Staff Networks Board Development Offer

Bitesize guides

Bitesize guides

Some Staff Network Sponsors put themselves forward for the role, others are approached by a network. A few are ‘volunteered’ for the role.

However the appointment, there are a number of benefits of being a network sponsor. These bitesize videos provide just-in-time learning nuggets for NHS staff network sponsors who are committed to progressing further in their learning journey to effectively support their staff networks.

As a sponsor, how can I benefit from the learning?

  • Understand key principles for success in my role to support staff networks
  • Gain insight into what good looks like for staff network sponsorship
  • Reflect on how I can make a difference to improve the experiences of people in my organisation

Staff networks rely on senior leadership championing their cause to ensure concerns are being discussed and addressed effectively at Board level.

In this section you can access our brief introductory video that provides an overview of this offer and four short videos that cover each of the key principles for senior leaders of any staff network in the NHS.


The Staff Networks Board and Senior Leaders Development Offer is designed to equip senior leaders to appropriately support staff networks and establish lasting organisational change that will mean long term benefits for staff and patients. Explore how this offer can help you achieve the best for your organisation and in what ways challenges need to be made by watching this introductory video.

The Staff Networks Board and Senior Leaders Development Offer is designed to improve the experiences of our NHS staff and reduce or eradicate inequities resulting from decision making that excludes some of the voices of our NHS people.

This offer will enable current and emerging employee network sponsors to develop and strengthen the necessary skills to succeed in the role.

Staff networks are business critical entities that are crucial for understanding, particularly for minority communities whose voices are less heard and likely to face discrimination. The NHS People Plan and NHS Constitution mandate for NHS employing organisations is to create workplace environments that support staff to have their voice.

Acting as a source of support, these groups of employees provide safe spaces for members to share their stories, find solace, receive encouragement, and equip with the right tools, enhance their career progression.

Moreover, they can also articulate the lived experience and everyday subtle forms of discrimination encountered by staff and provide collective challenge to the organisation.

However, some networks can sometimes struggle to find the balance between supporting their members and being a strategic advocate for the organisation.

Research from the ‘Incredible Power of Staff Networks’ by Cherron Inko-Tariah, M B E, and best practice identified from inclusive leadership work with high performing staff networks in the NHS, demonstrates that staff networks with senior leader support are more likely to have the guidance and insight needed to achieve purpose aligned with organisational objectives.

Many senior leaders take on the role of board sponsor either by choice or are appointed.

Knowing how to support a network in the best way means having a range of tools to adapt and adopt when necessary.

However, there is not any guidance in the NHS supporting sponsors in this way. As a result, there’s a mix of approaches from sponsors resulting in varied outcomes with little best practice.

This offer aims to close this gap by building on good practice using flexible components such as experiential learning and e-learning to accommodate individual learner requirements, local needs and individual career aspirations of leaders in the NHS.

Key principle 1

This first key principle focuses on getting the best out of your staff network. Explore how the values within the NHS People Plan and People Promise can help to establish your network and achieve best practice.

The People Plan centers on belonging, along with the People Promise, which sets out what NHS people can expect from their leaders and from each other.

The plan focuses on looking after our people, new ways of working and delivering care, growing for the future and belonging in the NHS.

Belonging in the NHS is where staff networks can truly add value. Not only do staff networks provide a supportive and welcoming space for our people, they also have deep expertise on matters relating to equality, diversity, and inclusion, which board and non-executive teams need to make better use of.

They enable belonging by creating safe and inclusive spaces for staff of all protected characteristics. In doing so, they enable staff from diverse backgrounds to have a voice, which helps to inform and shape decisions about NHS staff and their workplaces.

Key principle one looks at how you as a leader can get the best from the staff network by providing support and challenge for network leaders and their networks. The role of staff network sponsor is critical to enabling staff networks to fulfill their vital role in helping NHS organisations become more inclusive places for staff.

Senior leaders who sponsor staff networks in the NHS shall consider the following:

What is the network trying to achieve?

What are their objectives?

What have they done so far?

What plan does the network have to make impact over the next 12 months?

To fully understand your role as a sponsor, you should ask key questions like:

Am I clear about what’s expected of me?

Is there a shared understanding between the network I sponsor and myself about the objectives for the network and how I can support them?

How will I keep my work with the network a priority amongst other priorities within my organisation?

What do I know about the community I sponsor?

Much as you do not need to have or share that protected characteristic, it’s crucial that as a sponsor, You understand as much as you can about the community you sponsor.

Senior leaders who sponsor staff networks will be able to support and challenge network leaders and their network by asking and finding answers to these questions and more.

Key principle 2

In this video, we will be looking at how staff networks can empower their staff by laying foundations that will move purpose to outcomes.

Let’s explore how to use your position as staff network sponsor to navigate, influence and hold organisations to account. A solid foundation is required to do this effectively. We will be looking at what needs to be in place in terms of:

Understanding the purpose of the network and measuring progress.

Your role and responsibilities as a staff network sponsor.

Supporting your staff network to move from purpose to outcomes.

Supporting your staff networks by laying a strong foundation is crucial for the success and sustainability of the networks you sponsor. Understanding the five elements of P.O.W.E.R can help you and the networks you sponsor, navigate, influence and hold your organisation to account.


what problem is your network solving? What impact will the network have on the organisation and how will you know that?

Are the network’s objectives aligned to organisational goals? If not, how can you help align them?


What opportunities exist for the network you sponsor to make their mark? 

Are there opportunities for you to directly involve the network in working with the board or sub-board committee meetings?

Who should they be talking to in order to make their mark? 

How can you help them obtain senior leadership buy-in? What resources do they need to achieve their objectives? 


Wisdom says that everyone has different ideas, experiences, and contacts. So how do we harness all of these things together so that we row in the same direction?

How can you help facilitate collaboration with different people across the organisation?


Members will have different expectations and agenda ideas, different things that they think the network needs to do. So it’s important that sponsors know how to help their staff networks manage these expectations through their network leads. Help them to be clear about what they can and cannot do.

Furthermore, help them identify metrics or key performance indicators for measuring success.


Fundamentally, your role as staff network sponsor is to:

Be a bridge between the chair and the leadership at your organisation and to be someone who can also help navigate your organisational culture. 

Help the network understand who they need to influence to make things happen and use you, the sponsor, as appropriate to influence and open doors.

Ensure budgets and resources are in place and available where they’ve been committed to. Encourage senior leadership buy-in and ensure that line managers understand the value that networks play and the skills that network leaders can develop, which can also be used in their day jobs. 

Having these five elements in place will empower your staff networks to make a difference and act as an agent of change by mirroring the organisation

Further to establishing a shared purpose that aligns your organisational goals with your staff networks, the role of a sponsor remains essential for moving the purpose of the network into outcomes.

To do so, the network may need your support with establishing the following:

Network objectives and a work plan 



Effective measures of progress 


Governance, for example, functional structures that enable the network to achieve its purpose. 

The NHS Staff Network Toolkit provides an expanded guide, tools and templates in these elements for all existing and intending NHS staff networks.

Key principle 3

This principle explores your leadership style and being a sponsor. We will look into the different traits a sponsor needs to lead effectively.

As a network leader, it’s important for you to be clear about your role and mindful about your leadership style. Having laid the foundation about the role of sponsors in Key Principle two, we will now explore the different roles, attributes, and skills staff network sponsors can adopt in their leadership style.


This is for situations where you need to be proactive, visionary, and a critical thinker. Being a strategist helps you to articulate the mission and impact of the staff network you support.


You are passionate, energetic, and driven. You understand and believe in the vision of the network you sponsor. Therefore, you are able to speak openly about the value of the network with your board level leader peers.


You are creative, open-minded, and can take calculated risks. You’re willing to overcome barriers and cut red tapes to bring new ideas and resources of the staff network you support.


An essential role for making connections between the networks you sponsor and their key stakeholders. For example, allies. This helps the networks form meaningful connections that enable them to achieve purpose.

It creates opportunities for sharing useful information between the network and stakeholders beyond their network. As a broker, you are connected, influential, and resourceful.


As network sponsor, your role may need to evolve from consultant or operational mode to that of a coach, role model, and confidant.

Given the limited support often available to staff networks, the leaders of the staff networks you support are likely to look to you for offers or career advice, models of inclusive leadership, guidance on how to build resilience, etcetera.

Another thing to consider for the network is the mutual understanding of the power dynamics between board level colleagues and staff network chairs. It is most likely that there will be an imbalance of power in meetings where both parties are present. Consequently, staff network chairs are not likely to express their views, put suggestions forward, or speak out when things go wrong. As such, sponsors need to build trust so that people feel safe to communicate.

Here are a few things to think about to enable staff networks to achieve their purpose. What is my natural leadership style?

What might I need to alter?

What would I share with my successor?

Does my workplace culture support questions, challenges, and new ideas?

Do I invest in testing new ideas with potential or is everyone too busy and risk averse?

Workplace environments where people feel safe to speak without the fear of being shut down, immediately provides a healthy culture for challenges to poor behaviors.

Key principle 4

In this video, we will be exploring the importance of understanding the impact of the work the staff network chairs do and how they can develop and implement progressive personal development plans.

Key principle four, understanding impact and personal development.

The fourth key principle is about understanding the impact of the work the staff network chairs do.

And helping them develop and implement progressive personal development plans.

The following considerations are helpful for sponsors who want to support the growth of their staff network chair.

Clearly separate the objectives of the network from the personal object of the network chair to ensure balance.

Doing this also enables recognition of their work by their line manager, which otherwise can be hidden. Set goals that can be measured clearly as outlined in key principle two. The key objectives and deliverables of the network should be identified as early as possible using organisational priorities and particular areas of opportunity identified by staff, for example, via staff surveys.

Network objectives need to be S.M.A.R.T:






Encourage the network to meet at least once a year to assess its impact and create clear plans for the year ahead.

This should be a strategic forum where the network reviews its plans against achievement using metrics or key performance indicators identified at the beginning of a period.

Encouraging spaces for reflection in this way enables the of the growth of the staff network chair.

Help the network chair to amplify any targets, celebrate success and again, encourage spaces for reflection.

Involve HR and line managers to recognise the effort, impact and skills developed. Celebrate the staff networks you sponsor openly and meaningfully in a way that helps them progress in their personal development journeys.

On this note, here are a few questions to ask yourself in your staff network sponsor role:

How can I support the development of network members to become successful workplace leaders?

How diverse is my own executive team?

The degree of representation on your board says a lot about how seriously your organisation takes the inclusion agenda.

Staff and their networks will often look for someone who looks like them in your senior leadership team.

How can I contribute to appraisals?

Find creative, yet practical ways of providing feedback to the line managers of network chairs in recognition of the work they do. For example, periodic 360 feedback.

How can I prepare the network for succession planning?

Staff network chairs come and go. While most people volunteer for the role, many are elected or appointed for variable terms. As part of your role to support the development of network chairs, ensure adequate arrangements are in place for replacing them when they leave the role. This ensures sustainability of theirs and your work with the network.

Progressive action in these areas will help you do even more for your staff networks and go on to have wide scale impact on the NHS, its staff and contribute to positive patient outcomes.