Supply chain sustainability: a relationship management approach

Yan Ki Fiona Cheung*, Steve Rowlinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this paper is to examine, by means of case studies, the mechanisms by which relationships can be managed and by which communication and cooperation can be enhanced in sustainable supply chains. The research was predicated on the contention that the development of a sustainable supply chain depends, in part, on the transfer of knowledge and capabilities from the larger players in the supply chain.

The research adopted a triangulated approach in which quantitative data were collected by questionnaire, interviews were conducted to explore and enrich the quantitative data and case studies were undertaken in order to illustrate and validate the findings. Handy's view of organisational culture, Allen and Meyer's concepts of organisational commitment and Van de Ven and Ferry's measures of organisational structuring have been combined into a model to test and explain how collaborative mechanisms can affect supply chain sustainability.

It has been shown that the degree of match and mismatch between organisational culture and structure has an impact on staff's commitment level. A sustainable supply chain depends on convergence – that is the match between organisational structuring, organisation culture and organisation commitment.

Research limitations/implications
The study is a proof of concept and three case studies have been used to illustrate the nature of the model developed. Further testing and refinement of the model in practice should be the next step in this research.

Practical implications
The concept of relationship management needs to filter down to all levels in the supply chain if participants are to retain commitment and buy-in to the relationship. A sustainable supply chain requires proactive relationship management and the development of an appropriate organisational culture, and trust. By legitimising individuals' expectations of the type of culture which is appropriate to their company and empowering employees to address mismatches that may occur, a situation can be created whereby the collaborating organisations develop their competences symbiotically and so facilitate a sustainable supply chain.

The culture/commitment/structure model developed from three separate strands of management thought has proved to be a powerful tool for analysing collaboration in supply chains and explaining how and why some supply chains are sustainable, and others are not.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)480-497
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Managing Projects in Business
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


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