Coaching people toward successful outcomes has always been part of Cathryn Perfetti’s life ambition. Now, she’s taking her message into individual businesses.
At first, Cathryn Perfetti thought she wanted to be a dance therapist, a practical way of combining her double-major in psychology and dance. But then, while earning a master’s degree in counseling at DePaul University, an academic advisor turned her toward a new passion: employee assistance programs (EAP). The deal was sealed during an internship with Abbot Labs in north-suburban Chicago, while earning her master’s degree.
“Abbott Labs had an internal EAP program,” Perfetti says. “They are so needed, and I love a challenge. There were few opportunities in EAP back then. My particular license, licensed clinical professional counselor, was not yet recognized by insurance companies, and ‘coaching’ was focused more on hard business skills.”
Perfetti started practicing primarily as an eating disorder specialist, and she’s still known for that specialty. Today, she continues counseling business owners and employees as president/CEO of EPP Advisory Group Inc., Algonquin. She spends much of her time on site with businesses, coaching them toward success and offering personal services, such as behavioral health, job-searching and personal assessments, in addition to developing programs for workforce development, improved staff relations and employee wellness.
Before Perfetti launched her business in October 2011, she sharpened her skills in a variety of roles around the area, most notably as McHenry County College’s former director of career services. That position provided unique networking opportunities with employers, employees and other organizations like the Workforce Investment Board.
That work also put her up-close with homeless people and lower-income workers, as she taught pregnant women valuable work skills such as preparing a resume, job interviewing and dressing for success.
“After MCC dissolved the career services department, I bounced around for a while,” Perfetti says. “I worked as director of PADS [Public Action to Deliver Shelter], and finally decided to go into private practice full-time.”
Perfetti met her first business client while attending a manufacturing matchmaking event about a year ago. That person’s small business had just survived a challenging year. Now, Perfetti provides a variety of services for that business, especially those related to coaching the owner on employee relations and engagement, and serving as an EAP counselor for employees.
In this line of business, employees are sometimes hesitant to seek out Perfetti’s help because she’s working for their employer.
“Trust is a big part of what I do, and I’m genuine with people,” says Perfetti. “I’m not afraid to share things about myself or my experiences. I believe this helps others to open up more quickly and to genuinely share their concerns.”
Because she is self-employed, Perfetti says she has a better understanding of the trials and tribulations faced by the business owner on a daily basis.
“I have a deeper understanding of the highs and lows of self-employment,” she says. “I am there to help them see things more clearly. I like to tell them I can help them get their ‘mojo’ back. I can help them refocus and let go of the past.”
With the business understanding that comes from personal experience, Perfetti also has the education and understanding of human behavior, important traits that help her better connect with the business owner, management team and staff.
“There can be peace for the business owner,” Perfetti says. “I can help guide you there.”
Coaching is a challenging balancing act because although she’s there to serve the employer, she’s also there to assist employees. “It’s all custom-designed for each client,” she says. “If any staff member, including the owner, is struggling, performance and working relationships are affected.”
Starting out, Perfetti conducts an initial assessment, so that she can better understand her client. That process also includes personality testing on company employees. Eventually, she shares the results and educates the entire staff on what the data show about their work environment and interactions with each other.
Although a variety of personality tests are available, Perfetti relies mostly on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, because it’s backed up by thorough research.
The Myers-Briggs is a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in the ways people perceive the world and make decisions.
An early version of the Myers-Briggs test was first used to identify appropriate jobs for women entering the workforce during World War II.
When to Get Help
Business owners often prefer to handle problems on their own, but Perfetti says there are certain indicators that it’s time for the business owner and/or employees to get some help. Some of those behaviors can include:
Inability to focus or concentrate
Isolation from friends or family
Escape by indulgence in alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex
Avoidance of the inevitable
Change in weight, either up or down
Others saying things like “You’re not yourself lately.”
Loss of any kind – death, divorce, even a major client
Changes in a personal relationship, including lack of communication or intimacy
Losing one’s temper more often or more easily
“When you answer yes to several of these things, it’s time to be honest with yourself, seek help, and deal with the problems creatively and gently,” Perfetti says. “That’s where I come in. I identify an individual’s level of self-compassion. Most people have very little self-compassion – we’re our own toughest critics. I pull things out and talk honestly. I teach better coping skills and creative problem-solving.”
With a doctorate in human service leadership, Perfetti is not just a leader herself, but rather, she can help to develop leaders.
“I can help someone understand who they are and how to make it work for them,” she says. “My reward is seeing client successes.”
But don’t expect success to happen overnight.
“It takes time and patience,” she says. “Like raising a plant from seed, it takes time to develop.”