Hitting 100% Is Not the Goal in OKRs

70-80% is the sweet spot. Hitting 100 means you're not trying hard enough.

Photo by Joppe Spaa on Unsplash

Article: Hitting 100% Is Not the Goal

Our whole lives we’ve been raised to believe that hitting 100% of any goal is the best possible outcome. Taking a test? Get a 100, and you get some ice cream. That was my childhood at least. If you get less than 100, especially anything less than a 90%, then you really didn’t apply yourself. Look, I’m not going to comment on anyone’s parenting techniques, but this idea of hitting 100% of the goal actually doesn’t make sense in the world of OKRs. In fact, with OKRs it’s when you’re hitting 100% of your key result goals that you’re actually not trying hard enough. Let’s see why.

Why 100% isn’t the best goal

Let’s assume you have an OKR that looks like this:


  • Become the default way for locals and tourists to get around their cities in eco-friendly ways by the end of 2024. 

Key Results:

  • 35% of annual tourists in each city we serve rent an e-scooter from us at least once during their visit.

  • 50% of local residents in each city we serve rent an electric bike or scooter from us once at least once a month.

Now, let’s say your onboarding team has a leading indicator goal of converting 65% of first time users to riders within 5 minutes—which includes doing all the document validation and approval work. The team works diligently for a quarter and hits 100% of their goal. They’re ecstatic. The next quarter rolls around, the team sets the same goal and, once again, hits 100%. The work they did in the second quarter mimics their first quarter work. By the third quarter the team gets complacent. “We keep crushing our goals, so why change anything? The one idea we had seems to keep working, so why ‘fix’ anything if it’s not broken?” 

There are at least two big risks with this approach:

  1. The team stops actively assessing if and how the market and their target audience is changing over time. They’ve set a goal they keep hitting and continue to assume it will always work the same way without validating that the market is staying constant. It’s rare for a market not to change over time.

  2. They’re not pushing themselves to find better and more creative ways to solve the onboarding process. Five minutes to onboard seems good enough, but what if it could be two minutes? Is there a better way to serve the customer? The team isn’t looking for it. 

If your teams are crushing their OKRs every quarter, it stifles their innovation and focus. Simply said, they’re not trying hard enough. Hitting 100% in one quarter is fine. Doing it again and again usually indicates a team that isn’t pushing itself to continuously improve their part of the user journey.

Teams should target 70-80% of the goal

OKR’s should be aspirational and inspirational. Teams should set key result targets that are stretch goals. These goals should push the team to try a variety of different, creative, innovative ways to solve the user’s problem. For example, we worked with a team once who had to reduce the time between a customer applying for a credit card and their ability to use an approved credit card from 5 days to 5 minutes. Now THAT’s a challenge! In situations like these we should expect our teams to hit 70-80% of their goals. That’s a clear indication of success. If this credit card team managed to get the time down from 5 days to 2 days, that’s still a huge win. They put forward a strong effort, made good progress and still have more to learn and achieve. It’s these aspirational goals that end up yielding the kind of innovation many companies are looking for. The standard solutions won’t work in these situations. Teams need to continuously test and learn which solution ideas will get them as close as possible to their key result goals.

Creative solutions require bigger challenges

Challenge your teams to come up with key results that are stretch goals. Explain to them that you don’t expect them to hit 100% of the goal but rather 70-80%. Add that you also expect them to push the envelope a bit and that you know not everything they come up with is going to work. That’s the point. Let’s keep our finger on the pulse of the user and keep trying new and innovative ways to serve them more successfully.

What I've been up to

I went to Dublin, Ireland last month and ate a shepherd’s pie (pictured above). I’ve had shepherd’s pie before but never quite like that. I managed to run into a few industry pals and some close friends while I was there. Aside from that, Josh Seiden and I continue to work on our OKR book. We expect to publish in Q1 next year and are currently evaluating cover designs—it’s been really tough.

On December 5, Jeff Patton and I will be leading our third and final (for this year) live, 2-hour workshop on how to combine OKRs and user story mapping for your teams’ work. We did two earlier this year, and over 500 people signed up. Sign up for this one here.

If you’re looking for some on-demand training in Lean UX, product management and OKRs for your teams instead, you can learn more here

Finally, Josh Seiden and I are headed to Asia! Specifically, we are coming to Tokyo and Singapore next February. We will be running a 3-day workshop on OKRs, outcomes and Lean UX. All the details can be found here for Tokyo and here for Singapore. We could really use the help spreading the word to the local product, tech and design communities. Looking forward to seeing some of you there.

Watch, Listen, Read

Watch: Justified: City Primeval – I was a big fan of US Marshall Raylan Givens when the series debuted in the ‘10s. I was thrilled when this short re-boot of the series came out and it didn’t disappoint. It’s fun. It won’t redefine anything, but I enjoy the characters and the story line.

Listen: Kolo, “What It Means to See It All” – I discovered this rapper on Instagram. His reels showed him sampling interesting music from all over the world and then cutting it up and editing it into incredible rap beats. He’s a good rapper too. :-)

Read: Clear Thinking by Shane Parrish – A decent book on how to better approach some of the tougher decisions in your life. There aren’t a ton of groundbreaking ideas here but a few solid practical things you can apply in your day to day life.

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