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Developing resilient supply chains: lessons from high-reliability organisations

Emmanuel Sawyerr (University of Westminster, London, UK)
Christian Harrison (Department of Business and Enterprise, University of the West of Scotland – Hamilton Campus, Hamilton, UK)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 7 October 2019

Issue publication date: 16 January 2020




The purpose of this study is to identify the prescribed formative elements of supply chain resilience (SCR) in literature, to compare them with the unique characteristics of high reliability organisations (HROs) and derive lessons useful for improving SCR.


Two systematic literature reviews are carried out as follows: one on SCR and the other on HRO, which identified 107 studies and 18 papers, respectively. The results from the review are presented, analysed and synthesised.


Findings suggest that despite significant similarities in some of the proposed formative elements for SCR and the characteristics of HROs, the strong managerial commitment exhibited in HROs is absent in SCR literature. More importantly, the most cited characteristic of HROs, which is their flexible decision making structure is pointed out as a prima lesson towards developing resilience in supply chains.

Practical implications

A decision making framework to facilitate flexible decision making for supply chains during crisis is presented. Further, practical lessons are pointed out from principles common to both streams of literature such as redundancy, human resource management, collaboration, agility, flexibility, culture and risk avoidance that can be implemented in supply chains.


This paper is the first study to systematically review HROs, adapt a HRO decision making framework and also apply the Cynefin framework to SCR. This, therefore, provides the basis to launch further research into the use of these theories and the role of decision-making in SCR creation.



Sawyerr, E. and Harrison, C. (2020), "Developing resilient supply chains: lessons from high-reliability organisations", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 77-100.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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