Mamello Masia’s winning formula of being agile and anti-fragile in the world of HR


Just six months into her appointment, Dr Mamello Masia is using her ethos of anti-fragility to adapt.

Leveraging her vast experience across the HR value chain, enthusiasm for HR analytics and information systems, and passion for people and development, human resources executive at Mowana Properties, Dr Mamello Masia, is breathing new life into the role.

As she steps into this new sphere, she is fuelled by a natural affinity for her craft. She didn’t have to soul-search when choosing a career, as she knew early on that she was destined for HR. “It was a conscious decision. I always wanted to be in HR, I didn’t fall into it. I knew I was interested in the science of people and the workplace,” she says.

Born and bred in Lesotho, Mamello officially moved to South Africa to do her honours in human resource management at the University of KwaZulu-Natal after completing her degree in public administration and sociology in her home country. She duly pursued a versatile HR career and has worked for a variety of major companies including Toyota and Nedbank.

She has since had the privilege of working on global projects, influencing policy, growing talent and having a direct impact of improving the financial elements of companies. To top it all off, she was conferred a PhD in human resources management from the University of Witwatersrand along the way.

She is now leading with the same dynamism at property management company Mowana Properties. The company manages large portfolios including Pareto Limited, a shopping centre owner. While it’s an industry she wasn’t initially familiar with, she has adapted accordingly. “It’s a fascinating experience working on talent management-related activities to help employees manage malls as efficiently as possible,” she says.

Some of her immediate plans are entrenching their newly launched values and culture statement, focusing on integrated talent management, refining work architecture, improving leadership and management development and building capacity and capability within the business.

“We want to ensure that the business has clear talent maps, talent reviews and succession planning. Our performance management culture is not where it needs to be, so we are bringing in systems to support that,” she says.

She relishes how people-centric operations in this line of business are, “You can imagine how exciting it is for a HR professional to be in a business that is dependent on people-related issues in order to turn the business around,” she explains.

While she is well-suited for the position, her multi-layered experience didn’t always come easy. Her background features many lessons and hurdles along the way.

She credits her first role as assistant HR manager at Toyota for informing the way she approaches challenges, outlining the impact of Toyota business practices also known as The Toyota Way, “It embedded skills in me that I still use today, especially how to break down a problem and solve it. It enhanced my project management and planning skills. It really shaped my career,” she says.

Perhaps an even bigger driver of her career growth and outlook was the time she spent as head of HR for sub-Saharan Africa at Emerson Network Power. It was a role with massive responsibility and offered fertile learning ground.

“I had a blank canvas when I joined the company. In previous jobs there were COEs who could help me with various aspects of the HR value chain. I wanted to work for a multinational that was small in South Africa where I could have a handle of all aspects of HR and get my hands dirty,” she explains.

It was also affirming to have her expertise so deeply valued, “I didn’t have to fight for a position on the exco. They appreciated what I brought to the table. There weren’t business or people-related decisions or solutions that could be reached without me,” she says.

She was fascinated by being in that environment, changing culture and managing systems and processes, “ I could write a thesis about that experience. It was enjoyable and built my confidence,” she laughs.

It also fostered the opportunity for her to implement impactful policies: “In 2013, I introduced a policy to give same-sex couples maternity leave for their adopted children who were six months or younger. The reception to this was beautiful!” she recalls.

She was also stretched when being introduced to managing people in a science and technology env and had to design short term incentive scheme (STI) for non-sales head of functions, “Having to design and implement STI for the business was also quite an interesting challenge that gave impactful exposure on the success of Emerson Network Power” she adds.

But few challenges were more daunting than when there was transformational change in their financial model, resulting in the regions being reduced. The sub-Saharan Africa region was absorbed by MENA and operations were headquartered in Dubai – a fate she suffered again at the next company she worked for.

Looking back on the journey, she now considers this disruption to have been a timely and necessary learning curve and stepping stone to prepare her for her current role. She also relishes that this new role doesn’t require as much regular travel abroad, as she wanted to prioritise time with her family.

Her approach to handling uncertainties and the unfamiliar is largely steeped in her belief in being ‘anti-fragile’ instead of being ‘resilient’. “I think being resilient has a direct impact on mental health issues because you stretch yourself until you snap, whereas being anti-fragile allows you to just be yourself as you familiarise yourself to a new environment and adapt to it. You can prepare your mind for what’s coming,” she says.

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