challenge factory canada lisa taylor

Lisa Taylor, Founder, Challenge Factory

Are you ready to transition into another job or career?

Are you a boomer who is looking for a take-two career?

Are you a recent grad who is wondering what to do now that school’s over?

Are you in the corporate world looking to transition into the nonprofit world for greater meaning in your work? If you are any of these things, this interview can help you.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Taylor earlier this month. She’s the founder of Challenge Factory, a Canadian career transition agency that helps people define their values, motivations, and transition into their new career. They occasionally work with Canadian and American companies to help people get hired, but primarily they help people figure out where they want their career to go. (Follow Lisa @changepaths on Twitter)

Why did I interview her?

Because she really cares about what makes us nonprofit professionals tick! No matter what age we are.

How did she get interested in our sector? Lisa Taylor was a corporate manager, ran a consulting business unit for HP in Canada, and worked with counterparts in the US, as well as around the world, and noticed a real trend among her staff and people around her people had a sense that they wanted to transition in their careers, but they seemed a little stuck, the actual act of taking the steps felt too daunting, too risky.

Mazarine: Lisa, why did you start your agency, Challenge Factory?

Lisa: I kept having this discussion with staff over and over again, and I found a real gap in the marketplace, to find ways to help people make changes in their career, that didn’t seem risky, that didn’t just say follow your passion. People are more conservative in Canada, and they like to know things are organized before they make a big career move.

I came up with a methodology that is appropriate for new grads, people who are mid-career, successful but not satisfied, as well as for boomers who typically would think about retirement now, but are starting to realize that’s a little ridiculous, there’s still 20 to 30 years of their lives to go, and that’s too long for a permanent vacation! I was looking around and noticing that there wasn’t good research based methodology to help people make these transitions in these various stages of their lives.

Mazarine: Lisa, what’s the difference between the Canadian and American job markets?

Lisa: In Canada, there are differences in the ways that careers shape themselves, as well as the ways people go about looking for work.

We also don’t have the recession that you have right now, because we didn’t take away the regulations between banking and financial speculation. However, because Canada is America’s biggest trading partner and vice versa, we are still taking an economic hit because Americans can’t buy Canadian goods as much as before.

In terms of looking for work online, people still use Indeed.com in Canada, but we also use a website called Workopolis.com, run by one of our major newspapers.

The main difference is that the cities are smaller, and the industry bases are smaller, and while it’s important to network online, the power of personal networks are amplified because there are fewer people. If you’re going into a particular niche, it’s easy to network your way into that niche.

People in the US joke that everyone in Canada knows each other. Not really! There are many thousands of kilometers to cover, but to figure out where the key industry players are, we just have fewer centers. The thought leadership, knowledge, the leaders in that sector are really consolidated.

In Toronto, where I am, for example. we have a lot of thought leadership around head offices of nonprofits and social service programs. The consolidation is driven by needs in the economy here.

Toronto is the largest economic and population center in the country. There’s the most significant funding for different types of programs. But there are different niche programs in different parts of the country. There are nonprofit activities that are driven by the industry that’s happening around them. In Alberta for example, the environmental agency and focus there will be significant, it’s a good location for thought leadership and programs in the natural resources space.

Mazarine: Tell me something I don’t know about the Canadian job market.

Lisa: 90% of Canadian population live within 2 hours of the American border. With that comes a need to concentrate around city centers.

Mazarine: What’s the process for how you help people decide what new career they would like?

Lisa: In addition to giving people a test to assess their values and motivations, they will spend a day in the life of the career they’re considering, with a person currently in that field. They will have a chance to ask their questions, see what the day is like.

For example, we talked with Paul Nazareth, and did an expose with him last June about what it’s really like to be a professional fundraiser.

We hold events and our events are never just coming and sitting and listening, people get to EXPERIENCE what it’s like to be in the job. There were about 40 professionals there, thinking about fundraising as a next step. Our session got them active in the types of skills and activities they’d have to use. Paul gave them the raw goods about what’s good and not good about working in fundraising. He told them what does the nonprofit world want private sector people to know about the sector. Ever wanted to be a Foundation President? They have an interview with someone who is doing that. And here’s an article about being a nonprofit fundraiser in Canada. Or how about being a nonprofit recruiter?

Doing this session has gotten us to become much more familiar about career transitions to the nonprofit sector. We also help people get out of the sector and into a career that will still fulfill their need to make a significant contribution to the world. They have a different mindset, and some of them assume that moving out of nonprofits moves you over to the dark side.

Mazarine: Tell me more about your first stage, when you work with people. What is the psychometric assessment?

Lisa: We help people figure out what they value and what motivates them. What would you put as a higher value than something else?

  • For some people the value is that economic return.
  • For other people it’s the relationships they’re able to build.
  • Others value aesthetics, they value BEAUTY. They have stylized pens. Style and Aesthetics and design matters to them, even if their job has nothing to do with it.

There are these deep seated values that keep you motivated and happy. And when you have a career that aligns with that, that’s what keeps you happy.

Our programs are all demographic based. Our demographic piece is important to us as a company. It’s tied to the way the sector is segmenting.It’s not stuck at platitudes though, like Gen Y is like this and Boomers are like that. No, it’s more in depth.

Mazarine: What do demographics mean, to you?

Lisa: Demographics for us means what’s different about each generation. You might think about it as changes in donor patterns, changes in volunteerism. But this applies equally to careers. People of different generations are struggling with career decisions. People in the nonprofit space understand these differences better than anyone else, because they’re always thinking about how to engage different types of people, different generations. Corporate people still have to think about what volunteer manager think about, for example:

  • How you build community?
  • How you make changes?
  • How you can motivate people to try things they haven’t tried before?

Mazarine: Can you give me an example of how you work with a particular demographic?

Lisa: Let me tell you about our process with recent graduates. When we’re doing work with recent graduates who are starting their careers, we’ve taken a look and said, “When have companies had to encounter people who have a different style of communication, different norms, expectations of how teams will work, how timing and scheduling work, different expectations of leadership?” We’ve come to view Gen Y as a completely different culture because of how they interact with technology.

Canada has the most multi-cultural workforce in the world (because of immigration for work, it’s the way their country grows). Canadian companies are exceptional at integrating different kinds of people that respect where people came from but creates a cohesive corporate culture.

Because technology has changed so much, in terms of distributed leadership, access to information in the last 10 years, the students who are coming out now come with a whole different paradigm than anyone else before. We treat them like a totally different culture. That’s a better approach than just going for platitudes. The results are far more successful.

Thank you so much for this interview Lisa! I learned a lot! If you’d like to take Challenge Factory’s psychometric assessment, and see where your values and motivations lie, just give their website a look at http://challengefactory.ca.


If you want more tools to manage your career, I am teaching a webinar on moving on up in your nonprofit career.


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