Suntiva President and CEO Dr. Hany Malik holds a unique distinction among his colleagues in the field. In addition to his background in leadership and government contracting, he is also trained as a clinical psychologist.
That background has made a difference for years now, but it’s proven especially beneficial while leading his team through a transition to remote work and supporting government clients through their own pivots. The proof is in the pudding: Suntiva grew organically by 65% in 2020, the most successful year since its founding in 2002.
“We braced ourselves for the worst,” Dr. Malik said. “Fortunately, our management team had the foresight to build a very efficient and nimble organization even prior to and independent of the COVID crisis.”
As Dr. Malik looks back on the past year, a handful of success themes emerge. One is the importance of training employees and establishing effective partnerships. Another is the role of infrastructure and access to necessary tools and technology. Company culture and Dr. Malik’s own education were also brought to bear.
Early in his career, Dr. Malik was equipped with an MBA and a management consulting position at a large government contractor in the 1980s and 1990s. He had a full corporate life.
“I really enjoyed it and loved it,” he recalled, “but something was missing for me.”
Well over half of the large IT modernization efforts in his industry were failing to deliver on promises, meet deadlines or stay within budget, he said. Dr. Malik wondered why. He also wondered why promising technologies weren’t more quickly adopted. These questions led him to psychology and a desire to deeply understand the forces behind human decisions.
“You can build the best system in the world,” Dr. Malik said, “but if the users are not going to embrace and adopt it, it’s going to fail.”
Not satisfied to simply read a book or complete a quick online training, Dr. Malik began taking psychology classes. Seven years later, he was working as a clinical psychologist. While he eventually returned to his former career in management consulting, he remains passionate about putting his psychology knowledge to use and leveraging it to successfully transform Suntiva as well as the organizations of Suntiva’s clients.
Staying calm under pressure, being empathic, knowing that crisis impacts different people in different ways, and making sure that everyone in the workforce is taken care of were all skills that were vital. Suntiva leaders learned quickly that they needed to support their employees beyond just their work, he added.
“There was a lot of stress in general at the time people shifted to full-time telework and a lot of unknown outside of work that contributed to confusion and anxiety,” Dr. Malik said. “We took full advantage of the fact that our workforce already includes some of the best coaches, workplace psychologists and change management professionals.”
There were engagement sessions to allow colleagues to discuss how to navigate working while sharing a space with children and other family members who were suddenly all at home together. Suntiva also provided training on how to communicate and collaborate virtually, how to deal with stress and work at home with children, and how to remain resilient. Business units held weekly check-ins with all staff, and managers increased one-on-one check-ins.
“These are all strategies that we have advised our clients to employ in their own organizations,” Dr. Malik said.
In addition to leading Suntiva, Dr. Malik is a faculty member of the Georgetown University Institute for Transformational Leadership where he teaches leadership coaching to future executive coaches and has served for the last 17 years. That work allows him to stay current with the latest thinking in innovations around leadership development, which in turn allows him to better support clients and tap into a pipeline of top talent, he said.
‘We Practice What We Preach’
A previous career lesson proved vital in helping Dr. Malik navigate the challenges of shifting to remote work. Early in his career at American Management Systems, Dr. Malik led a team of technologists who traveled across the country supporting clients. From that experience, he learned the importance of regular and effective communication with team members.
“I was able to apply many of these communication protocols in my daily interactions with my Suntiva management team during COVID, which helped us stay closely connected and effectively manage our remote workforce,” Dr. Malik said.
Gone were the days of stopping by a person’s office for quick, informal updates. Instead, leaders checked in frequently to ensure everyone had the equipment, technology and home office setups to ensure they could continue doing their jobs.
Just three months earlier, Suntiva had implemented Microsoft Teams and trained employees on remote collaboration. The company had also contracted with a vendor who helped ensure new IT security protocols were adopted to protect client data and internal records.
“I also can’t say enough about the importance of investing in building a strong organizational culture, which proved critical in helping us deal effectively with the crisis,” Dr. Malik said. “The goodwill and trust we had developed with our employees over the past nearly 20 years allowed our employees to have confidence in Suntiva management’s ability to make sound and responsible business decisions to weather the storm.”
That played into employee retention and satisfaction and, ultimately, client satisfaction.
The seamless transition to remote work allowed for maintaining the same level of revenue generation while reducing overhead expenses on office rent, travel and related costs. It also helped delivery staff cut their commute time, significantly increasing billable hours. Profit margins skyrocketed.
With the pivot to remote work, team members were better able to assist government clients in making their own transitions. One of the company’s top achievements was providing critical workforce transformation during the COVID crisis, including helping the Food and Drug Administration and Army clients transition to remote work and continuing to support the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Malik said.
“We are in the business of organizational optimization,” he said. “We practice what we preach.”
Suntiva’s company tagline, “Great Minds. Great Hearts,” is not just a clever marketing ploy, Dr. Malik said.
“It actually comes out of our day-to-day experience of working at Suntiva,” he said. “In addition to being the best in what they do, Suntivans are some of the most compassionate people I have ever worked with.”