How to Enable Your Employees From Desk to Horseback

with Nadine Huggins, CHRO for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Listen now on

Nadine Huggins

Episode 26

“If you want a positive employee experience, you need good leadership, good communication, and good feedback.“

Nadine Huggins is Chief Human Resources Officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police service. Nadine spent 20 years in public service before joining the RCMP in March of 2020 as Executive Director of Policies, Strategies and Programs. On this episode, Nadine shares with us how she enables employees even in the most remote regions of Canada, how she addresses the mental health risks of policing, and she even dispels myths about the iconic mountie.

”The very nature of policing as an occupation impacts an individual’s overall health and wellbeing. So we can buy the proper shoes, we can ensure that the members have access to physical activity, and we can encourage them to eat well. They’re still going out every day and having interactions and altercations that wear on an individual.”

Listen in to hear

  • Tips to supporting a highly decentralized organization
  • Ideas for your own Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
  • How to support employees in inherently stressful jobs

”How do you lead from behind? In a time of crisis, that’s exactly what you need to do. The folks who work with me saw right from the beginning [of the pandemic] that I validated what they knew, that I relied on them, that I asked questions, and I had the humility to know that they were the trusted source of information for their employees.”


Nadine Huggins scaled aspect ratio

Nadine Huggins

CHRO | Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Nadine Huggins is an experienced leader with over 20 years in the public service and several years prior as a management consultant. Nadine excels at driving innovation and change, turning broad vision into practical action. She built her career finding solutions to complex issues, leading whole-of-organization and whole-of-government projects and supporting teams to work to their strengths. Nadine has a proven record of accomplishment. She uses leading edge solutions, sound judgment and effective relationship management to address current and emerging challenges, and effect positive organizational change. As the Chief Human Resources Officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted police Nadine emphasizes and drives integrity, inclusion, and a people first focus. She consistently strives to build a healthy, respectful, and diverse police service.

Episode Transcript

CRU029 – Nadine Huggins

Narrator: They’re immediately recognizable in their red serge military-style uniforms and flat brim Biltmore hats. And their nickname comes from the French word, “monté,” which means mounted. Anglicized as “mountie,” it’s this nickname that sets them apart from most other police forces. Because historically, they were patrolling on horseback. That’s right – today we’re talking about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. These days, though, mounties are more of a symbol than anything, but the RCMP is no less iconic. And though the connotation of the word “icon,” is visual or surface-level, there’s history and depth to the agency. The RCMP has been in service to the people of Canada for nearly 150 years. In that time, it has expanded in region, scope, and responsibilities. So today, Nadine Huggins is sharing with us how the agency has evolved, how it’s impacting employees, and what she’s doing about it.

Nadine Huggins: “The very nature of policing as an occupation impacts an individual’s overall health and wellbeing. So we can buy the, you know, the proper shoes and we can ensure that the members, uh, have access to physical activity and we can encourage them to, um, eat well and they’re still going out every day and having these interactions that, while, you know, 99% of them are, um, not, uh, necessarily violent altercations. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, maybe 90%. And the other 10% can get a little bit, uh, more cantankerous, there are experiences, even when they’re not, um, aggressive, that wear on an individual.”

Narrator: Nadine is the Chief Human Resources Officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She has more than 20 years of experience in public service. And at the RCMP, she is prioritizing research to make informed decisions about recruiting and retention. She’s working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion among their employees. And she’s also focusing on taking care of the whole employee, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Nadine is talking with us today about what it takes to support the modern RCMP.

On Cruising Altitude, we talk about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30k employees. A lot like reaching Cruising Altitude at 30k feet, things look a little different when you’re managing 30,000 people. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. Today’s episode features an interview with Nadine Huggins. But first, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsor.

So, uh, my title is Chief Human Resources Officer, which, uh, in other organizations would translate into something like the VP of HR, uh, and people Management. Uh, really what my role is, is to support the RCMP in, um, supporting its people by promoting a shift in mindset, I think, and behaviors on the part of the human resources professionals, uh, within our organization and amongst hiring managers. I’m generally responsible for, uh, streamlining processes and systems so that they are really, uh, employee focused and client centered and easy to navigate. Um, and what that, uh, means, uh, practically is when you look at, uh, my various areas of responsibility, whether we’re talking about, you know, the classification of work or the compensation systems, uh, our equity, diversity and inclusion strategies, our work in, anti-racism or in learning and development. All of those fall within my portfolio and my goal, my job, my vision for, um, HR within, um, the RCMP is for each one of those functions to be, um, operationalized in a really client focused way. So when we think about people management, when I think about my role as the Chief Human Resources Officer, I really think about how do I set the organization up for its mandates of the future so that we are spending less time on the administration and more time on the mandates.

The mandate of our organization is really to prevent and investigate crime. Uh, to maintain peace and order, and to contribute to the national security of our country. Um, we enforce laws, uh, we apprehend offenders and we provide operational support to other police forces in order to protect key officials. So we have a protective detail that, uh, takes care of all of the dignitaries and parliamentarians and public figures who come to our country. And as the nature of, uh, crime and as the nature of what we have to do to protect the wellbeing of individuals, uh, shifts, our organization needs to shift along with it. And so, uh, you know, when we’re dealing with, uh, cyber criminals, for instance, who have state-of-the-art technology, uh, we have to, um, be in a position where we can match if not surpass the technology or the skill sets of those individuals in order for us to be able to do our jobs effectively. So when I talk about our shifting mandates, it’s really moving those mandates into the future and making sure that we’re prepared to deal with all of the radical changes. Things change so, so quickly now, in the areas of, uh, crime, in the areas of protection, along our various business lines that in order for us to have the resources that we need to be able to do the work, in order for us to have the infrastructure that we need, uh, folks who work in the people management and people leadership space really need to be on the cutting edge.

Narrator:So let’s talk about the employees who are working together to meet those shifting mandates. We’re getting to know the lay of the land within the RCMP in The Flight Plan.

Nadine Huggins: So our employees, we have three categories. We have our regular members. And our regular members are our frontline. Uh, they’re out doing the frontline policing responsibilities. Uh, we have civilian members, uh, which is a category of employees. They sort of, uh, walk in the middle. They’re a category of employee that was hired many, many years ago. Um, and they’re gradually, diminishing in our organization in terms of numbers. And then we have public servants. Uh, and public servants are really employees of, uh, the federal public service of Canada. I think it’s helpful though to think about our employees in, in two big catchments. So the first one being our police officers, and we have about 19,000 of those. And the other being our enabling employees, and we have about 11,000 of those. Um, so frontline, of course meeting the operational mandate of our organization. And then everybody else behind that ensures that the folks that are on the frontline are well supported, um, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of equipment, in terms of people supports, uh, pay, uh, compensation. All of those other elements are what the enablers do.

Narrator: The RCMP is unique in that they police on the international, federal, provincial and municipal levels. And that’s reflected in their structure.

Nadine Huggins: Well, we’re a highly decentralized organization. So we have, um, our commissioner who is the head of the organization. And she’s supported by, uh, commanding officers in, uh, divisions across the country. Our organization has, um, uh, over 3000 buildings, um, across the country. Uh, we have detachments in, uh, every province and territory. and we police,wow, just like over 700 detachments across the country. And we police, uh, the largest land mass in Canada. Our organization is also International in its role and its scope. So we have six international peace operations abroad. Um, and in a year we really do, uh, quite a volume of work. We look at, uh, something over 2 million calls, uh, for service. Uh, from the RCMP. And, uh, it’s important to mention as well that in terms of our organization, we are responsible for policing some of the most remote communities in our country. So our organization is highly decentralized. Uh, the commissioner’s supported by, uh, commanding officers across the country, as well as deputy commissioners who are responsible for our three primary business lines. Um, and then her, of course, her corporate ADMs, so Assistant Deputy Ministers, uh, who deal with finance myself for HR and, uh, my colleague who does strategic policy and external engagement. So we really are an organization that, uh, over time has become quite, uh, diversified in terms of the skill sets that, uh, the commissioner has at her disposal and the professionalism and expertise that she has at her disposal to run her organization.

Narrator: With officers spread out across all of Canada including the most remote regions, making sure everyone has what they need is a challenge. But not one that Nadine and her team can’t meet. 

I’ve been with the organization, uh, for about two and a half years now. And one of the, uh, most startling contrasts for me, having spent over 20 years in the core public service was just how different the culture, uh, of the organization is given its frontline operations mandate. And so when we think about employee experience for our officers who spend a vast majority of their time in their cars going from, uh, call to call, uh, versus the employee experience of our enabling functions, we really are in some ways dealing with, uh, radically different, uh, needs. And so one of the things that really uh, struck me and continues to strike me, is the importance of the folks who are responsible for leading the enabling functions to actually get out into the field to, firsthand see what our, um, frontline officers are experiencing, so that when we’re making decisions, um, about the kind of boots, or the kind of shirts or, uh, the kinds of vehicles that we’re procuring on their behalf, that we have a real understanding. And so, um, what’s different about really focusing on employee experiences is it can’t be theoretical in the context of the RCMP. It has to be incredibly practical when we’re dealing with the frontline. And then when we’re dealing with the employees who have enabling responsibilities and who are in the office environments, uh, then we’re talking about people who, who, prior to Covid, we were really dealing with, your, standard, expectations around, you know, ensuring that employees have meaningful work, that they’re being supported in terms of their career aspirations, um, that we’re ensuring that they have good relationships with their leaders. Uh, not that we don’t do that on the frontline side, but there’s a whole other layer that goes into, uh, thinking about our employee engagement and employee experience with regard to, uh, our frontline folks.

Narrator: Of course, we had to touch on what it’s like supporting employees on horseback. As it turns out, RCMP officers only ride horses ceremonially these days.

So I think I’m gonna have to spend a, a short minute, uh, dispelling, uh, a bit of a, perception of what the RCMP is today. Um, certainly our, um, imagery, our iconic imagery is of our, uh, employees, uh, and our, members on horseback. Most of our members on horseback now participate on the musical ride, uh, which is one of our signature traveling RCMP, uh, promotional opportunities. Um, there are very few of our members who across the country actually patrol on horseback now. Um, but that is a a regular perception is that, you know, our mounties are mounted on, on horseback. In fact, our organization is so diverse. The nature of the work that our members do and the locations that they do them in, whether they’re working for contract in indigenous policing, our specialized policing services, or our federal policing operations, they are, um, in cars, in planes, in boats. In fact, we own, uh, about 350 marine vessels. Um, we own, um, about 3,400 off-road vehicles. So instead of those horses, I think folks are on ATVs a whole lot more now. Um, I think the question too speaks to how do we, we support, um, and how do we keep our employees who are outside of our buildings, outside of our offices, um, engaged and feeling supported?So Supporting the employees when they’re outside of a building for the most part, where their workplace is either a car or a, an all-terrain vehicle or a a boat, uh, is very different than when you’re supporting an employee whose, uh, primary, uh, role is inside of an office. So whilst we don’t have as many folks on horseback doing their day to day routines anymore, uh, we are still quite seized with ensuring that we’re providing, uh, the right supports to our members so that their health, so, you know, backs and knees and hips are, protected as well as their emotional and mental wellbeing is protected. You know, uh, our members are out in the field, intervening with people sometimes in the worst moments of their lives. And as an organization, we take very seriously the need to ensure that they are supported, um, as they are, performing these really important, uh, responsibilities for Canada and people living in Canada and abroad, ultimately.

Narrator: Okay, it’s time to get into the ways the RCMP is supporting its employees to give them a real First Class experience.

Nadine Huggins: When it comes to the physical wellbeing, you know, our organization has always put a primacy on, uh, physical fitness. When our recruits come to Depo, which is our training academy, uh, we have a fitness standard that they are expected to meet. Uh, we work with them through their training to make sure that they are healthy, um, that they’re eating well. Our cafeteria is amazing. Our chefs are amazing, um, in terms of making sure that there’s a healthy option. So we, we’ve always taken really good care of the physical health of our, uh, members from the time they start in our organization and encouraging them to stay fit and healthy throughout. With the increasing understanding about the interplay between physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing, and the increased research that’s been done around the impacts of, um, traumatic experiences. And, you know, we’re participating in a longitudinal study for posttraumatic, uh, stress disorders, PTSD, because we recognize how important it is to understand how the very nature of policing as an occupation impacts an individual’s overall health and wellbeing. So we can buy the, you know, the proper shoes and we can ensure that the members, uh, have access to physical activity and we can encourage them to, um, eat well and they’re still going out every day and having these interactions that, while, you know, 99% of them are, um, not, uh, necessarily violent altercations. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, maybe 90%. And the other 10% can get a little bit, uh, more cantankerous, there are experiences, even when they’re not, um, aggressive, that wear on an individual and think about somebody whose job it is to, uh, look at case files that, uh, involve, uh, violent crimes, for instance. they’re not necessarily. intervening in the crime in the moment, but it is having an impact on their overall wellbeing. And so our organization, um, in line with the research that’s been done and the research that we participate in now really put a huge focus on ensuring that we provide, uh, supports to our members on the mental and emotional side. And how do you do that for police officers? Uh, it’s a very unique occupation. Generally only folks who do the job, who really understand, the nature of what can happen on the job. And so we put a huge emphasis in our organization on ensuring that we have peer supports. So whether it’s peer to peer, whether it’s, bringing in, uh, experts or providing supports for folks who have had long histories within the policing field to help members to feel comfortable in sharing their challenge. We also have in place, um, mental health ambassadors and we recently named our first mental health champion. Um, and the roles of these individuals is to help with the destigmatization of, uh, mental health, uh, related issues within our organization because we know that if folks are aware from the time they join our training academy to the time they get into the field, and that they are periodically assessed, which they are now, to ensure their mental wellbeing regardless of whether they’ve been part of a difficult situation, we understand based on the evidence that that is the way to ensure that we have members who are physically fit and healthy, but also mentally fit and a healthy. As a frontline organization, um, you can imagine that uh, a large majority of the, uh, funding that we receive is really put into the frontline. So our organization being frontline focused, um, has not had the opportunity until very recently to really reflect on resetting the foundation for digital experience within our organization. So really driving towards, uh, integrated HR and finance systems so that for the employees, they have a one stop self-service shop. That’s the way I like to, uh, I like to frame it where they can, um, almost use an app, um, very similar to what we see when we do our banking or any of the other um, digital interfaces that are out there, my vision is really to have, an app for our organization where our employees can deal with their HR matters, deal with their finance matters, um, deal with their sick leave, apply for their benefits all in one spot.

Narrator: Nadine has a clear goal for what the digital side of their employee experience will look like.

Nadine Huggins: So the vision then is for, uh, sort of a one stop shop for employees to be able to actually, um, access all of the, um, administrative infrastructure that they need. And not only should it be easy or our vision is for it to be easy for employees to use, but it should really generate the business intelligence that we need, the evidence base that we need to make sound, uh, solid, uh, people management decisions. So, I’ll give you an example. sick leave. we have, like many, uh, policing organizations in the country. And I, I would argue internationally some challenges with bringing in, uh, new recruits. so it’s really important for us to know as much as we can about the employees that we have on the ground, as well as the new recruits coming in. It would be ideal. And our vision is to have a platform, um, a digital platform that’s gonna provide us with that information, be able to run reports easily at a drop of a hat so that we know, um, for instance if, um, after, uh, a particular disaster like we just experienced out east in Canada, whether we’re seeing an uptick in, um, injuries or are we seeing an uptick in, uh, absenteeism? So, um, sick leave, um, as a result of any number of things so that we can learn and be able to predict better what we can expect if a similar situation occurs again, either at the same part of the country or another part of the country. So the vision is for us to have a digital platform that’s really easy for employees to use to get what they need, but is really useful for us on the internal services side to be able to generate the kind of reports, the kind of business intelligence on the people, um, management side that’s going to help us to make solid decisions. , As our mandates continue to evolve, as we try to be as, uh, client focused as possible um, That also translates into supporting managers as they try to do their HR functions, right? So, um, managers are, in our organization anyway, because we are, uh, linked so closely to the public service. They do have a fair amount of responsibilities on the HR side, particularly when it comes to, uh, parts of staffing, et cetera, classifying jobs, those kinds of things. Um, we’d really, really like to, uh, have our platform be so sophisticated that, um, it’s almost a plug and play for managers. That if they have a type of role that they’re trying to fill, they can select a job description, be able to identify the key skills and, uh, things that would take them a few hours to do now. Our vision is for it to take them a few minutes into the future. So, um, we’re not there yet in terms of digital, but we’re pretty clear about where we wanna go and that is seamless, secure, cuz we are a policing organization. Um, and, uh, really, uh, easy to use and useful for both employees and, uh, the leaders that need to make decisions within the organization.

Narrator: With their path clearly laid out for them on the digital side, they’re also setting goals on the people side with a robust EDI strategy.

Nadine Huggins: I’m, uh, delighted to talk about our, um, both our equity, diversity, and inclusion and our, uh, anti-racism strategies. Uh, so when I joined the organization, we were poised to put out our very first equity, uh, diversity and inclusion strategy, which really, uh, serves to set a foundation for ensuring that the organization is tooled up, uh, to be able to serve, um, its employees as well as the communities that we are, uh, responsible for providing service to with dignity and respect. Dignity and respect is the foundation for, uh, the approach, the culture that we want to foster within our organization. Our strategy, um, has, four key pillars of activities and I, and again, I’ll emphasize that it is the foundation for what comes next in terms of the equity, diversity, and inclusion work that the organization plans to do. So the four pillars of our strategy is to provide leadership and governance. And this is where we really wanna see leaders engaged in committing to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. And to be able to set direction and goals that are really well understood by the leaders at all levels within the organization. So the leaders will ensure that there is clear direction within the organization. The second pillar is to, um, be clear, accountable, and transparent. It’s one thing to sort of talk about having a strategy, um, knight’s words on a page and something very different to actually hold, um, the leaders and the employees across the organization accountable for making change. And so we really focused under the being clear, accountable and transparent pillar on ensuring that we have EDI goals that are measurable and results focused. Um, and we also made decisions that, uh, ensure that we consider and reflect the needs of diverse groups. So when we, were developing the EDI strategy, we consulted so broadly, uh, with, um, diverse groups within our organization, with representative groups outside of our organizations, with experts in the field, and to a person. They encouraged us, make sure to that there’s accountability built in to the strategy. And so that’s exactly what we did. Um, a third pillar is to enhance awareness in educations. And this is really where we talked about ensuring that before we, um, start putting I don’t wanna say consequences, but maybe consequences in play, we wanna make sure that our employees are well, um, educated around issues of EDI, uh, and that the quality of the learning activities that we’re providing to our employees are, very high, that we’re really talking about how to change, um, behaviors, and ensuring that, uh, people are aware of their biases. All of those, uh, elements of, uh, awareness and training and education is really, uh, designed to help, uh, progress towards a more inclusive mindset within our organization. Um, and to ensure that in the relations that we have with the public, that that awareness is being brought to bear. So, you know, the third pillar is around enhancing awareness and education The final pillar is about changing culture and transforming. And this is where we really focus on ensuring that we’re reducing barriers and biases across the career continuum. So, you know, we talk about employee engagement and one of the key pillars for us is ensuring that people can see some career progression and career path. But we know from a variety of pieces of research internal to the public service internal to other police policing organizations, that there can be real biases and barriers, to that career advancement. And so we’re really quite focused on ensuring that we’re tackling those. And then part of the culture change, uh, of course is around reconciliation with indigenous peoples. And whilst we have a separate reconciliation strategy for how we’re going to reconcile with indigenous peoples. We couldn’t have an EDI strategy without some dimension of, uh, addressing, uh, reconciliation embedded in it. And then finally, you know, we want to, uh, ensure that, uh, as part of our EDI strategy in changing the culture and transforming our organization, that we’re also addressing, uh, systemic racism, which, um, is, quite frankly the lift that all institutions, uh, are making right now in order to right some historical injustices, uh, by really looking at the infrastructure of our organizations. The, uh, policy base, the institutional, uh, approaches. Uh, the RCMP is no different than anyone else. We’re doing that work as well. So our EDI strategy is really, uh, outcomes focused. And, um, in implementing it, we made sure that, uh, every division, um, has an EDI lead. And every division has an implementation plan, uh, for the strategy that, uh, we monitor, uh, twice a year, uh, just to, uh, you know, provide support. Uh, we have a community of practice provide support so that, uh, you know, we’re all in on the change that the EDI strategy is supposed to bring about.

Narrator: That EDI strategy is actually supported by a government mandate. 

Nadine Huggins: We have, uh, and are, are required to meet requirements under the Employment Equity Act in Canada. And the Employment Equity Act has four designated groups, um, women, uh, persons with disabilities, members of what we refer to as visible minorities, but they’re really racialized individuals and, indigenous peoples. And there are workforce availability. So a certain percentage of the Canadian population is, um, identified as, wanting to work within the context of policing. And we’re at the minimum required to meet, those numbers, right? So, uh, for women, we strive to 50% representation for women. the indigenous purposes number we’re at about 6.2% in our organization, um, which is a, you know, a little higher than availability. Um, so. When it comes to the, the numbers, we definitely have the opportunity to put positive measures in place, and we absolutely are mandated by the Canadian government at this point to ensure that we are working towards diversifying, um, all institutions, uh, within the, uh, the public service. Uh, it’s no different in the RCMP. And so what we do is we, you know, we don’t exclude anyone, but we do put a greater effort on ensuring that we’re recruiting, um, more diverse candidates. And we do that by advertising in places that we don’t traditionally advertise. Uh, providing supports to keep folks engaged in, uh, the application process. We recently went through an entire recruitment renewal exercise where we looked at the capabilities and the um, uh, attributes and characteristics that we need for the future of policing, um, and really focus in on, uh, those characteristics. Uh, when we have, uh, folks writing our entrance exams now. Uh, and we’ve done that because we know, the evidence has demonstrated that traditionally some of those entrance exams had some pretty substantial barriers to diversity coming into our organization. We’ve changed that. Uh, we decided that we were going to change our entrance exam. Um, it’s almost like a self-correcting assessment now. If we see that uh, people who identify as one of the designated groups are not doing as well on a question consistently, uh, the question will be reviewed, and we’ll adjust the question so that it’s more clear. A lot of the time we find that it’s around clarity and, you know, inherent cultural biases that are built into how a question is asked. So, we’re not yet saying that you absolutely must hit this number, but we’re getting there, uh, slowly. Uh, because if we don’t put an emphasis on, uh, ensuring that we diversify, then it’s very easy to not make the extra effort to do so.

Narrator: As of the 2021 census, there are around 1.8 million people in Canada who identify as indigenous. That includes First Nations, Métis, or Inuit. Métis people are of mixed European and First Nations ancestry. 

Nadine Huggins: The organization is quite focused on indigenous reconciliation. We have three categories of, uh, indigenous, uh, peoples in our country. We have members of First Nations. Um, we have, uh, the Métis, and we have the Inuk or the Inuit. Each of these, um, indigenous groups have distinct and unique histories in our country. And we are adamant about, uh, wanting to have, uh, full representation of those groups within our organization. And so what that means is the strategies that we have to put in play to recruit and to retain, um, indigenous peoples is somewhat different than we would for, uh, other, designated groups. And different from each other because they are distinct, um, in their histories and experiences with our organization and, uh, in Canada as a whole. Reconciliation is a key priority of the government of the day. It’s a key priority of the commissioner. And in our section on contract and indigenous policing, we really support not just the communities that we police, but also the, uh, indigenous police services who police themselves. I think that our organization because we police, um, in the north and in a more, uh, remote communities, uh, we really have a distinct, o obligation to ensure, um, a meaningful reconciliation path. And part of what we’ve done to do that is to establish our RCMP indigenous, um, collaboration, co-development and accountability office. Uh, the whole purpose of which is to, uh, ensure that we’re building, uh, relationships that are meaningful to indigenous communities outside of a policing context. So when we’re not dealing with folks on probably the worst days or the worst hours of their lives, but more proactively going out and building relationships so that we can start maybe, um, solving some challenges or engaging in some dialogue before it’s a crisis moment. So our organization takes. between our contract and indigenous policing NRICA, as we call it internally, um, really are working to, uh, build bridges. You know, our organization has a colorful history. A history that we’re proud of. And there have been some dark points in that history and we acknowledge those points and are working diligently through our reconciliation strategy to ensure, uh, that we’re able to rebuild, uh, what we see as very, very important relationships, uh, with our indigenous employees as well as, uh, indigenous peoples in the communities that we serve.

Narrator: We’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to that first class employee experience. And Nadine can support that caliber of experience because of her years in public service. She’s seen both the good… and the Turbulent.

Nadine Huggins: So for me, employee experience, it’s fundamentally about, um, listening effectively and communicating often. and leadership. Leadership matters in all things. Um, so let me frame that differently. Um, leadership matters in all things. Um, we need to communicate, communicate, communicate, and we need to listen incredibly well. One of my least preferred employee experiences. uh, was really you know, a role where, um, I walked in, I was provided a binder, you know, here’s your portfolio, make it all happen now. And, uh, I, expect that, uh, you’ll achieve results. And I remember thinking to myself, where’s the, uh, orientation? Uh, where’s the conversation about, uh, what, uh, I bring to the table and what the organization is going to offer me? Um, where’s my mechanism to, uh, provide input, feedback, and how am I supposed to know if I’m, you know, doing, uh, what’s required? If there was no conversation about what works and what doesn’t work within the organization. So in my view, Leaders and leaders at all levels, I think, we often think about leaders as the folk who sit in the C-suite, but there are leaders at all levels. Um, it’s really important for, uh, there to be strong, solid, consistent, present leadership, um, in order to, uh, ensure a positive, uh, employee experience. It’s not always possible to have one-on-one conversations with folks, depending on your level of leadership. Um, but it is really important to communicate and to communicate often. so, employee experience to me is about ensuring that, uh, there are different modes and different mechanisms to give information. But also to have feedback loops. I remember a while back as suggestion boxes were really popular. Um, you know, the anonymous suggestions, uh, the anonymous innovations. I still have opportunities or provide opportunities for folks to, uh, drop me a line, let me know what you think. Um, I, host regular, um, town halls and extended leadership meetings, so that there is that ongoing communication and opportunities for feedback. So if you want a positive experience, um, with employees or employee experience, you really wanna make sure that there’s good leadership, good communication, and good feedback.

Narrator: And if you did the math earlier, you’d know that Nadine started in her role at the RCMP towards the beginning of the pandemic and one of the most challenging times for policing in modern history. 

Nadine Huggins: The leadership experience through Covid was one of the most unique of my career. Um, I actually had my first day in the office at the RCMP when, um, the federal government in Canada decided that they were going to shut down, uh, federal government offices and send everybody home, um, as a preventive measure, uh, against Covid. So I had enough time to get my laptop, my, uh, security key, meet half my leadership team before everything went remote. I learned in that first six, eight months of my role here, um, a whole new approach to leading, uh, because my leadership style is really to, uh, meet folks, uh, sit down, have conversations, get to know them, build a relationship, build a rapport prior to, um, having to deal with a crisis. And I walked into the organization and it was a crisis. And so what it really required me to do was to rethink my leadership, uh, approach from being out front and sort of building my credibility to leading from behind and really promoting my leadership team, who all the employees knew, right? To sort of really put themselves forward and supporting them to be the front line of response because, uh, nobody knew me when Covid hit and I joined the organization.  So what I would say that was, you know, fundamentally different is, you really have to master that. Uh, yes you can lead from the front, but how do you lead from behind? and in a time of crisis sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do. You need to lead from behind. you know, you read about it and there’s a lot of theory around, uh, servant leadership, et cetera. And Covid really encouraged, um, me to put that, uh, leadership style in practice. And I have to tell you, it was challenging in some ways, but incredibly rewarding for the folks who work with me, because they saw right from the beginning that I validated what they knew, that I relied on them, that I asked questions, um, and I had the humility to know that they were the trusted source of information for their employees. And it wouldn’t be somebody new that could just step in and do that role. The other part that was really interesting about leading through Covid is in part because of the different nature of our employees, right? So our frontline versus our supporting and enabling infrastructure, uh, folks. Our frontline never went home. Our frontline was in the front line of Covid the entire time. They couldn’t stay home. And so, uh, leading through that, the two very different types of uh, employees that we had, it was really important to, um, validate the realities of each of those employee bases. So, you know, really recognizing the risk that our members on the frontline were taking, um, and recognizing some of the interesting challenges that our folks in enabling functions were undergoing as well. Whilst everybody was undergoing the challenge of, and the terror really of, family members falling ill, uh, the need for isolation. Uh, it really brought, uh, the different mental health needs of our employees to the fore. And we were growing towards that mental health focus and Covid and leading through Covid just brought that even more to the fore for us as an organization.

Narrator: Thankfully, Nadine had support, too, through it all.

Nadine Huggins: I don’t wanna pretend that it was a solo show, right? Like, this is one of the things about organizations. Certainly wasn’t a solo show, but the commissioner was her leadership team just pulled together, we put the right infrastructure in place so that we had the right messages coming into and going out to the frontline. Again, that strong leadership was there, good communication was there. And we really listened to all kinds of interesting policy challenges, equipment challenges that came up during Covid that we’d never had to deal with before on such a large scale. Um, and so it really was, as is all things in times of crisis, uh, a team effort, for us to be able to support employees through it.

Narrator: There are many reasons the RCMP have been a long-lasting agency. Rising to meet the demands of COVID, focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion, and leveraging research to inform their policing are all examples of why the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been and will continue to be so iconic. 

Nadine Huggins: It is, an honor and a privilege to be the Chief Human Resources Officer for this organization. And we, as many policing organizations, have to be held accountable for our actions, our inaction, and we’re a fantastic place to work. Um, we are committed to our employees, we’re committed to our members. Um, we are committed to excellence in all that we do. And I would be remiss as the Chief Human Resources Officer, if I didn’t encourage folks to look us up. Uh, look for opportunities. We’re always looking for talent. Um, and we do have, an experienced officers program, uh, where folks who have worked in other policing organizations have the opportunity to do work that nobody else in Canada can do. Forensics in a way that nobody else in Canada can do. Investigations that no other police service has access to. Um, ours is a great organization to work for, and, uh, we’re getting better every single day.

Narrator: So look into doing research on what it’s like to work at your organization, remove barriers to entry and promotion, and ask yourself how you could make your employee experience better every single day.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode is brought to you by Firstup, the company that is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up by connecting every worker, everywhere with the information that helps them do their best work. Firstup has helped over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, AB InBev, Ford and Pfizer stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at

Read more

Cruising Altitude

Lessons from companies over 30,000 employees

Conversations with leaders who are designing the best digital employee experiences in the world – from the front lines to the back office. Life is different over 30,000. Welcome to Cruising Altitude.

Hosted by Firstup Founder and CEO, Nicole Alvino.

Listen now on

CruisingAltitude Icon nobg

Sign up for our newsletter

Marketing by