An XLRI post graduate, 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.
Sonica is passionate about HR, empowering people and all things in between. A mother of two, she decided to set up Marching Sheep in 2013 with a vision of delivering interventions that truly move the needle.
As a Human Resource and D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) specialist with an experience of 18 years, both in the industry and consulting, she has designed one of the most evolved ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ frameworks in India with exclusive programs like – Women@Work, Unleash and Diversity@Work!
Marching Sheep works with clients across industries on gender, generational and sexual orientation diversity.
In the past five years or so, Marching Sheep has gone from strength to strength under the leadership of Sonica. It boasts of a healthy roster of clients, including Reckitt Benckiser, SBI cards, Sterlite Power, JCB India, Continental Tyres, Diageo, Baxalta, Oetiker to name a few.
Brief22 by Sonica Aron, Marching Sheep
2021has been a tumultuous year. The year began with hopes of the vaccine coming out and just as people were lulled into believing that the worst of the pandemic was over, we were hit by the second wave. The second wave in the second quarter of the year was far more lethal and closer to home than the first one, and shook just about everyone.
While there were learnings from the first wave, and organisations were geared up to take a more empathetic and supportive approach, it took a toll on the mental and emotional wellbeing of individuals.
People began to re-evaluate their relationship with work and what was really important to them? What kind of work life balance did they really want? What kind of work did they want to do? What gave them happiness? What were their passions? What did they expect from their employers going forward? What did an ideal employee experience look like?
All of the above questions have led to an evolution in the way the HR fraternity and leadership is looking at workforce management today. The realisation that employees are evaluating the organisation just as much, if not more, has made leaders and HR functions to pause, reflect and to revamp policies, HR practices to meet the evolving expectations of their people.
Building inclusive cultures, where every employee can bring their authentic self to work, ask for accommodations and flexibilities that enable them to be productive is what most organisations are focussing on and will continue to do so in 2022.
Despite the ups and downs the year has taken us through, it has also given opportunities in the form need for innovation- policies, processes to meet the evolving need of employees in today’s context, address mindsets that still believe that work from home needs micro management, the need to build emotionally resilient workforce and psychologically safe workplaces.
These last 18 months and how to deal with them were not a part of any leadership development journey or managerial development program. There has been a growing need in organisations to prepare leaders and managers with the evolving workforce expectations. Employees experience organisations not through buildings, or infrastructure, or through HR but through day-to-day interactions with their managers and leaders. Building empathetic Leadership has been one of the key focus areas for organisations.
The pandemic has also opened doors for diverse talent pool as geographic boundaries got blurred and physical barriers ceased to exist. Diversity and inclusion became a huge focus area for most organisations.
Marching Sheep is an HR consulting firm that works with client organisations and helps them build inclusive cultures systemically, through the right structures, policies and processes, drives inclusive mindsets through curated interventions, helps build emotional resilience and psychological safety and conducts leadership development interventions. It has been a year of revelation for us, where we both learnt and grew from being a national player to a globally renowned HR consultant.
Brief22 – Looking Forward
How organisations continue to adapt and evolve in 2022 will define their growth trajectory. The world cannot go back to the way it was pre-pandemic. People have changed. The great resignation is a symptom of the fact that people are not willing to stay where they do not feel valued or get what they expect in terms of flexibility, satisfaction in work, respect, work life balance, life stage relevant benefits or inclusive work environment.
It is an employees’ market. From that perspective, organisations on one hand will need to plan and balance for both recovery and people experience.
Brief22 – Priorities, going ahead
The top 5 priorities for organisations would be –
To build emotionally resilient workforce and psychologically safe workplace. This will need a more holistic approach than simply putting EAPs in place. This would need comprehensive real time communication strategy, creating a transparent culture, building managerial capability to build psychologically safe team environments, enable the workforce by building life skills to manage stress, relook at ways of working and team dynamics, work flows, authority matrices, empowerment, policies that meet the needs of diverse workforce- leave, medical, flexible timings etc.
Broaden the discourse around diversity, equity and inclusion– building inclusive workplaces is not just about hiring more women in the workforce but about building a culture where every unique individual is valued and respected. The remote and hybrid working models are a great opportunity for organisations to open their doors to diverse talent pool and truly unleash the power of diversity, be it persons with disability, be it individuals from LGBTQIA community, be it people from different life stages and age groups or locations.
Strengthen HR capability– HR function has played a critical role in the last 18 months. First in helping organisations and employees transition to virtual way of working when the first wave hit, and to continue to cope with the prolonged work from home. Then in the second wave to help people and organisation cope with loss, grief, fear, anxiety, mental and emotional health issues, revamp policies. As organisations move forward, strategic HR business partnering will play a critical role in helping businesses with the right structures, talent, processes and policies that will keep them competitive, innovative and agile. People are an organization only asset that appreciate with time, and HGR is the function which will help business manage this asset well.
Build empathetic leadership– The traditional role of leadership- the need to know it all, to not show any weakness or vulnerability, to drive results and only results, will need to give way to ‘Empathetic leadership’. Empathy does not come at the cost of accountability or result orientation. On the contrary, Empathy can drive ownership like nothing else. Organisations will need to develop leaders who can balance between empathy and accountability and create a culture of shared ownership.
Revisit Performance management– With so much changing, way of evaluation, measuring and rewarding performance will also need to be revisited. What are we really measuring employees on? The number of hours they are in office? The number of hours they are logged in? the number of hours they spend in meetings? How well are they are groomed? How good is their English? How snazzy is their presentation?
Brief22 – Learnings and realizations across 2021
My learning has been multifold in this year. Firstly, there is no short cut to success. We need to work hard and, success will follow. Secondly, do the right things even if the world is not watching.
Our humble effort to spread awareness about the 21 disabilities covered under RPWD act 2016, a campaign called 21 Marching was a non-commercial campaign which we initiated to make people aware about the employability of persons with disabilities. It not only gave us a deep sense of satisfaction but earned us so much of goodwill, love, friends and well-wishers.
Third, dream big. Despite a very challenging last year, the team took a very challenging target and from the very first day of the year put their heart and soul into achieving it. I am extremely proud to say that year to date we have achieved more than planned. Fourth, never stop learning.
In the consulting space, there is so much to learn, there is never a dull moment. There are new trends, new discoveries, new research and everything is an opportunity. Lastly, there will be tough times and there will be good times. Keeping your team together and close at all the times, purely for the passion of the work we do is what matters. Being honest and transparent with them, taking care of them even in tough times gives you a team that stays with you.