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I manage two small software development teams at a remote site of a large, multinational corporation. Focusing on one of them, it consists of:

  • "A", a senior software developer who joined under 3.5 months ago.
  • "B", a senior software developer who joined 1.5 months ago.
  • "C", a product owner who will join next week
  • "D", a junior intern who joined over 6 months ago

The business that we support, as well as the extended global technology team (including my direct manager and all of my immediate colleagues), is located overseas, near the company's headquarters.

Although A and B are both senior software developers, A's role and background is more geared to functional problem solving using statistical methods (Machine Learning specifically), while B's is more geared toward the technical problems around infrastructure and technical robustness. However, they both have a significant amount of overlap in background, and I encourage them not to work in silos, especially since the team is small. Although they have only been working together for a bit over a month, they seem to have a good working relationship.

I have been planning a 2-week business trip for myself, A, and C, to take place in about a month. The goals would be:

  • For C, to meet with their overseas counterpart, learn the details of the business and the product, as well as meet with users of the software to understand how it is currently used, challenges, proposed improvements, etc.
  • For A, the goals are similar, but to focus more closely on the various data points available within the product, and to get insight on how best to use that to problem-solve.
  • For myself, to help guide and participate in these conversations and meetings, as well as to work on the other team that I manage.

In addition, for all of us, the trip provides the opportunity for building in-person relationships with our global counterparts, which helps with the more intangible teamwork that is critical for developing in a globally-distributed environment.

We don't travel frequently, and a trip like this is generally considered to be a "perk" (fly business class, stay in a nice hotel, reasonable per diem, get to meet with the people that we work with, etc.). Any travel that we do needs (of course) to be justifiable, and will reduce the budget for any future travel that year across our whole group (several hundred people).

At this point, I don't see a clear justification to send B on this trip. Firstly, because their role is less people-centric, so in-person meetings are less important for them. Secondly, the marginal benefit in sending both of the software developers, rather than just one, does not justify the cost (it is an expensive trip). There would be some value in their traveling, but not nearly as much, and it would be hard to justify. It would also be very expensive to request budget for 4 people to travel at once (even 3 is pushing it).

B has confronted me, and told me that s/he feels "left out" by the plan. How can I respond in a way that will keep them feeling that their role is important and that I value them?

One approach that I am considering is to "breach policy" and have us all fly economy (12 hour flights), although that might cause resentment by the others and set a precedent for future trips.

  • It seems apparent that B thinks they should be involved or is at least tangentially involved. Not sure if you are aware of any involvement by B at all. Confronted seems like a strong word. Did they simply ask why? I’d start by giving them a reason why you didn’t consider involving them. Maybe it’s because 90% of the team is going. Maybe they want to grow into a bigger role – Brian Dec 16 '18 at 14:41
  • @Brian B sent me an email saying "I wonder why A and C are planning to go and I am not. Just gives a bit of a bad feeling being left out." – UserAnon Dec 16 '18 at 14:54
  • Probably best to have a Face to face to ascertain what is going on. I suspect B thinks he should have a bigger role – Brian Dec 16 '18 at 15:05
  • @Brian you may be right. What then? – UserAnon Dec 16 '18 at 15:07
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    @SkinnyJ - based on your comment back to me - it seems easy to understand why B feels left out. All they know is, there's a trip and they aren't going. Meanwhile, you have specific objectives. You can tie those to specific roles on your team. You have a budget limit. I wonder how B would feel if they knew those details, instead of simply knowing there's a trip and they're not going? – dwizum Dec 17 '18 at 11:21
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Meet with B and lay out your reasoning on why you can't justify the trip for her at this time.

Work with B and discuss how the two of you can justify a trip next year.

You mentioned that her role is less people-centric. However, making connections with colleagues and managers is beneficial for someone's career.

  • +1 — especially if trips was advertised to B as a job perk it's only fair to start planning for B to get that perk. – Mołot Dec 17 '18 at 6:37
  • @Mołot No they were not – UserAnon Dec 17 '18 at 7:03
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Face to face explanations make someone feel much more valued than an email one

Take B aside and explain, much as you have here, that you had to make a choice - as a manager it is important to explain, rather than apologise for, the reasons behind difficult choices. A is a little more familiar with the company, having been there longer. The company is footing the bill and you've got to justify all costs.

Another way to view it:

Often who you leave behind is as important as who you take

When you take business trips you are often less productive there, B's work is important and you value what they will do whilst in the office. Someone to 'man the fort' as it were. If you take everyone productivity takes an even larger hit.

From this point of view it isn't that B isn't considered, more that their value is such that it would be a hit to the company to lose them for a couple of weeks.

Ask them about their concerns

It may be that they want to go on the business trip because they feel they can bring something to meetings that you're otherwise missing - perhaps they understand the requirements better than A or feel they can explain the process more clearly.

Whatever their concerns it is an important part of being a manager to listen and reassess. It may be that their concerns change your mind or it may not be - at the end of the day though it is your decision as a manager, don't let them feel they can get their way just because they want the perks.

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What I'm not seeing so far is an attempt to look at the situation from B's side. Remember that seniors in this field tend to be smart and able to figure things out. Don't underestimate B, and don't try to flimflam them.

B is going to be affected by the trip, one way or another. Unless you're planning on shutting down the team for two weeks, B will be covering for you (as far as that team goes) and A. B will be responsible for getting A's and B's jobs covered and supervising D. There is no way B should have found out by accident. You were discussing logistics. B is a vital part of those logistics, and should have been in on the planning from the beginning. At that point, you could have put being in charge for two weeks as an opportunity to shine.

Assuming B is competent, there's no real need to explain the business reasons to B, because B can see them. (Don't take the email literally. B knows what's going on and is showing what B's not happy about.) B can also see that this is likely to push A more into the problem-solving role, and therefore B more into the internals, meaning that it's likely that A will always be preferred for trips in the future. A is being set up for more visibility in the company, and likely a better career path. While none of this is necessarily the case, B's new and is likely to be wondering about this, particularly since you're concentrating on A and letting B find out B's responsible for supporting this.

Now, I don't know B, you, or the company culture, but "Just gives a bit of a bad feeling being left out." in an email could mean minor hurt feelings or a major morale issue. Assuming you want B to stay with the team and be happy with it, you probably want to see what you can do.

Consider asking for more travel money so B can go with. That would solve the main problem. Figure out the chances of getting a similar trip for B later on.

If not, you need to talk to B privately. Don't lie, don't exaggerate, and don't make promises you aren't going to keep or raise hopes that are likely false. You need to address why B was left out of the planning in the first place, the effects on B's career, and what's going to happen. Right now, you don't have much of a track record with B, so you need to concentrate on specific verifiable things. (They don't have to be immediately verifiable, as long as they're at least plausible and can be verified in the moderately near future.) Ask B about other issues B might have that you can solve. You need to show that you're interested in how B wants to grow in the company.

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If you don't want to let B go, it's clear what you should do. Invite them to a 1:1 and explain your rationale.

However, I found it a bit strange that you see "learn[ing] the details of the business and the product" as one of the main reasons to go there but want to leave B out. They are new to the company, so maybe they could benefit from that too?

Also, a two-week business trip is quite long. Do you have a work to do there? I don't know your job of course but I have had plenty of such visits in the past and normally they don't take longer than a week. I mention that because maybe there's a potential for saving some money here.

  • Because of the distance, the flight itself is a significant cost. So shortening the trip won't make as significant of a difference, and that's also why we do a longer trip, to take as much advantage of the fixed cost of the flight. – UserAnon Dec 16 '18 at 19:31
  • B could definitely benefit from the trip. But since their role is less product driven, it's harder to justify their joining, especially when the cost of sending 4 people would probably be too much. – UserAnon Dec 16 '18 at 19:33

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