that were specific to clients’ needs in turbulent times.
The organization has also observed the evolving role of HR as strategic partners in business recovery, continuity, and growth. So, Marching Sheep has curated an action learning-based strategic HR business partnering certification, and in partnership with FICCI Quality Forum, has been successfully running programs that have been attended by HR professionals from different companies.
In order to stay true to its vision of making a tangible difference in peoples’ lives and careers, Marching Sheep needs to stay in touch with its client organizations and people. So, the organization also carries out various non-commercial campaigns including, Marching with Pride, where the company engaged with people from the LGBTQIA+ community to understand their lives and what would take it to make organizations inclusive for them. Another Campaign was 21 Marching, where they met with 21 persons with disabilities to help spread awareness about the 21 disabilities covered under the RPWD act 2016.
Marching Sheep provides four main services, which are;
- Diversity & Inclusion Strategies and Interventions: The organization truly believes that inclusive organizations are much more productive and Marching Sheep partners with client organisations to arrive at their inclusion and diversity charters and strategy through a diversity diagnostic, chart out executable plans, and also partner with the execution, drive mindset change, and culture building.
- Human Resource Consulting: Organizations need their HR strategy, policies, and processes to enable employees to deliver on the business strategy and goals. Marching Sheep works closely with its client organizations in order to streamline the vision, mission, values, behavioural frameworks, policies, practices, HR strategy, and socialization, and drive communication, internal Leadership, managerial capability to enable the same.
- Bespoke learning interventions: Sonica believes that the world has significantly changed during the last two years of the pandemic. As the socio-economic fabric is slowly evolving, the competencies needed to succeed at work are also changing. Marching Sheep work with clients in order to enable individual contributors, managers, and leaders to succeed by building the right competencies. The organization curates each intervention to drive the right behaviours through the facilitation of insights, reflection, and practice.
- Health and Wellness Portfolio: Marching Sheep believes, wellness nowadays includes emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. While things like insurance can take care of the physical part, a massive awareness and life-skill building are needed to handle issues like stress, burnout, and anxiety. The best part is, Marching Sheep enables all the individuals to become emotionally resilient by identifying their stress triggers, their own stress responses, and coping mechanisms and hence more productive, personally, and professionally. According to Sonica, the company does this with programs curated after research, and with the help of clinical psychologists.
The Inception Story
Before founding Marching Sheep in 2013, Sonica used to be on the other side, as an HR Head. However, her biggest issue with that was, they would engage a consultant, carry out an intervention, and incur costs yet there would be no tangible change post the event. So, she along with the team drew the blueprint of Marching Sheep on how they would approach each assignment, and what they would achieve at the end of the assignment. For her, leaving a tangible impact is extremely critical.
The second factor was that she was already the head of HR position by 2012, and it was the time for Sonica to evaluate her next steps for herself, in her context. With her husband’s career growing parallelly, two young kids, and three sets of aging parents and grandparents, Sonica was seeking a career path, where she could contribute, and get the satisfaction of making a difference on her terms.
Marching Sheep has clients across various industries. The organization has worked with different global MNCs, and Indian Conglomerates, funded start-ups, emerging organizations, and large giants. It has worked in sectors like FMCG, FMCD, manufacturing, power, and infrastructure, BPO/KPO, IT and ITeS, Financial sectors.
As a company, Marching Sheep has also successfully built relationships with clients based on the Quality of its delivery. Sonica and her team always deliver what they commit and on time. The Marching Sheep team spends quite a lot of time understanding customer pain points and offering a solution that will eventually solve the real issue.
Sonica Aron faced many challenges while founding Marching Sheep. The challenges included things like statutory requirements that are associated while having her setup. Some decisions like whether it should be an LLP, LLC, or a company or a proprietorship were to be made. Making her website from scratch was a big challenge, being bootstrapped. She was in a vicious cycle, to hire a team member or to make revenues to reach a certain level. Sonica Aron was doing everything from BD to delivery to invoicing to client management to paying taxes herself. Doing Business development did not come naturally to Sonica.
She was quite hesitant about singing her own praises as a consultant, but that was needed. She took her time to learn this art. Then came the issue of managing cash flows. Slowly and steadily she learned, she hired and grew. Soon the client base grew, and revenue also got stabilized. However, challenges like demonetization, implementation of GST, and the pandemic came and destabilized the industry.
Every time the industry got destabilized and the client’s focus shifted from HR interventions to business continuity. Therefore, Sonica Aron and her team had to evolve each time in order to meet the client’s need to stay relevant, which eventually taught the firm flexibility and adaptability.
Marching Sheep is already a leading D&I firm in India. So, it would like to make its mark globally. The organization has started acquiring international clients from 2021 and now it is planning to press the accelerator pedal this year.
Sonica Aron also added, “We have gone from strength to strength in the last 8 years. From being a one-woman army to today being a strong team of passionate HR professionals, with clients, mentors, allies across industries and globe.”
She also considers herself lucky to forge strong partnerships with the clients who have trusted the company and given them repeated work, partners like FICCI, and transformance forums who helped the company carry its message and passion on building inclusive workplaces, and an inclusive world.
Company Name: Marching Sheep
Management: Sonica Aron, founder
Quote: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain.