TLDR: One of the top developers is busy up to the brim, and doesn't want extra responsibility. How can I best manage the situation?
This dev, let's call him John, has been involved in a specific project for more than a year now and, due to managerial mistakes and bad project management, ended up as the sole programmer for that project and a lot of the knowledge lies with him. We have several multidisciplinary teams working on different projects and they all have rotating people to cover emergencies and other things. John's team, on the other hand, does not, because only he knows how to solve most issues that could arise.
I had a video chat with him a few days ago where he expressed anger and fatigue towards the project and management, and I, being the (relatively new) manager, admitted that he was right and apologised for past mistakes. I assured him that we'd try our best to remedy the situation and, with time, get him a replacement so he could transfer to another project.
Meanwhile, and with COVID-19 at our doorstep, priorities changed, and a (until then) dormant project of the company became strategic and top priority. The other managers agreed that John's technical knowledge would be key to the success of this project so I scheduled a follow-up call with him.
Thinking he'd see this as a breath of fresh air, I told him about this opportunity, highlighted its urgency for the company and then he immediately stopped me in my tracks and said, and I quote "I'm sorry, I'm not interested in more challenges at this point."
I told him I'd look into it but to be frank, I don't know what to do about him. I understand where he's coming from but if anything, I think his response was inappropriate and a bit unprofessional.
What can I do?
Edit: Wow... so many answers. I want to stress the following after reading some of your answers:
- He had been informed that he wouldn't be taking sole ownership of the project and would be accompanied by another senior engineer.
- There would be new challenges in terms of technologies and frameworks used that could enrich his knowledge further.
- His current project is on the maintenance stage and we feel he'd be of more value in a different project.