Change Management for Local Government Luddites

Posted on May 31, 2023

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Today’s Morning Buzz is by Greg LeBlanc – Assistant Town Manager, Town of Snowmass Village, Colorado. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

  • What I’m watching: Jane the Virgin
  • A hobby I enjoy: Birding
  • What I’m working on: Expanding community childcare services, records retention, capital construction projects


Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus proposed that the only constant is change after observing patterns in the natural world nearly 3,000 years ago. This phrase is commonly used today as a cautionary expression for organizations to remain agile in the face of inevitable change. Yet, despite the phrase’s insightful nature, change management is cited as a leading challenge in the workplace.

Change Management & Local Government Luddites

Change management is defined as the methods and manners in which an organization describes and implements change. The extent to which an organization is proactive with managing change determines how successful that organization is in adopting new processes or systems. Unfortunately, change is not always favored by all members of an organization. Let’s call these folks the Local Government Luddite. Local Government Luddites are the most challenging individuals for managers to demonstrate how change can be beneficial, and may even work to undermine the change management process. 

In common use, the term luddite refers to someone who is woefully behind the times. The term originates from an anti-technology industrial protest that began over 200 years ago, stemming from poor working conditions in England’s initial period of industrialization. The original luddites were reacting to poor adoption of new technologies, but in today’s world, to call someone a luddite is to suggest that they may be resistant to changing conditions in a workplace. It is not to say that those individuals hate the new technology outright.

For this discussion, the Local Government Luddite should not be considered adversarial. Rather, these individuals should be viewed as partners and as opportunities to eventually champion change. Remember, just because someone may be resistant to change does not necessarily mean that they are opposed to change.

Region Beta Paradox

Let’s first dissect why change management is a challenge in the workplace. At its essence, change is difficult for most folks to overcome because it is a deviation from their norm. Deviation causes uncertainty and can elicit a stress response because it moves the individual from a safe space to a space filled with unknowns. For the Local Government Luddite, resistance to change is a response to the stress caused by the uncertainty associated with change.

At a deeper level, this response is a phenomenon known as the Region Beta Paradox. The Region Beta Paradox occurs when individuals remain within familiar situations, rather than taking action to change their circumstances, because they do not perceive the situation to be dire enough to warrant a change. The paradox was first described by American psychologist Daniel Gilbert using the example of a commuter traveling to two locations of varying distance from origin. The commuter chooses to walk to destinations that are within a mile of their origin, and to cycSimple graph with time on the y-axis and distance on the x-axis. Lines on the graph are labeled walking and biking.le to destinations farther away in distance. The logic of the commuter is that traveling by bicycle is faster than walking, therefore should be reserved for traveling greater distances. The reality is that biking would be faster than walking in most applications, but the perception of the commuter is that walking is less effort than bicycling, and therefore should be prioritized for shorter distances.

Gilbert charted these two modalities using a graph comparing distance and time. The graph is divided into three regions – alpha, beta, and gamma – that are delineated by the distance traveled by the two modes in the same amount of time. Region alpha describes the distance traveled by walking in x-amount of time, region beta describes the distance traveled by biking in the same amount of time, and region gamma describes any distance traveled by bicycle after time x. By switching from walking to bicycling in region beta, the commuter dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to travel the same distance by walking, therefore, the paradox is how the commuter will willingly take longer to travel the same distance by walking than bicycling. 

The Region Beta Paradox has recently been adopted to describe behavior in the modern workplace, where employees are more likely to continue working in a more laborious/stressful/challenging manner because it is perceived as familiar or safe, rather than adopting a new (and more efficient) method of performing the same work. Put differently, region beta in the workplace paradox describes the jump in productivity by adopting new ways of doing work. Using the original example, Local Government Luddites are more likely to walk all distances in a greater amount of time simply because they are not comfortable with bicycling. 

Overcoming Change Management Challenges

So how do you help the Local Government Luddite through a period of change? Change management is a popular topic among those who study leadership, and there are many resources for those experiencing challenges first-hand. For public sector organizations like municipalities, change is not made to maximize profits for shareholders, but rather to improve the level of service to the communities they serve. For local governments, improving efficiency and effectiveness through managed change provides taxpayers with a better return on their tax dollars. 

Remember, the Local Government Luddite should not be considered adversarial when managing change. The Region Beta Paradox suggests that the Local Government Luddite is resisting change because it is a deviation from their norm, or baseline comfortability in the workplace. This human component is important to ensuring the success of a change process. Leveraging the human capital of your organization’s luddites by involving them in the process can help ensure a successful transition. As a manager overseeing organizational change or guiding employees through it, it is important to understand what the process may look like. Managed change, although challenging, should be viewed as an opportunity for growth and progress.

The first step in overcoming change management challenges is to identify why the change is occurring. This step requires leaders to describe the conditions that are contributing to change. Perhaps there are new technologies that can increase the efficiency of staff or provide a better user experience for citizens. In these instances, leaders are to recognize that the change is being made to better the lived experience of those served. Other times, change precipitates in organizations because external conditions change. This requires leaders to recognize that changes must be made, otherwise there may be detrimental impacts to service delivery or employees. 

Once the driving force of change is identified, leaders should communicate with those impacted by the change. For any municipalities with a Local Government Luddite on staff, this is a key step to explaining why upcoming change will occur. Share any implementation plans, goals, and priorities at this point. Remember that goals should be realistic, otherwise the project will be perceived as unachievable. Clear communication from leaders helps the luddites on the team (and all employees) feel like they are part of the process. Their understanding of the project’s objectives helps leaders achieve success.

Next, leaders should understand the total investment in managing change. Questions to ask include – What are the risks? What are resources? Who should be involved in building, testing, and implementing the change? Asking these questions helps leaders identify key players for the project. In this step, engaging the Local Government Luddite can help provide valuable feedback and sometimes identify the blind spots of leaders. To understand all risks, resources, and players, leaders can implement questionnaires, interviews, and observations to assess tolerance for change as well as areas where existing staff may need additional training before proceeding with implementation.

Take time to understand who your stakeholders are in this step. A common fault in implementing change is not adequately identifying all internal and external stakeholders. Internal stakeholders, especially employees who have long tenures with the organization, are often overlooked. These folks offer valuable institutional knowledge, which can help leaders avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors. The organizational loyalty of these individuals must not be compromised in this step, and the identified priorities of any project should be consistent with organizational values.

The final step is to follow through on the plan and implement it. Remember to communicate the benefits of change throughout the process, including what the organization stands to gain from this change. At the point of rolling out an implementation plan, leaders will have placed the right people on the team, examined all potential risks, and included all relevant stakeholders in the conversation. If at this point, the luddites of your organization are still resistant to change, offer more explanation of the steps above and address their concerns. Strong leadership begets collaboration.

The prospect of change is inherently disruptive. While some individuals are more likely to adapt to change, recognize that others (our Local Government Luddites) may need extra help accepting that conditions change. Staying in the region of comfortable complacency, Region Beta, is dangerous because it precludes individuals and organizations from growth and reaching mission-critical goals. 

The Region Beta Paradox can be a dangerous trap for local governments because it keeps organizations from serving their citizenry to the best of their ability. If your organization is contemplating a change, remember that change is difficult for the luddites in the organization. By involving the Local Government Luddites of an organization in a change management plan, teams can effectively implement change.

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