Step 3 – Wipe Hands on Pants

Ubiquitous useless hand dryerHi, I’m Mike DeWitt. If you’re a person living in a developing (or developed) country. You’ve probably been in a public restroom with a contraption similar to the one depicted in this picture. These devices are supposed to use hot air to dry your hands after you’ve washed them. The instructions go something like this:

Step 1: Push button

Step 2: Rub hands together vigorously until dry

It has become an inside joke among victims of such devices that there is a Step circusgold 3: For men: “Wipe hands on pants”, and for women: “Swing Hands in Air and Open Door With Elbow Until You Find Some Tissue” because the damned things DON’T WORK. In many restrooms, some altruistic lad has taken the time and effort to scratch Step 3 onto the machine with a knife or key. Well done, sir!

I bring up this quaint point of everyday life, because I believe that many management ploys are a precise analogy (although more expensive by several orders of magnitude) of these ineffectual-for-the-customer-and-employees-but-cheap-and-easy-for-management fads. The latter have the following steps:
Step One: Hire prominent and expensive consultant to convince the board and institutional investors that you seriously intend to remedy unsatisfactory financial results

Step Two: Implement consultant’s recommendations regardless of corporate culture or business context.

After this step, the consultant usually exits, stage left, amidst a management celebration of the success of the initiative. Some time later, as with the hand dryer, the hot air stops flowing but your hands are still wet (i.e., the original problem hasn’t gone away). Managers and employees are left to pick up the pieces, which leads to:

Step Three: Figure out how to do it ourselves or go back to the old way of doing things.

That makes me mad. You know it’s wrong, and I know it’s wrong, and the person who made the decision knows it’s wrong. But in some contrived Management-by-Objective system, someone gets to put a check mark in a box and feel good about themselves. That doesn’t make it right.

And that’s why I like to expose those foibles. Most of the time they’re not willfully wicked; just misguided.

That’s my perspective. As for me, I live in Scottdale, Az with the woman of my dreams. We’ve been married for 25 years, and have five beautiful children together ranging in age from 22 to 12. That experience alone gives me great perspective on organizational management (from watching how my wife does it!).

I love hearing what you think about my views, so leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.

Photo by Crystl

  • Rob

    I think you could make the argument that the most successful companies are those who have the best grasp on the context in which they are making their strategic decisions. If that turns out to be true, then hiring consultants will always have limited value because the consultant doesn’t understand the context. At best, the consultant can educate you so you can make your own decisions.

  • What? Consultants must be coming up in the world. No, “blame the consultant?” as step 3, then step 4, start over figuring out how to fix the problem.

    Sounds like the traditional “expert” model of consulting.

    Actually, in my neck of the woods, collaborative consulting is about working on the problem jointly WITH the culture and business context well represented as a means of producing countermeasure to any suspected root causes of the problem. Forecasting/environmental scanning is expected in there as well. Anything less is perhaps a sign of needing to cast the net a little wider to find better consultants, and better or newer hand dryers…

    Last I knew, the ones I’ve used actually worked, but were also the stuff of rest stops, airports, and public schools — as you say — and not in business settings. Usually some humor was posted nearby.

    Check out these definitions:

    Roles for a facilitator or consultant :

    • A “collaborator” – works as a partner with the organization, contributing process/performance consulting knowledge and is involved with the client in decision-making. The client is supported in building expertise to accomplish tasks once the approach is determined. The consultant does not take on the role of the manager, rather he or she partners with the manager and/or leader and group members. The facilitator/consultant provides guidance to the process, collaborates in data collection, facilitate planning meetings and retreats, and works with the organization to solve problems so they stay solved.
    • An “expert” – provides knowledge or skills that the organization does not have in-house (regarding a process, model, or structure that the client needs.) Decision on how to proceed are made by the consultant, using expert judgment, to solve an immediate problem. Managers are less involved, and have the role to evaluate after the fact.
    • A“pair of hands” – to do tasks you could potentially do yourself but may not have the staff, time or availability to accomplish (organize meetings and agendas, keep time, keep on track, scribe, etc) Having someone else take on these duties allows all members to participate fully and with fewer distractions
    An external consultants and/or facilitator is especially helpful when:
    a) you need their expertise and skill set to allow everyone to participate and do their best work;
    b) you need to fully participate yourself and can’t facilitate; and/or
    c) you need someone external to your organization to help lend neutrality and validity to the process.

    Source: Flawless Consulting, Peter Block

  • Jay

    Hey Mike, glad to see you’re on the team! Great first post, too.

  • mike


    I’ve written before about the importance of understanding context in solving business problems. You’re right on the money!


  • mike


    You’re right that I was addressing the ‘expert’ model, and its inappropriate use for work that requires the collaborative model. Thanks for pointing out those useful distinctions.


  • mike