Putting people and culture at the core of the Start Networks organisational agenda

Cat Sneath is Head of People and Culture at the Start Network. She made this mid-career move from the programme position of Head of Funds to an organisational one at the end of last year. Here she talks about her role, the work she is doing and what…


Time to read: 6 minutes


Cat Sneath is Head of People and Culture at the Start Network. She made this mid-career move from the programme position of Head of Funds to an organisational one at the end of last year. Here she talks about her role, the work she is doing and what kindness means to her on World Kindness Day.


Can you tell me something about how you came to be heading up People and Culture in the Start Network?

I have always had a real passion for supporting people to reach their full potential and a common theme to all my previous roles are people. I really enjoy the processes that bring people together, that build on people’s strengths and a move to this position was an opportunity to do this at an organisational level in the Start Network. The best projects and programmes I have worked on have been because of the people I worked with and how they worked together.  Openness, honesty, not being afraid to challenge and disagree, as well as bringing great ideas. I have seen this throughout my previous roles in both and small organisations, when I was working for Action Aid and for the British Embassy as Deputy Head of Communications in Beijing. In that last role, I was working with people internally and externally, with the media and celebrities. I got to meet David Beckham and David Attenborough, it was so varied but common to all the work was People Management and Communications.


What does your role as Head of People and Culture involve?

The role is very diverse and covers human resources and organisational development.  The area that really interests me is organisational development. Within this, there are four main areas that I am growing.

The first is how we re-orientate ourselves as an organisation as we move towards a service function for the Start Network hubs. I see this as a real opportunity for us to change our ways of working. It is important that we meet the needs of those we are here to serve. This is an exciting piece of work and it will take us a few years to fully re-orientate ourselves, but I see this gaining momentum as the proof of concept for hubs comes together.

The second area is how to make the Start Network an attractive place for people to grow and develop, and this also relates to our work around Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). We started our work around EDI this year with a few sessions for the whole team and the formation of a self-elected steering group who oversee this effort. I am really excited about the engagement of the team. EDI is so linked to the mission of the Start Network and “shifting power”. If we can get this right – this way of being – it will not only be an opportunity to create a great place to work but will help us achieve our mission. Currently, we are focused internally, but I hope in the future to look more externally in how we can engage our members and hubs.

The third area, which is linked to EDI, is the promotion of wellbeing. This has been really important this year in the light of Covid and remote working, and I want the people at the Start Network to feel that wellbeing really matters to the leadership and that it is not just tokenistic. We are just at the start of this journey, but we have a great team of diverse people across the organisation driving this. We want to be an open organisation that not only knows how to spot the signs when things are not going well but actively promotes wellbeing. I don’t feel that the humanitarian sector talks enough about wellbeing. There is a lot that can be done by being compassionate to each other. I feel the seeds have been planted on this and there is great potential to grow this in supporting our hubs in the future.

Finally, there is a piece tying all these aspects together. We are looking to develop a leadership and management programme that will upskill our staff and prepare them to be great leaders by embedding these areas into their ways of working. Culture is not me, or my team, but how we are as people, individually and together.


How does all this sit alongside the values of Start Network?

The five Start Network values were developed by the whole team back in 2018 and what I have tried to do through the development of this work is to go back and revisit how these pieces reflect our values. So, a lot of the work on EDI goes back to being open and being inclusive in particular, and some of the others capture operating collectively. Putting people first means different things to different people but really speaks to our mission to shift power, which also speaks to matters of equity, diversity and inclusion. The fifth value is being brave and trying new things, and I have tried to do this by looking outside the sector for examples of best practice.  In particular, I have been speaking with the private sector and from these conversations have put in place two new tools. The first is Applied which is a new way to do blind recruitment based on respondents answers spoke to set questions rather than their profile on paper. The second is a survey tool called Culture Amp which trials a new way of gathering feedback from colleagues and keeping engagement live rather than one-off moments in time. 


Today, 13 November, is World Kindness Day, what does kindness mean to you?

Kindness is essential to humanity. It enables a greater connection at all levels and enables us to see that we are part of something bigger.

If everyone is kind, it just makes the world a better place, and that also means being kind to ourselves.

It also needs to happen within organisations and I feel that a lot of my efforts are to make the Start Network a place where we have frank conversations to tackle difficult issues so we can learn to let go of the negative and not worry about having all the answers.

The picture I have shared in this article encapsulates kindness for me. It is a picture I took in our local park. These trees are always there for me, I watch them change through the seasons and they allow me to connect to nature and be part of something bigger. Watching people enjoy the park – children running through leaves, joggers and walkers, groups of friends sitting on the grass – makes me think of kindness in nature, in others and in myself.