Dear reader,

a friend of mine is currently at risk of losing her job. She is working for a couple of small municipalities, her position regulated by a temporary contract, the kind of contract that is issued by a local administration when there is a spot to cover, but there is no time to issue a proper public examination procedure.

So, the net result of this combination is that a person keeps working in her position, acquiring more skills, experience and bringing value to the organization, until the deadline determined by the law comes, the final date after which the permanent holder of the position has to be decided by public examination.

Please keep in mind that I live in Italy and I’m writing about Italian matters: if you reside in another country your mileage may vary, and I’d love to hear about your experiences. It is my personal opinion that in Italy public examinations are often aimed more at giving a sense of impartiality, importance and accountability (three essential factors, indeed) rather than what should be the main point: choosing the right person for the right place. This unbalance is undoubtedly caused by the abuse of public examinations that plagued and plagues the country even today: people want fair exams, not elaborate farces to select a preferred candidate over the others. When I write “preferred,” I mean “preferred because he is a friend of a friend,” of course! (insert here your favorite emoticon for a bitter laugh)

I see a few issues here:

  • The procedure for a public examination is onerous and takes time, and subtracts human and material resources from the organization. I remember a university professor lamenting the fact that he needed two Italian researchers and a foreign one to assign a meager 1.200 euros/month job
  • there is the risk of losing useful experience that may take a long time to be regained. Sure, hiring a better person can be a long-term investment, but the point is that I’m pretty sure that nobody’s doing the calculation
  • Writing the criteria for a job position is difficult, and it can be almost impossible to pinpoint the most impartial system for picking a candidate. That would be a discipline of its own, one that every people in HR would love to study. What we think we need is not always what we need: this is one of the instances in which human psychological biases and fallacies can go wild!
  • The sense of injustice that is perceived after seeing a person put aside after having done three, four or even five years of good work is, to say the least, discomforting.

C’mon, you really took FIVE YEARS to set up an examination procedure? In the meanwhile, you had no regret in renewing a temporary contract every year. Let me quote a text I got from my friend (translating from Italian):

In a month I’ll be putting on the table, in one shot, all the hopes I’ve put in 5 years of unsecure work and my future… I can’t find peace of mind, this will make me crazy”

I feel a growing sense of impotence and anger while I’m writing this, but since I don’t want to turn this post into a rant, I’ll get back to my planned course.

If, on the one hand, we have a system that:

  • Tries to take away responsibilities from singles,
  • It’s supposed to be objective,
  • takes into account a fixed and limited number of parameters (and only the ones that you could write black-on-white),
  • Takes time and lot of people,

what would the opposite approach look like?


  • Assigns clear responsibilities,
  • Introduces a degree of subjectiveness,
  • Can take into consideration a variable and, potentially, huge number of factors (even those that you would not typically state openly),
  • Takes less time and fewer people.

I have seen this system in practice, and you have too: it’s pretty common indeed. You see it at work, in schools, in families, and it is not quite bad, at least for small matters. One person (chief of office, teacher, parent) is appointed with the task of choosing someone (worker, student, family member) to perform a job. If he chooses well, he is given permission by his peers to decide again: this is one of the corner principles of leadership.

Let’s bring the discussion from small tasks back to the more impactful

Now let me introduce you Andrei Slavnov. Andrei is a fine Russian gentleman and a world-class theoretical physicist. You can check out a brief bio and bibliography at I’m not assuming that you will understand his major accomplishments (above all the Slavnov-Taylor identities): I want you to realize that Slavnov is the kind of worker that you would call a Master, the one you’d expect to perform at top-level in his field on his terms. The one that should not be distracted by trivial matters. Nevertheless, I saw him spending a whole week during a visit to my university sorting out candidates for a research position. The selection was conducted with all the brainpower that Andrei could bring to the table.

What was at stake? For a Master, I guess that credibility is one of the most valuable assets. Were Slavnov to choose the wrong candidate, one that is not able (due to his abilities, connections, history, lack of character and the likes) to bring value to the institution, his credibility would be severely undermined.

What would you prefer to use, the Italian or the Russian style?

On your path to wisdom and mastery, would you prefer to hide behind complex formal rules and let a system make the wrong decision, or would you rather take a step forward in the direction of responsibility and try to make the right call?

Until next time, best wishes to my friend and all the people in the same adversities.