The state Civil Service Commission took the first step Wednesday toward moving to a new job performance evaluation system for Louisiana’s 54,000 rank-and-file state employees.

The commission approved the publication of a proposal that would implement a three-tier evaluation system that would rank employees’ work as exceptional, successful and unsuccessful. All employees would be rated at the same time based on their meeting specific job duties of their positions.

The proposal does not touch the controversial topic of pay increases associated with those ratings. For now, the current potential for a 4-percent annual pay raise would remain for those rating successful or above.

The commission will hold a Dec. 14 public hearing and vote on the new evaluation system plan. It would then go to Gov. Bobby Jindal for final approval.

“Public employees should feel good about this,” said Commission chairman David Duplantier, of Mandeville. “This is as good as anything in the private sector.”

The plan would be phased in beginning in 2012, when employees would be rated either successful or unsuccessful during a July-August time frame. Then, in July-August 2013, the three-tier system would go into effect with the addition of the exceptional rating.

State employees could get pay raises, effective Oct. 1, of any year instead of on the anniversary dates of their employment.

All rank-and-file state employees have not received a pay raise for the last two fiscal years because of state fiscal woes. For some employees, it has been three years.

Shannon Templet, Civil Service’s director, said the proposal should be more acceptable to state employees who have objected to past plans because of the link of the level of pay raise to evaluations.

In addition, Templet said the new three tier system — replacing the current five tier ratings — will help reduce the subjectivity in evaluations since supervisors will no longer have to make fine distinctions between categories.

Under the proposal, there is a mandatory second-level review of both performance goals of positions and the evaluations themselves.

Today, employees get ratings of either outstanding, exceeds requirements, meets requirements, needs improvement or poor.

Those who rate “meets requirements” or above are eligible for the 4 percent pay raise. Prior plans had sought to tie various levels of potential pay increases to specific job ratings.

“At this time, we are not recommending any changes to the amount of merit increases or performance adjustments. We want employees and supervisors to place their focus on developing better, more objective measures of performance which are directly tied to how well the agency meets its goals,” Templet said.

“If we change pay concurrently, the entire focus will be on pay, and not where it needs to be, which is on performance,” she said.

The new rating system must be in place for a while before any discussion occurs about making “greater distinctions among employees’ pay,” Templet said.

Past performance evaluation system proposals have met with state employee objections that the system allows for the possibility of favoritism.

Jindal has rejected prior commission proposals, claiming they did not give agencies enough flexibility to determine pay for their employees.

Duplantier welcomed the change to a once-a-year evaluation of all employees.

“It flabbergasted me that supervisors do this all year long,” said Duplantier, who has been legal counsel for Shell Oil.

Duplantier said it is important to “focus on the process before we focus on the money. The money is very important. That’s why we must divorce the two.”

Commissioner Scott Hughes, of Shreveport, said the time is opportune for the Civil Service commission to focus on a new evaluation process since no merit pay raises have been allowed in recent years.

“It’s the perfect storm to align so we can put a new program in place,” Hughes said.