Environmental Dynamism & Supply Chain Complexity: Managing the Paradoxes

Submission Open: 1st June 2022

Background and Topic of Interest

Companies are facing increasingly dynamic business environments and have been affected by several economic, technological, geopolitical, social, and environmental issues, which have placed conflicting demands on supply chains, and the decision makers therein. For example, a decade of globalization has created a global supply base to take cost and technology advantages of offshoring and outsourcing (Kinkel, 2012), while changing geopolitical realities, as in the case of Brexit, and recent pandemic related disruptions push companies to source more locally. Similarly, there has been an emphasis on companies growing their numbers of suppliers to mitigate supply risk, while simultaneously investing in technologies like Blockchain which are more likely to leverage high switching costs and place a concentration on fewer sources of supply. In addition, platform technologies and the sharing economy have created new business models that allow many suppliers to nimbly connect to large numbers of individual buyers on a transactional basis, while sustainable/green supply chain management practice requires transparency, a focus on accountability, due diligence in sourcing and ultimately favours a more stable supply base. 

While there has been significant interest in how individual business dynamics, such as digitalization or the comparative advantages of different nations impact supply chain management, novel research is needed to understand the inter-connectedness of these challenges. Especially given that these different business dynamics tend to pull supply chains in different directions, creating competing priorities. Moreover, conflicting pressures are becoming more pronounced and frequent (Lewis, 2000). The level of competition, coupled with stakeholder pressures, allow managers little room to focus on more than one challenge at a time.  Hence, a paradox perspective could be very insightful to explore “how organizations can attend to competing demands simultaneously” (Smith and Lewis, 2011, Matos et al., 2020). In summary, the aim of this Special Issue is to understand the impact of multiple environmental dynamics simultaneously creating competing challenges on the upstream supply chain, or more specifically, its supply chain complexity.

Environmental dynamism reflects the rate and magnitude of changes external to the organization (Rosenzweig, 2009; Rojo et al., 2018). It is characterized by unpredictability and instability (Kovach et al., 2015; Miller and Friesen, 1983; Schilke, 2014). Hence, the dynamic nature of the business environment can be assessed through the rate of change in product design, technology, and customer preferences (Achrol and Stern, 1988; Dess and Davis, 1984; Miller and Friesen, 1983). It includes, for example, changes because of digitalization, variations in customer preferences due to different economic circumstances or green purchasing behaviour, as well as fluctuations in product demand and material supply due to higher levels of supply and demand risks (Wang et al., 2011). Prior studies clearly indicate that a turbulent external environment can either enhance or destroy a firm’s most critical competencies (Afuah, 2001). Therefore, these dynamic changes require that companies regularly adjust their supply chain (Bozarth et al., 2009). 

In this Special Issue, our focus is not on the level of dynamism of environments but more on the interconnectedness of issues and pressures, which create paradoxes that need to be managed.  Paradoxes are “persistent contradiction[s] between interdependent elements” (Schad et al., 2016). They imply mutually exclusive rather than mutually reinforcing contradictions; or in other words, organizational responses to improve one element of the paradox does not necessarily worsen the performance on the other (Cameron, 1986). For example, ambidexterity literature would suggest that being more innovative does not require being less efficient. Paradoxes can both capture the conflicting tensions and the response that help manage them (Lewis, 2000). For the latter, responses can include both accepting them or trying to resolve them (Lewis, 2000). Finally, the paradoxes can be very different in nature (Maalouf and Gammelgaard, 2016) and can be categorized as belonging, learning, organizing, and performing (Smith and Lewis, 2011). To illustrate, the tension between choosing a supply chain structure which fosters cooperation over competition is described as an organizing paradox.  Alternatively, an organizations’ challenge to simultaneously lower costs whilst also being flexible is an example of a performing paradox. Efforts to change organizational routines in supply chain management that aim to balance the impact of re-shoring and cost priorities is an example of a learning paradox. Finally, a belonging paradox can be seen in the procurement manager’s role as a gatekeeper being part of buyer-supplier relationship and the procurement function.

We are interested in understanding the impact of these paradoxes on supply chains through a complexity lens, as it offers a multi-dimensional perspective of supply chain structures and relationships that has the flexibility, yet discipline, in understanding the tensions among different environmental forces and its impact on supply chain complexity. Supply chain complexity can be conceptualized in three dimensions: i.e., the number of suppliers in the supply chain, the degree of differentiation among these suppliers, and the level of interrelationships among the suppliers (Choi and Krause, 2006). Often, supply chain complexity has been operationalised through the lens of Complex Adaptive Systems (Choi et al., 2001) to capture the level of detail complexity (number of components or parts that make up a system) and dynamic complexity (unpredictability of a system’s response) exhibited by the products, processes, and relationships (Bozarth et al, 2009: 79). Alternatively, and particularly from a supply network perspective, supply base complexity can be said to include horizontal, vertical, and spatial complexity (Choi and Hong, 2002). Horizontal complexity refers to the number of suppliers – and their inter-relationships (Choi and Krause, 2006; Kim et al., 2015), vertical complexity refers to the number of supplier tiers, and spatial complexity captures the geographic dispersion of the supply chain. Ideally, supply chain complexity should be aligned with the supply chain strategy of firms as well as the environmental reality. However, it is unclear how environmental dynamism, with multiple environmental challenges, will impact this supply chain complexity, which is the focus of this Special Issue. 

Research Gaps and Intended Contributions

Paradox theory and supply chain complexity have been increasingly getting attention in supply chain management research. A search for peer-reviewed academic articles listed on Business Source Premier that contain (1) supply chain complexity or (2) paradox in the title, abstract or keywords yielded 215 relevant articles.  89 articles investigated various paradoxes in supply chain and operations management and the remaining 126 articles addressed causes and impacts of supply chain complexity as well as remedies for this.  While a small number of articles as early as 2000 covered these topics, we have observed a significant increase in the research output over the past ten years (since 2010) with 179 articles published in well-known operations and supply chain management journals. A large portion of paradox papers searched were sustainability related. For this reason, sustainability-related manuscripts will only be considered if they have taken an exceptionally novel approach. There has been less research investigating other types of paradoxes driven by environmental dynamism. Given the considerable increase in environmental dynamism and increasing demand for managers to effectively manage the paradoxes driven by conflicting environmental forces  over the past decade, we strongly believe that there is a gap in existing research.

figure 1

 figure 2

In this Special Issue, we call for methodologically and topically diverse research with the potential to advance both theory and practice in supply management. It is important that the research should bring together multiple dynamics and investigate competing challenges of supply management. We are interested in studies at various levels including the dyadic, network and even supply market within the context of a sector, a country or globally. Figure 2: Number of articles by year

Possible research questions

  • How are location choices (i.e., near-shoring, off-shoring, re-shoring) impacted by environmental forces including, but not limited to, digitization and supply risks? 
  • What is the connection between spatial complexity (as the geographical spread of an organization and/or a supply base) and competing environmental forces, and is there an impact on supply chain structure?
  • How do/will platform technologies impact the different dimensions of supply chain complexity? And how can this, at the same time, improve traceability in the supply chain?  
  • What paradox does Blockchain present in relation to supply chain complexity and what are the consequences?
  • How have supply chains as complex social networks adapted to tensions in environmental forces and how have relational ties, social capital, resource access been affected?
  • How does the supply chain as a complex adaptive system has the capability to learn from and adapt to evolving external environments?
  • How have the information processing needs of supply chains and connected actors changed to manage these conflicting priorities more effectively?
  • How can companies balance the need for an efficient lean supply chain, with a responsive complex supply chain, when the dominant environmental forces are dynamic and force companies to reprioritize frequently? 
  • How do companies determine the right level of embeddedness in their supply base,

when there are paradoxical tensions surrounding some relationships?

  • How should the supply chain be reconfigured to support the new critical tensions relevant to particular sectors (i.e. sustainable aviation fuel for aviation industry)?
  • How does the role of the nexus supplier adjust in line with the tensions of multiple environmental forces? How do these tensions affect the selection, governance and management of supply chain complexity?
  • How do temporary supply network structures help to cope with dynamism and tensions in the business environment?

Requirement for empirical methodologies

This issue will prioritize empirical research and consider only exceptionally conceptual papers. Authors are encouraged to choose from a wide range of empirical methodologies including but not limited to in-depth case studies, studies built on secondary data, surveys and experiments that test and validate empirical and analytical models. We also welcome multidisciplinary studies that integrate the perspectives of different disciplines.

Relevance to researchers and practitioners

The aim of this special issue is to advance the theory on supply chain complexity, and to provide managerial insights and guidelines for practitioners to design and manage their supply chain in line with the recent environmental dynamics. Papers that reveal and analyze best practices and/or lessons learned through case studies and analyses of secondary or primary data are welcome. From a practical perspective the papers should stimulate decision tool that will improve the effectiveness in supply chain design and management.  

Submissions information

Authors are encouraged to contact the editorial team in case of doubt regarding the fit of the paper to the editorial scope of this special issue. 

Articles should be up to a maximum of 12000 words in length. This includes all text, for example, the structured abstract, references, all text in tables, and figures and appendices. Please allow 280 words for each figure or table. Please follow the detailed submission guidelines provided at: https://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/journal/ijopm#authorguidelines 

The paper should be submitted to manuscript central: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/ijopmWhile submitting the paper, please be sure to identify in Step 1 that the paper is being submitted for the special issue. In the Department Editor list, please choose this special issue.  

29th EUROMA Conference, Berlin,1-6 July 2022

We invite you to two special tracks at the conference in relation to the Special Issue:

Monday 4 July 10:30 Special Track-Environmental Dynamism & Supply Chain Complexity I

Chaired by: Dr. Sinead Roden and Dr. Canan Kocabasoglu Hillmer and Prof. Evelyne Vanpoucke

10:30 Supply chain networks and their ability to deal with global disruptions – an assessment of current debates in International Business and SCM

Ms. Lydia Novoszel, Prof. Bjorn Schmeiser, Prof. Tina Wakolbinger, Prof. Jan Hendrik Fisch

10:50 Towards a viable buyer-supplier relationship framework: sublayers and environmental dynamics

Dr. Judith Martin, Dr. Patrick Lehner

11:10 The Impact of Supply Chain Complexity on Resilience: A Multiple Case Study

Mr. Hendryk Dittfeld, Dr. Mitchell van den Adel, Dr. Aline Seepma, Dr. Kirstin Scholten, Dr. Ronald De Boer, Prof. Dirk Pieter Van Donk


Monday 4 July, 14:00 Special Track-Environmental Dynamism & Supply Chain Complexity II

Chaired by: Prof. Evelyne Vanpoucke and Dr. Canan Kocabasoglu Hillmer and Dr. Sinead Roden

14:20 Investigating the Transformation of Automotive Firms: An Approach Based on Qualitative Statements

Dr. Andreas Wieland, Dr. Carlos Mena

14:40 Multi-Objective Optimization Model for the Water Resources Management for the mining industry: Case of OCP, Morocco

Mr. Othmane Labied, Prof. Pierre Fenies

Management of Special Issue

The four SI proposers will work collaboratively in managing the Special Issue, from publicising it, through to distributing papers for review, liaising with reviewers and managing the review process. All papers will follow the typical, thorough review process of the Journal in terms of the number of reviewers, the double-blind review process and communication through the manuscript system. The Special Issue editors will ensure robust process is followed, converge on an agreed recommendation following receipt of paper reviews, and communicate recommendations in a timely manner to the journal’s Editor-in-Chief. 

The guest editors have a network of collaborators that are experts in the area to invite to submit or review papers (subject to availability), Matthias Holweg (Said Business School), Benn Lawson (Judge Business School), Christoph Bode (University of Mannheim), Christine Harland (Politecnico di Milano), Brian Squire (University of Bath), Ann Vereecke (Ghent University), Frank Wiengarten (ESADE), Sangho Chae (Tilburg University), Daesik Hur (Yonsei University), Hyojin Kim (Soochow University), Michael J. Braunscheidel (University at Buffalo), Judy Whipple (Michigan State University) as well as an additional broad network of potential reviewers. 

Guest Editors (alphabetical order)

Canan Kocabasoglu-Hillmer

Dr. Canan Kocabasoglu-Hillmer is a Reader at the Business School (formerly Cass). Her research focuses on the drivers of effective collaboration between supply chain partners. She currently works on understanding the role of suppliers in managing supply chain risks and creating resilience. She has published in the Journal of Operations Management, International Journal of Operations and Production Management, Industrial Marketing Management, International Journal of Production Economics, International Journal of Production Research and Quality Management. She is currently an Area Editor for Purchasing & Strategic Sourcing for the International Journal of Operations and Production Management.

Sinéad Roden

Dr Sinéad Roden is an Associate Professor at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin. Sinéad’s research coalesces in the area of strategic inter-organisational relationships. Specifically, she is interested in the governance and development of strategic buyer-supplier relationships, the role of environmental factors, and the management of risk and supplier crises. Her research has been published in a broad range of journals including Journal of Operations Management, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, R&D Management and Journal of Manufacturing and Technology Management. She serves as an Editorial Reviewer for the Journal of Supply Chain Management and is active reviewer for a range of journals in the field.

Byung-Gak Son

Dr Byung-Gak Son is a Senior Lecturer from The Business School (Formerly Cass), City, University of London. His research interests have been mostly focusing on two main areas: buyer-supplier relationships and supply chain risk management. Recently, he has started to work on new areas including complex supply networks and humanitarian supply chain management. His research has been published in academic journals including the Journal of Operations Management and Productions and Operations Management. 

Evelyne Vanpoucke

Dr Evelyne Vanpoucke is an Associate Professor at the International Centre for Innovation, Technology and Education Studies (iCite) and the Centre Emile Bernheim de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Gestion (CEBRIG) at Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management, Universite Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Her research interests include supply chain collaboration, sustainable supply chains, governance issues in supply networks and supply chain risk management. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Operations Management, International Journal of Operations and Production Management, Journal of Supply Chain Management, Decision Sciences and the International Journal of Production Research. She serves as a board member of the European Operations Management Association. 


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