This paper provides evidence on the effect of recessions and expansions on the productivity growth rate of productivity leaders and followers. We use data of a representative sample of the Spanish manufacturing sector for the period 1991 and 2005. These data allow us to estimate firm level productivity for a relatively long period of time and provide us with firm level perception of the business cycle. We find that productivity tends to converge in recessions because, in these periods, the productivity growth of followers is higher than the productivity growth of leaders. This fact is consistent with theoretical models of managerial incentives and competition. A recession can be seen as an exogenous increase in competition that reduces demand and poses a threat of liquidation. This threat is higher for followers and is high enough to create asymmetric incentives to become more productive. We test the robustness of our results to sample selection and different productivity measure.