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Consensus in the Boardroom?

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Britain's latest depressing GDP figures prompted me to go back and take a second look at Ipsos MORI's latest Captains of Industry survey. This is an annual barometer, tracking the mood in Britain's boardooms.

Rather than looking at one or two specific issues, I thought I would take a look at all the questions together. These cover a whole range of subjects: politics, the economy, corporate social responsibility, technology.

What struck me was the level of consensus that emerged.

On the one hand, maybe I shouldn't have been too surprised. After all, each survey respondent is a very successful person, working at the top of a FTSE 500 company. But, then again, these organisations are working in many different sectors. Some are more global, others focused mainly on the UK. Some are doing very well, others are more in "weathering the storm" mode. But, on many of the big issues, they are united in their view of the world.

I adopted the not-terribly-scientific policy of highlighting each area where more than 70% of Captains shared a particular view.

The first is politics. Captains have a very clear sense that "politicians have a poor understanding of business" (82% agree). And 70% of them say that our political culture is "biased against business." In turn, this may explain their views on regulation: 83% say current levels are harming the UK economy.

They are clear, too, about the country's economic prospects. There is general agreement (among 71%) that "the UK is facing a prolonged period of stagnation".

The politicians are doing something right, however. Britain's bosses agree that "in the long term this Government's policies will improve the state of the economy" by a 79% to 8% margin.

What are they doing in their own businesses? Well, it's clear that sustainability is a big word these days: 77% are incorporating it into the development of new products/services and 78% say it is a key part of their overall strategy. And there are big expectations that companies need to show honesty and integrity: 75% say this is "extremely important" when judging another company.

One of the biggest changes since last year is in the increase in the use of technology at work. Most marked here is the rise in the numbers using tablets in a corporate capacity. Twelve months ago, a little over half (52%) were. That figure has now risen to 80%.

In the face of such rapid change, 75% are clear that they need to "increase their use of social media/digital communications at the expense of more traditional channels."

This is not to say that Britain's Captains of Industry are immersing themselves in social networks when they are away from the office. They may be doing many things - perhaps playing golf, spending time with their families, or even looking at their work emails. But we find just 20% of them on Facebook, miles behind the general public (50%). Similarly, Twitter usage, at 10%, trails the average of 17%.

Let's hope they have good people in their marketing and communications teams!

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