Marching Sheep was founded in the year 2013, by HR veteran Ms Sonica Aron. An alumnus of XLRI Jamshedpur, having worked with companies like Pepsico, Roche Diagnostics, Vodafone, and AkzoNobel, She was heading HR for Philips Consumer Lifestyle business in 2012. She took a sabbatical for a year and then started Marching Sheep in 2013, with a vision of delivering meaningful and impactful HR interventions that benefit both organizations and employees.
Started as a one-woman army operating out of 1 city, today Marching Sheep delivers interventions and projects not only Pan India but globally, boasts of a healthy roster of clients across sectors, has a solid team of HR professionals passionate about the work they do, and their work and opinion are often quoted and published in leading publications.
In a talk with Ms. Sonica, let’s discover more about the company and her thoughts on the current industry scenario.
- What were the initial challenges you faced?
I knew my craft, which is HR, but not much about building and running a business. So starting from whether Marching Sheep needs to be a registered company or a proprietorship etc, so what kind of statutory registrations are required, to digital marketing, getting a website up and running, putting a business development process in place, getting passionate team members on board, were all initial challenges.
- Which was that point that triggered the growth of the company?
Growth has been slow and steady for Marching sheep and a lot of clients have come from word of mouth reference from happy clients. Marching Sheep portfolio has also evolved with the evolving needs of the industry. So there has been no specific point per se. What has kept us growing is that we have continued to cater to the unique needs of our clients, we have continued to research and engage with industry leaders to understand their needs to that we can keep ourselves updated. Once clients see results of customised and contextualised interventions, they keep coming back.
- How have the company graphs changed since the foundation? Can you share a few statistics?
The company began humbly with one client, and over time slowly yet surely escalated in terms of business, clients, and geographical presence. Instituted by a single person, the company’s workforce strength counts up to seven today and serves about 25 to 30 clients, delivering projects and assignments Pan India and globally. We are seen as trusted advisers and a go-to person for advice from our clients.
We work with clients across sectors- FMCG, Infrastructure, manufacturing, financial sector, law firms, healthcare sector, etc.
- What is the reason behind your company’s long-standing success?
Integrity is the core value of our organization. We only take assignments that lie within the ambit of our expertise and work closely with the client team to arrive at the scope of the project, deliverables, and milestones.
We as a team also keep upgrading ourselves on new technology and concepts to be able to deliver high impact interventions for our clients. Every assignment has multiple consultants engaged so that balls don’t get dropped, and collective expertise is utilized.
We do not push off the shelf solutions but engage in consultative problem solving with clients, curate customized interventions, and deliver ROI driven programs.
- What are the services the company focuses on? How are your services different from those in the market?
The 4 main services are:
1. Diversity & Inclusion Strategies and interventions
We truly believe that inclusive organizations are more productive and we enable our client organizations to arrive at their diversity charter and strategy, executable plans, and also partner with the execution.
2. 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 HR strategy, policies, and practices, drive communication and socialization, the internal capability to enable the same.
3. Bespoke learning interventions
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.
4. Health & Wellness Portfolio
Wellness today includes emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. While policies and insurances can take care of the physical aspect, there still needs to awareness and life skill-building around dealing with issues like anxiety, stress, burnout. With programs curated after research and with the help of clinical psychologists, we enable individuals to become emotionally resilient and hence more productive, personally, and professionally.
- How do you decide to take the company a step further in terms of your services?
We believe in doing meaningful work that touches and impacts the lives of the workforce, and in turn builds agile, responsive, and great organizations. We will continue to research and evolve our offerings. We wish to enable organizations by building capability within and hence offering more certification programs. We wish to expand our geographical presence further, which due to the corona pandemic was cut short.
- Is there any new addition to the list of products/services? Anything exciting you would like to share?
We are working on a series of certifications that will build internal capabilities in organizations that will help them to drive strategic agendas on their own in a cost-effective manner.
- How has technology transformed the traditional way of business?-
We are offering our interventions using various technological platforms, and this has enabled us to connect with clients globally.
- What do you think are the responsibilities of an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur and business owner, I need to ensure that my team is taken care of. It is a solid, well-knit, motivated team, and continues to be driven by the vision of our company. I need to ensure that the pandemic and its challenges do not impact them negatively in any way, they continue to learn and grow.
At the same time. The market place is evolving, offerings that were relevant 5 years back are not relevant anymore. So we need to keep ourselves updated and keep learning and evolving.
As a business owner, we also need to collaborate and build mutually beneficial partnerships. We have partnered with a law firm for our POSH practice, for FICCI for some of our open virtual programs, with a search firm for diversity hiring for some of our clients, and so on.
- What are the key achievements of your entrepreneurial journey?
Marching Sheep has gone from strength to strength in the last 7 years and boasts of a healthy roster of clients across sectors who keep coming back to us as repeat clients. We have strong word of mouth referrals from happy clients. We are seen as a thought leader and our opinions get published regularly across leading publications like TOI, HT, Business World, The Hindu, the Statesmen, Live Mint, The Hindu business line, etc. We are invited to speak at industry forums like FICCI, Transformance, UBS, etc. and get invited by leading B-schools for guest lectures.
- How do you look after your employees? What makes your team unique?
Transparency with the team and ongoing communication is key in our organization. People are free to share and talk to each other. Team members also have the flexibility to work at their own pace and work on their deliverables according to their comfort during this challenging period.
During COVID, we honored our commitment to three summer trainees and onboarded 2 new team members. We conducted our appraisal process and team members got increments. This gives the team the comfort that we stand by our values of integrity and ethics. As the business owner, I have taken a 100% pay cut till the pandemic ends, to ensure that we have the cash flow to meet the needs of the business and team.
- Is there any special experience with your clients you would like to highlight?
We are seen as trusted advisors by our clients. We understand their problem statements and requirements and provide consultative solutions. Once the client is aligned to the solution, we curate and contextualize. That results in a high level of trust and engagement between us and our clients. And that is why they come back to us for repeated assignments.
What I personally take pride in is the fact that often, client SPOC relationships transcend into friendships, where they call me for advice on unrelated topics and they know they can trust me.
- Constant vigilance- a need or a strategy? Please share your views.
If we hook people to a common vision and marshal their efforts around it, there will be no need for vigilance.
- It’s a rat-race out there. How do you cope with that?
I am not competing against anyone. I believe there is space for everyone. I take pride in doing meaningful work. I sleep well the day I deliver a session that touches lives, where people are impacted positively, organizations are benefited.
If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.Simon Sinek
Ms. Sonica Aron – A visionary leader
Sonica’s experience in the corporate world hinged on establishing policies and processes that were sustainable and scalable and propelled organizations into the next orbit of success. She joined Pepsi as a Management Trainee where she went route riding in a truck in the lanes of Calcutta and learned the ropes in retail sales. She launched Pepsi 200 ml in Karimnagar. She then headed HR in the bottling plant in Bazpur, learning the ropes of industrial relations. She then joined Roche Diagnostics as Head HR. Roche Diagnostics had just entered India and was setting up operations. Sonica was instrumental in setting up the HR function, articulating, documenting, and socializing the HR practices and policies for the company, and getting the broad banding exercise completed. She then joined Hutch and was part of the team that acquired the BPL and spacetel circles and led the people integration.
Be true to what you claim or commit.